Plainville

Plainville Soldiers’ Monument

Location: New Plainville Cemetery, 26 West Bacon Street, Plainville
Coordinates: 42°00’08.1″N 71°20’17.8″W
Date dedicated: October 14, 1903
Architect/design: A. C. Morrison, sculptor

The Plainville monument was made possible through the efforts of the local Women’s Relief Corps Post 74. This organization, an auxiliary to the Civil War veterans organization known as the Grand Army of the Republic, was established to assist the GAR, to promote memorialization, and to petition for pensions for Civil War nurses. According to the adjutant of the local GAR post in 1910, the monument, “stands in the cemetery, and is a fine tribute, not only to the heroic dead, but to the devotion and industry of the women, who are ever helping.”[1] The praise, rather dated in its framing of gender roles, nonetheless is significant in acknowledging the important and ever expanding work done by women during and after the war. The inscription on the monument reads, “A grateful tribute to the brave men of the army and navy who offered their lives in defense of the Union 1861-1865, Erected by the George H. Maintien W.R.C. No. 74.”

Plainville was still a part of Wrentham when it was built. The district separated from Wrentham in 1905, two years after the placement of the monument. So, technically, this was originally Wrentham’s monument, although it was spearheaded by residents of the Plainville neighborhood and referred to in some early sources (prior to the separation) as Plainville’s monument. When proposed a number of times in the 19th century, Wrentham voters refused repeatedly to appropriate funds for a monument, and so the Women’s Relief Corps took it on.[2] When Plainville split away, it left Wrentham without a monument. This was rectified in 1915 when the Town of Wrentham built a monument on their town common.

When the Plainville monument was dedicated, two thousand people were present for the ceremonies, the largest that had visited Plainville up to that time according to the Pawtucket Times.[3] Alfred S. Roe of Worcester, former commander of the Massachusetts Department of the GAR, a historian and former state legislator, gave the oration. He was a popular public speaker and gave numerous addresses at Massachusetts monument dedications. Roe characteristically emphasized the important role played by the Bay State during the war, saying that the Commonwealth, “did not put down the whole rebellion, but she recognized the supreme moment as no other state did, and, seeing the need, she threw herself into the gap…” During the initial procession, members from multiple WRC posts participated and the Boston Herald reporter commented that, “the spectacle of women marching through the streets was unique.”[4]

Dedication of the Plainville monument from the Pawtucket Times. The area is thick with trees now.

The President of the Women’s Relief Corps local post, Mrs. Kate Morse, began the ceremonies by commenting on the work of the WRC in raising support for the monument. “​At first it seemed almost impossible for a small band of women to do,” she said, “but the inspirations we received and thinking of those who went to the front, suffered, bled and died for us, our country and our flag, and seeing those who are spared to return to walk among us again, some strong, but others weak and feeble, made us work with a will…”[5]

Because Plainville was part of Wrentham, its record in the war is difficult to quantify separately from its parent town. One fact is for certain–the best remembered veteran of the war was Horace Eugene Coombs who lived to the age of 93 and was Plainville’s last surviving Civil War veteran. He died on March 17, 1940. When he passed, the number of Civil War veterans in Massachusetts was dwindling quickly. There were approximately 50 surviving in Massachusetts in 1940. Four years later, there would be just nine.[6] The Bay State’s last Civil War veteran, George Riley of Boston, died in 1947.

Private Horace Eugene Coombs enlisted on April 14, 1864 with the U.S. Army Signal Corps. He resided and signed up in Attleboro where he was living at the time, working as a jeweler at age 17. He was assigned to the Army’s Central Telegraph Station in Washington, a small complex of buildings located in Georgetown. A fellow soldier at that post later wrote a history of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in the war and recalled the night that Lincoln was shot. He wrote:

The most striking event connected with my own experience in this department (it was my fortune to serve in five departments), was the assassination of the President, and the exciting night of signaling which followed that sad event. It was uncertain whether the assassin had escaped into Maryland, or crossed the Potomac into Virginia. Orders were signaled to the outlying stations to arrest every man, woman, and child that appeared that night near the picket line.[7]

Being assigned to that post, Pvt. Coombs was among those signaling the warnings to army posts throughout the department, a fact that is still recalled in Plainville today. After the war, Coombs took up residence in Plainville, became the town’s first Fire Chief when it separated from Wrentham and lived a long life. Many photographs of Coombs taking part in local parades through the 1930s survive today.

[1] William F. Gragg quoted in Alfred S. Roe, Monuments, tablets and other memorials erected in Massachusetts to commemorate the service of her sons in the war of the rebellion, 1861-1865, (Boston: Wright and Potter Printers, 1910), 95. [2] Boston Herald, October 5, 1918, 12. [3] Pawtucket Times, October 15, 1903, 11. [4] Boston Herald, October 5, 1918, 12. [5] Pawtucket Times, October 15, 1903, 11. [6] Boston Herald, January 16, 1944 [7] J. Willard Brown, The Signal Corps in the War of the Rebellion, (Boston: U.S. Veteran Signal Corps Assoc., 1896)

Leave a Reply