Sunday, May 27, 2018

Woodstock Civil War Vets Erect a Monument of their Own on the Square

Members of the Grand Army of the Republic and its Lady's Auxiliery gathered to dedicate the Civil War monunment in Woodstock Square in 1909.

Note—I have been swamped and the second installment of the Philip Roth obituary will be delayed.  Bear with me was I recycle some Memorial Day entries today and tomorrow.

In 1909 the aging veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and its Ladies’ Auxiliary gathered on the Square in Woodstock, Illinois on what was then known as Decoration Day.  Something made this gathering different from others held annually since General John A. Logan, the first Commander-in-Chief of the GAR issued General Order No. 11 in 1868 calling for an annual observance in honor of the Civil War dead.

It had been the local custom for residents to gather armloads of flowers from their gardens and marchoften by the hundreds—to the Chicago and Northwestern station to load a special train to the Chicago with the blooms and then to gather on the Square for a simple ceremony.  The flowers were then used to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers and veterans.

That year, after a long fundraising campaign the veterans and the community gathered to dedicate a handsome new monument in the center of the Square—a high, polished column surmounted by the statue of a private soldier.  The four sides of the base were decorated with symbols of the armed services—an anchor, crossed rifles, sabers, and cannon representing the Navy, Infantry, cavalry, and artillery branches of the Army.

It was a solemn occasion as well as a joyful one.

The monument with the Old McHenry County Courthouse  in the background.

From then on, even after the last of the gray beards passed and after new veterans from the Spanish American War and Philippine Insurrection, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and all of the endless almost nameless untidy little wars afterwards, Woodstock gathered on and around the Square for what became known as Memorial Day.

More than 20 years ago members of what was then the Congregational Unitarian Church began a tradition on the Sunday before Memorial Day of marching the two blocks to the Square from the old church at in silence behind a flag donated to the church in memory of Thomas Lounsbury, an 18 year old church member who died on the USS Arizona on December 7, 1949 and was the first Woodstock casualty of World War II.

Members and freinds of the Congregational Unitarian Church gathered yearly on the Sunday before Memorial Day to honor the fallen of all wars, military and civilian alike.

Gathering around the Monument the Rev. Dan Larsen or one of the interim ministers after his retirement would lead a prayer and a moment of silence.  Then participants lay flowers on the Monument and returned in silence to the church for the rest of the worship service. It was simple, even stark, and always very moving.

For the last eight years members of what now known as the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation has gathered to on Memorial Day in our new McHenry home
But I miss the walk to the Square, the bright sunshine, the wind whipping the flag, the simple sacrifice of laying flowers on a wrought iron fence surrounding an old Monument.

Heavy equipment had to be brought in to remove the sentinal soldier from the column for repair and restoration.
As for the Monument itself, after years of fundraising, it was repaired and restored in 2015, removing the half to granite sentinel, replacing it damaged rifle, reseating it with new reinforcement on the column, a new anchor emblem was sculpted from Vermont granite matching the original, and doing other repair.  A new script was added with the names of known Woodstock area Civil War Dead added. 

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