A piece of history on the Old Deerfield Common

  •  A 3-foot section of the original fencing for the 1867 monument on the Old Deerfield Common. A replica fence will be installed this fall by the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Published: 6/20/2019 10:54:45 AM

It was very satisfying to see the June 11 front-page coverage of the repairs of the 1867 monument on the Old Deerfield Common. The reporter did a fine job of tracing the six-year history of the project and acknowledging the many contributing participants.

This war memorial on the Deerfield Common is indeed a very historic monument. It was erected very early in the movement to place such memorials, memorials which eventually appeared throughout the country, North and South. The Deerfield example is worthy of an extended life, a new chapter, as it were, with a replacement bronze replica of its original soldier.

The plans for placing Deerfield’s monument were made just as the conflict was ending — in fact, the idea for a monument was conceived by several of the attendees at the Deerfield funeral of Col. George D. Wells, who was killed October 1864 before the end of the war in 1865. The wording of the monument’s inscriptions, its design, and choices of the finial sentinel atop, set in stone the raw, deeply felt emotions of those who had lost their sons.

Very importantly, even the name given the conflict on the monument was a judgment. The words “civil war” do not appear on this monument, and certainly not the words “The War Between the States.” The dedicating inscription reads:

“In grateful appreciation of the Patriotism and self sacrifice of Her lamented sons and soldiers, who for the Country and for Freedom laid down their lives in the war of the Great Rebellion.”

To the people of much of the North, the war was a traitorous, great rebellion of disloyal citizens.

And for whose freedom did the soldiers lay down their lives? Deerfield was a very strong abolitionist town. I have no doubt these words mean “for the freedom of enslaved African Americans.” For Deerfield, the war was about ending slavery.

Deerfield’s monument states clearly that it is not a monument limited to just those who fell in battle. It includes those who died in “some loathsome prison-pen” referring to the terrible conditions of the Confederate camps for captured Union prisoners of war. (About 56,000 soldiers died in prisons during the war, accounting for almost 10 percent of all Civil War fatalities.) Andersonville and Libby, two of the most notorious Confederate prisons, are inscribed on the panels on the monument alongside the names of battlefields where Deerfield men died.

The monument is extremely important to the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, particularly as many of the leading citizens responsible for erecting it, including town historian George Sheldon, went on three years later to incorporate the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association in 1870. Its mission at that time was to place historical monuments around Franklin County, starting with the one to Eunice Williams Sr. killed in the February Deerfield Raid of 1704 in the Greenfield Meadows.

Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association is proud to have originally led the early stages of the monument restoration project through the generosity of John and Pam Stobierski and other association members. Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association is very grateful to the generous support of Deerfield Academy (and its Class of 1969 who donated funds) as well as Deerfield townspeople and the leadership of the Deerfield Historical Commission and the generosity of the Community Preservation Fund Committee and support from town officials and staff who continued the project when it grew beyond Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association’s resources and expertise. I would also like to acknowledge an unsung heroine of the early effort, Deb Blodgett of Hadley, who for two years at the very beginning of the project, voluntarily administered the project and performed extensive research, report writing, and photo-documentation. Equally unsung has been John Nove, chair of the Deerfield Historical Commission who so successfully shouldered the details of the project for four years and counting.

Yet, the restoration is not yet complete. At Deerfield Town Meeting this spring it was voted that Community Preservation Funds be used for installing the reproduction fencing based on the monument’s original 1867 fence. This new reproduction iron fencing was recreated as part of Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association’s original grant from the Massachusetts Sesquicentennial Commission of the American Civil War. It has been waiting in storage for its new home. Fittingly, the fencing was recreated from a three-foot section fortunately preserved in Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association’s Memorial Hall Museum in Old Deerfield when the original 1867 fencing was replaced in 1960.

The fence should be installed by fall. This is appropriate timing as the monument was dedicated Sept. 4, 1867.

Tim Neumann is the executive director of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association in Deerfield.

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