Fairhaven Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument (Bristol County)

Location: Riverside Cemetery, 283 Main Street, Fairhaven
Coordinates: 41°39’11.0″N 70°54’35.4″W
Date dedicated: May 30, 1868
Architect/sculptor/manufacturer: George F. Meacham, architect
Number of names: 22 men who died in the war

Designed by George F. Meacham, an architect responsible a number of Boston area public buildings and homes. He also designed Boston’s Public Garden. Other Meacham Civil War monuments in Massachusetts include Waltham and Brighton. In building Fairhaven’s monument, he paid to have the obelisk three feet taller than the town’s contract specified. It was placed on a lot gifted by the Riverside Cemetery corporation both for the monument and for the interment of veterans. The primary inscription reads, “Erected by the Town of Fairhaven in honor of the Soldiers and Sailors who fell during the Great Rebellion.” The base also bears the date 1867, which is when the monument was commissioned. But it was not installed in Riverside Cemetery until May 1868 and was dedicated on the first Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) called for by the Grand Army of the Republic on May 30, 1868.[1]

No available newspaper accounts of the dedication nor printed remarks are in evidence at present. Something may turn up in time. But accounts were printed of the following Decoration Day on May 30, 1869 and some remarks were recorded which give us a sense of how residents of Fairhaven remembered their fallen sons and husbands. Under rainy skies that year, a large procession marched through town to Riverside Cemetery to decorate the monument and graves of the fallen with wreaths and flowers. Guns were fired in salute from various parts of town. Rev. A. S. Walker of Fairhaven spoke and shared some reflections on the importance of this new tradition.

It is a good thing for members of the Grand Army of the Republic to be here today and revive the sacred recollections of patient loyalty, and of the glory of victory, of death from the casualties of battle, or the insidious invasions of disease. It is a good thing for the people, for all are interested. The praying mothers and sister, who stayed at home and besought the Lord of Hosts for victory, are interested. It is a good thing to strew flowers on the graves of departed heroes, not that otherwise they would be forgotten; they can never be forgotten. It is not needful as a quickener of memory but a token of love. The Grand Army is but the channel through which the sympathy of the people flows. We remember that those whom we have lost laid down their lives for our homes, for their country, for liberty.

A total of 248 men from Fairhaven served in the war.[2] Of these, 23 died of battle wounds or disease and their names are recorded on Fairhaven’s monument. One of them, Second Lieutenant J. Arthur Fitch was born in Vassalboro, Maine in December 1842 to Reuben and Phebe Fitch. His family relocated to Fairhaven shortly after his birth. His father became a mariner like so many in this seafaring town. In fact, of those who served in the war, roughly one-quarter were mariners.[2] Eventually, his two older brothers went to sea as well. But Arthur took a different path, and studied to become a teacher. At the time of his enlistment, he was listed as living in Middleborough, possibly teaching there (his death record lists his occupation as a teacher).

J. Arthur Fitch (1842-1864)

He was 20 years old when he enlisted as a corporal with the 40th Massachusetts Infantry. The unit served in the Carolinas and Florida. In an unusual turn, they were outfitted as cavalry for a time, forming part of the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry. After taking part in several battles, they were shipped back to Virginia in the spring of 1864 and returned to infantry duty, becoming part of the Army of the James and serving in operations against Richmond. By this time, Fitch had been promoted to sergeant and then second lieutenant. At some point in the fall of 1864, he accepted a staff position as aide-de-camp to their brigade command. This was possibly due to the fact that the unit was so depleted in numbers due to disease and battle casualties that his position was redundant. In August 1864, the 40th Massachusetts, which originally numbered about 1,000, mustered but 45 enlisted men.[3]

On September 30, 1864, Fitch’s brigade attacked and captured Fort Harrison, a key position in the defenses outside Richmond. This assault was part of a larger engagement known as the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm. It is not clear whether Fitch was serving with his regiment at the time or in his capacity as an aide-de-camp. Either way, he was clearly exposed to danger as he was shot and killed during the assault. He was 23 years old. An order for his promotion to first lieutenant had been submitted at the time of his death but the commission was had not yet been issued. He was buried with his parents not far from the monument.

[1] New Bedford Evening Standard, May 7, 1868.
[2] Peggy Aulisio, “Civil War Takes the Lives of Young Men from Fairhaven,” South Coast Today, March 5, 2012.
[3] James Lorenzo Bowen, Massachusetts in the War, 1861-1865, (Springfield: Clark W. Bryan & Co., 1889), 611.

2 thoughts on “Fairhaven

  1. I always learn something from your research and am moved by the individual accounts. Young men so far from home. In this case J Arthur Fitch. I look forward to your next post. I am an historical geographer in Charlotte.

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