Townsend Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, sometimes known as the “John Birney Blood Monument”

Location: Town Common, Main Street and School Street, Townsend
Coordinates: 42°40’01.1″N 71°42’18.9″W
Date dedicated: May 30, 1932
Sculptor/architect/contractor: Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson, sculptor; Gorham Manufacturing Co., casting and construction

Townsend’s Civil War monument is one of several copies of a splendid sculpture known as “The Volunteer” by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson. The first version of “The Volunteer” was sculpted in 1902 for Newburyport’s Civil War memorial. It was reproduced for the Massachusetts Civil War monument at the Vicksburg National Military Park and later for several Massachusetts towns including Ashburnham, North Attleborough, and Sharon. For a more detailed description of Kitson’s life and work, see the Newburyport page. A brief summary will be offered here.

Kitson was the most prolific American female sculptor of the early 20th century. Her sculptures are featured in almost every state in the country. A native of Brookline, she showed great skill in sculpting from a young age. She encountered great prejudice in the artistic world being a young woman but found that doors opened when she applied to art schools and sought commissions under the name “Theo” rather than Theodora.[1] She married an up-and-coming young sculptor named Henry Hudson Kitson and trained in Paris where she earned an honorable mention at the Salon in 1890 (the first woman to do so). She and her husband returned to Massachusetts in 1893 and set up a studio in Boston. She was the first woman admitted to the National Sculpture Society in 1895.[2]

“The Volunteer” is remarkable for its detail and its lifelike sense of movement. Kitson deliberately wanted to break away from the rigid parade-rest soldiers of prior decades and to depict the youthful volunteer as he truly was. 

Townsend’s version was dedicated in 1932 and was gifted through a $10,000 bequest by John Birney Blood who served with the 53rd Massachusetts Infantry. The construction of Civil War monuments in Massachusetts had virtually ceased by the time of the Depression and it is unlikely that Townsend would have built such a monument without the bequest. Blood was 91 years old when he died in 1931. He was not a wealthy man and lived a humble lifestyle. Many in the town were therefore quite surprised to find that he had managed to save such a sum to donate for a Civil War monument.[3] The 53rd Massachusetts served in the Port Hudson Campaign in Louisiana in 1863. Blood enlisted with the regiment when he was 22 years old. He had been working as a painter prior to that. During the second assault on the Confederate fortifications at Port Hudson on June 14, 1863, Blood was wounded in the head. He survived, completed his term of service and was mustered out three months later.[4] His younger brother Abijah Blood was not so fortunate. While serving with the 33rd Massachusetts Infantry, he fell ill and died in a hospital in Baltimore, Maryland on August 12, 1863. This loss must have contributed to Blood’s desire to leave behind such a memorial in Townsend.

The dedication of the monument took place on Memorial Day 1932. Dr. Albert J. Atwood of Townsend gave the address. Of the donor, Atwood said that Blood “returned home in broken health, from the effects of which he never fully recovered…[Blood] lived alone, keeping open house to his comrades and friends and it was the joy of his life to relate incidents of the war…This monument is of his own selection and is erected on the spot where he wished it to be placed.”[5]

The front of the base bears a bronze casting of the Grand Army of the Republic seal. The back bear a plaque with the following inscription, “In commemoration of the men from Townsend who served their country on land and sea in the War for the Union, 1861-1865. This monument is erected 1932 under the provision of the will of John Birney Blood, Co. D, 53rd regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.”

The monument was restored in 2014 through funds from the town’s Cemetery and Parks Department as well as a grant from the Massachusetts Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission. Prior to that date, the sculpture was seriously corroded and discolored but now stands like new. The cleaning was conducted by the Royalston Arts Foundry.

[1] Ethel Mickey, “Memorial artist honored nearly a century later,” Salem News, July 27, 2010.
[2] Jules Heller and Nancy G. Heller eds., North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary, (Routledge Press, 2013), 305.
[3] Townsend Historical Society, Townsend, Images of America Series, (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Press, 2006), 107.
[4] Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Civil War
[5] “Townsend Center Memorial Day Exercises,” Fitchburg Sentinel, June 1, 1932, 16.

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