Norwalk Riverside Civil War Statue

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The Norwalk Riverside Civil War Monument is currently in pieces.  The rifle and one hand is missing.  It is currently stored at the Norwalk Historical Society Town House, located at 2 East Wall Street, Norwalk, Connecticut.

Introduction

Since its installation and dedication in 1889, the Soldiers Monument located in Riverside Cemetery, Norwalk, Connecticut, has suffered from deterioration and vandalism.  The zinc Civil War soldier once graced a seven-­‐foot tall granite base (still in situ) until it deteriorated to the point of collapse.  Vandals further contributed to the statue’s decline, first by stealing the rifle carried by the soldier, and eventually by pulling the statue off its base in 2002.  The Norwalk Historical Society plans to put the pieces back to together in timely recognition of the Sesquicentennial of the beginning of the American Civil War in 2011.

Significance

Before the Soldiers Monument was vandalized, the most interesting aspect was its material.  While the base was made of traditional granite, the statue of the Civil War soldier itself was made of zinc.  Thousands of Civil War memorials were erected in the years directly following the end of  the war (so much so that many states have guidebooks to highlight their individual sites), but the use of zinc was never as common as bronze or cut stone.  Historian David Ransom states that this is the only known example in Connecticut, though a related material, called “white bronze” was made in Bridgeport at the Monumental Bronze Company and one monument remains of this material.  While the inexpensive cost of zinc monuments made this a popular choice for small towns across the United States, the material is inherently weaker than bronze, and as described by Carol A. Grissom and Ronald S. Harvey in “The Conservation of American War Memorials Made of Zinc,” is especially susceptible of “breakage of brittle cast metal” at the seams (Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, 2003).

As paraphrased from Ransom’s description, the Soldiers Monument sits in the center of a burial area for the graves of 32 Civil War veterans, which itself is in the midst of 49 acres of “gently rolling well-­‐maintained terrain.”  Ransom’s description of the monument is cursory – a succinct statement for record keeping.  In contrast, the catalog card entry located at Riverside Cemetery provides a layer of significance that resounds sadly,  as the monument was the “burial place of poor and friendless deceased Union Soldiers & Sailors of the War of Rebellion.”  Later, spaces for four Spanish War veterans were granted at the “ends of rows.”  According to the 28th Anniversary Roster of the  Buckingham Post No. 12, Department of Conn., G.A.R., pamphlet published in 1908 the monument was used actively each year for Memorial Day ceremonies.  According to the pamphlet, the monument was paid for by the Norwalk G.A.R. chapter by holding a “Fair” in the State Armory, February 18 to 23, 1889.  Though his name is not mentioned in the pamphlet, the “Commander” apparently (and presciently) dedicated the monument with the following words,

It was the wish of the Post that the monument was not to be of an elaborate or expensive character, but such as would honor the hallowed spot, and mark it for future generations as the resting place of those who fought to save the Union in its hour of peril. But the memorial we to-­‐day dedicate is something even more than in honor of our dead comrades.  In the natural course of events, those solid blocks of granite will stand for ages – even long after the statue which surmounts them – and to future generations,  to whom the Grand Army of the Republic is unknown, or but a faint and distant memory, and when this cemetery shall have become a beautiful city of the dead, the inscription on yonder stone will point to the fact that in the year of our Lord 1889,  there existed in the town of Norwalk, a relic of the great War of the Rebellion, known as Buckingham Post No. 12, Department of Connecticut Grand Army of the Republic.  The monument is therefore a memorial of the Post.

So, the work the Norwalk Historical Society will do to restore this monument will be both to remember the soldiers themselves, and as the “Commander” wrote, to remember the commemorators, which today is to identify the underpinnings of the people and ideas that shaped our society and culture.

Description

The soldier figure molded of zinc is a typical standing Civil War figure type, of which stone, bronze and other materials were used in countless places across the country.  When in place, the figure stood in contrapposto, leaning on his proper right leg, arms draped easily on top of a rifle (now missing, though we believe we have identified the missing object and will be able to retrieve it).  Wearing his dress blue overcoat with cap, the figure’s head is tilted slightly to the proper right and wears a droopy mustache.  Earlier descriptions of the monument (before it was pulled down by vandals) describe the figure as leaning unnaturally backwards – a sign that the statue had begun to “creep” backwards due to the metal collapsing.

This particular standing Civil War figure was cast by J.W. Fiske in New York, a fact established by the inscription on the metal base which was photographed by Ransom’s team the year before being vandalized.  As with many zinc monuments, this one was painted brown, to replicate the look of bronze.  At this time it is unknown how many times the monument was painted, but areas of paint still exist as seen on the face.  According to Ransom’s description, the J.W. Fiske Iron Works was a “prominent New York City foundry,” who acted as a “middleman” for zinc castings one by M.J. Seeling & Co., of Brooklyn.  Further, in 2001 when Ransom completed this SOS!  Survey questionnaire, 11 other Fiske zinc monuments had been located in other places in the East and mid-­‐west.

The monument base and pedestal are grey granite, and the polished front surface in incised with the following,

In Honor of
Our Dead Comrades
Who Fought
To Save the Union
In the War of 1861-­‐1865

 

Erected By
Buckingham Post No. 12
Dept of Conn G.A.R. 1889