Near the heart of Port Chester, New York, just south on the Boston Post Road (US1) is a small park that sits on a bluff. A good position to hold the high ground. In that park is a bronze statue of Colonel Nelson B. Bartram of the 17th NY Vol. and the 20th United States Colored Troops. He and his wife Annie were residents of Port Chester. The monument is a Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Soldiers Memorial. Back when the boys in blue were still alive, Port Chester, New York was the home to the Charles Lawrence Post No. 378 of the GAR. At the time the monument was constructed, it seems that the statue was not appreciated by all involved.
On September 26, 1900 over 2000 Civil War, Spanish American War veterans and fire department and civic societies joined in a parade in the town of Port Chester, NY. “The occasion was the dedication of a granite monument surmounted by a bronze figure of an officer, which was built three years ago by George R. Read and George W. Quintard and presented to the village (of Port Chester).” Some of the local GAR men didn’t care for the figure of an officer and felt that it should have been an enlisted man. They also objected that the bronze cast emblem of the GAR was not the official one. The ceremony at the statue included 200 children singing. Businesses were closed for the day.
“There is no sculptural art in America”
The sculptor, John Massey Rhind (1860 – 1936) was an American sculptor born in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was also the sculptor of the Stephenson GAR Memorial in Washington, D.C.. There are also several Civil War Monuments in Gettysburg, PA. Upon completing his training in England and Paris he considered moving to the United States but was cautioned by his father not to do so because, “There is no sculptural art in America . . .You’ll starve.” His keen eye and talent has produced several national treasures so we will assume that his dad may have been wrong.
Cast in Bronze
The statue was cast at the Abendroth Brothers Foundry in Port Chester which was was established by William P. Abendroth on the banks of the Byram river in 1840. They were a manufacturer of iron stoves, fancy yard pieces, hollow ware, planters boilers, etc. It grew to be the largest employer in Port Chester and was a well established business by the time Port Chester became a village in 1868. It was one of the largest foundries on the East coast even having it’s own locomotive.They also produced stoves and furnaces that were shipped around the world. The Abendroth Brothers foundry was one of the largest industries in latter day Port Chester.
Who Was Col. Nelson B. Bartram?
Nelson B. Bartram was born in Westport, New York on January 7th 1832. While still a child he came to Manhattan. On the eve of the Civil War he was a teacher, managing a night school on nineteenth street. He was also a principal at the public school on West Twenty Fourth Street. He enlisted with the 17th New York Volunteer Infantry, a Union Army regiment. He rose quickly and becme Major and then Lieutenant Colonel for his bravery. He was witness to all the major engagements that the Army of the Potomac fought in until December 1863.
The Seventeenth Regiment New York Volunteers was commanded by Col. H. S. Lansing, with Thomas F. Morris as Lieutenant-Colonel. When Lieutenant-Colonel Morris resigned in 1862, Nelson B. Bartram became his successor. The Seventeenth New York became the first veteran regiment to return to the war in October, 1863. The Seventeenth and a Massachusetts regiment constituted the entire infantry force under General Stoneman on the Peninsula. At Hanover Court House the Seventeenth took one of the enemy’s guns. General Butterfield spoke of the splendid advance of the brigade, led by the Seventeenth and Forty-fourth New York at the battle of Groveton. At the battle of Bull Run no less than four color-bearers lost their lives in its defense, and the flag being saved, and rigged to a new staff, was returned to the Common Council of New York, as a proof of the valor of the regiment. The regiment lost over 200 men at Bull Run over one third of the men in their ranks. At the battle of Antietam the 17th fought in the Third Brigade with the 20th Maine.
Bound for Glory
Much like Gould Shaw of the 54th Massachusetts (See the motion picture “Glory”) he was tapped by the Unilon League Club at age 32 to lead a regiment of US Colored Troops, free blacks that wanted to serve the union. It was considered a dangerous experiment and as many offices would find out, their troops fought like devils in blue, proving themselves time and time again.
Col. Nelson B. Bartram became the commanding officer of the 20th Infantry, US Colored Troops, which was organized at Riker’s Island, New York harbor, February 9, 1864, to serve three years; it served in the Department of the East to March, 1864; in the District of New Orleans, Department o.f the Gulf, to January, 1865; and in the Southern Division of Louisiana, Department of the Gulf, until it was honorably discharged and mustered out, October 7, 1865.
After the war Bartram became one the Deputy Collectors of the Port of New-York. He died in 1886 on December 25th at No. 108 West Forty-fifth-street. He was a distinguished soldier during the war of the rebellion. He was married in 1857 to Annie Van Dyke and they had 4 sons and 2 daughters.
The monument sits in a triangular park, facing southwest at the fork of Boston Post Road (US-1) and Pearl Street. The monument consists of a bronze eagle statue siting atop an ornate granite obelisk. Below the eagle is ornate carving of a Union Shield. The current eagle is a replacement that was attached during a 2008 restoration of the monument. Surrounding three sides of the base are laurel wreaths relief carved in stone. In the center of each laurel is:
On the west face is an carving of a three leaf clover, the corp badge design of the Union Army 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac. On the north face is an carving of a Maltese cross, the corp badge design of the Union Army 5th Corps, Army of the Potomac. On the east face is an carving of a crescent moon, the corp badge design of the Union Army 11th Corps, Army of the Potomac.
There is a stone platform base that sits directly in front of the obelisk with a bronze statue of Col. Nelson B. Bartram. At the bottom of the base is a bronze GAR star. It appears that it was not the “Licensed Version” of the era.
There is also a bronze plaque that is affixed to the east face, below the crescent moon, on the stone portion of the monument. It appears to be a thank you to the Union Defense Committee. According to William O’Neil, a history author, “The Union Defense Committee resulted from a desire of ordinary citizens to actively assist the national government to force the southern states back into the Union.”
The Current State
The monument has weathered the past 112 years pretty well. With the exception of the Eagle being stolen and having to be replaced the rest of the monument appears to be original. Although from the line drawing recently discovered, there appears to have been a second plaque on the front below the GAR seal. The park sits in the middle of a very urban area. The granite shaft is subject to possible graffiti as it resides in a high traffic area but is still somewhat isolated from view. The 2008 cleanup erased graffiti. The monument is surrounds with brick pavers in which more than a few that have become loose and there are more than several missing with weeds filling the voids. In general the park has good landscaping but a small investment in new sidewalks would make it more accessible. Given current state funding, unless a private donation of money / time were introduced, that won’t be corrected in the foreseeable future.
It is interesting to note that no where on the monument or around it states who or what it is there for as our younger generations would first think of the Star Wars movies if you asked them “What was the Grand Army of the Republic.” I know this because I did just that.
Visiting the Site
There is ample parking on New Broad Street which borders the park. It is also a quick walk from the Port Chester Metro North station.
This is a birds eye view and map of the monument.
Special thanks to Dennis Segelquist for the original letter form Bartram.