SHIRLEY – The American Civil War (1861-1865) preserved the union and abolished slavery in the United States. But it also cost many lives. Of the 620,000 soldiers who died during or after the war, on and off the battlefield, 360,000 fought for the “Grand Army of the Republic.”
Fifty-seven men from Shirley were among the Union dead.
On May 30, 1891, a statue erected on the town common to honor them was dedicated, with their names inscribed on its base.
On Saturday, June 12, 2021, Shirley’s Civil War Monument was rededicated, complete with a resounding rifle salute by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War Honor Guard.
Established in 1881 and chartered by Congress in 1954, the Worcester-based organization is the legal successor to the Grand Army of the Republic, according to the event program, and its purpose is “to perpetuate the memory (of that army) and of the men who fought to preserve the Union…”
In addition to keeping documents and records and patriotic duties they carry out, members make themselves available for events that honor the United States flag and “all who have…served our country in all wars…”
For the recent rededication ceremony – sponsored by the Shirley Historical Society — the Sons of Union Veterans members wore historically correct army uniforms, blue wool and properly appointed.
Commander George Maples read aloud each of the 57 Shirley men’s names, including when, where and how they died – in battle, of disease, or from their war wounds. Solemn, reverent, immediate, the reading might have come from a recent battle roster rather than a war that ended 156 years ago.
Historical Commission Chairman Paul Przybyla read from the speech that Henry A. Pevear gave at the original dedication in 1891.
“He lived….right there,” Przybyla said, pointing to a stately house nearby.
It was Pevear, a wealthy industrialist from Lynn, who summered in Shirley, who encouraged its construction. Pevear pledged half of the cost of the monument, town meeting appropriated $500, and young people in town held fundraisers. The final cost was $1,054.
“On June 6, 130 years ago, the monument was dedicated with speeches, prayers, and music. Attending were Town Officers, ministers, Sons of Veterans, Women’s Relief Corps, members of the Grand Army of the Republic, school children, and citizens,” the Shirley Historical Society said in a statement.
The entire monument was constructed using Maine granite and stands 16-feet tall, picturing a 6-foot-2-inch infantryman at parade rest. Engraved on the statue’s base are the names of the Shirley men who served.
“We have this day dedicated a lasting monument to the men who represented Shirley in our struggle for the Union,” Przybyla said, quoting Pevear. “We cannot speak too strongly of their sacrifices or honor them…too much.”
Pevear’s words, timely in 1891, still ring true.
“Soldiers, you who know what it is to face the enemy on the battlefield, we owe you a debt we can never pay.”
To his audience, “the men and women of Shirley,” he said: “I…congratulate you upon having a monument to the memory of your noble sons who gave their lives to purchase what we now enjoy.”
The Shirley Girl Scouts sang the National Anthem. The program also included the rifle salute, a benediction, “words of re-dedication,” and ended with “Taps” played by two buglers stationed at opposite sides of the common: Deran Quinty and Rachael Fletcher.