Bring a crane to take down Bowdoinham’s Civil War monument

The Civil War monument in Bowdoinham incorporated a cannon known as a Rodman gun set on a granite base. Erecting the monument in the early 1900s took the work of two committees. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

If Mainers ever decide to tear down their own Civil War monuments, removing Bowdoinham’s will take a small crane, at least.

In Bowdoinham on Merrymeeting Bay, residents waited until early in the 20th century to create a Civil War monument. “A committee … composed of W.B. Kendall, F.H. Purington, and J.L. Brown” set about “selecting a suitable lot for the monument,” but finding a site “became a vexed question,” wrote historian Silas Adams in The History of the Town of Bowdoinham, 1762-1912.

Offered two lots, committee members “could not agree” on which to accept, Adams indicated. In Maine Yankee fashion, townspeople disbanded the first committee and then formed a new one. Returning only J.L. Brown from the original committee, townsfolk also appointed Judge Lewis M. Fulton, George Minot, and Capt. Benjamin Adams, a trustworthy man named the committee’s treasurer.

“These men made a strong and prosperous committee, and work began to move along rapidly,” noted Adams, a Civil War veteran.

After reviewing the proffered sites, committee members chose “the Rideout lot where the hotel stood” at the town square. Bowdoinham paid $350 for the lot, located at the intersection of Main Street (modern Route 24) and River Road.

As for the monument’s design, committee members eschewed the traditional shaft-and-soldier granite monolith (the stone was often quarried in upriver Hallowell) used in many earlier Civil War monuments in Maine. Whatever failure the original committee incurred in choosing a monument lot, W.B. Kendall had already secured the monument.

In a photograph taken in 1909 (likely in autumn as suggested by the bare tree limbs), an older woman stands beside the Bowdoinham Civil War monument while holding an American flag in her right hand and a folded sheet of paper in her left hand. The paper may be the program from the August 1909 dedication of the monument. (Maine State Archives)

He had acquired “a cannon from Fort Popham,” the incomplete Federal construction boondoggle at Popham. Cast in 1864 and weighing 8,454 pounds and similar in size and shape to the cannon turned on its side at Battery B at Fort Knox State Park, the Rodman gun was delivered by boat to Bowdoinham on April 29, 1905.

That 4.2-ton cannon would be a bear to remove today.

Prep work at the Rideout lot took a while longer. The town’s road commissioner, R.A. Dickerson, “did much toward filling and completing the grading,” Adams noticed. “The filling had progressed far enough for the mounting of the gun” on a granite base on May 1, 1908.

Three years had passed since the cannon’s arrival. Reading between the lines in his book, you sense that Adams occasionally doubted if the monument would be completed, but townspeople “found J.L. Brown to be the right man in the right place.

“He worked early and late to accomplish the work, which lay so dear to his heart, and to the heart of every soldier in this town, that it might be done in their lifetime,” Adams noted. “He saw it finished and then went to his rest.”

And Brown “was nobly supported by the other members of the committee and much credit belongs to them in consummating the work,” he wrote.

Ultimately the committee raised $857.78, including $400 provided by the town. “The response was most liberal” in terms of private donations, with the net proceeds of a local concert bringing in $29.50, according to Adams.

Committee members voted to dedicate the monument on Wednesday, August 18, 1909. Silas Adams traveled from Waterville to his native Bowdoinham to deliver “the historical address.” He remembered the morning as “overcast, with some rain, and it was muddy.

“The principal exercises took place in the Grange hall,” according to Adams, and afterwards veterans “marched from the hall to the town square and formed around the monument.” Their numbers bolstered by members of the GAR’s John Merrill Post from Richmond, local GAR members conducted “services … simple and beautiful,” and “Kennebec Lodge, Knights pf Pythias, presented the national flags,” soon run up “the beautiful flag staff erected on the lot,” Adams commented.

Then “all marched back to the [Grange] hall and partook of a bountiful dinner gotten up by the ladies of Bowdoinham,” he recalled. The afternoon’s activities inside the hall included music and speakers.

Bowdoinham residents placed their Civil War monument in a small park at the corner of Main Street and River Road. Dedicated in 1909, the monument features a Rodman cannon from nearby Fort Popham. The cannon is as sharp looking today as in 1909. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Looking to the future, Adams hoped that Bowdoinham patriots would continue “looking after this plat and monument; keep green and bright the lawn and cannon.”

Bowdoinham residents have done so. In summer 2017, the Fort Popham cannon was as well polished as it was 108 years ago, and the park’s lawn was green and trimmed. The cannon sits closer to the ground now; somewhere in time, a rougher-hewn granite base replaced the monument’s original finely sculpted granite base.

Attached to the newer base is the same bronze plaque dedicated in 1909 “in grateful remembrance of the soldiers who fought in defense of their country in the Civil War 1861-1865.”

The original flagpole and a stack of cannonballs set beside the cannon have long since vanished, but a modern flagpole stands beyond the cannon, which ironically points upriver, in the general direction of Augusta and the seat of government.

Hopefully no future Maine Legislature will decide, in the spirit of erasing all visual memories of the Civil War, to take down our monuments to our heroes who saved the United States.

If our legislators ever do an ISIS and order all Civil War monuments removed, bring a crane to take down Bowdoinham’s: 4.2 tons is a whole lot of monument.

Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.