Holden

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Memorial Hall, Holden (Worcester County)

Location: Town Hall (Memorial Hall), 1204 Main Street, Holden
Coordinates: 42°21’04.0″N 71°51’45.0″W
Date dedicated: 1876
Number of names: 30 men who died in the war

A total of 204 men from Holden served in the Civil War. 30 gave their lives. Fundraising for the memorial tablets began immediately after the war. The tablets were installed and dedicated in 1876 and the town hall became known as Memorial Hall.

The Grand Army of the Republic Post #77 in Holden was named for Bvt. Colonel Theron E. Hall. At the start of the war, Hall was a 39 year-old manufacturer and abolitionist. He  first signed on in July 1861 as a lieutenant in the 21st Massachusetts Infantry. After serving nearly a year with that regiment and seeing combat in North Carolina, he was transferred to the U.S. Volunteer Quartermaster Department in July 1862. This department oversaw distribution of all manner of supplies to the army–most importantly food and clothing. He was eventually promoted to Quartermaster of the Ninth Corps, responsible for the supply of thousands of men.

Hall, Theron
Bvt. Col. Theron E. Hall of Holden

Hall took a laudable stand in 1864 during a tragic episode in Kentucky involving one of the largest refugee camps for escaped slaves–Camp Nelson, near Lexington. In the spring of 1863, the Ninth Corps was transferred to Kentucky to prepare, along with other units, for an invasion of eastern Tennessee. Camp Nelson was established as the main supply base for the campaign. But it ended up serving an unintended purpose. Self-emancipated slaves from the region flocked to Camp Nelson. The army capitalized on the opportunity by setting up one of the largest recruiting centers for the United States Colored Troops. Roughly 10,000 African-American men were enlisted there. Their families set up a make-shift refugee camp around Camp Nelson, numbering some 3,000 people over the course of the war.

Capt. Theron Hall was appointed Assistant Quartermaster of Camp Nelson and superintendent of the refugee camps. His service there was certainly not without controversy as he did not get along with superiors and was criticized for his management of the refugee camps. But he was sympathetic to the plight of escaped slaves. When disease swept through the refugees in November 1864, commanding officer Brig. Gen. Speed Fry ordered 400 women and children expelled from Camp Nelson during bitter cold weather. 102 of them subsequently perished of starvation, disease and exposure.

Outraged, Quartermaster Hall protested and insisted that the refugees be allowed back in camp. When he got nowhere with that, Hall went above Gen. Fry’s head, writing to numerous superior officers and even penning a letter to the New York Tribune under the name “Humanitas,” exposing what he called deliberate cruelty and ferocious brutality. This letter was reprinted widely throughout the North. For his insubordination, Hall was placed under house arrest for a time. But General Fry was soon removed, the expulsion order rescinded and a “Home for Colored Refugees” eventually constructed under Hall’s direction.

[Sources: Richard D. Sears, Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History, (University Press of Kentucky, 2002), 135-153; The Liberator, December 9, 1864, 3.]