Who vandalized the Civil War monument in Monroe?
Has a Confederate-hater mistaken the great coat-clad Union infantryman atop the monument for a Johnny Reb?
Let’s look back 130½ years to see how this story began.
On Memorial Day (Monday, May 30) 1887, hundreds of people trekked to the Village Cemetery on the Monroe Road in Monroe. Perched atop a granite base, a veiled monument rose above the rising knoll at the cemetery’s western edge. People encircled the monument and waited for the dedication ceremony to begin.
The Monroe Soldiers Monument Association had commissioned the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut to cast an intricately detailed shaft in zinc, an expensive material. Atop the shaft stood a greatcoat-clad Union veteran, also cast in zinc. His hands clasped the barrel of his rifled musket as he gazed east toward Frankfort and Winterport.
Far below the veteran’s brogans, the inscription at the base of the zinc shaft explained that the monument was dedicated “To The Perpetual Memory Of The Defenders Of The Union, 1861-1865” on the top line and “Erected By The Monroe Soldiers Monument Association May 30, 1887” on the bottom line.
The monument incorporated bronze tablets inset on all four sides of the shaft. Starting with the front tablet and continuing clockwise around the shaft, the names of Monroe soldiers and sailors were inscribed alphabetically on the tablets. Except for sailors, his company and regiment were inscribed beside each man’s name.
Down low on the front tablet’s left-hand column were nine Curtises, including the brothers William H., Stephen O., and Andrew J. Beside eight Curtises were their companies and regiments, Company B of the 19th Maine for William and Co. A of the 4th Maine for Stephen.
Not so with “Curtis, Andrew J.”: The space where his military information should be was blank.
Not by a long shot was Andrew Curtis the only veteran whose unit went AWOL on a tablet. Other men with no information after their names included Benjamin Hinson, Horace Nealley, Silas H. Pierce, John C. Ritchie, George F. Rowe, and Alberto Smith.
Almost forgotten even in Monroe, the monument has stood on its knoll as hardwood trees encroached and the Village Cemetery gradually filled. Sometime since 1887, someone vandalized the monument by using a sharp-pointed object to scratch unit information beside the name of Andrew J. Curtis.
The vandal inscribed a capital “C” in the company column and a three-word phrase in the regimental column.
All these years, people have often “read” that phrase as “2nd Maine Vol.,” which would indicate that Andrew J. Curtis had served in Company C, 2nd Maine Infantry Regiment. That information has passed into at least one Monroe history book, but it’s a mistake; Curtis was not a 2nd Maine veteran.
“The etching seems like it says 2 Wisc,” explained 20th Maine author and historian Tom Desjardins, who thinks that “Andrew J. Curtis is a fun little mystery.”
Desjardin dug into history and discovered that Curtis joined Company C, 2nd Wisconsin Infantry, at Lancaster, Wisconsin on April 22, 1861. “He was shot in the left thigh and captured at First Bull Run and held at Hospital No. 2 in Richmond,” Virginia, Desjardin learned.
Later released, Curtis suffered another wound at Gainesville, Virginia in mid-August 1862. He was discharged from the Army on January 16, 1863 and arrived in Monroe in time to marry Lydia A. Ewell of Waldo on April 5, 1863.
Now that he was home, Curtis became subject to the draft in Maine’s 5th Congressional District. His name appears on page 101 of “the draft registration list for Monroe,” according to Desjardin. The column marked “Former Military Service” indicates that Curtis had served “2 Years in 2d Wisconsin Reg’t.”
Curtis was not drafted, and he probably did not attend the 1887 monument dedication in Monroe. In 1870 he lived in Monroe with Lydia and their children George (6) and Etta (5). In 1880 the family lived in Newton, New Hampshire; Andrew and Lydia had added a son, Walter.
So who scratched Curtis’s military service after his name on the monument? We will never know.
And was it vandalism to set the record straight? You decide.
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.