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Wilmington

Wilmington Soldiers’ Monument

WilmingtonLocation: Wildwood Cemetery, 233 Middlesex Avenue, Wilmington
Coordinates: 42°33’35.7″N 71°09’43.1″W
Date dedicated: May 30, 1902
Architect/sculptor/manufacturer: Unknown

On Memorial Day, May 30, 1902, the veterans of Wilmington decorated the graves of their fallen comrades in Wildwood Cemetery and then formed ranks facing a flag-draped stone monument. A dedication ceremony commenced with remarks from Henry Martin Eames. He grew up in Wilmington but at the time of the dedication was living in Woburn and was continuing the family business as a butcher. He related the unusual history of the effort to fund the modest stone slab they dedicated on that day.

In 1863, while the war still raged, a group of Wilmington high school students, including Eames, decided to hold a fundraising event. The money raised through their successful “entertainment” (a theatrical show) was to go towards a monument commemorating those from Wilmington who gave their lives in the war. The event “netted a considerable surplus” according to an article in the Boston Herald written at the time of dedication. But it was not enough for a monument. The funds were therefore entrusted to Eames, probably in hopes that additional events or donations would soon bring them to an adequate total.[1]

But then, it seems, the matter was dropped and the fund sat for forty years collecting interest. The fact that no additional fundraising was conducted is a bit curious but whatever the reason, by 1902 the fund amounted to $300–enough for the stone marker placed in Wildwood Cemetery. The inscription reads, “1861 – In Memoriam – 1865, To the men of Wilmington who died that the nation might live, this monument is affectionately dedicated, erected 1902 by the Wilmington Ex High School Associates of 1863.”

Wilmington was a very small town during the war with a population of about 900. About 70 men from Wilmington served in the war. The first group to volunteer consisted of six men who signed up with the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry in April 1861, shortly after Fort Sumter was attacked. The 2nd Massachusetts became part of the Army of the Potomac and was engaged in some of the largest and deadliest battles of the war. Four out of the six members from Wilmington returned home. Two received fatal wounds during the Battle of Gettysburg when the 2nd Massachusetts was ordered to make a frontal assault against a much larger force of Confederates. Lt. Col. Charles Mudge of Swampscott commanded the 2nd Massachusetts. When he received the order to make the assault, he famously said, “Well, it’s murder but it’s the order.”

Private Theodore S. Butters of Wilmington was wounded in the charge and died three weeks later in a field hospital. Private George M. Bailey of Wilmington was killed in action during the charge. Both are buried in Gettysburg National Cemetery.

[1] Boston Herald, May 31, 1902, 2.