Shirley Soldiers’ Monument (Middlesex County). See gallery below for additional images.

Location: Town Common at Parker Road and Center Road, Shirley
Coordinates: 42°34’20.8″N 71°38’59.2″W
Date dedicated: May 30, 1891
Architect/design: Howard & Green of Blue Hill, Maine, design and manufacture

The primary inscription reads, “Erected by the citizens of Shirley in memory of those brave men who in response to the nation’s call hazarded their lives to suppress the Great Rebellion, 1861 – 1865.” It lists the names of 58 men from Shirley who served. This list is far from complete due to the unconventional manner in which names were recorded on the monument. One face of the pedestal lists those from the town who “died in service”—a typical practice. Another face lists those who “died since the war” (between war’s end and the placing of the monument), and a third lists names under the header “died since monument erected.” The third panel would thus have to be periodically updated as time went on—and apparently this was done for a short time. No other Massachusetts town handled inscriptions in quite this way.  

At some point, additions to the monument were discontinued and the resulting list is therefore an incomplete representation of those who served. In all, 138 from Shirley served in the war according to the count of a local historian in the 19th century.[1] Thus, less than half of the overall number who served are named on the monument. It certainly creates (unintentionally and by happenstance) a misleading perception that has led to some confusion as to how many men from the town served.

Shirley’s monument was rededicated on June 12, 2021. Newspaper reports of the event perpetuated the numbers confusion, variously citing the 58 names as the total who served from the town or in some cases, the total who were killed.[2] Some additional signage at the monument site might clear up this confusion.  

The effort to build the monument was sparked by Henry Augustus Pevear, a resident of Lynn who summered in Shirley. He was a wealthy manufacturer of morocco, or leather goods. He also managed one of the first major electric companies in Massachusetts. He offered to pay for half of the monument provided that Shirley residents would match his pledge. The town accordingly voted during town meeting to appropriate the other half. After reviewing several proposals, a committee selected a design by Messrs. Howard & Green who ran a granite company in Blue Hill, Maine.[3]  

During the dedication, the oration of the day was given by Rev. Albert F. Newton of Marlborough. Several others gave shorter remarks, including the original donor, Henry Pevear. His message was in some ways typical of the 1890s, glossing over the causes of the war and praising both Union and Confederate sacrifices in reconciliationist fashion. He spent some time speaking of “brave but misguided” Confederate dead who, he observed sadly, rested mostly in unmarked graves. And yet, departing just slightly from the usual reconciliationist rhetoric of the time, Pevear drew a distinction between the Confederate soldier who, he claimed, did not really understand what they were fighting for, and the Confederate commanders who understood perfectly well what they were doing. He conjured the specters of Andersonville and Libby saying that he had “little patience for those people who speak with approbation of those men who fired upon our own flag”…particularly those in command.[4] Others certainly made this distinction and it became a convenient way to praise Confederate soldiers, asserting erroneously that they were ignorant of or did not understand the causes of the war.

The statue was decapitated by vandals in March, 2010. Though pieced back together, the sculpture still shows damage inflicted during the incident.

Click to enlarge images:

[1] Seth Chandler, History of the Town of Shirley, Massachusetts (Shirley, MA: Published by the author, 1883), 138.

[2] See, for instance M. E. Jones and Jacob Vitali, “Fifty-Seven [sic] men from Shirley not forgotten,” Nashoba Valley Voice, June 17, 2021.

[3]Fitchburg Sentinel, June 2, 1891, 7.

[4]Fitchburg Sentinel, June 2, 1891, 7.