Benjamin R. Maryniak - Table of Contents .............Lafayette Square - Table of Contents
The Soldiers & Sailors Monument
in Lafayette Square
Buffalo, New York
By Benjamin R. Maryniak
President, Buffalo Civil War Round Table
Lancaster Historical Society
Lafayette Square in early 1889.
1889 before reconstruction, but note that the Buffalo Public Library is finished
Lafayette Square c. 1904.
Drawing by Ben Maryniak of "drum" bas-relief figures
Drawing by Ben Maryniak of "drum" bas-relief figures
The first public meeting to discuss a Civil War monument for Lafayette Square
was held on April 14, 1866, but nothing much got accomplished until the Ladies
Union Monument Association was organized on July 2, 1874, headed by the wife
of former governor Horatio Seymour. Pressing resolutely on, the women soon raised
$12,000 in subscriptions and approved the design submitted by architect George
Kellar of Hartford CT. Compelled to take action during 1881 in view of the progress
made by Mrs. Seymour's ladies, the city government appropriated $45,000 for the project
and awarded a construction contract to the Mount Waldo Granite Company of Bangor,
Maine. Proposals for bronze sculptures (and the stone lady who topped
the column) by Caspar Buberl were eventually approved.
The corner stone was laid July 2, 1882, with a good deal of military pomp and Masonic ritual. Brevet Brigadier General Stewart L Woodford made some remarks. A powerful figure in New York State politics, Woodford's wartime career started as lieutenant colonel of the 127th NYV, progressed through the judge advocate's office and colonelcy of the 103rd Regiment of US Colored Troops, and ended with a place on Major General Quincy A Gilmore's staff. After the war, he had became lieutenant governor and congressman. Buffalo Mayor Grover Cleveland was also on hand. A time capsule, though not described as such at the time, was filled with documents and sealed away.
The completed monument was standing in Lafayette Square before the last day of 1883, but dedication ceremonies had been set for the following year.
The features of the monument still appear today as they did in 1883:
A nameless stone lady, "emblematic of Buffalo," sits atop the 85-foot column.
Eight-foot statues representing members of the infantry, cavalry, artillery, and navy surround the shaft, which itself is decorated with bronze symbols of the nation and state, the seal of Buffalo, and a "drum" showing over thirty bas-relief figures.
The final half of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address appears below the "drum"
on the back of the monument and the message "in front," facing Main Street,
dedicates it to those who laid down their lives "in the war to maintain the
union for the cause of their country and of mankind."
Chief among the bas-relief scenes on the "drum" is a view of Lincoln with his original cabinet. From left to right, in varying degrees of relief, are depicted Treasury Secty Salmon P Chase, Secty of State Wm. H Seward, Attorney-General Edward Bates, Postmaster-General Montgomery Blair, Lincoln, Interior Secty Caleb Smith, Navy Secty Gideon Welles, Major General Winfield Scott, and War Secretary Simon Cameron. Though veterans present at the monument's dedication stated that Lincoln holds the Emancipation Proclamation in his hand, sculptor Buberl's description identified the rolled document as the President's call for 75,000 volunteers. Buberl added that the rolled document in Seward's hand was the Emancipation Proclamation.
Also part of the bas-relief are soldiers, including a zouave and a drummer boy,
marching in reply to Lincoln's call. Two cavalrymen, one of them a bugler, tangle
with their mounts; the other trooper is doffing his hat to a woman as she cries into
her apron. A newsboy sells papers while a blacksmith and a baker read one. A group
of soldiers bid goodbye to their loved ones.
July 4, 1884 Dedication
The New York Department of the Grand Army held its semi-annual encampment at Buffalo
to coincide with the monument's dedication on July 4, 1884. In addition to a crew
regatta, horse races, and fireworks which took place on that day, a huge parade snaked
through the city. Assembling on West Eagle, the parade took Main to Seneca to Michigan
to Clinton to Washington to Lafayette, and then took Main to Allen to Delaware to
Niagara Square! The marchers than packed themselves into Court Street, between Niagara
Square and Lafayette Square, with all faces toward the new monument.
Members of various
New York police and fire departments, elected officials, and civic organizations
joined seven brigades of Grand Army veterans in this long trek. Brevet Brigadier
General Wm. F Rogers, former colonel of the 21st NYV, Buffalo's first regiment to
leave for the Civil War, led the procession. Parties of veterans representing many
New York regiments carried their original colors. Not only was NY Governor Grover
Cleveland in attendance, but he was joined by Pennsylvania Governor John Hartranft,
who was a Medal of Honor recipient and former brigadier general in the Union army.
GAR Commander-in-Chief RB Beath was also on hand, as was GAR character "Corporal"
Tanner. A fierce thunderstorm broke out during the monument's dedication but General
Woodford still delivered his oration, followed by words from Rev Philos G Cook, who
had served as chaplain of the 94th NYV during the war.
Despite this seemingly-auspicious start for the Lafayette Square monument, things
quickly started to go wrong. The column soon developed a Tower-of-Pisa-esque tilt.
The judgment of city inspectors was that the foundation had settled unevenly and
the entire monument would have to be dismantled and rebuilt. At least another forty
thousand dollars was spent to rebuild the monument on a sounder base during 1889.
It was found that the 1882 "time capsule" had been crushed and its contents
destroyed by water. Reconstruction worked out better for the monument than for the
North, however, and the rebuilt memorial stood about 15 feet higher on the base we
can see today. [See History - McDonnell & Sons / Stone Art Memorial Co. for information
on the company that renovated the monument.]
Then came decades of grime and various encroachments by trolley tracks and automobiles. Nearby, a shelter was built to house Buffalo's first public toilets. Troops marched around the monument on their way to all of America's subsequent wars. War bond rallies were held in Lafayette Square, as were war-related scrap drives. The Soldiers & Sailors Monument was in the heart of Buffalo's life, which had been the desire of her Civil War vets. But the tide of modern life and municipal neglect started to take a toll on the memorial. A huge chunk was struck from the monument early on the morning of February 12, 1973, when Silver Creek motorist Darrell Penis (no kidding - first McKinley was shot by an anarchist with an impossible name and then this) rammed it with his vehicle. He was later convicted of DWI and having no driver's license. By 1982, the Niagara Frontier Transit Authority was recommending that the monument be demolished or at least dismantled for eventual reconstruction at another location.
Happily, local veterans organizations and the Buffalo Civil War Round Table managed to raise money and municipal awareness which resulted in preservation of the monument. A small park again surrounds the bronze Civil War soldiers, even though they have to put up with an occasional concert or bike-a-thon. Heck, it used to be worse -- they stood guard over the public cans.
|Caspar Buberl, the sculptor who did the bas-relief "drum" around the monument, was born in Bohemia 1834, studied in Prague and Vienna, then came to the U.S. during 1854. By 1882, he had sculpted several well-received pieces and established a studio in NY City. He received a commission from the US Government to create a 1200-foot-long terra cotta frieze on the Pension Building in Washington DC (Judiciary Square, F Street between 4th and 5th Street NW) which showed hundreds of Civil War soldiers marching along. These figures are much like the ones on the Buffalo monument. The Pension Building was put up in 1884 and is still in DC.|