Remarks at Mount Hope Cemetery
July 11, 2009
In 1859, on the eve of the Civil War, Bangor was a city of 14,432 inhabitants. Its location was described as unusually good for the growth of a city, and its business advantages are immense.
Its site is pleasant, commanding fine views of the rivers and the adjoining country. The buildings, both public and private, are constructed with neatness and taste, and some in a style of superior elegance. There are several handsome church edifices and other public buildings; and within a few years several new and elegant blocks of stores have been erected, and many splendid and convenient private residences.
Bangor has an extensive coasting trade, which has greatly increased within the last few years. It has also a large southern and West India trade. The river at Bangor is sufficiently deep to float the largest vessels, the tide rising, on an average, sixteen feet.
Lumbering forms a very large and important branch of business. The amount of lumber surveyed here, up to the close of the year 1855, according to the books of the surveyor-general, amounts to 2,999,847,201 feet.
Like so many Maine cities, towns, and villages, Bangor responded with patriotic zeal to President Lincoln’s call for troops in the spring of 1861 as war broke out between the North and the South. Notable among its contributions to the war effort was the famous Second Maine Regiment, whose own memorial stands nearby.
The death in battle of a Bangor resident, Colonel Stephen Decatur Carpenter, in December, 1862 prompted local citizens in 1863 to designate a lot in Mount Hope Cemetery as a resting place for Colonel Carpenter and other Bangor men who would sacrifice their lives for the Union. To prominently and permanently mark this lot, a committee comprised of Charles Stetson, Samuel H. Dale, and S.P. Bradbury raised $3,500 to erect a tapered granite shaft upon a square base, Maine’s first Civil War monument. Dedicated with great ceremony on June 17, 1864, Bangor’s new monument set the style for the first wave of such memorials in the state, which included Hampden on July 4, 1864 and Kittery that year as well. Between the close of the Civil War and the beginning of World War II, more than 150 Maine communities created monuments of many forms in tribute to those who served the Union cause.
Of the words spoken on this hallowed ground on June 17, 1864, I would like to recall in particular the eloquent letter sent for the occasion by Maine’s Civil War governor, Samuel Cony of Augusta:
Your invitation to me to be present with my staff on the 17th, upon the occasion of the consecration of the Soldier’s Monument erected by the citizens of Bangor, has been received.
I have delayed a reply, hoping to be able to do so affirmatively, but the pressure of official business and antecedent engagements admitting of no postponement, compel me to decline it.
To render due honor to the glorious dead who have laid down their lives a sacrifice for their country, is a duty and pleasure to every loyal heart, and nothing could have afforded me greater gratification, than to have been present with you on this most interesting occasion.
That Bangor should be the first place in Maine to rear a monument to all the fallen soldiers whom she has sent forth to battle is a credit even to her liberality, which is ever timely.
The example she has set well deserves, and doubtless will be extensively followed, but the rendering of these posthumous honors ought not to be trusted to the accident of private generosity. It is a public debt, and it should be made a public duty to be executed at the public charge.
Every city, town and plantation in the State has furnished soldiers; there is not one but has its victim. Thousands of these brave men repose in graves on battle fields, unmarked by any thing to indicate who are their occupants; even in cemeteries specially dedicated for the burial of soldiers dying in the service of their country, the heart is too often pained by the frequent inscription upon the fugitive headstone, “An Unknown Soldier.”
To rescue from this oblivion, every municipality should be required to erect a monument in its cemetery to its own illustrious dead. Let it be a plain shaft, as enduring as the granite of our hills, and on it let there by inscribed the names of the fallen heroes.
In this manner the memories of all may be preserved, for every house knows its own martyr.
These monuments, thickly scattered over the State in all time to come will be witnesses of the enormous sacrifices which Maine has made in the prosecution of this war for the preservation of the republic. They would be cherished with affectionate pride by all future generations and when perils hereafter assail the nation, the patriot, casting his eye on these shafts, will gather fresh inspiration, and, emulating the heroic examples they commemorate, will gird himself with a sterner resolve to do all and dare all to avert from his country the menacing dangers.
I am, gentlemen, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Governor of Maine
As a historian, it is a special experience for me to come to this sacred spot 145 years after its initial consecration to find so little change and so much respect having been accorded this monument and its surrounding graves. How well this speaks of generations of Bangor citizens and in particular of those who have been entrusted with the care of Mount Hope Cemetery, Maine’s answer to the famed Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.
As we approach the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in 2011, we are struck by the simple words of this monument’s inscription: “In Memory of Our Citizen Soldiers Who Died for their Country. Consecrated 1864.” At that moment in history, our nation was torn asunder and threatened with destruction. The sacrifices of those citizen soldiers buried here and elsewhere across Maine helped save the Union for succeeding generations down to our own to allow us to continue the work of perfecting their dream. As President Obama said in his “More Perfect Union” speech in 2008:
I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond our old wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.
Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr.
Maine State Historian