West Boylston

Soldiers’ Monument
Location: Mount Vernon Cemetery, Church Street, West Boylston
Coordinates: 42°21’46.1″N 71°46’47.1″W
Date dedicated: May 30, 1895
Architect/designer/manufacturer: A. O’Toole, stone works

In 1895, the Ladies Relief Corps of West Boylston, led by Mrs. Ellen S. Warren, raised the funds on behalf of the George B. Wells Post 28 of the Grand Army of the Republic for the construction of monument on the soldiers’ plot in Mount Vernon Cemetery. The base is made from dark blue Quincy granite and the figure from Westerly, RI granite. It was dedicated on Memorial Day of that year. Overall, 212 men from West Boylston served. Of them, 34 died in the war.[1] The primary inscription on the monument reads, “To honor the men of West Boylston who fought to save the Union.”

Rev. George S. Ball, formerly the chaplain of the 21st Massachusetts Infantry, gave the dedication oration. A total of 21 men from West Boylston served in the 21st Massachusetts (the largest group from the town in any regiment).[2] Rev. Ball was much beloved by the men in his regiment and would have been familiar to many of the surviving West Boylston veterans.

One of West Boylston’s own who served with the 21st Massachusetts was Sgt. Thomas R. Plunkett, a recipient of the Medal of Honor. He was one of the Commonwealth’s most widely known heroes back in his day. Given that he was from West Boylston, it would be remiss not to include at least a brief version of his story here. For a fuller version, read the article, “Sgt. Thomas Plunkett and Fredericksburg.”

Plunkett’s family emigrated to the United States from Ireland when he was a small boy and settled in West Boylston where he grew up and eventually worked in a shoe factory. He joined the 21st Massachusetts in August 1861 and served with that unit in numerous large battles. The regiment was one of many sent up towards Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg in a tragically futile attempt to break the well-entrenched Confederate line there. During their advance under extraordinarily heavy fire, the color bearer went down and Plunkett rushed forward to pick up the colors. He advanced in the lead of his regiment even as bullets pierced the flag, nearly shattered the staff, and tore through his cap. Finally, a shell exploded directly in front of him, killing three men around him. Horrifically wounded, Plunkett still managed to hold onto the colors until someone took them from him. His left arm was amputated just below the elbow and his right arm below the shoulder.[3]

Clara Barton (who was also of Worcester County and had a soft spot for boys from the 21st Massachusetts) assisted during his surgery. Not long after the battle, the someone showed her the flag Plunkett had carried. His blood, she recalled, “literally obliterated the stripes.” Barton cared for him after his surgery and Plunkett later repeatedly told her, “You saved my life.” She referred to him as the hero of four words.[4] Back in Massachusetts, friends raised funds to support him, he was widely recognized for his service, and he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1866.

Image courtesy of West Boylston Town Clerk

Town Hall Plaque
Location: Town Hall, 140 Worcester Street, West Boylston
Coordinates: 42°21’35.9″N 71°46’51.0″W
Date dedicated: Unknown
Architect/designer/manufacturer: Unknown

The names of West Boylston’s soldiers who died in the war are recorded on a plaque hanging in the town hall. Details as to when and how this plaque came to be are elusive. A painted design of this sort is unique in Massachusetts. When the plans to create Wachusett Reservoir were implemented, beginning in 1897, the buildings in the old center of town were either demolished or moved. A new town center was built on higher ground and West Boylston’s new town hall was constructed in 1905. It seems possible that the plaque dates from that time and probably was originally mounted in the 1905 town hall—but this is only a guess. Sadly, the 1905 town hall was destroyed by fire in 1917.[5] Plaques in several other towns were salvaged from town hall fires, including nearby Leicester, so it is not impossible that the West Boylston plaque could have survived such an event. When the present town hall was recently built, the plaque was installed there. Perhaps some source will surface to tell us more about this memorial.

[1] “GAR monument,” Town of West Boylston, https://www.westboylston-ma.gov/cemetery-department/pages/gar-monument

[2] Massachusetts Adjutant General’s Office, Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War, (Boston: Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1931), vol 2.

[3] Charles Walcott, History of the Twenty-first Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1882), 240-245.

[4] Stephen Oates, A Woman of Valor: Clara Barton and the Civil War, (New York: Free Press, 1994), 113-114, 119-123.

[5] Beaman Memorial Public Library, “The History of West Boylston: Town Halls,” August 13, 2014.

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