Monumental Monday Series
A handsome statue, erected in 1913 in the center of the Main Street Mall in downtown Thomaston. Definitely not the kind of Mall that you’re picturing right now. I had to hit the Google Dictionary. Sure enough. Right there in black and white.
1. A large building or series of connected buildings containing a variety of retail stores and restaurants.
2. A sheltered walk or promenade.
Just when I thought I knew everything. Thomaston’s is definitely a 2, and the prettiest Mall I’ve seen. Back in 1803 they straightened the carriage road through the village, leaving a long crescent shaped strip of grass between the new and old paths. Someone had the foresight to plant trees around it and put fences up, leaving a sweet little park area. Cozy, perfect for a monument or two. Picnic tables, enough room for plenty of people to enjoy. The new road is now US Route 1, so there’s a pretty good flow of traffic all the time. It’s a gorgeous strip, the houses along the Mall look original, they were all probably here when this little park took shape. The historic section of Town. A young family sits on front steps that have seen many generations of kids come and go. A little girl’s squeals and laughter make the perfect background music. A truly beautiful scene, especially along this busy downeast corridor.
The statue is pretty standard, a Union Soldier, carved from the finest Barre, Vermont granite. Sculpted by A.F. Burton, a homegrown Thomaston boy. I think he nailed it. This Soldier looks tired, tested, and weary. Thankful to be returning from such a nightmare, yet mourning the losses on so many levels. His comrades, his hometown, his Nation as a whole. So much suffering. I also see a look of determination, where he would step up once again, without a moment’s hesitation, should his Country ever call for his service. He hopes in his heart that She won’t.
“In Memory of the Soldiers and Sailors of 1861-1865. One Country, One Flag.”
There’s more writing.
“Erected by (the) P. Henry Tillson Post (of the) G.A.R, (the Women’s) Relief Corps, and Town of Thomaston.”
The G.A.R. was the Grand Army of the Republic, a Veteran’s fraternal organization with posts that would spring up all over the Country, especially in the North. They had a post right here on the strip, in the big brick building across from the Mall. Second floor, overlooking the new statue that they helped bring to life. The Relief Corps was the Women’s Auxiliary of the same outfit, probably responsible for keeping the men at task, and fleshing out all of the devilish details. Quietly making it all work, without getting all of the recognition. It pleases me to see them named on this statue.
We can thank the G.A.R. and the Women’s Relief Corps for bringing Memorial Day into the mainstream.
The G.A.R. is extinct today, it carried on until the final Civil War Vet member passed away in 1956.
The Women’s Relief Corps is still active, and the G.A.R. fundamentals were carried over to it’s successor, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, also active today. It’s had notable supporters along the way, such as Ulysses S. Grant III, the Civil War General’s grandson, and General Douglass MacArthur.
I happen to have an original Grand Army of the Republic ribbon/medal/badge in my meager collection of Civil War artifacts, one of my most prized.
Thomaston’s Chapter of the G.A.R. was officially number 39, but not to the locals. Around here this would forever be the P. Henry Tillson Chapter. Let me tell you how to go about getting a Post named after you.
Perez Henry Tillson was named after his father. Henry was an add-in, so he wasn’t technically a Junior. He didn’t care for Little Perez, or Sonny, Everything I’ve read has referred to him as Henry. Henry was a good student, but signed up immediately when the conflagration of Civil War was first igniting. He joined with the 4th Maine Volunteer Infantry, one focal point of my upcoming saga, The Boys in the Box.
I told you previously about the Alonzo Stinson memorial up on The Hill in Portland, the first boy from that City to be killed in the War, at the bloody Battle of Bull Run, with the 5th Maine Infantry. Unfortunately, Henry Tillson’s story is quite similar.
Private P. Henry was just 22 when the 4th Infantry was taking shape in Rockland, May of 1861. The Commanding Officer was Colonel Hiram G. Berry, another colorful local. A carpenter by trade, Berry was also a State Legislator and Mayor of Rockland. The Colonel was a natural, and his performance at that fateful First Battle of Manassas earned him some brass, soon promoted to Brigadier General. A few months later, a few more battles would up him to Major General. Bling doesn’t mean much if you can’t bring it home, you’ll have to read my book to learn his fate. Don’t Google him. Wait for my book.
P. Henry Tillson had been a Soldier for just a month when he was faced with his first battle, First Manassas, First Bull Run, the first Big One. A rude awakening for the Union forces, they had expected to sweep the Secessionists under the figurative rug, slap their backsides and send them running for home. Brutal violence would erupt to unexpected proportions, and the day would turn to find the Union Troops running for their lives with the Rebels searing flame right on their tails. A taste of the swill they would swap back and forth for the next four grueling years.
Perez Henry wouldn’t see the tide turn from proud advance to awkward retreat. Disgraceful, after so much marching, training and preparing. Running like whipped pups, with tails between their legs. No, Private Tillson met his fate early on, as his unit faced the first Rebel artillery barrages. It happened so quickly, the damage was done by the time he heard the report of the fatal shot.
A cannonball tore through both of Henry’s thighs, cutting him clean in two. Three, actually.
He was done. Finished, but the Grim Reaper would allow him a few precious seconds of shocked awareness. He had just enough time to realize his fate, as life drained from his femoral arteries at the rate of a tipped teakettle. Two tipped teakettles, the big ones like your grandmother had.
I’m not sure how I might react to my own reckoning. It’s not all dramatic like the movies, most of those guys went out screaming. Crying for their Mommas, the first and last time they’d ever stray so far from her. Praying to an Almighty Savior. Crying for their wives and children. That’d probably be me.
I like to fantasize that I’d be all valiant and manly, take the gentleman’s route. My name is Gallant, after all. Knuckle down, I’d try my best. You never know. Emotion can bring anyone to their knees.
Perez Henry Tillson was all of those things, by all accounts. Valiant, Gallant, Manly. No screaming, no crying for Mother, no self pity, or even concern. He landed on his back, and before the dust settled he produced a small diary he had kept since enlisting. He asked a nearby officer to make sure that his mother got it, her address was right inside. His final straining breath was a rallying shout of support to his fellow Soldiers. That part gets me in the throat a little bit. That was it. He expired. Ten seconds, tops.
He wouldn’t be forgotten. They sent his diary, and his kepi hat back home to his Mom in Thomaston. She’d be the first of many local mothers to receive such a horrid package before it was finally over with. The G.A.R. started up right after the War ended, and the local Chapter took his name. I’m sure that gave his Mom a little boost of pride to help offset such a loss. The G.A.R. has come and gone, along with several generations. The Thomaston Historical Society has Henry’s hat, with a photo on their website. I didn’t get to see it, and I don’t dare to share their photo, but you can google it right up by searching for “Henry Tillson’s hat”.
I did get to see the beautiful little Mall, and the cool statue. P. Henry Tillson’s name is carved proudly on the base. That’s pretty eternal. He has a gravestone right here in Thomaston, but it coldly states that it’s “In Memory Of”, so his body may have never made it home. I’ll find out before I finish the book.
I wonder to myself what he might have shouted to his Unit. What showed on his face, and the faces of those terrified men around him. One little moment at the beginning of an everlasting war. His poor mother, and her final parcel. Had he time to write and send any letters, or had this been her first news? Would she ever return to the Post Office? Heavy questions. Lost to time and imagination.
GIVE THEM HELL, BOYS!!