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

Click on illustrations for larger size

Lafayette Square in early 1889.

1889 before reconstruction, but note that the Buffalo Public Library is finished

Lafayette Square c. 1904.

Before WWI

Drawing by Ben Maryniak of "drum" bas-relief figures

Drawing by Ben Maryniak of "drum" bas-relief figures

Deftly summarizing their function, a poet once described monuments as "the hooks that hold generations together." To be sure, Civil War veterans who comprised the Grand Army of the Republic had some less-than-grand reasons for erecting bronze and stone memorials of the far-off war times -- they were afraid of being left on the roadside, forgotten and impotent, as postwar America surged toward its future and showed little concern for the past. But monuments were also built to inform the public about the war when none of its survivors were left alive to think and talk about it. There was also an intent to honor all of the country's military, in keeping with those "mystic chords of memory" visualized by Abraham Lincoln as stretching from battlefields to every American heart, and being strummed "by the better angels of our nature."

The Civil War monument in Buffalo's Lafayette Square has its own interesting stories -- about Erie County's link to the war as well as the changes in the city's face over the past 115 years. To flip through twelve decades of photographs depicting the Lafayette Square monument is to see structures rise and fall along with hemlines of passers-by, to see the ground around the monument shrink to an island and then expand, to see the surrounding businesses skyrocket into prosperity and then fizzle. At the end, you are absolutely lost as to whether you've witnessed progression or regression.

The Proposal

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 monument

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.

1889 Rebuilding

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.


Photos and their arrangement 2001 Chuck LaChiusa
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