“How sleep the brave, who sink to rest with all their country’s wishes blest.”
A lone soldier sits atop Forest Hill Cemetery in Greencastle. He is seated with his foot on a cannon of long ago, looking westward, perhaps toward the future he fought for. “He” is a stone memorial, rising nearly 30 feet in the historic cemetery. He represents all the men, young and old, from Putnam County who fought and died in the Civil War, and he is aptly titled “Soldier of the West.”
There are 321 names in all, of those who gave their life, inscribed on the octagonal base of the statue, a number that shows the tremendous loss of men for this then-small county and reflective of the loss the Civil War wrought on the nation. When dedicated July 2, 1870, honoring these men, it was before an immense crowd of people with famed dignitaries in attendance. The hope was that what these named men accomplished would never be forgotten, according to early reports of the ceremony.
Probably today, not too many even know — or ever knew — that this memorial still stands guard in Forest Hill, let alone remember the great sacrifice the men it represents made for our country. However, this Civil War statue has gained national attention through the years for its uniqueness, and has gained increased local attention as its crumbling platform and dilapidated condition are crying out for care and attention.
The statue is featured in several books including: “Our Past, Their Present”; “A Generation at War”; and “Remembrance, Faith and Fancy.”
It is unique for several reasons. It was the third Civil War monument placed in Indiana; the first Civil War memorial in Indiana that boasted a human figure; it was set in a cemetery rather than a courthouse square, another prominent government building or a more public place; and it is a figure of a “boy in blue,” a common soldier, a volunteer, rather than an officer. The figure, which was described as “a faithful portrayal of a Civil War volunteer” in 1870 dedication ceremony documents, was also seated, casually — a relaxed posture rather than the more common formal poses of other monuments. All in all, this monument is of great historic significance. According to the website Sculptural Civil War Monuments in Indiana, “There is no other figure like him in the state.”
“It may not be the only [Civil War monument], but it is pretty unique,” said Phil Gick, chairman of the Historic Assets Committee of the Putnam County Heritage Preservations Society. The organization has begun restoring the monument and is currently raising funds for much-needed repair. This past summer vertical cracks in the pedestal and base were filled with silicone to try to halt deterioration in the limestone, but much, much more is needed, Gick said.
“A rough estimate provided by an engineering firm in May of 2012 put the actual figure close to “$75,000 for complete restoration,” Gick added. The committee is also looking at much time in preparation and fundraising.
“It is a long, drawn out effort to bring an edifice like this to its original glory,” Gick said. But the historical value of such a monument in such a location is well worth the effort, he added.
The shaft of the monument was built by McConnell & O’Hare of Cincinnati. In early 1866 T.D. Jones & Co. of Cincinnati was sought to sculpt the figure. The committee is currently uncertain of whether the figure is marble, granite or limestone, but it was discovered to be leaching iron, indicating it to be limestone, Gick said. The base is made from Putnam County limestone and is 12 feet in diameter. There are five circular rings of freestone from Cincinnati in two feet segments that display the names of the 321 men who gave their lives. The plinth and statue combined measure 11 feet 4 inches high, bringing the entire monument to stand nearly 30 feet high.
When it was dedicated on July 2, 1870, a reported 8,000 plus congregated in the little town (some reports say as many as 10,000) that registered a mere 3,000 residents. There was so much interest in the dedication that trains from Indianapolis and Terre Haute brought in large numbers of spectators. There was a special area allotted for “parking” horses, buggies and wagons near the cemetery.
Private homes were opened to the distinguished guests and military personnel were fed and housed at local hotels. Speakers at the ceremony were indicative of the importance of the event. The Rev. Thomas Bowman, a prominent Methodist Episcopal Bishop and then president of the Indiana Asbury University, now known as DePauw University, opened the ceremony. It is reported that other speakers included Col. Richard W. Thompson of Terre Haute, who was recorded as one of Indiana’s best orators and who had been a prominent Indiana Whig. He was a former member of Congress and was later a strong Republican when Abraham Lincoln was elected. He later became Secretary of the Navy under President Rutherford B. Hayes and also served as chairman of the American Committee of the Panama Canal Company, according to an article in “Our Past, Their Future.”
Other speakers at the event included Indiana’s Gen. Lew Wallace of Crawfordsville, a renowned author and penman of the famous “Ben Hur” novel; Attorney General of Indiana Delano E. Williamson of Greencastle; and Indiana Gov. Conrad Baker. Other dignitaries, not speaking but in attendance, included U.S. Marshal General Benjamin Spooner; Indiana Secretary of State M.F.A. Hoffman: Reporter of the Supreme Court Col. J.B. Black and several Indianapolis judges and members of the Indianapolis City Council. Bands played, including one from Indianapolis, and the entire assembly marched to the well-veiled monument through arches decorated with greenery and flags, with much ado leading up to the unveiling.
The 321 men honored were volunteer fighters from the small county and as a story in the Putnam County Banner Graphic on July 31, 1984 states, they were men who “chased Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, fought the Hornets’ Nest at Shiloh, Tennessee and in the Bloody Lane at Antietam, Md. They charged Robert E. Lee’s impregnable defenses at Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock and fought with Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg on the Mississippi. They marched with Sherman to the sea and pursued John hunt Morgan through the hills of southern Indiana. Name any of the 76 major Civil War battles and Putnam County boys were probably there. . .”
Just the fact that this pricey monument was complete and dedicated within five years of the ending of the war was a monumental task itself. History records that it took $10,000 to complete the project, an immense amount of currency at that time. A committee called the Putnam County Soldiers’ Monument Association was formed to raise the money and design the monument. It was a huge community effort.
But much has happened to the monument over the years — damage from weather, age and vandals. Even “missing” pieces from long ago have been discovered by Kenneth Anderson, former member of the Central Indiana Civil War Roundtable and author of their monthly publication. Anderson has been working with the Putnam County Historical Preservation Society in the refurbishing project. He has unearthed several interesting facts in how the monument has changed throughout the years.
First, the monument has a “brother” monument no one locally was aware of, at the courthouse square in Palmaroy, Ohio. The “little brother” statue, as he termed it, is identical to the Greencastle monument, except for its base and size.
“The edifice is not the same and the size is different,” he said, “but [the Greencastle monument] is obviously a replica of the Ohio one.” They both were created by the same sculptor, to begin with.
From old photos of the Greencastle monument and photos of the Ohio monument, the figure can be returned to its original design, he said. Some of the differences include a missing firearm. A photo from shortly after the turn of the century, 1909 or 1910, shows the soldier with a rifle in his hand in the Greencastle monument, Anderson said. His investigation into this revealed that originally the soldier held a rifle, but it had been removed through a prank of some local fraternity boys. It had been recovered, but to keep it from being the object of further pranks, the rifle had been stored in the cemetery’s Sexton’s house, which burned down. Anderson also discovered the bayonet is missing; a primer pouch for the black powder ball primers is gone; the cannon is on backward; and a knob used for the raising and lowering of the cannon has been broken off. The soldiers foot is also broken but has been wired back on. Also, running around the base, a section with battle scenes is missing and a plaque with a few missing names was added sometime at a later date from its dedication. The soldier on the monument wears the “Hardee hat,” Anderson said. “This was a typical hat of the Western soldier,” he added. “The Hardee hat means that the soldier is not a cavalry soldier as he has often been misidentified.”
The Historic Assets Committee is seeking funds from various sources for the restoration project, from individual donations, club and organizational donations as well as others. They recently received a $10,000 grant from the Efroymson Family Fund and have received some funding from Indiana Landmarks and their Partners in Preservation Fund. The Putnam County Community Foundation gave aid for the purpose of hiring a contractor to produce a nomination for a National Register of Historic Landmarks listing of Forest Hill Cemetery. While that does not directly impact the monument’s restoration, it would make it eligible for other sources of funding by being a contributing structure in a NR listed cemetery, Gick said.
To donate to this cause or for more information, contact Gick of the Putnam County Heritage Preservation Society at 765-848-1111.