Amherst Civil War tablets (Hampshire County). See below for additional images.

Location: Bangs Community Center, 70 Boltwood Walk, Amherst
Coordinates: 42°22’37.3″N 72°31’07.2″W
Date dedicated: Unknown (installed March 1893)
Designer/manufacturer: Unknown

Amherst’s tablets, like a number Civil War peregrinating memorials in Massachusetts, have seen travels and changes. Fortunately, they have been preserved and are now on public display in a temporary location, awaiting a permanent home.

The Civil War veterans of Amherst’s Grand Army of the Republic Edwin M. Stanton Post No. 36 (later reorganized as Post No. 147) donated a set of six marble tablets to adorn the interior of the new Town Hall in 1893. That the veterans were able to do this is remarkable given the numerous setbacks they encountered—their quarters burned no fewer than four times (at one point forcing the post to disband for a span of years).[1] The downtown blocks of Amherst had a number of serious fires in the late 19th century. In 1888, the GAR quarters burned the night before a major fundraising fair was to be held, destroying all the objects that had been donated for sale.

Despite all this, the post managed to pull together $600 to pay for an imposing set of five very large tablets and a smaller dedicatory tablet. The veterans received permission in 1891 to place the proposed tablets at no cost to the town, fundraising proceeded, and the project was accomplished in March 1893.[2] The resulting memorial lists the names of 312 men from Amherst who served. The primary inscription reads, “These tablets are to perpetuate the memory of the soldiers and sailors of Amherst, who served in the War of the Rebellion.” The GAR was also given space in the elegant new town hall for their meeting rooms.

Of Amherst’s soldiers, 12 were killed in action, 17 died from wounds, and 28 died of disease for a total of 57 lost in the war.[3] These men served in many different regiments but it should be noted that a large percentage, nearly one-quarter, of Amherst’s soldiers belonged to Company D of the 27th Massachusetts Infantry. This company was raised by Capt. Timothy Sloan of Amherst (a former officer of the Massachusetts militia) in September 1861. They fought in North Carolina and in major battles in Virginia during the Siege of Petersburg, suffering the worst

When the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, black men were finally permitted to enlist and a significant number from Amherst (16 men) served in two of the state’s African American units—the 54th Massachusetts Infantry and the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry. According to an account of the time, “Mrs. C. Thompson of this town has now in the army of the United States four sons, one son-in-law, and six grandsons, all in the Massachusetts 54th and 5th Cavalry colored regiments.”[4]

Amherst’s black soldiers were involved in the famous assault on Fort Wagner, outside Charleston, South Carolina—an event depicted in the film Glory. Soldiers of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry were among the last Massachusetts troops serving in the field in 1865. They were shipped to Brazos Island at the mouth of the Rio Grande, arriving in Texas on June 30. They were one of many regiments of the XXV Corps shipped to secure that region, enforce the dismantling of the Confederate state government, and to bring freedom to the formerly enslaved by enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation. The 5th Massachusetts remained in Texas until October 1865.

In the 1990s, Amherst’s Civil War tablets were removed from the town hall and placed in storage.[5] In 2000, Dudley Bridges, Sr., a World War II veteran and Amherst resident, began an effort to restore the tablets and return them to public view.[6] Sadly, this effort was not realized until after his death. In 2021, the tablets were set up in a dedicated exhibition space in the Bangs Community Center. The exhibit is curated by Mr. Bridges’s daughter, Debora Bridges, who is also a descendant of one of the Amherst members of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry. A proposal is under consideration to permanently install the tablets in the town library when that building undergoes renovation and expansion—a project slated to begin in 2023.

Click images to enlarge:

[1] “Anniversary at Amherst,” Springfield Daily Republican, December 4, 1897, 8.

[2] “Memorial Tablets,” Boston Globe, March 8, 1893, 6.

[3] Edward Wilton Carpenter, History of the Town of Amherst (Amherst, MA: Press of Carpenter & Morehouse, 1896), 491.

[4] Frank Prentiss Rand, The Village of Amherst: A Landmark of Light (Amherst: Amherst Historical Society, 1958), 122.

[5] Scott Merzbach, “After Decades in Storage, Amherst’s Civil War Tablets Return to Public Eye,” Daily Hampshire Gazette, August 1, 2021.

[6] “The Amherst Civil War Tablets & Photograph Exhibit,” brochure, Bangs Community Center.

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