2nd Vermont Infantry
A MOST TRAGIC 4TH OF JULY CIVIL WAR MONUMENT DEDICATION
Involving a Vermont CW Veteran
[Dedication occurred July 4, 1876 in Holyoke MA]
Source: The Holyoke Telegram May 25 1960
Memorial Day Recalls Story of City's C.W. Monument - by Bill Esposito
In the middle of Hampden Park is Holyoke's memorial to the 55 men from this city who died in the Civil War.
Again this year it will be the focal point of the Memorial Day observance, and unfortunately, that is about the only time most Holyokers take any notice of it.
Holyokers would pay a little closer attention to it, however, if they knew its history. And it has a fabulous history.
It was designed by a former Confederate officer, not just any officer, but the second-in-command of Mosby's Rangers, that legendary crew of guerrilla fighters under Col John Singleton Mosby whose exploits are now in a TV series [ed. Note 1960].
It was held up in building for seven years because Holyokers in the 1860's wanted the money used for works of art.
And on the day it was dedicated, a cannon blew up while firing a salute to the war dead and one of the gunners, who had come through the Civil War without a scratch, was literally blown apart.
The Soldiers Monument was formally dedicated on July 4, 1876, shortly after the new City Hall opened for business. The committee had wanted it ready for Memorial Day that year, but time did not permit.
Today, we do not have July 4 observances and more, but this one was special. Not only did Holyoke have its war memorial, it was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the United States as well.
9-Foot Female Liberty
The statue is the female figure of Liberty, holding a wreath of immortality in her right hand and a shield in the left. It is 16 feet high, 10 feet square at the base, and three feet square at the bottom of the statue. The female figure is nine feet high.
It bears a simple inscription, "In Memory of Our Volunteers Who Died for the Union, 1861-1865." Around the monument are inscribed the names of the 55 Holyokers who fell in battle or died from wounds and illness from Virginia to Vicksburg. Their names will conclude this article.
The bas-reliefs around the base of the statue represent the four scenes in the life of more than one soldier; leaving his home and loved ones, in battle, lying wounded under the heel of the enemy, and lying in his grave while his widow and child kneel by in tears.
The character of the monument, however, is one of peace, but the artist in his design felt mention of war should be made, and did this with the four scenes. And the artist knew about war.
He was H.G. Ellicott of the sovereign state of Virginia, who in 1861 was a firm believer in the cause of his beloved southland. He rode with Col. Mosby in the wild, lightening-like raids on the Union Army flank and rear and was second to the famed cavalryman when the war ended. Perhaps his views on slavery and states rights did not change in 1865 but he knew the meaning of war and felt it keenly when he designed Holyoke's memorial. Perhaps, though it is not known, some of Holyoke's Civil War dead may have fallen at the hands or the musket of the man who in 1876 designed a monument to their memory.
The sum of $10,000 had been appropriated in 1867 for a war memorial but an argument raged on whether or not a monument should be built with the money or works of art purchased for the then planned City Hall.
It is difficult to understand why Holyoke should dismiss a monument to its war dead for works of art in a City Hall that wasn't to be built until nine years later. And the city moved slowly then. The argument was not settled until early 1876.
The monument committee was headed by William Grover, who is best known in Holyoke's history for filching the plans for City hall from the Boston architect who had been paid his fee and then wouldn't deliver the goods.
M.J. Power of the New York Art Foundry was the general contractor selected to build via Ellicott's plans. Ellicott was selected as the designer from a host of applications and if Grover knew he was a Confederate, he didn't say anything.
Dedication Day Tragic
The dedication day was one of those hot, steamy days which must have been pure torture in the time before air conditioning or even electric fans.
A Civil War cannon was set up on the corner of Chestnut and Dwight Sts. diagonally across from the post office to fire a 21-gun salute to the war dead. As Charles C. Sawyer was swabbing the gun after the charge had been rammed home for the 14th shot the powder somehow ignited. It is judged that the old weapon's creaky mechanism was at fault. The cannon exploded in a roar of flash and flame.
Sawyer, who had fought at Gettysburg with a New Hampshire regiment (he was not a Holyoke native) was blown apart. What was left of his body was a burning limpness 10 feet away from where he had leaned into the cannon a few seconds before. Miraculously, he was still alive but died a few minutes later.
The assistant gunner, William H. Grant of Holyoke, lost his right arm clean at the elbow and took a three-inch steel splinter in the stomach. He lived, however, and joked about the tragedy when carried away, laughing that this had never happened to him when he pulled the lanyard on field guns in the Wilderness campaign. He was not told until days later that his friend Sawyer was dead.
A Vermonter was also involved [Ed. addition]
P. A. Streeter, who thumbed back the cannon's firing pin, had his thumb burned to the bone. He had stepped back to permit Grant to fire and although knocked down, was not otherwise hurt.
The appalling accident, before the eyes of several thousand people, many of them women and small children, cast gloom over the ceremony but served to bring home the pure horror of war to Holyoke.
Until then, the July 4th ceremony was gay, comical, and also spiritual. [portions unreadable]
Then at noon the celebration opened again with a huge parade from Churchill along to the park. The accident happened just as the monument dedication began, about 1:05p.m.
When things had calmed, Rev. J. L. R. Trask of the First Congregational Church spoke a prayer, and asked the audience to pray silently, not only for the war dead; but for Sawyer and Grant.
Grover, visibly shaken by the accident, transferred the monument to the city, Mayor W. B. C. Pearsons accepting. Miss Emma M. Wilson read a poem. The Honorable Charles W. Slack of Boston gave the main address, very brief by ole-time Fourth of July oration standards. Ceremonies concluded with Rev. Fr. J.F. Moors of Greenfield, 52nd Massachusetts Regiment chaplain , in behalf of all Civil War veterans.
A military drill and regatta on the Connecticut River rounded out the day.
That's how the Soldier's Monument was dedicated in Hampden Park. In a few days it will be the hub of local observance for Memorial Day. The Civil War dead will be recalled only faintly by the usually small crowd, and it is getting difficult to read the names on the base of the statue. These are the men who answered President Lincoln's call to arms almost 100 years ago, and failed to return:
Honor Roll (listed separately)
For another view of the monument, visit www.holyokemass.com.
Note: Charles C. Sawyer was born 27 July 1848 in Keene, NH. He served in the 18th New Hampshire Infantry, Co. A, from 5 September 1864 to 10 June 1865. He had been a resident of Holyoke since at least 1870, was single, and employed as a mechanic when he died. He was buried in Woodland Cemetery, Keene, NH. (Information courtesy of Rod Sawyer).
Article contributed by Don Streeter, Hamstead, NH, Philander Streeter's great-grandson; photograph courtesy of Laurel O'Donnell