Sometimes we take for granted the things we see every day. The Monument honoring Albany men who served in the Civil War probably falls into that category. It sits at the entrance to Washington Park at Henry Johnson Blvd.
Estimates vary, but we think about 7,000 -8,000 Albany soldiers and sailors served in the Civil War (Keep in mind the population of the city was about 62,000 in 1860.) They were old and young, married and single, and they were white and African American.
Yes, there were Black troops from Albany in the War. Most served in “Colored” regiments, but some served in “regular” regiments. (Much more research needs to be done to identify these men.)
Some of the men enlisted in regiments mustered in Albany, like the 44th New York. Others had moved out of the Albany by the time the War started, and enlisted in the towns and cities where they lived across the North.
They fought in almost every battle and naval action, from the first Battle of Bull Run, to the siege of Vicksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the clash of the Merrimack and the Monitor, and were there at the surrender at Appomattox Court House.
And those who returned formed Veteran’s organizations.*In Albany there were about 5 – my GGG Charles Zeilman, who fought at Little Round Top helped found the Lew Benedict Post. Quickly these individual posts banded together in a great association called the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR).
And so the local chapters of the GAR across the country raised funds and lobbied governments for memorials to those who served and died. These monuments can be found in big cities and small towns all across the North.
Most were built in the latter part of the 19th century, but in the early part of the 1900s it became clear that the Vets were growing old and passing away. So there was a re-newed push for monuments to commemorate their heroic efforts. In Albany that began about 1906.
The NYS Legislature appropriated $100,000 and additional funds were raised. The original location selected was Capitol Park, but that changed. There was a competition to select the design; the commission was awarded to Harmon MacNeil and represents “The Nation of Peace Won Through Victorious War”.
The monument is 22 ft. high and 21 ft. wide; it’s built from Tennessee marble and granite from Stoney Creek.
The inscription reads:
“In commemoration of the men of Albany who gave their lives to save the Union, and in grateful recognition of all whose patriotism aided to giving to this nation under God a new birth of freedom, in making love of country a national virtue and endowing our land with peace and prosperity. “
A bronze figure represents the country. She holds palms of victory and peace, and a sheathed sword of war. Etched in marble behind her are soldiers and sailors marching to her defense. On the other side is a Civil War battery in action. One end shows a wounded drummer boy; the other a soldier returning to his wife and child. There are about 60 life size figures cut into the monument.
The memorial was dedicated with a grand ceremony and parade in October, 1912.
Until the Great War (World War I) and the creation of Memorial Grove and the Gold Star Mothers Monument in the Grove, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument was the focus of all Decoration (Memorial) Day activities.
*Sadly the Veterans posts mostly excluded African American soldiers who fought in the colored regiments. But in Saratoga County Billy Lattimore, (identified in the 1860 census as mulatto) fought with the 77th NY, and was an active member of the GAR for 50 years. (His grandfather Ben Lattimore Sr., a Revolutionary War soldier, is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery. )
However, the GAR national organization did include a number of African American members and officers who fought in regular and colored regiments, including a number of men who were born enslaved in the South.
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor