Sentinel Soldiers


Fully two-thirds of Maine’s public Civil War monuments feature  the figure of a solitary soldier, nearly always on foot, solemn, and gazing into the distance, as befits the words commonly inscribed on the pedestal: heroic, honorable, valorous, brave, and patriotic.  In most, he has some sort of weapon, usually a rifle, in his hand, and is standing at parade rest.  These soldier monuments are constructed to be palpable metaphors for people who command respect—skilled artisans created them out of durable materials (principally granite and bronze), and they were erected on a plot of land of some importance to the community—a park, the center of town, a common, or beside a main thoroughfare.  These monuments, representing a single human soldier, render the Civil War and all its technology, loss and disruption as a distinctly human act, with distinctly human sacrifice.

Biddeford, Maine

This monument features an excerpt from Theodore O’Hara’s poem, “Bivouac of the Dead.” Excerpts of the poem appear on many Civil War statues and national cemeteries throughout the North and South.

In the North, O’Hara is generally not identified as the poet, since he fought for the Confederacy.

The poem is used so often on Civil War monuments, it was mistakenly thought to have been written as a tribute to Civil War soldiers, but O’Hara wrote this poem ca. 1850 in honor of his fellow Kentuckyians who died in the Mexican American War.

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Ellsworth, Maine

Monuments were funded from two sources–public funds, or privately, through donations by individual citizens or funds raised by a group with Civil War or military roots (for example, the Ladies Aid Society or the Grand Army of the Republic).

Ellsworth’s Soldiers’ Monument exemplifies the former, expressed in its inscription, which reads, in part: “In honor of the Men of Ellsworth… Their Grateful Townsmen Have Raised this Memorial.”

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Lewiston, Maine

One of the first monuments erected in the US after the war, Lewiston’s was featured in the April 25, 1868 issue of <em>Harper’s Weekly</em>. Four bronze plaques list the names of Lewiston’s soldiers who had died.

Once cast, the plaques couldn’t be amended, so the monument commission had to ensure the accuracy of the list.

For this purpose, the <em>Lewiston Evening Journal</em> published monument committee’s list over the course of several days, with the following appeal to the public: “That there may be no ommissions [sic] of names and that they may be correct in initials and spelling, the committee would call the attention of relatives, acquaintances and friends to the list below, and ask them to report any inaccuracy as soon may be, verbally, or by letter.”

Once the list was verified, the plaques were cast and affixed to the monument.

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Auburn, Maine

This monument, like many others in Maine, is carved of Hallowell granite, prized because, when finished, it has the hardness of granite with the whiteness of marble, and its fine-grained texture lends itself to the detail work needed in figural monuments.

During the 1880s, the Hallowell Granite Works employed many immigrant stone artisans from throughout Europe; two of them, from Italy, are said to have created this monument.

Italian stonecutters were valued for their skill in sculpting granite, although Maine’s granite industry employed skilled stonecutters from other European countries as well, among them Scotland, England, Sweden and Finland.

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Lincoln, Maine

This monument is noteworthy for its description of the War as one which “destroyed slavery.”

While monuments noting the end of slavery exist, only a small percentage include a tribute to the end of slavery, and many of those were created later than 1887 when Lincoln dedicated its Soldiers’ Monument.

Military Road, on which this monument is located, has no association with the Civil War, but is an old military road that connected Lincoln and Houlton.

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Union, Maine

Union is one of several Maine towns which erected Civil War monuments on its town common, traditionally used to graze livestock and train local militia. The town common was a gathering space, suitable for events such as the patriotic assembly captured in this photo (ca. 1890) of a multi-generational group assembled at the foot of the Civil war monument.

The group is comprised of school children, some of whom wear sashes bearing the names of states; men in Civil War uniforms, and some who may be Civil War veterans; and many US flags.

Union’s Common (established 1809), one of the oldest public commons in the state, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Placement of the monuments was often a contentious question but the Common, as a focal point of civic activity, was a logical choice.

The Civil War monument continues to be a source of pride, as reflected in the wording on the Union Historical Society’s webpage: “There are benches for the public, a bandstand built in 1897, a war memorial and of course a fine Civil War memorial made from local granite.”

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Dover-Foxcroft, Maine

The 1895 Reunion of the Sixth Maine Infantry Regiment was held at the site of this monument.

The Regiment, organized in Portland in 1861, was engaged in many battles of the War, including Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wilderness, and Cold Harbor.

The Regiment lost 255 men throughout the war.

For a brief period, the Civil War monument and the town watering trough shared Dover Foxcroft’s central green space.

Watering troughs were essential community services when horses provided the primary means of transportation, and, in at least one case, a public watering trough was the Civil War monument.

In 1893, the Salmon Falls, Maine, Ladies Aid Society commissioned a stone watering trough inscribed “In Memory of Our Soldiers.”

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Salmon Falls, Maine

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