Company A of the 52nd Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers was recruited in Wilkes Barre in the summer of 1861. At the age of seventeen, on 28 March 1862, William L. Millham volunteered, serving as a private through the end of the war, mustering out in July 1865.
The 52nd was not put through the grinder like some units, but it lost a goodly number of men, some under the infamous Capt. Henry Wirz. Millham was one of the lucky ones who made it through and did well enough after the war that his wife was in a position to erect a reasonably costly monument.
Wm. L. MILLHAM ELIZA A. MILLHAM
Co. A. 52nd Reg. Pa. Vol. BORN MAY 13 1840
BORN JAN 1 1845 DIED JULY 17 1925
DIED APRIL 22 1917
The monument consists of a rustic-faced die with trapezoidal faces sitting atop a rectilinear rustic-faced base. A concrete foundation can be seen beneath. Three cut lilies, one broken as a symbol of life interrupted, are notionally bound in front of a large rectangular space (really two smaller spaces) holding the couple’s anagraphic data, his on the left (with the broken lily), hers on the right (figure 3). She died eight years after him, so I assume his death occasioned the erection of the monument.
For me, the salient question about this monument is whether the marble statue is meant to be a portrait. The only relevant area would be the head; the rest is generic, though it’s rarer to see a common soldier type fully kitted out. It’s a great pity the rifle and part of the left foot and hand have been broken away.
Statuary houses advertised that they could turn their generic Civil War common soldier monuments into portrait statues, given time and some extra money, so it’s reasonable to ask the portrait question. Looking, therefore, at the head, it is that of a young man. Millham died at age 72, but the statuary houses worked from photographs as needed. To my eye, though, the portrait is generic, looking off into some distant battlefield. The only particularizing mark is the walrus mustache, and that’s common enough.
Credit, though, to Millham or his wife for securing for private use one of the common soldiers that dot the landscape of both north and south on public monuments. It was a matter of money, but I see fewer of them than I expect, given how invested the trailing members of the Civil War cohort were in that fundamental and astounding moment in their lives.
Let’s now turn to the monument of Melville H. Freas in Ivy Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Like the Millham monument, the Freas monument is inconveniently blocked by grave plantings grown large: please forgive the oblique pictures. Freas was Millham’s slightly older contemporary, and both men died within a couple of years of one another late in the age of reconciliation, Millham in 1917, Freas in 1920.
It said something that Millham, or his wife at his bidding, put up a costly statue commemorating four years out of a seventy-two year life. Freas was even more deeply invested in his identity as a soldier in the Civil War, as we read not only in his obituaries, which dwell on his wartime adventures while scanting on everything else, but also in a newspaper article publicizing his 1907 decision to erect a monument to himself against future need on his family burial plot.
ORDERS HIS OWN STATUE TO BE PLACED IN CEMETERY
Civil War Veteran Prepares for Death.
Mellville H. Freas, a Civil War Veteran and a former member of the famous Bucktail Regiment yesterday awarded a contract to John W. Gessler’s Sons, 39th street and Baltimore avenue to make a granite statue of him which will be placed in his lot in Ivy Hill Cemetery.
He is 73 years old and lives at 248 East Haines street. It was in Germantown that with four companions be enlisted in 1862 in the 150th Pennsylvania Volunteers, later known as the Bucktails. The five young men remained together until Gettysburg. At 6 o’clock on July 3, 1863, as General Lee was preparing for flight, they were captured. They were taken to the prison at Belle Isle, where Freas four companions died. On March 23, 1864 Freas was paroled.
At the close of the war he returned to Germantown, and erected a monument upon his lot In Ivy Hill, on which were cut the names of the four friends he lost in prison. Every Memorial Day since then Freas has donned his uniform and has gone to the cemetery to decorate the monument.
And now he has ordered a statue of himself to be placed by the monument. Under this will be the inscription
MELLVILLE H. FREAS,
A Soldier of the Civil War
Co. A. 150th Pa. Vols. The Bucktail Regiment
Taken prisoner at Gettysburg July 3, 1863 at 6 p.m. Was in prison at Belle Isle, Va. Paroled March 4 1864. Died-Newspaper article quoted at find a grave dot com.
Reading this 1907 article from years before the monument was erected, and even longer before Freas died, we find a preliminary version of the texts that appear on both the monument in figures 4, 4a, and 5 (which claims to date to 1914) and on the tombstone in figure 6 (presumably of 1920). The date of Freas’ capture is wrong, but Freas’ involvement in creating the text is pretty clear from the inclusion of the detail, inconsequential to anyone but himself, that he was captured at 6:00 p.m. It’s not clear where the misspelling of Freas given name came in. I suspect the reporter was careless.
Most interesting is that Freas, despite his age, made a show of donning his old uniform at least once a year for Memorial Day, and that he was a prominent member of the local G.A.R. ‘Ellis Post No. 6.’ (G.A.R. = Grand Army of the Republic, an alumni group of union Civil War veterans.) This textual evidence agrees entirely with the statue to be seen today at his plot in Ivy Hill with its G.A.R. medal on its left breast. I’d bet money he furnished the cutter a photograph from one of his Memorial Day outings.
In fact, as a self-commissioned portrait, we have exactly what Freas himself wanted, which was not an image of himself as a young soldier but as an older man enjoying the status and respect of a veteran. The man has, at an advanced age, donned the uniform of his glory days, and if his beard has grown alarmingly long, and his belly sticks out a bit over his belt now, and he’s shrunken from his youthful musculature, well, he still cuts a dashing figure. The signs of age on his face are striking, as is the somewhat bemused look of the old man playing at soldier and remembering far off days. The man is emphasized by having the rifle carved substantially undersize. I see either a Tolkien dwarf or a better-kempt Snuffy Smith in Freas’ face.
Freas’ ‘project’ of self-commemoration includes the monument under consideration (figures 4, 4a, 5), a separate tombstone proper (figure 6), and a bronze plaque with the Gettysburg Address, an oversize reproduction of the obverse of the Lincoln Cent, and Lincoln’s signature at the bottom (figure 7). The self-regard (and social posturing) inherent in such a project is backgrounded by the foregrounding of the names of his fellow Germantown comrades who were captured with him and died in the Belle Isle prison camp. His claims to important service are backed up by Lincoln’s address.
The monument text of 1914:
A SOLDIER OF THE CIVIL WAR
MELVILLE H. FREAS.
CO. A. 150th PA. VOL. INFANTRY
TAKEN A PRISONER AT GETTYSBURG, PA.
JULY 1st 1863 at 6:00 P.M.
WHEN OUR REGIMENT WENT INTO
THE GETTYSBURG FIGHT ON
JULY 1st 1863 AT 11:00 A.M.
ON THE CHAMBERSBURG ROAD
WE WENT IN WITH SEVEN HUNDRED MEN
AND WHEN WE CAME OUT WE HAD
90 MEN ON ROLL CALL AT 6:00 P.M.
SIX HUNDRED AND TEN MEN WERE
KILLED WOUNDED AND PRISONERS
MAJOR GEO W. JONES
CALLED THE ROLL AND BROUGHT
THE REGIMENT HOME AT THE CLOSE OF
THE WAR. HE WAS A BRAVE SOLDIER.
The tombstone text from 1920:
1841 MELVILLE H. FREAS 1920
A SOLDIER OF THE CIVIL WAR
1862 — 1865
CO. A. 150. PA. VOL. BUCKTAIL REGt.
TAKEN PRISONER AT GETTYSBURG
JULY 1, 1863, WAS A PRISONER
AT BELLE ISLE, RICHMOND, VA.
PAROLED MARCH 23, 1864.
ALL MY COMRADES DIED IN PRISON
PHILIP W. HAMMER. GEORGE SHINGLE.
CHARLES GRANT & LEWIS VOGLE.
These monuments both provide valuable testimony to the complex motivations and forms of Civil War commemoration. Many veterans on both sides cared deeply about their service and throve on the social standing it gave them. If they could not afford a personal monument, they might nevertheless subscribe to the cost of, or lobby for, public monuments erected by the G.A.R. and its auxiliaries, or the U.D.C., and its allied groups. But to understand the public monuments, I think we need to carefully study many private ones.