As Memorial Day approaches, it becomes time for the community to remember those who perished in the act of defending the country in war.
Many go to a cemetery or an official memorial – but in Charlestown there is no better place to go than the Training Field, which was founded for military purposes and has become a prime place where those who died on in the Battle of Bunker Hill, and those from Charlestown who died in the Civil War, are memorialized.
“When I think of the Training Field, I think of those men who stood up to the British and how scared they must have been to see that organized British army coming up at them,” said Billy Kelly, president of the Friends of the Training Field. “Most of the soldiers didn’t die on the hill, they died down here and that makes the Training Field sacred ground. We also have the Millmore statue here dedicated to the men of Charlestown who died in the Civil War. Charlestown always stood up to fight, and we remember them here. We owe both of them a great debt. We can’t forget them.”
The Training Field was established in 1632 to “train” or drill bands of militia known as Training Bands. In the mid 19th century the men from Charlestown drilled there prior to leaving to fight in the Civil War.
Arthur Hurley, of the American Legion Post, said when Civil War veterans came back, there was always a Parade, and they always ended up at the Training Field. He noted that there were three Civil War Medal of Honor recipients from Charlestown and two that moved here after the war.
One of the most prominent was Medal of Honor recipient Charles Wellington Reed, who was born in Charlestown and a famous portrait artist in Boston. He was well-known for making drawings of battles and the men in camp but distinguished himself in battle at Gettysburg when he made a daring move and saved his captain’s life during the battle. Reed, however, did live to see the end of the war, something that many in Charlestown did not enjoy.
The list of the Civil War dead, which Hurley provided the paper, is shocking.
It is estimated that about 4,000 men served in the Civil War from Charlestown. The list indicates that 171 died in combat or of disease. They fell in places like Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Grant’s Campaign, and the Richmond campaign.
The first man to die was Ebenezer Field, a 27-year-old mason from Charlestown, who died on July 18, 1861 at the First Battle of Bull Run.
At Gettysburg, 26 men from Charlestown were killed or died of disease related to the battle.
Tom Coots of the Charlestown Historical Society said there were several prominent men who did amazing things in the Civil War from Charlestown.
One such man – who died at Gettysburg – was Lt. P. Marion Holmes, who lived on the Training Field at 4 Adams St. right behind the present-day statue dedicated to Civil War veterans.
Lt. Holmes, Coots said, served nine months with the 5th Mass. and was discharged from service. He came back to Charlestown and raised a unit called the Warren Phalanx.
Lt. Holmes’s childhood hero was Dr. Joseph Warren, who died at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Coots said Holmes’s life would copy Warren’s life in that he led a group of men in a battle in Tennessee and would retreat on the third and final charge by the Confederates. Holmes, like Warren, vowed he would die with his men. Holmes, like Warren, was shot in the head and buried in a mass grave with his men.
His body was later dug up and returned to Charlestown.
The Soldiers and Sailors statue on the Field is a memorial to those 4,000 men from Charlestown who fought in the Civil War and those who never returned back to the Town.
The statue was sculpted in 1872 by Martin Milmore, and the female figure represents America. She is crowning a soldier and sailor with a laurel wreath as a sign of victory.
“I sit in the Training Field a lot and think about these men,” said Kelly. “We need to remember all the fallen. The two plaques here record the names of 140 names that died on Bunker Hill, but some believe it was up to 400. They were fed up with the British and were ready to stand up and fight for it. We still have men and women today who are willing to stand up and fight, and even die, for that same thing. It gives me a child to think about it.”
For a full, searchable list of the Civil War dead from Charlestown, check out the Patriot Bridge website.