Littleton

Location: On Houghton Memorial Library, 4 Rogers Street, Littleton
Coordinates: 42°32’20.0″N 71°29’01.9″W
Date dedicated: December 4, 1895 (library dedication…and the tablets by extension)
Sculptor/architect/contractor: Perkins & Betton, Boston, architect; casting of plaques unknown

The beautiful Houghton Memorial Library, built in 1895 and designed by architects Perkins & Betton of Boston, is not itself a war memorial. Rather, it was built in memory of William Stevens Houghton, a prosperous Boston merchant and native of Littleton, by his children. The plans included two bronze plaques set into terra cotta arches on either side of the main door memorializing those from Littleton who served in the Civil War.

A total of 56 men from Littleton served in the war. Nine of them did not survive. Of these, two were killed in action, two died of wounds received in battle, and five died of disease (one of them while a POW). Any one of the men might be highlighted but Private Ralph Waldo Parker stands out in part because a collection of his letters survives, preserved by a family member. Parker enlisted on July 23, 1862 with the 33rd Massachusetts Infantry when he was 19 years old. The regiment was attached for a time to the Army of the Potomac and took part in the Chancellorsville and Gettysburg Campaigns. They were heavily engaged at Gettysburg, occupying a position on the east side of Cemetery Hill which was subject at various times to artillery barrages and nearly overwhelming infantry charges by the Confederates. During this engagement, Parker was hit in the gut with a musket ball…however, the ball struck the center of his brass belt buckle, injuring but not killing him.[1] One often hears apocryphal stories of such happenings, however in Parker’s case the event is documented in the 33rd Massachusetts regimental history and his service record indicates he was wounded at Gettysburg.

Later, Parker’s regiment was attached to the Army of the Cumberland and fought in Tennessee and Georgia. As Union forces battled their way towards Atlanta in the spring of 1864, the 33rd Massachusetts took part in numerous engagements including the Battle of Kolb Farm on June 22, 1864. During this fight, the regiment was ordered to storm a hill occupied by several lines of entrenched Confederates. The regimental historian wrote, “We charged them three times in succession, driving them into their line of works and holding them in check until our object was accomplished.”[2] In the midst of this, Private Parker was shot and killed. He was originally buried on the battlefield but later reinterred at the Marietta National Cemetery in Georgia where a stone bears his name. After his death, one of his close friends, Corporal William Turner, also of Littleton and the 33rd Massachusetts, wrote a touching condolence letter home to Parker’s parents and sister. Turner, who was himself recovering in a Kentucky hospital at the time, wrote that he and Parker were always close during battle so “we could look each other out and see if we were safe.” He assured them that Parker always did his duty and even when the bullets were “whistling around” Parker would give him a encouraging smile.[3]

Houghton Memorial Library

The newspaper accounts of the dedication of the library do not dwell on the tablets nor on the history of those whose names are recorded. The proceedings were described as a “gala day” in celebration of the new building. Rev. Edward L. Clarke of Boston, a prominent theologian and Egyptologist, gave an oration and an orchestra played several selections. The tablets were mentioned in the last lines of one article as being dedicated to “those citizens of Littleton who served in the civil war.”[4]

[1] Andrew J. Boies, Record of the 33rd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, (Fitchburg: Sentinel Printing Company, 1880), 35.
[2] Boies, 80.
[3] Lindsey O’Donnell, “Treasure Trove,” Wicked Local Kingston, May 21, 2014.
[4] “Beautiful Library Building at Littleton Dedicated,” Boston Herald, December 5, 1895, 3.

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