Great Barrington

Great Barrington Soldiers’ Monument (Berkshire County), see gallery below for additional images

Location: 334 Main Street, Great Barrington
Coordinates: 42°11’37.3″N 73°21’48.3″W
Date dedicated: July 1876 (installed, dedication date unknown)
Sculptor/manufacturer: John H. Coffing, design; Truman Howe Bartlett, sculptor; Thiebaut Freres of Paris, foundry; New England Granite Works, contractor

Great Barrington’s monument is unique. And it is one of only a very few in the Commonwealth featuring a solitary female goddess figure as an homage to those who served in the Civil War. The primary inscription reads, “A tribute of honor and gratitude to her citizens who fought for Liberty and Union, 1861 – 1865.”

Like so many other towns in Massachusetts, there was considerable debate in Great Barrington as to whether to building a memorial town hall or a monument.[1] Memorial halls were often seen as a pragmatic option that could serve multiple purposes. However, veterans often objected that the political activities and entertainments which took place in such public halls were inconsistent with proper memorialization. This debate played out in many communities, see Middleborough for example.

The chairman of the memorial committee was John H. Coffing, a prominent local cotton mill owner. He finally broke the stalemate in March 1873 by presenting his vision for a monument in the form of a small model. He had taken his inspiration from a photograph of a statue of the goddess of Victory pulled out of the ruins of Pompeii and exhibited at the national museum in Naples. He felt such a symbolic figure would, according to the Berkshire Courier, “commemorate the moral victory as well as that by force of arms, and at the same time, typify the return of peace.” Coffing commissioned Truman H. Bartlett to sculpt Great Barrington’s statue. Bartlett, born in Vermont, had studied in New York, Paris and Rome. He was in Paris at the time he received the commission. His other works include the statue of the “Wounded Drummer Boy of Shiloh” and the Horace Wells monument, both of which were exhibited in Paris.[1]

His finished sculpture featured the goddess of Victory setting foot on a gilded globe. In her left hand she holds an olive branch and in her extended right hand she holds a laurel wreath for the victors. The olive branch symbolism led some newspapers to incorrectly identify her as an allegorical figure representing “Peace.” The statue was cast by at the foundry of Thiebaut Freres of Paris. The 15 foot pedestal was built from Portland brown stone by the New England Granite Company of Hartford, Connecticut.

The statue was cast and exhibited in the new town hall in Great Barrington for two years before the pedestal was constructed and the monument completed in 1876. It stands on the hearthstone on an old house built on that site in 1776, according to the Berkshire Courier, “thus giving the monument an additional claim to centennial significance, and while springing from a foundation built for humbler purposes it fittingly typifies the Victory for that national liberty whose humble foundations were laid a hundred years ago.”[1] It is a striking monument and of unusual scale and artistry for a small town. While the town paid for a portion of the costs, John Coffing apparently incurred many of the costs himself. It is unclear presently whether or not a dedication ceremony was held (it would be unusual if one were not). The Courier mentions that the statue was installed “without ceremony”.

Some 360 men from Great Barrington served in the war. Of these, 19 were killed in action or died of wounds received in battle, and 24 died of disease (a total of 43). The first group who volunteered the same day that Lincoln called for troops belonged to a militia company based in Pittsfield known as the “Allen Guards.” They joined up with the 8th Massachusetts Militia (largely an Essex County unit) when that regiment passed through Springfield. Great Barrington sent larger groups to enlist with the four western Massachusetts regiments: the 10th Massachusetts (27 men from Great Barrington), the 27th Massachusetts (45 from Great Barrington), the 37th Massachusetts (44 from Great Barrington), and the 49th Massachusetts (89 from Great Barrington). May and June 1864 were particularly dark times for the town (indeed, the whole country) as nearly half the town’s war dead (nine men) were killed in the Battle of the Wilderness and the assaults on Petersburg.[2]

[1] “The Soldiers’ Monument, Victory at Last,” Berkshire Courier, August 23, 1876, appendix to “Civil War Monument,” Great Barrington, Massachusetts Cultural Resouces Information System. [2] “Civil War Roll of Soldiers, Town of Great Barrington” in Charles J. Taylor, The History of Great Barrington, (Great Barrington: Clark W. Bryan printers, 1882), 471-487.

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