For a site that dates back to the 1680s, it may be surprising to find a monument to the Civil War on the front lawn of Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site, but from 1868 until 1911, the manor hall was first Yonkers Village and later City Hall. The Civil War, which lasted from 1860 to 1865, had torn the nation apart over the issue of slavery and control of Congress. The holiday of Memorial Day (also known as Decoration Day) sprang out of the desire to memorialize Civil War dead. One of the earliest and largest commemorations happened on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina. A racetrack there had been used as a POW camp for Union soldiers, over 250 of whom died while held prisoner. The men were buried in unmarked graves on the racetrack. In late April 1865, Black residents, many freed from slavery only a few months prior, worked quietly to reorganize the graves into rows with headstones and a protective fence. On May 1, thousands of Charleston’s Black residents processed to the racetrack to honor the Union dead with flowers, music, and speeches.1
Memorial Day became a day to commemorate those who had given their lives in the conflict. In 1868, General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic (or GAR – a Union veterans organization) declared that May 30, 1868 should be observed as a day to commemorate and decorate the graves of the Civil War dead. Decoration Day, as it was also known, was also a time to clean and care for cemeteries after the long winter. Many people picnicked in the rural cemeteries that had become increasingly popular since the 1830s and ‘40s. In 1873 New York State was the first to make Memorial Day a legal holiday.2
As the decades passed, and Civil War veterans were aging and dying, many communities sought to memorialize the contributions of the soldiers in a more permanent way. Yonkers was no different.
On Memorial Day, May 30, 1888, William Allen Butler suggested that a memorial be erected to “honor the citizens of Yonkers who placed their lives at the service of the Republic when its existence was imperiled by armed Rebellion.”3 He went on to indicate that Yonkers was one of the few Westchester communities without a monument at that point. Less than two weeks later, the Yonkers Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument Committee was formed, and they held their first meeting at the Manor Hall on June 20, 1888. In January of 1889, the committee decided that the monument would be “a shaft or column, to cost not less than $5,000, [to] be erected in some public place in the city.”4 Six months later, they decided the “public place” would be the front lawn of the Manor Hall, but little further occurred until 1890, when new committee members took up subscriptions to the fund. The final design for the monument came to $10,500 – about $350,000 in 2023 dollars. In addition to individual subscriptions, the committee also held an eight-evening fair and a music concert.5
The monument itself consisted of a square granite column on top of a decorated plinth, with four bronze cast statues on each side – an infantry soldier, sailor, artilleryman, and cavalryman. A standard bearer, carrying the American flag, was carved in granite and placed atop the column. The standard bearer is eight feet high to the top of his cap, and eleven feet to the top of the flag he carries.6
The pieces of the monument began to arrive in the summer of 1891. The four bronze statues arrived from Chicago on June 1, and were stored in the basement of the First Methodist Episcopal Church. The next day, the granite statue of the standard bearer arrived by railroad. The committee had arranged for an “ordinary truck” to move it, until they found out it weighed four tons.7
The cornerstone was laid with great ceremony on June 27, 1891, and included a time capsule. According to the committee, the contents of the box included:
“The Declaration of Independence; Constitutions of the United States and of the State of New-York ; Political Register, containing the names of those at the head of the National and State Governments; New- York World Almanac for 1891; New- York Tribune Almanac for 1891 ; American Coins of 1891 ; Charter of Yonkers ; Annual Reports of the City Officers ; Rosters of Soldiers who left Yonkers to fight for the Union, of the two Grand Army Posts ,of the Fourth Separate Company, and of the Yonkers Veteran National Guard; Names of the Monument Association; Minutes of the Association and of the Dedication Committee; Contract for the Monument ; List of Contributors to the Monument Fund ; Dr. Cole's Bicentennial Address ; Programme of Depew Night ;New- York City and Yonkers papers ; Programmes of Memorial Services, 1888,1889, 1890 and 1891 ; Engraving of Manor Hall; Annual Message of Mayor Millward; Grand Army Button; Loyal Legion Button ; List of Yonkers Churches and Pastors ; Sanitary Code of Yonkers ; Last Printed Report of the Board of Education ; Rules and Regulations of the Grand Army ; Engraving of James Stewart, upon which was recorded the fact that as master-mason he superintended the laying of the corner-stone ; and Postal Card containing the call of the meeting of the Monument Association to lay the corner-stone.”8
Committee President Charles E. Gorton’s (who went on to be Yonkers Public Schools superintendent) speech was recorded and gave this reason for erecting the monument as late as 1891:
“Although the Civil War ended long ago, there was never a time more appropriate than the present to rear testimonials to the soldiers and sailors who fought to preserve the Union, when monuments are being reared to honor those who were conspicuous for trying to destroy it. A section of the country is calling for school and other histories that shall write down a wicked Rebellion as a struggle for liberty, and that shall elevate its leaders on the pedestals of heroes.9
“Time does not change facts. The war was an infamous Rebellion, seeking to destroy the best of governments, and its leaders were traitors and rebels. I do not believe that sectional animosities, should be kept alive; neither do I believe in the effort to perpetuate the memories of those who were conspicuous only for their efforts to dismember the Nation. Patriotism will not suffer the names of the men who fought for the South to be written above those who fought that the Union might live.
“This Monument we are about to erect will, we trust, be more than a history. It will commemorate the valor of the defenders of their land. It will inspire with patriotism those who are to come after us. Long hence it will look down on men with hearts as loyal and arms as strong as they who went forth to battle from ’61 to ’65 and who, if need be, will dare as much for their country.”10
Once the cornerstone was in place, the monument was erected in stages. Starting on July 16, the various blocks were placed, one on top of another. The standard bearer was placed on July 21 and on July 23, 1891, the monument was completed. But the dedication would have to wait until summer’s heat and vacations were over.
On Thursday, September 17, 1891, the monument was finally dedicated. According to the Committee, “The glories of early autumn marked the festal day. The skies were flecked with fleecy clouds, through which the glorious sunlight streamed upon the city; the air bore the delightful flavor of Indian summer. It was an ideal day for the grand event.”11 By request, the Secretary of the Navy sent the USS Boston up the Hudson River to anchor off of Yonkers.
According to the Committee, nearly 20,000 people attended the dedication, including about 1,000 Union Army veterans, National guardsmen, and the Marines and sailors of the USS Boston¸ who processed from Getty Square “through New Main Street to South Broadway, thence northward to North Broadway, to Quincy Place, to Warburton Avenue, and to Manor Hall Grounds, ”where the current and veteran military men took their seats. The West Point Military Academy Band performed with a choir and several prominent individuals gave speeches and recited poetry.12 The USS Boston gave a 21 gun salute with her 6 inch guns. That evening the Yonkers Corinthian Yacht Club led a lantern parade past the Yonkers waterfront, saluted by the USS Boston with her searchlights, whistle, and fireworks.
The Yonkers Soldiers and Sailors Monument Committee’s last act was to publish Yonkers in the Rebellion of 1861-1865, Including a History of the Erection of the Monument to Honor the Men of Yonkers Who Fought to Save the Union, authored by Thomas Astley Atkins and John Wise Oliver, in 1892. The book covered Yonkers’ response to the outbreak of war as well as the deeds of several of the volunteer companies from Yonkers and personal reminiscences of the war from individuals from Yonkers.
Today, the monument is one of the largest and most striking in downtown Yonkers. Let’s take a closer look. The four bronze statues around the four sides of the square column include inscriptions and quotes beneath each.
The Infantryman stands resolutely, one foot up on his pack, holding his rifle butt-down. His quotes read: “Patriotism – To honor the men of Yonkers who fought to save the Union 1861-1865 – Slavery Abolished.”
The Artilleryman, in his short coat with sword hanging behind him, wields the cannon’s sponge and ramrod like a weapon, ready to defend the piece. His quotes read: “Endurance – ‘The Union is the Palladium of our safety and prosperity.’ (Washington) – Credit Maintained.”
The Cavalryman, in his boots and wide-brimmed hat, holds his rifle at the ready, his sword at his side. His quotes read: “Valor – ‘My paramount object is to save the Union.’ (Lincoln) – ‘Let us have peace.’ (Grant).”
And finally, the Sailor, cutlass drawn, rolling up his sleeve, with one foot on a coil of rope. His quotes read: “Courage – ‘The Union must and shall be preserved.’ (Jackson) The Union Saved.”
Let’s take a closer look at some of these quotes within the context of memorials at the time. First, the quote attributed to George Washington, under the Artilleryman: “The Union is the Palladium of our safety and prosperity.” This is not quite a direct quote from Washington, although it is attributed to him. It is a paraphrase of a section of his farewell address, which he published in 1796 at the close of his presidency. The United States was still in its infancy as a republic, and Washington called for national unity in order to prevent the fragile state from falling prey to foreign nations who wanted to see the experiment with democracy fail. Here is the full quote:
“The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium13 of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.”14
By comparing the secession of the Southern states as an attack on Washington’s hopes for the new nation, the designers of the monument (and indeed, the sentiments of many post-war Union supporters) meant to align themselves with America’s most famous and respected Founding Father.
Under the Cavalryman, the quote by Abraham Lincoln, “My paramount object is to save the Union,” comes from an August 22, 1862 letter from Lincoln to Horace Greeley. Greeley had founded the New York Tribune and was a strong abolitionist. On August 19, 1862 he wrote to Lincoln, a letter which he also published the following day in the Tribune as “The Prayer of Twenty Millions,” chastising Lincoln for not acting quickly enough on emancipation and for not taking a harder line with slaveholding border states.15 Lincoln’s reply was famously also published. In it, he writes:
“I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time save Slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy Slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save this Union, and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views. I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty, and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men, everywhere, could be free. Yours, A. LINCOLN.”16
At the same time, Lincoln’s quote on the monument is followed by one from his most successful General – Grant. “Let us have peace” is not only a quote from Ulysses S. Grant – it was also his campaign slogan in the 1868 presidential election, which he won by an electoral landslide and thanks to the overwhelming support from newly enfranchised African Americans in the former Confederate states. Grant, like most Americans, was weary of a war that was so costly in both lives and funds. He wanted to maintain the hard-won peace.
Finally, with the Sailor, the inclusion of Andrew Jackson’s quote, “The Union must and shall be preserved” is another paraphrase. The original quote came from a toast delivered in 1830 in response to South Carolina senator Robert Hayne’s speech supporting nullification of federal acts within state boundaries. Jackson surprised listeners by proclaiming, “Our Federal Union! It must be preserved!” to Hayne’s face.17 Jackson had been a fervent supporter of state’s rights and had disbanded the Second Bank of the United States, which was seen by many as a serious blow to the federal powers. This small confrontation, over a political dinner, heralded the nullification crisis, led by John C. Calhoun, in which South Carolina threatened to secede from the Union in 1832, foreshadowing the Civil War by nearly 30 years.18 The paraphrase of Jackson’s quote was revived during the Civil War to show that even a staunch states’ rights supporter saw the value of the federal government and a Union.
Taken together, these quotes illustrate both the depth of feeling that historical peoples had around the importance of a nation of states united by a federal government, and also the complicated memory around the Civil War. For indeed, “Slavery abolished” was an end result. But as the Lincoln quote shows, although expanding slavery was the primary reason for Southern secession, ending slavery was not always the primary reason for the Northern fight to save the Union.
And yet, African Americans did fight. Support roles for both armies were fulfilled by people of color – enslaved in the South, free in the North.19 Although as little as 1% of the Northern population was African American, 10%of the Union Army and 25% of the Union Navy (which was not segregated) were.20 But men of color were not allowed to enlist until the Militia Act of 1862, passed in July of that year. Within weeks of Lincoln’s signature, free men of color were volunteering for regiments in Illinois and New York. The United States Colored Troops (USCT), as the Army volunteers would come to be known, were formed into segregated regiments that fought at nearly every major battle of the war.21
In addition to the Militia Act, Congress also passed the Second Confiscation Act in July of 1862, which freed any enslaved person who left a Confederate owner and allowed the Union Army and President Lincoln to hire as many as they deemed necessary. Racism of the period meant that many newly freed African Americans were relegated to menial and manual labor jobs, and their pay was set at 30% less than White men. When they could enlist into segregated regiments, the Confederates refused to treat them the same as White prisoners of war. Black troops who were captured were subject to summary execution, torture, and prison camps with conditions even worse than their White Union compatriots. The Confederates also refused to include them in prisoner exchanges.
Still the skill and valor of the USCT led Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to write to Lincoln, “Many persons believed, or pretended to believe, and confidentially asserted, that freed slaves would not make good soldiers; they would lack courage, and could not be subjected to military discipline. Facts have shown how groundless were these apprehensions.”22
The 13th Amendment, passed by Congress on January 31, 1865 and finally ratified on December 6, 1865, finally abolished slavery in the United States. The 14th Amendment, passed in 1866 and ratified on July 9, 1868, granted citizenship to everyone “born or naturalized in the United States,” including the formerly enslaved, and extending “equal protection under the laws” to all people. It also allowed the federal government to reduce the Congressional representation of states who diminished or deprived its citizens voting rights, banned former Confederates “from holding any civil, military, or elected office,” and prohibited former Confederate states from compensating enslavers for the emancipation of those they had enslaved. The former Confederate states were required to ratify the 14thAmendment as a condition of regaining representation in Congress.23
At a time in which the purpose of 19th and early 20th century memorials and statues is being reconsidered, it is interesting to note that this memorial is not to any single person – but to the anonymous group of soldiers and sailors who many felt had not received adequate acclaim for their efforts. It is also interesting to note that the people who raised the funds to build it did so as a bulwark against what they felt was an effort to rewrite history.
Today, we access to the words of people in the past written in digital ink – not in stone. But Memorial Day asks us to remember, reflect, and honor the sacrifices of those who gave their lives to protect the nation –from enemies foreign and domestic.
 Waxman, Olivia B. “The Overlooked Black History of Memorial Day,” Time, May 22,2020. https://time.com/5836444/black-memorial-day/
 Yonkers in the Rebellion, p. 183.
 Yonkers in the Rebellion, p.185.
 Yonkers in the Rebellion, p.192.
 Yonkers in the Rebellion, p.191-198.
 Yonkers in the Rebellion, p.199.
 Yonkers in the Rebellion, p. 201-202.
 Gorton is referring to the Lost Cause movement, led largely by the Daughters of the Confederacy, to rewrite history books and erect monuments to Confederate heroes, falsely reframing the Civil War as a noble struggle against Northern tyranny. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/lost-cause-definition-and-origins
 Yonkers in the Rebellion, p. 202-203 – read the whole speech here: https://archive.org/details/yonkersinrebelli00atki/page/202/mode/1up?view=theater
 Yonkers in the Rebellion, p. 209.
 Selected orator Orlando B. Potter’s extensive speech summarizing the history of the Civil War and Yonkers’ role can be read on pages 217-231.
 A palladium in this instance is a Classical reference – a palladium was a statue of Pallas, which was said to protect the city of Troy so long as it was preserved.
 Read Greeley’s full letter here: https://www.americanantiquarian.org/Manuscripts/greeley.html
 Read Lincoln’s full letter here: https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/letter-reply-horace-greeley-slavery-and-the-union-the-restoration-the-union-the-paramount