Harvard’s Soldiers’ Monument (Worcester County). See below for additional images.

Soldiers’ Monument
Location: Town Common, Massachusetts Avenue and Still River Road, Harvard
Coordinates: 42°30’03.6″N 71°35’01.1″W
Date dedicated: May 30, 1888
Design/Sculptor/Manufacturer: Unknown

At an informal meeting of Harvard inhabitants, held on June 7, 1864, a voted passed to raise funds for a soldiers’ memorial. Thus the town supported the notion of a monument at an early date but it was many years before this idea took shape. The monument which stands on the Town Common was originally intended to be located in town cemetery.[1] This push and pull between sacred and civic settings for Civil War monuments played out in many towns.

The completed monument is distinctive in that the sole figure represented is a female one (this is the case with only a handful Massachusetts monuments). And it is unique in that the figure represents “Memory”—an allegorical subject depicted in no other Civil War monument in the Commonwealth. The figure, in the act of memorializing the dead, is shown casting roses on the graves of the fallen.

The primary inscription reads, “Harvard erects this monument in grateful remembrance of her soldiers who gave their lives to their country in the war for the defense of the Union.” It was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1888. A procession was led by the members of the Grand Army of the Republic George S. Boutwell Post No. 48, which consisted of veterans from Harvard, Ayer, and Shirley. After various remarks and the presentation of the monument, Rev. Charles Cutler Torrey, minister of Harvard’s Congregational church, gave an address.[2] The monument lists the names of 15 Harvard men who died in the war, though Henry S. Nourse, author of an 1894 history of the town, noted this list was incomplete.

On the same occasion, two marble tablets in the town’s new library were dedicated (more on these below).[3]

Among Harvard’s first volunteers were eleven men who joined a company from Lancaster, the Fay Light Guard, which became part of 15th Massachusetts Infantry, organized in Worcester in the summer of 1861. That fall, a group of eighteen joined another Worcester County unit, the 23rd Massachusetts Infantry. This was the largest contingent of Harvard men in any single regiment. Smaller numbers served in many other units.[4]

There is some discrepancy in sources as to the total number of soldiers credited to Harvard during the war. The tablets placed in the town’s library (now in Town Hall) list a total of 132 soldiers. Nourse stated that numerous names were inadvertently left off the tablets due to imperfect records and he provided a longer roster of 162 soldiers. His list included many Harvard natives living in other towns as well as residents of other towns recruited by Harvard to fill its quota. In all, 80 out of his list were actually residents at the time. Of these, 13 were killed in action or died of wounds, 9 died of disease, and 11 were wounded but survived.[5]

Click to enlarge images:

Town Hall Tablets
Location: Town Hall, 13 Ayer Road, Harvard
Coordinates: 42°30’08.8″N 71°35’04.7″W
Date dedicated: May 30, 1888
Sculptor/Manufacturer: Unknown

According to Nourse, these tablets were originally located in the old Harvard Public Library building, completed in 1887, located on Fairbank Street across from the monument. A provision was made at the time of construction for the inclusion of memorial tablets which were located in the vestibule.[6] As the building was completed a year prior to the monument, it seems likely that these tablets predate the monument on the Common, though according to Nourse they were dedicated in conjunction with the monument ceremonies in 1888. They have since been relocated to Harvard Town Hall and are now installed on either side of the second floor entrance to the meeting hall.

The tablets are noteworthy in that they include the names of two nurses from the town who served. The inclusion of volunteer nurses on soldiers’ monuments is extremely rare. Florence Burt served as a U.S. Army nurse in Dorothea Dix’s department. Sarah T. Bacon served with the United States Sanitary Commission in Washington.

Even in person, the lettering on the tablets is difficult to read. Click and zoom in to better see the names:

[1] Henry S. Nourse, History of the Town of Harvard Massachusetts. 1732-1893 (W. Hapgood: Harvard, Massachusetts, 1894), 354-355.

[2] Boston Herald, May 31, 1888, 5.

[3] Springfield Republican, June 1, 1888, 6.

[4] Nourse, 353.

[5] Nourse, 365.

[6] Nourse, 355.

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