On Memorial Day, it perhaps fitting to consider the history of one of the Commonwealth’s more remarkable Civil War memorials, a collaborative effort between some phenomenal artists and sculptors.
The Cambridge Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the Cambridge Common was dedicated on June 17, 1870. This date, by the way, was generally accepted in the nineteenth century as the end of the war–June 17, 1865 when the last significant Confederate forces in the field under Col. John Mosby surrendered. Today, we mark the date earlier–the April 9, 1865 surrender of Robert E. Lee. The line between wartime and peacetime in 1865 was a blurry one. Much more could be said about this but I digress.
The Cambridge monument was designed by Cyrus Cobb with assistance from his brother and fellow artist Darius Cobb. The Lincoln statue, which was added decades after the dedication, is by Augustus Saint-Gaudens of Shaw Memorial fame. The architect for the overall project was Thomas W. Silloway.
Although the Cobbs are not well known today, in their time they were household names and among the most acclaimed New England painters and sculptors. Their works hang at Harvard University and many Massachusetts civic buildings. Early in life these two striking twins, so thoroughly identical in appearance and manner, attracted attention for a variety of skills in athletics, singing, writing and painting. They both enlisted in the 44th Massachusetts Infantry in September 1862 as privates. They were both listed as authors. The 44th Massachusetts served a nine-month term in coastal operations in North Carolina. Their most significant series of engagements took place during the Goldboro Campaign in December 1862. They were mustered out in June 1863.
After the war, they were married to two sisters who were not twins but so close in age and appearance that they created only more confusion in telling the brothers apart. Both brothers took up work as ministers with some success. But their mutual path soon led them to painting and sculpture. Darius won much acclaim for his painting of “Christ before Pilate” which was widely reproduced in America and Europe. Cyrus did most of the work on the design for the Cambridge Soldiers and Sailors monument which was selected from forty submissions.
These prolific artists produced paintings and book illustrations for decades. As this article is being posted on Memorial Day, perhaps the most appropriate to here highlight is the 8-foot wide painting by Darius Cobb, produced when he was 75 for the Headquarters of the Department of Massachusetts of the Grand Army of the Republic located in Boston. The painting is titled “The Last Comrade’s Final Tribute” and depicts an aged veteran paying his respects at the grave of one of his comrades with a host of their spirits looking on from a misty background.
The Lincoln Statue beneath the canopy was added c. 1910. It is a recasting of the famed statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens called “Abraham Lincoln: The Man,” also known as “Standing Lincoln.” Gaudens was a great admirer of Lincoln. He was deeply affected by Lincoln’s assassination and traveled to see the President lying in state, an experience which, he wrote “deepened the profound solemnity of my impression.” His statue of Lincoln was originally sculpted for Chicago’s Lincoln Park in 1887. It was heralded as one of America’s most important artistic works. The statue was widely reproduced and copies stand in many cities including Cambridge, New York, London and Mexico City.
The primary inscription of the Cambridge Soldiers and Sailors monument reads, “The Soldiers and Sailors of Cambridge, whose names here are inscribed, died in the service of their country, in the war for the maintenance of the Union. To perpetuate the memory of their valor and patriotism, this Monument is erected by the City, A.D., 1869-70.” Panels of the monument include the text of the Gettysburg Address and the Grand Army of the Republic Order No. 11 which established Decoration Day, now known as Memorial Day.