Sometimes the past slaps the present, especially concerning our heroes.
For the past few years I’ve scoured Maine to photograph its Civil War monuments, some 140 or so and ranging from the small to the tall, from the bland to the boring to the weird. I’ve photographed most, but somehow the monument in Madison fell through the gaps.
Sized at 54.82 square miles and populated by 4,855 people according to the 2010 census, Madison lies on the Kennebec River’s right bank upriver from Skowhegan and Norridgewock. Various mills have existed in Madison over the decades; the latest was Madison Paper Industries, suddenly closed in May 2016.
Maine Adjutant Gen. John L. Hodsdon credited the town with sending 173 men to war. Not all came back, the local veterans established the N.A. Weston Post No. 81, Grand Army of the Republic, and its membership shrank as the 19th century passed into the 20th.
Maine erected its Civil War monuments in waves, with a few appearing during the war (the Bangor Soldiers Monument in 1864) or soon afterwards. Aging veterans expanded the monument count in the 1880s, 1890s, and early 1900s.
Today, when looking back at America’s World War II veterans, we view them collectively as heroes for what they accomplished: saving the country and western democracy and defeating Germany, Italy, and Japan (with serious Allied help, of course).
Through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Americans similarly viewed their own Civil War veterans as heroes, no matter North or South. Monuments went up to honor and remember these men.
The Madison Library Association established a library in the Towne Block on April 30, 1887. Andrew Carnegie Foundation monies funded the current Madison Public Library, officially opened on January 3, 1907.
Carnegie donated $8,000 with the stipulation that Madison residents provide $800 per year to maintain the octagonal building, which Clifton S. Humphreys designed. The library occupies the corner formed by Old Pointe Avenue (routes 8/201A) and Pleasant Street.
Members of N.A. Weston Post No. 81 simultaneously funded a Civil War monument to stand outside the library’s main entrance. The monument featured a granite plinth and a bronze Union infantryman, clad in his great coat and leaning on his rifled musket.
Similar infantryman statues stand elsewhere in Maine and the loyal states — and down South, too. I’ve seen ’em in their dozens from Virginia to the Carolinas to Georgia, Alabama, and Kentucky.
Like it did for many other Maine monuments, including many at Gettysburg, the Hallowell Granite Company supplied the granite for Madison’s monument. Even the granite hints at heroism; the HGC vice president for many years was brevet Brig. Gen. Charles Tilton, who as a colonel led the 16th Maine to its destruction at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863.
Generations have passed since the Madison monument’s 1907 dedication. Its raison d’etre all but lost on many Mainers (ditto most other Civil War monuments), the bronze soldier is in remarkably good condition for its age and gazes diagonally across Old Pointe Avenue past a C.N. Brown convenience store and toward the Kennebec River and Anson, hidden by intervening buildings.
We recently visited Madison so I could photographically “bag” the monument. A late morning stop revealed that late afternoon is best for “shooting” the monument, at least in July, so we stopped twice, hours apart.
Navy, infantry, GAR, and Womans Relief Corp symbology adorns four of the monument’s eight-sided base. Engraved on two intervening sides are the statements “Our Country” and “N.A. Weston Post No. 81. G.A.R.”
Not noticing the front engraving facing downtown Madison, I circled the monument clockwise. It’s a neat monument, certainly worth the trip.
Then I reached the side facing Old Point Avenue. “Honor Their Memory” proclaimed the words rising from the background granite.
“Honor Their Memory”: That’s what all the Civil War monuments are about, honoring the heroes and remembering what they did.
Then I reached the front engraving and read it. My mind suddenly and briefly connected pandemic-ridden summer 2020 with summers 1861, ’62, ’63, ’64, and ’65.
“Madison To Her Boys In Blue 1861-1865” the monument proclaims.
“Boys in blue”: In 1907, Madison veterans and residents remembered when “blue lives mattered,” when blue lives ended violently on battlefields or sickeningly in hospital beds to save the country and, after the Emancipation Proclamation, to end slavery in the United States.
Blue lives mattered then — and today’s blue lives certainly matter, too.
“Her Boys In Blue”: What sweet phraseology to honor Madison’s heroes!
Sources: Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Maine for the Years 1864 and 1865, Stevens & Sayward, Augusta, ME, 1866, p. 26
If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. —————————————————————————————————————–
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.