Paint Schoodic

Register today for upcoming classes!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Brother against brother

Many of those Confederate War Monuments were made by flinty Yankees from Connecticut.

Three versions of the same Union Soldier from J. L. Mott Iron Works, courtesy of Carol A. Grissom from the Journal of American Institute for Conservation.
Every town in New England, seemingly, has its Civil War monument, an infantryman staring over the town square. There are 150 of them in Maine alone.

The one in Castine is made of granite from the Hallowell Granite Company. It was paid for by subscription in 1887, costing a total of $1525. This company also did the one in Camden, which cost $1400 in 1899. Lewiston’s cost the princely sum of $5000. It was cast in bronze from a model by Franklin Simmons, who also sculpted Portland’s memorial. Waterville’s is a mass-produced copy of Martin Milmore's "Citizen Soldier" and cost $2700 in 1876.

Saco’s is identical to that of Mercer, Pennsylvania. The pair were made by the WH Mullins Co., which would later go on to greatness manufacturing the mid-century Youngstown Kitchen Cabinet line. Saco’s memorial cost $2600 in 1907.

Simmons and Milmore were both prominent sculptors. I’m not criticizing their artistry, but they did catch a financial wave in the monument business.

Monroe, ME's Civil War monument, courtesy State of Maine.
Then there’s the town of Monroe in Waldo County. Its memorial came from the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. This was a company of true Yankee businessmen, who designed and built a cheap, modular Civil War monument that could be up and grieving before your neighboring town even got its subscription organized.

Starting in the 1870s, inexpensive cemetery monuments began to be made of zinc. They were marketed as being more durable than stone. Many of these, in fact, remain in surprisingly good condition.

Next time someone tells you they don’t make things like they used to, point out this crooked plinth on the Civil War soldier in Monroe ME. Photo courtesy Carol A. Grissom.
The Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut (subsidiaries in Des Moines, Iowa; Detroit, Michigan; Chicago, Illinois, and Canada) was a leader in this industry. They had a patented technique for a matte finish that imitated stone. These markers were sold as “white bronze” and included thousands of markers, off-the shelf statues of the virtues Faith, Hope or Charity to weep over your tomb, and the ubiquitous Civil War soldier.

They were not by any means the only company casting Civil War monuments. J. W. Fiske & Company of New York, the nation’s largest purveyor of decorative cast iron, also entered the lucrative Civil War monument trade. But they sold exclusively in the North.

Advertisement for one-size-fits-all Civil War monuments.
Monumental Bronze entered the Southern market, as impoverished as it was. In the late 1800's, they sold two versions of the Civil War soldier infantryman. Their faces, uniforms and posture were identical. The only difference was that the Union model had US on the belt buckle, while the Confederate model sported CS.

There are about 2500 of these in the former Union States and 500 in the former Confederacy. Since white bronze appears blueish-grey, they could be taken for either the blue or grey uniforms of the combatants. Their appeal to the South was simple: they cost $450 for a life-size version or $750 for the 8.5’ version, versus the thousands of dollars that custom-made granite markers cost.

I’ll leave it to others to theorize on the subversive nature of these monuments. To some, they seem like a candle to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. To me, their standardized features say a lot about the conflict, which pitted brother against brother, friend against friend.

Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment, 1884, Augustus Saint-Gauden, courtesy Wikipedia.
Boston is home to the best of Civil War memorials—the Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment by Augustus Saint-Gauden. The Massachusetts 54th was the first African-American regiment fielded in the Civil War. Saint-Gauden’s memorial is a brilliant tribute, but you don’t have to look very far to find racist attitudes in it, too. I don’t think it’s going anywhere, but does it lose its meaning if its adversaries have been melted down for scrap medal?

1 comment:

Carol Douglas said...

BTW, the argument that those Southern monuments were erected during Jim Crow is spurious. The vast majority of Civil War monuments, north or south, date from that period.