Civil War monuments are a familiar part of the New England landscape, granite sentinels standing guard over our village greens and traffic islands. Communities across Connecticut started erecting these memorials even before the war's end, and given that enlistments of 8-10% of the entire town population were quite typical in that conflict, such civic recognition is not surprising. Salisbury, Connecticut, with just 3,100 residents in 1860, is credited with 344 men serving in 21 Connecticut military units during the Civil War. Consequentially, there is an impressive Civil War memorial in Salisbury, and others in towns throughout the Litchfield Hills, but my town is different. North Canaan has a doughboy.
North Canaan sent its share of volunteer sons to fight in the south. 13 died during the war (6 from wounds, 7 from disease). Six North Canaan men were wounded on one particularly bad September day in Maryland, but this was a drop in the bloody bucket at Antietam where CT regiments suffered 689 casualties, the most for the state in any day of the war. The war hit home in North Canaan, but the town had only recently split off from its neighbor Canaan to the south and may have had other priorities and fiscal challenges in the years following the soldiers' return besides monument building. Whatever the reason, we do not have a Civil War statue on our town green. What we have instead is more unusual, and we are very proud of it.
Our doughboy statue is an original by sculptor E. M. Viquesney, one of just two that survive in our state and just 134 originals known in existence across the country. Viquesney's design, "The Spirit of the American Doughboy", with its outstretched arm clutching a grenade and striding across a pressed copper no man's land with tree stumps and twisted wire, was extremely popular for municipal memorials of the Great War between 1920 and the late 1930s. After the Statue of Liberty, the Viquesney's doughboy is thought to be the most viewed example of outdoor statuary in the United States.
North Canaan built the pedestal for its monument before it decided on a statue in 1928:
"Shortly after it was built, the townspeople decided they’d like a statue. Before they were to make a choice at a town meeting, Bethel veteran Bill Glass donned his old uniform, obtained a rifle and climbed the monument to assume a Doughboy pose so the townsmen would know how a Spirit of the American Doughboy would look."
The other doughboy statue in Connecticut is in Bethel.
Our doughboy stands on the hill by the Episcopal Church near the site of the old town hall. Every year our Memorial Day parade wends its way through town and down Main Street to the doughboy. The barbed wire is missing from the stumps, but on the whole it has aged well. I remember another Viquesney doughboy in Lancaster, PA that had just the stump of a hand where the grenade should have been. It has since been restored.
Our civic taste in war memorials has changed with each generation. We seldom honor our veterans with public statuary anymore, preferring instead the long rolls of honor and reflective granite, except in Washington, where both the Korean and Vietnam War memorials incorporate human figures and faces as well as those long walls of dark stone. Viquesney's design was relatively inexpensive and mass produced, which may have contributed to its popularity. But it was also assertive, standing upright and advancing across what must have been in reality a machine-gun swept field where the front had barely shifted during long years of trench warfare. Both attributes appealed to those wishing to honor the veterans of the Great War, and so the citizens of North Canaan went with the doughboy.