The Soldiers and Sailors monument on Boston Common, unveiled in September 1876, was the masterpiece of sculptor Martin Milmore, who emigrated from County Sligo in 1851 with his widowed mother and four brothers, all of whom became noted artists and sculptors.
Milmore was recognized as a gifted artist as a schoolboy when he attended the Brimmer School and Boston Latin School. He apprenticed to noted Boston sculptor Thomas Ball, famous for the George Washington Statue in the Boston Public Garden and the Daniel Webster statue in Central Park, New York.
Shortly after Milmore received the commission and the cornerstone was laid by city officials in September 1871, Milmore moved to Rome, Italy, where he spent the next five years modeling his designs, inspired by classical Italian sculpture. The contract stipulated that the statues and the body of the monument should be granite, and the bas-reliefs marble white.
Milmore wrote to the commission from Rome, asking and receiving their permission to substitute bronze for granite and marble in the statues and bas-reliefs, and offering to assume any additional expense.
The shaft of the monument is made of white Maine granite, with pedestals at each of the four corners, upon which stand four bronze figures, representing Peace, History, the Army, and the Navy. At the apex of the monument stood the statue representing America, a woman 'majestically proportioned, clad in a flowing robe, with a crown of thirteen stars upon her head.'
An often overlooked feature of the monument are the four mezzo-rilievos beneath the four bronze figures, representing these scenes:
Departure for the War
The Sanitary Commission
Return from the War
These reliefs, works of art in and of themselves, depict moving scenes of the four-year Civil War, with as many as 40 figures carved into the bronze. Among them are a number of soldiers and sailors, nurses and doctors, wives and children, along with a number of leading Boston citizens at the time. They include Governor John Andrew, Boston’s Catholic John Archbishop Williams, Wendell Phillips, Henry W. Longfellow, Rev. Phillips Brooks and Charles Sumner, Caroline Louisa Parsons and Edward Everett Hale. Among the military leaders were Colonel Thomas Cass of the 9th Irish Regiment and Colonel Robert G. Shaw of the 54th Black Regiment.
The four bronzes were cast by the Ames Company in Chicopee, Mass.
The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial is part of Boston's Irish Heritage Trail.