September 17: Civil War Veterans Gather to Dedicate America’s First Triumphal Arch

 

On September 17, 1886 — the 24th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam — thousands of spectators and Civil War veterans gathered in Hartford to partake in the dedication of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in Bushnell Park. Hartford’s Memorial Arch was the first permanent triumphal arch memorial in the United States, and honored all the men from that city who served or fell during the Civil War.

Standing 116 feet high, the striking brownstone monument features two intricate friezes depicting Civil War scenes and symbols representing the city of Hartford and the four branches of military service: an anchor for the Navy, crossed cannon for the Artillery, crossed sabers for the Cavalry, and crossed rifles for the Infantry. Midway up each tower are niches containing figural statues of a farmer, a blacksmith, a mason, a student, a carpenter, and — most strikingly — an African-American man breaking apart the chains of bondage. Two bronze plaques mounted at the base of the arch’s two towers read:

“In honor of the men of Hartford who served and in memory of those who fell on land and on sea in the War for the Union, their grateful townsmen have raised this Memorial. More than 4,000 men of Hartford bore arms in the National Cause, nearly 400 of whom died in the service.”

Detail of the Memorial Arch’s north frieze.

Today, the Memorial Arch stands as one of the most iconic pieces of architecture in the city, and is maintained by the Bushnell Park foundation, which occasionally opens the interior of the arch for public tours. After undergoing an extensive restoration in the 1980s, an additional bronze plaque was added to the base of the arch that specifically honored and acknowledged “Hartford’s one hundred and twenty-eight black soldiers who were not previously honored for their bravery and valor in the great Civil War.”

This magazine photo shows the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Arch in 1895, less than ten years after its dedication.

Further Reading

Julie Stagis, “Soldiers & Sailors Arch to be Rededicated,” Hartford Courant

Sally Taylor, “Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Arch,” C-SPAN featurette

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, Hartford,” ctmonuments.net