Sometime in the spring of 1886, workers pried an 18-ton boulder out of the ground and sent it south from Roxbury, Massachusetts. From time immemorial, children had delighted in this massive stone that protruded from the earth, and had played around and on it. The rock was all the more fascinating because it was puddingstone–conglomerate to the science-minded, but looking for all the world like a great heap of sweet pudding full of fruits. Now, the great stone was bound for Pennsylvania, where it was to be placed on a granite pedestal faced with a bronze plaque, and dedicated as a monument on the Gettysburg battlefield.
The stone’s days as a plaything were over, and with good reason. Nothing about it had changed, but a whole generation of Roxbury children who had laughed and cavorted on and near it had changed. They had gone off to war as members of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry to preserve the American Union. And many of them had not come back. In only two days–July 2 and 3, the second and third days of the Battle of Gettysburg–44 of them had died.
Those who returned to Roxbury felt honor-bound to commemorate their comrades in arms and former playmates who had not returned. And when they discussed what sort of monument to raise, they soon settled on the great puddingstone around which they had all played.
The stone rests at Gettysburg to this day, standing out along Hancock Avenue for its sheer oddity. But the strangeness of the monument makes us who see it curious, and the curiosity leads us into the story of the puddingstone. And there, in that story, we discover that the “casualties,” the battle statistics, were people who had been children once. In that deceptively simple realization, we begin to see the cost and importance of the Civil War more as the survivors saw them. We can feel a trace of the same confused feelings the old soldiers must have felt: grief over irretrievable loss; pride in deeds of valor; admiration of human courage, idealism, and commitment that were stronger than the fear of death; and concern for future generations.
This last feeling must have haunted the veterans, as they looked down into the faces of their own children and grandchildren, and of their fallen comrades’ orphans. They must have trembled at the nightmarish thought of these young loved ones lying lifeless on some contested field. Perhaps they hoped that a reminder of innocent childhood standing in a place of unparalleled carnage would help protect the young from the rash impulse to violence that always leaves millions of broken hearts and lives in its wake.
Jim Kushlan, Editor, Civil War Times
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