Location: Randall Memorial Library, 19 Crescent Street, Stow
Coordinates: 42°26’13.6″N 71°30’17.5″W
Date dedicated: May 16, 1883
Manufacture/design of tablets: Unknown

Stow’s tablets—memorials to the town’s fallen in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars—were created in coordination with the town’s bicentennial celebration on May 16, 1883. They were originally installed in the Town Hall. The ceremonies that day included a parade, the planting of a centennial elm on the Common, and then a large assembly at the Town Hall for the dedication of the tablets. Gen. John L. Swift of Boston gave the oration of the day. A dance in the town hall followed in the evening.[1]

In 1893, when the beautiful Randall Library was constructed, the tablets were moved and put on permanent display there. They were placed on either side of what was once the main entrance and vestible, accessed through a wide Roman arch and surrounded by polished oak paneling.[2] The vestibule is now glassed in, no longer an entrance, and forms an alcove. The building was dedicated on Washington’s birthday, February 22, 1894.

The primary inscription reads, “These tablets are erected by the Town of Stow on its two hundredth anniversary, May 16, 1883, in commemoration of the valor and devotion of its citizens who aided in achieving American independence, extending the Liberty, and preserving the unity of our country and who died in their country’s service.” This places Stow’s memorial among those that reference the destruction of slavery even if in a tempered and subtle manner.

The tablet listing Stow’s Civil War dead is unusual in that it is inscribed, “Soldiers in the Civil War ending August 20, 1866.” The curious date refers to President Andrew Johnson’s official proclamation which announced that the “insurrection is at an end and that peace, order, tranquility, and civil authority now exist in and throughout the whole United States of America.” Of course, this proclamation was not consistent with reality. Violence between rival political parties and contested local elections in the South still continued as well as widespread violence against black men and women. Johnson’s proclamation was largely a political move—an effort to appease former Confederates and an attempt to bring about a rapid conclusion to federal occupation of the South. Things did not pan out as he hoped and the date has generally been ignored by contemporaries and historians alike. Stow’s memorial is the only one in Massachusetts that uses that date.

The Civil War tablet lists 22 men who enlisted to meet Stow’s quota and died while in service. Of these, seven were killed in action or died of wounds received in battle, 13 died of disease, and two died as prisoners of war. Any one of these men might be highlighted but the record of Sgt. John A. Brown perhaps stands out. He was a 28 year-old farmer when he was mustered in just days after the start of the war as a private with the “Davis Guards.” This was the company of state militia in neighboring Acton, named for Capt. Isaac Davis who led Acton’s company on April 19, 1775 and was among the first to fall during the Concord Fight. The Davis Guards became Company E of the 6th Massachusetts Militia, which was attacked, coincidentally, on April 19, 1861 by a massive pro-secessionist mob in Baltimore. It was the first Union unit to suffer casualties in the war.

After serving his 90 day term, Brown enlisted with the 26th Massachusetts Infantry and was soon promoted to corporal and, a few months later, to sergeant and regimental color bearer.[3] His regiment first fought in the Port Hudson campaign in Louisiana, then was transferred to Virginia. During the Battle of Third Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley, the 26th Massachusetts led their bridge in a rapid charge, coming into close range of the Confederates and forcing them to retreat. They then endured a brutal artillery barrage followed by an overwhelming Confederate counter-attack, taking severe casualties—the worst of their service in the war.[4] At some point during all of this, Sgt. Brown was seriously wounded. He was taken to the rear and spent two months in a hospital in Winchester. He died there on December 8, 1864. His body was sent home and buried in Hillside Cemetery, Stow.

[1] Evening Bulletin (Providence), May 16, 1883, 6.

[2] New York Tribune, September 11, 1893, 6

[3] Color bearer according to his grave in Hillside Cemetery, Stow.

[4] Henry Estabrooks, Adrift in Dixie, or, A Yankee officer among the Rebels, (New York, Carleton, 1866), 44-46.

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