SHIRLEY — The 16-foot statue of a Civil War-era soldier has been a landmark on the town common for 146 years.
Over 500 people turned out for the dedication on May 30, 1891.
“Erected by the citizens of Shirley in memory of those brave men who in response to the nation’s call hazarded their lives to suppress the great rebellion, 1861 to 1865,” reads the inscription on the base. Above it is an emblem of two flags with crossed staves.
According to Lucy Longley’s handwritten account, 19 names inscribed on a plaque mounted on the south side of the base are those of soldiers from Shirley who died during the war; a list on the east side cites 39 who died after the monument was erected and names of 31 Shirley veterans who died after the war are listed on the west side.
The Civil War statue was a joint enterprise. In 1890, a summer resident, Henry Pevear, of Lynn, pledged to pay half the cost of a “suitable memorial monument.”
Pevear didn’t want recognition, according to a May 30, 1891 article in Turner’s Public Spirit. Money was no object, provided the town didn’t have to incur debt to pay its share.
The selectmen put an article on the Town Meeting warrant that year, and voters appropriated $500. A building committee was appointed: Pevear, Edwin White, George Lawrence, Charles Young and Melvin W. Longley.
They got estimates, designs and settled on a Blue Hill, Maine firm named Howard and Greene. The statue they chose is made of Maine granite from two quarries in Blue Hill and Thomaston. The three base stones are made of light granite, while the die is of “well known black diamond granite, finely polished.”
The figure is of an infantryman standing at parade rest.
The ground around the statue was “nicely graded” and the flagstaff was removed. “Young people” in town raised money with “entertainments and two farmer’s suppers” to pay for extra lettering and other added costs. The total was $1,054.
During the year, committee member and Grand Army of the Republic representative George Lawrence died. His name now appears on the statue he helped raise. John Nickless took his place.
The newspaper story describes the dedication in detail.
Services were held in the afternoon. Members of the George S. Boutwell Post No. 48, G.A.R., of Ayer, were there, as was Commander Richard Pierce. The veterans were accompanied by Sons of Veterans and the Woman’s Relief Corps, who decorated the graves in the cemetery. They marched to Town Hall, where the ladies provided a collation. The Harvard Band, led by W.H. Brown, played.
Pevear, his wife and daughter were among the VIP’s seated on the platform. The assembly was called to order by the selectmen chairman, a “Mr. Hazen”. It ended with “three rousing cheers and a tiger” for Pevear. The children sang “America.”
Pevear was the last speaker. “No nation honors its heroes with pensions and monuments as does the United States,” he said. “We have this day dedicated a lasting monument to the men who represented Shirley in our struggle for the union.”
He recognized those who had sacrificed all and widows and children left behind. “Father’s, teach your children the meaning of that flag … it’s benefits and costs, that they may teach it to future generations,” he said.
He acknowledged that he had not been able to serve. Declared unfit by doctors, he paid “an alien” $750 to take his place, he said. It was common practice at that time and those who paid others to serve for them received government certification for service.
Setting the stage for Memorial Day speakers in years to come, Pevear spoke of the “debt we can never pay” to “soldiers who know what it is to face the enemy on the battlefield.”
“To the men and women of Shirley, I congratulate you upon having a monument to the memory of your noble sons who gave their lives to purchase what we now enjoy,” he said. “God bless you all.”
Besides local clergy, other locally famous names on the speakers’ roster, according to the Public Spirit story, included A.D. Fessenden of Townsend, who related an incident from the Army company he served with during the war.
Shirley’s Melvin Longley spoke for the community, which he said had “used all means in their power” to ensure that all names that belonged on the monument were, in fact, inscribed there, and correctly spelled. Only one mistake was found, he said. And one name was added later that should have been on the original list: George H. Beard.
Another Shirley native — then a New Hampshire resident — notably present at the dedication was Stephen W. Wheeler, whose unit was called out under Abraham Lincoln’s first order for troops and who was marching through Baltimore when the regiment was attacked. One of six regiments that “bore dispatches on that memorable occasion,” he delivered the news of war to the Mayor of New Orleans. Wheeler was “the first man to go” to war from Shirley.