, Newburyport, MA

November 26, 2012

Civil War memorial in need of restoration funds

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

The Great War, or World War I as it would later be renamed, ended on Nov. 11, 1918. It ended what was to be the “war to end all wars.”

As that day was chosen to remember all veterans who offer themselves in protection of our country, we need to remember veterans of all other wars and conflicts as well.

On Sunday, Nov. 11, we offered “Footsteps of Heroes: Civil War Walking Tour of Newburyport.”

This tour highlights many of the stories of Newburyport’s history in relation to the mid-19th century conflict.

The city suffered economically from loss of trade with the Southern states.

Young men, who had never gone more than 10 or 20 miles from their birthplace, left home and never returned. Those who did often were changed men.

Just prior to the war, a small number of people in town spoke of abolishing slavery.

Most of the city was against abolishing slavery for their own economic reasons.

Although we present these tours a number of times during the non-winter months, this is the third year we used Veterans Day to raise money for Atkinson Common, Newburyport’s Civil War memorial park. The money from this year Veterans Day tour raised $150.

Most towns have a Civil War statue, mass-produced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by a few companies that made similar statues for almost any town in the country.

Perhaps a roster of names surrounds the pedestal.

Newburyport chose another path.

After years of open space, the land known as Atkinson Common would be graced with a statue known as The Volunteer. The depiction is that of a soldier walking home.

Mrs. Theo Alice Ruggles-Kitson was the artist (and model) and the statue was presented to Newburyport in 1902.

An identical statue was made and placed on a Massachusetts boulder to represent the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Miss.

However, it was determined more was needed in Newburyport and on June 17, 1913, a small plaza with brass tablets made by Albert Russell and Sons was unveiled behind the statue. The names of Newburyport’s sons who fought in the Civil War on land and sea, along with President Lincoln’s famous speech at the dedication of the Soldiers’ Cemetery at Gettysburg, Penn., are cast into the brass.

Currently, the Belleville Improvement Society, which has always had the charge of Atkinson Common, is undertaking a restoration process.

The flooring had not aged well with years of water and ice damage.

It’s been removed and a new drainage systems and a new floor will eventually be in place.

The plan is to have the whole area ready for the 100th anniversary of the tablets in June 2013, just under seven months away.

I would like anyone who respects history and veterans to consider any donation they too can make for this endeavor.

William Hallett