This year marks the 150-year anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. Over the course of the next four years, commemorative ceremonies and events will help Americans today remember the history of our nation’s struggle to end slavery and the people who gave their lives in a war that remains the bloodiest in American history.
A war fought on our own soil against our own people, the Civil War truly hit home for Americans who lived during the four years it ravaged our nation. Newton was no exception. Today, a monument stands in the in dedication to the soldiers from Newton who perished in the war.
Truly a community effort, the monument was erected in 1864 thanks to funding from the citizens of Newton; according to King’s Handbook of Newton, “1,200 citizens of the town gave one dollar each, and 1,100 school-children gave a dime each.” Newton’s monument was one of few put in place before the war had ended.
Similarly, the city of Somerville’s Civil War Memorial was erected in Milk Row Cemetery in the summer of 1863. Why some communities chose to build memorials before the war’s conclusion remains a mystery.
Newton men fought bravely in the war, and many lost their lives. Eighty one of the 229 Newton men who were at Gettysburg died there, but others served in battles of lesser fame. Newton “furnished 1,129 soldiers, besides 41 sailors in the navy…They were in 30 Massachusetts regiments, and fought on 75 fields of battle,” according to King’s History. Many others served in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Massachusetts Cavalries. They fought at places like Bull Run, Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, Whitehall, Kinston, and in campaigns in Louisiana, Alabama, and Sherman’s march through Georgia. They fought in every arena of the war, from beginning to end and their names are listed on the monument at Newton Cemetery so their contributions will never be forgotten.
Over the years, the war memorial at Newton Cemetery has withstood the vicissitudes of time and weather in the quiet way that granite does, but it is beginning to show signs of age. The cartouche that used to sit atop the monument now rests in front of it, safe from toppling to the ground or crushing the monument below. The stones of the retaining wall that hugs the monument have shifted over time, giving the wall an irregular shape, and the cap that tops the monument has tilted with the movement of the earth around it. Cracks in the granite are also in need of repair. Thankfully, there are people working to procure Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding to restore the monument to good condition.
This spring or summer, take a stroll through Newton Cemetery and find a moment to visit the memorial. There you will find names carved into granite, but do not forget that the men who bore these names and gave their lives so that we could live in these United States of America.