Mount Auburn’s Civil War Heroes: Preserving Memory in Stone

March 18, 2013


With a $5,000 matching grant from the Massachusetts Sesquicentennial Commission of the American Civil War, and additional support from Harold I. Pratt, the Mildred Cambridge Memorial Fund, The Ruth & Henry Walter Fund, and other generous supporters, Mount Auburn has recently finished conservation of five Civil War monuments and landscape enhancements to a sixth.

928 monuments at Mount Auburn commemorate Civil War veterans. The six included in this project are most in need of conservation. These monuments are frequent stops on our walking tours and are featured in public programs and interpretive materials.

After years of exposure to the New England climate, these fragile monuments need more than routine maintenance. If left unattended, the stones will erode, their relief carvings will deteriorate, and their inscriptions will be illegible. Funding will enable us to save these tangible memorials, their intangible stories, and a significant part of Civil War history.

These monuments represent individuals who served on the front lines as well as those who supported the war effort in other vital ways. Their personal stories and the ways in which their families chose to memorialize them provide a deeper understanding of the Civil War and its effect on Massachusetts families.

The monuments conserved include:

Nathaniel Bowditch (1839 – 1863), Lot 1206 Tulip Path

Co. H. 1st Regt. M.V. Cav.; Died in Kelly’s Ford, VA, 1863

The inscription on Nathaniel Bowditch’s monument gives a brief insight into the short life of the Assistant Adjunct General who lost his life at age 23:

Nathaniel Bowditch, Act. Assist. Adjt. General, 1st Cav. Brigade. Army of the Potomac, age 23 years. 3 mos. 13 days. Wounded at Kelly’s Ford VA. March 17, died in camp 1st Mass Cav. March 19,1863.

The father of Nathaniel Bowditch, noted abolitionist Henry Bowditch, was stricken with grief when he learned Nathaniel had been wounded and he rushed from Boston to Virginia to tend to his son — only to learn that Nathaniel had died before he arrived. When Henry realized that his son might have survived had he been able to get to a hospital in time, he worked to improve ambulance service to quickly transport the wounded to medical facilities.

Henry Bowditch’s sorrow at his son’s loss is well documented in letters. To keep his son’s memory alive he chose the powerful, evocative imagery of a cavalry sword for his monument, which he considered to be the embodiment of his son’s life. Nathaniel’s body lies beneath this carved sandstone likeness of his saber.

John Hancock (1842 – 1877), Lot 1206 Tulip Path

Private, Enlisted in Company F, Massachusetts 20th Infantry Regiment; Died October 11, 1862

This monument can be found resting near that of Nathaniel Bowditch in the Bowditch family lot. This monument is thought to commemorate John Hancock, a coachman who lived in Dorchester during the late 1860s. Massachusetts census records confirm that an African-American Civil War veteran named John Hancock was living in Boston’s West End in 1865. The Bowditch family were ardent abolitionists, and it is reasonable to infer that they may have interred a beloved African-American employee respected for his military service in the family lot.

Edgar Newcomb (1840 – 1862), Lot 1702 Sedge Path

First Lieutenant, 19th Regiment; Died December 20, 1862

At the age of 23, Edgar Newcomb had already fought in 14 battles without injury. The first lieutenant served at the Battle of Fredericksburg; when he tried to pick up the colors from an injured 19th Regiment soldier at the Rappahannock River, he was wounded as well. Newcomb died in a Virginia hospital and was transported back to Boston, where his funeral at the Park Street Church was followed by a procession by foot all the way to Mount Auburn Cemetery.

A carved replica of Newcomb’s hat adorns his monument, designed by his family. As Newcomb lay dying, he requested the following inscription from the original Hebrew Scriptures Song of Songs: “Until the day breaks and the shadows flee.” The monument is a significant example of the work of local stone carver Alexander M. McDonald, who also incorporated stone replicas of Newcomb’s tope and sword in its sheath into the overall design of the monument.

Arthur Buckminster Fuller (1822 – 1862), Lot 2566 Pyrola Path

Chaplain, 16th Regiment; Died December 11, 1862, Battle of Fredericksburg

The younger brother of women’s rights activist Margaret Fuller Ossoli, chaplain Arthur Buckminster Fuller was an outspoken abolitionist who advocated for free public education. Fuller left his position as a preacher in Watertown, Massachusetts at the outbreak of the Civil War, when he volunteered as a chaplain and joined the 16th Mass. Regiment. After learning that the chaplain for the 19th Regiment had fled, he joined the troops at the Battle of Fredericksburg. He was taken down by a sharpshooter.

Fuller is buried in a family lot near the monument commemorating his sister. His tall marble monument is adorned with two bronze plaques: the top commemorates Fuller with text and a wreath of laurel, and the lower plaque commemorates his wife, Emma Lucilla Reeves Fuller.

Henry Todd (1837 – 1864), Lot 1762 Spruce Avenue

Corporal, Company B, 36th Infantry Regiment; Died May 6, 1864

Todd was a flag bearer who died in action in Wilderness, Virginia. His death is described in The History of the thirty-sixth Regiment Massachusetts volunteers: 1862 – 1865 as follows: “Sergeant Henry Todd, who bore the state color, although wounded in the arm, refused to the last to fall back, and received a bullet in the head, which laid him low in death.”

Todd’s marble headstone is topped with a Gothic-style finial. There is a unique bas-relief carving on the front surface — a portrait of Todd holding a waving flag. The high relief carved figure stands astride a quickly-eroding thin marble ledge.

Dorothea Lynde Dix (1802 – 1887), Lot 4731 Spruce Avenue

Dorothea Dix was a social reformer whose devotion to the welfare of the mentally ill led to widespread reforms. At the age of 59, only a week after the attack on Fort Sumter, Dix volunteered to form an Army Nursing Corps. Under her leadership and guidance, Army nursing care was dramatically improved.

The executors of Dix’s will arranged for her to be buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery close to William Ellery Channing’s family lot on Greenbrier Path. Her simple granite monument is inscribed with her name; the elegant English Ivy once bordering the monument has given way to a barren lot and an angled, shifting headstone. Grant funding will support horticultural enhancements to the lot and the resetting of the headstone.


Learn more about Mount Auburn and the Civil War by reading posts tagged ‘Civil War.’


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.