Honor Partially Paid at Camp Meigs

July 19th, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Sterling rhetoric, but tin foil action has been the sporadic focus on Boston’s Camp Meigs. I trotted down this afternoon and confirmed that there is little local glory for the Glory Brigade.

meigsTwo months ago, two Globe contributors, Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki, raised a weak huzzah to the sub-sub-neighborhood historical site. They called, meekly, for a second Freedom Trail, which would include this 2.8 acre neglected locale in the Southernmost part of the Southernmost part of Boston.

That’s pretty much been the norm since 1866. The eruption of honor appeared in 1897 across from the MA state house, in the form of the Robert Gould Shaw memorial. While the gigantic relief piece shows the African American soldiers, the monument in art and name is of course for the white commanding officer. The all-black 54th, 55th and 5th are fairly extras in their drama, typical of the time.

Maybe 10 miles South, they drilled and prepared for war, the first fighting forces of black men in this country. In what was Dedham and became Readville/Hyde Park, the camp was the focus of the training…not that you’d know it now.

A visit just below the Neponset Valley Parkway doesn’t make you hum patriotic tunes. Sharing a large rectangular block park, the Camp Meigs site is the smallest portion of a basketball court, softball field, kid’s playground and tennis courts. Where you see the green circle I overlaid on the Google map above, is the evidence. There’s kind of an open ground where the small group of reenactors and educators occasionally sets up. They also take their depiction on the road, including in Boston.

There is a cemetery size and style stone and and an embarrassing fake cannon. The miniature, concrete cannon has graffiti. The stone is OK, with basic-facts on front and a Frederick Douglass quote from 1863 on the back. The latter reads that once the black soldier is outfitted for war “…there is no power on earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned thie right to citizenship in the United States.”

That’s a start.

Warning or Promise: I had a good time reviewing the ancient HP publications that included Meigs coverage. I’ll do more later this summer on conditions during the Civil War, food, gear and such.

For a wider view on Camp Meigs, I prefer the tone on an address by a D. Eldredge given in 1906 to the Meigs Memorial Association and the Hyde Park Historical Society. (Search for Meigs in the linked text to read it all.)

Let me say that Hyde Park may well be proud of its delightful suburb, proud that so historic a spot is an integral part of the town. Proud may the dwellers at Readville be, for here, beneath our very feet, nearly fifty years ago, thousands marched up and down and upon this plain. The rattle of musketry, the bugle’s blast, the rat-a-tat-tat of the drum, the clanking of the sabre, the neighing steed and the roar of cannon became familiar sounds.

meigsmonumentHere the very flower of the youth of this good old Commonwealth of ours gathered themselves together as a mighty phalanx. Here they learned the art of war, bade fond mother and father, or wife, the sad good bye and marched away. Thousands never came back; other thousands perished upon the battle-field, or in the hospital or the dreadful southern prison. Yet other thousands of the wounded and the sick were sent here to the hospital that they might be near to those they loved and that they might be tenderly nursed.

May these memories, these facts, be kept green, and may the Meigs Memorial Association slack not its hand, but see to it that this and coming generations who make their homes here shall know that this is historic ground, that here was the largest military camp in New England, that soldiers went forth from here to a war such as no man had ever seen.

The land itself turns out to link to the artifact Paul’s Bridge. That farmer, Ebenezer Paul, was surprised by men from the MA governor’s office squatting on is land and, “It is related that the first that Ebenezer Paul knew of any designs upon his land as a camping ground, was his sudden discovery one morn of two or three men sitting under one of the long rows of elms, a few of which are now standing, and his cows gazing upon them with interest.” Supposedly he got $300 a year rental for it.

After the war, he sold his whole farm for $20,000. The local Dedham Gazette editorialized, “”We had hoped,” said the editor, ” that the ground would have been consecrated to some public purpose.”

It was, in a weak way, on July 4th, 1903. There was a splash first. The ceremony had speeches, a commissioned poem, drum rolls and such. A former soldier from the period, Augustus S. Lovett, Esq. also spoke. His rambling and personal address included near the end:

To all these 25,000 or more martial spirits we dedicate this scene of their first soldier days. Long may the cannon preserve their present peaceful positions! Never may the time come when the Star Spangled Banner shall cease to float over this consecrated ground, and may children’s children to the latest generation swell the chorus of the Union saved, now and forever, one and inseparable!

Over a century later, the wee park dominated by playgrounds and a portable toilet may not fulfill that hope.

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