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Barre

Barre Soldiers’ Monument, Worcester County (see gallery below for detail views)

Location: North Park, 1 School Street, Barre
Coordinates: 42°25’24.4″N 72°06’20.6″W
Date dedicated: May 30, 1868 (Built 1866)
Architect/contractor/sculptor: R. Pickering of Woburn

The monument in Barre is the only known example of a Massachusetts monument constructed for a completely different purpose that was purchased, transported, and re-purposed as a monument honoring soldiers and sailors of the Civil War.

The striking Italian marble memorial was originally constructed in Haverhill, Massachusetts to honor Hannah Dustin. She was an English captive taken by the Abenaki during King William’s War in 1697 who, with the help of two other captives, killed her captors and returned to Haverhill. She wrote a captivity narrative which had a resurgence in popularity during the 19th century. Her descendants, seeking to honor her memory, organized and commissioned a monument which was built on the site of her house in Haverhill in 1861. A significant number of those who pledged support were unhappy with the out of the way location and felt it should have been placed on Haverhill Common.[1] They refused to honor their pledges, the association was unable to meet their obligation to the contractor, and the contractor, R. Pickering of Woburn, sued the family association in 1863 and was awarded the right to remove the monument if not paid.[2] He waited two years for the association to come up with the money. When they refused to, he dismantled it in September 1865, removed the inscriptions and in 1866 sold it to the Town of Barre.

The monument was re-installed in Barre in 1866 and inscribed with the names of the 59 Barre soldiers who died in the war. The primary inscription reads, “Barre honors her patriot dead. Behold the sacrifice. The Union lives. Guard it sacredly.” For reasons that are unclear at present, the monument was not dedicated until Decoration Day, May 30, 1868.[3]

The first large group of Barre volunteers signed up with the 21st Massachusetts Infantry, a Worcester County regiment. Among them was Henry C. Holbrook, a 19 year-old clerk who became one of Barre’s mourned heroes. He had injured his foot as a youth and had difficulty walking. This might have exempted him from service but he persisted and was appointed a commissary sergeant–a role which should have kept from the thick of fighting. He was promoted to lieutenant and was on the front line when the 21st Massachusetts endured a terrible Confederate counter-attack on the ridge above Burnside’s Bridge at Antietam. He was killed by a fragment of exploded shell. The regimental history of the 21st Massachusetts described Holbrook as “kind and gentle, but firm in the performance of his duty, he was one of the purest minded and best of men.”[4]

Another of Barre’s heroes–one who survived the war–was Assistant Surgeon Charles G. Allen of the 34th Massachusetts Infantry. A total of 20 Barre men signed up with this regiment. During the Battle of New Market, Virginia (a terrible Union defeat), two of them–George Howe and Porter Robinson–were killed in action. As Union forces retreated, Surgeon Allen volunteered to remain on the battlefield to treat the wounded. He was captured by Confederates and sent to Libby Prison where, according to a local history by the Barre Historical Commission, “he toiled arduously to tend all the sick and wounded in that infamous place before he was exchanged.”[5]

In 2018, a set of tablets was added, surrounding the base of the monument, listing the names of every soldier from Barre who served. The additions also include a plaque dedicated to Captain Elvira Gibson, who served as a U.S. Army chaplain during the war though was not permitted a rank because of her gender. This was posthumously awarded to her in 2002. She lived in Barre after the war. The plaque proclaims that Gibson was “the first female U.S. Army chaplain and the only female officer to serve on either side during the war between the states.” With no disrespect intended to Captain Gibson, the plaque is unfortunately incorrect. It elides the fact that other women served in military roles but, like Gibson, were not awarded ranks during their service–most notably surgeon Mary Walker who earned the Medal of Honor. There was at least one Confederate female doctor, Captain Sally Tompkins, who was officially given her rank during the war. And there were several women fighting on both sides, serving in the guise of men, who received commissions. They did so under an assumed identity but this should not diminish the fact that they earned those commissions.[6]

Click images to enlarge:

[1] Charles Turner, Remembering Haverhill: Stories from the Merrimack Valley, (Charleston: The History Press, 2008)
[2] Boston Evening Transcript, October 2, 1863, 2.
[3] Boston Traveler, June 1, 1868, 1.
[4] Charles Walcott, The History of the Twenty-First Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1882), 206.
[5] Barre Historical Commission, History of Barre, Windows into the Past, (Barre: Barre Historical Commission, 1992), 278.
[6] DeAnne Blanton and Lauren Cook Wike, They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002) see chapter 4.