A hero’s death inspired Maine’s first civilian-funded Civil War monument

A hero killed at Murfreesboro inspired the first civilian-funded Civil War monument erected in Maine.

Private donations totaling $3,639.94 paid for the Soldiers’ Monument in Bangor, Maine, the first civilian-funded Civil War monument erected in the State of Maine. (Brian F. Swartz)

A Maine native, Stephen Decatur Carpenter graduated from West Point on July 1, 1840, joined the 1st Infantry Regiment as a shave tail lieutenant, and fought Seminoles, Mexicans, Comanches, and Confederates, in that order. Widower Carpenter married his second wife, 25-year-old Laura Clark, in Bangor, Maine in October 1856. He already had a daughter, Alice, and Laura gave him another daughter, Sara Elvira. Laura died while birthing a son, John, at Fort Lancaster in Texas in December 1860.

Refusing to surrender to Confederate militia as ordered by traitorous U.S. Army Brig. Gen. David Twiggs, Carpenter brought his children along as he led his troops across Texas to the coast to board a steamer bound for Key West in early 1861. By now a major, he commanded the 19th U.S. Infantry Regiment at Shiloh on April 7, 1862. Killed in action at Murfreesboro on December 31, he was buried on the battlefield; surviving 19th Infantry officers recovered the body, had it embalmed, and shipped Carpenter home to Bangor.

The city council voted to bury the newly promoted lieutenant colonel in Mount Hope Cemetery, the second oldest landscape cemetery in the United States. Carpenter’s Episcopalian-themed funeral occurred on February 11, and everyone who was anyone politically or militarily in central Maine turned out. Carpenter’s relatives, including his elderly father, accompanied the body to a grave site near the intersection of today’s Riverside and Monument avenues in Mount Hope Cemetery.

Carpenter’s death pinched a collective Bangorean nerve. “A very general feeling” existed “in favor of some honorable distinction being manifested” to honor Carpenter, and people discussed “the proper course to be pursued,” lawyer Albert W. Paine noted.

Consensus focused on acquiring a lot at Mount Hope where Carpenter and “such citizens as might, during the war fall in battle,” could be buried, according to Paine. “A suitable monument could be erected to their memory” on the site.

Prominent Bangoreans formed the Soldiers’ Monument Association to raise funds and build an appropriate memorial. Donations dribbled into the dedicated account, and lack of funding delayed the project into 1864.

Local grave-stone carver Simon P. Bradbury designed the monument and its enclosure, measuring just under 58 feet per side. The actual monument was a multiple-section granite shaft rising 28½ feet from a granite base measuring 12 feet on a side. A 4-foot-wide “walk of smooth granite” ran to the enclosure’s entrance facing State Street, and four 4-foot granite steps dropped to ground level. A granite coping wall measuring 9 inches thick, 18 inches high on the outside, and 6 inches high on the inside surrounded the monument’s enclosure.

Made from gray granite quarried in Concord, New Hampshire, the obelisk was “a very handsome structure” that added “materially to the attractions at Mount Hope,” observed Daily Whig & Courier publisher William S. Wheeler.

Before the monument’s dedication, workers started etching the names of Bangor’s hallowed dead on the East Panel; the names flowed chronologically around the North Panel to the West Panel, where future names would be added.

Why was the monument placed on this particular site? Because Carpenter lay there, within the stone enclosure that now surrounded his grave and that of his son, John, who had died in Bangor in July 1861. Bangoreans scheduled the monument’s dedication ceremony for June 17, 1864, and Carpenter would be present, one way or another.

That Friday “opened splendidly,” Wheeler noticed, and became a perfect June day in Maine, with “quite hot, but not sultry” weather. “Everything was favorable for the services.”

Parade units formed by the Bangor House on Main Street in late morning. Led by cavalry and artillery detachments, the parade stepped off at 1 p.m. and proceeded through downtown Bangor. Joined at West Market Square by the city officials and invited guests, the parade headed out State Street for Mount Hope Cemetery.

The graves of Lt. Col. Stephen Decatur Carpenter and his young son, John, lie in Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor, Maine. Carpenter’s death at Murfreesboro led to construction of Maine’s first civilian-funded Civil War monument. (BFS)

Turning into its main entrance, Wheeler noticed the “immense crowd … in front [or] on either side of the Monument,” and “the grove” atop Mount Hope “was filled with groups, reclining” comfortably and watching “the varied and beautiful scene. The attendance was very large.”

Politely declining an invitation to join the ceremonies, Maine Adjutant Gen. John L. Hodsdon sent “the worn and tattered battle flags” of several Maine infantry regiments (including the Bangor-associated 2nd Maine) to the ceremony. “Pierced with shot and shell until hardly a vestige of the material was left,”the flags “spoke in terms of eloquence beyond all words, of the terrible carnage and strife which our noble heroes of Maine have been through,” Wheeler said.

At least six Confederate regimental flags captured by Maine units stirred in the warm June breeze, too.

Bangor Mayor Samuel H. Dale opened the ceremony at 3 p.m. A cornet band provided a dirge, a minister prayed, and several speakers explained the purpose of the monument. Singers performed a poem written by Reverend Edwin Johnson, Reverend Armory Battles delivered the closing prayer, and the ceremony ended with the 35-shell “national shot” fired by the Brewer Artillery.

The occasion was a solemn one,” and “the whole affair passed off pleasantly,” Wheeler said. “The assembly separated with a quietness which showed the deep and earnest feeling which pervaded every heart.”

During a meeting held August 29, Soldiers’ Monument Association members learned that fund raising had fallen $150 short of the monument’s $3,639.94 price tag. Chairman Charles P. Stetson then indicated he had paid the difference.

The Bangor Soldiers’ Monument still stands, but the Carpenters have moved on. Perhaps fed up with strangers tramping on the graves, Carpenter relatives relocated the bodies years later to the high ground (the actual Mount Hope) beyond the monument. Father and son still lie there side by side, their headstones overlooking the nearby Penobscot River.

Sources: Fort Lancaster State Historic Site, Facebook; The Funeral of Col. Carpenter, Daily Whig & Courier, Thursday, February 12, 1863; Daily Whig & Courier, Saturday, June 18, 1864

5 Responses to A hero’s death inspired Maine’s first civilian-funded Civil War monument

    1. Hi, Dione. I was not aware of the Kensington monument. Thank you pointing out its distinction. The Bangor press claimed its monument was the first privately funded Civil War monument in the U.S. I will change the post’s headline and pertinent copy to correct my error.

  1. The argument could be made that Twiggs was as traitorous as all those Maine citizens who daily traded with the occupying British forces during the War of 1812.

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