Chatham

Chatham Soldiers’ Monument (Barnstable County). See gallery below for additional images.

Location: Sears Park, Main and Seaview Streets, Chatham
Coordinates: 41°40’55.8″N 69°57’33.2″W
Date dedicated: July 11, 1867
Architect/designer/manufacturer: James H. Jenks of West Dennis

Sears Park is a small, attractively landscaped triangle in the center of this scenic Cape town. In March 1867, the town voted unanimously to erect a soldiers’ monument in front of the high school (a bit west on Main Street where the Chatham Community Center now stands).[1] Why the site was changed is unclear. The simple marble obelisk was instead built at the junction of Main and Seaview Streets near the Universalist Church (now Episcopal) and adjacent to the town water pump (now gone). It was dedicated, according to the inscription, “in memory of those that fell in the Rebellion of 1861 to 1865.”

In form it is entirely consistent with the early Civil War monuments across the Commonwealth which mimicked grave markers. Indeed, the design and construction were completed by gravestone carver James H. Jenks of West Dennis.[2] Other Cape towns including Eastham, Wellfleet and Provincetown also erected early monuments nearly identical in form. The “standing soldier” form would not become commonplace for another 10 years or so. Similarly, the dedication ceremony which took place on July 11, 1867 was funereal in its agenda and tone. It consisted of numerous prayers by local ministers with a brief address by a Rev. Mr. Harrington.[3] This form of dedication with an emphasis on mourning and worship seems to have been typical in the years just after the war (the ceremony in Ludlow which took place a month after Chatham’s is another good example). In years to come, dedication ceremonies in Massachusetts would become far more elaborate and celebratory with bands, massive processions, more speeches from politicians and less prayer.

1st Sgt. Nathaniel Smith of Chatham of the 58th Massachusetts, killed at Cold Harbor

Chatham sent 264 men to serve in the Army and six who served in the Navy for a total of 270. An additional 22 men from out of town were recruited and credited to Chatham.[4] Thirteen Chatham men did not survive the war. Their names, dates and locations of death are recorded on the monument. During the first year of the war, recruiting from Chatham was slow with only a few serving. This changed in July 1862 when the town voted to grant a $200 bounty to each volunteer and $4 per month to their families while they were away.[5] This was common throughout Massachusetts, however most towns took such steps earlier in the war. With that vote, as well as Lincoln’s call for 300,000 more volunteers in August 1862, enlistments from Chatham increased. The first significant group to volunteer consisted of 23 men who signed up in August 1862 with the 43rd Massachusetts Infantry.[6] This unit was stationed in New Bern, North Carolina and saw only minor combat.

The largest group from Chatham, 29 men who signed up in December 1863, served with the 58th Massachusetts Infantry. A significant number of these men had served with the 43rd Massachusetts (which was a nine months unit) and reenlisted.[7] The 58th Massachusetts served in the Overland Campaign in Virginia during the spring of 1864 and saw very heavy combat. In fact, all but one of Chatham’s 13 war dead served with the 58th Massachusetts and died during the Overland Campaign. Put another way, of the 29 who joined the 58th Massachusetts, 12 did not survive. This represents a high casualty rate for that unit in a short span of time–a bit over a month from May to mid-June. It must have been shocking to lose a dozen members of the community so suddenly.

Click images to enlarge:

[1] Boston Journal, March 16, 1867, 2.
[2] New Bedford Evening Standard, March 15, 1867, 2.
[3] Boston Journal, July 9, 1867.
[4] Town of Chatham, The two hundredth anniversary of the incorporations of the town of Chatham, Massachusetts, (Chatham: Published by authority of the Town celebration committee, 1913), 29.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War, (Boston: Massachusetts Adjutant General’s Office, 1931), vol. 4.
[7] Massachusetts Soldiers, vol. 5.

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