SARATOGA SPRINGS — A 145-year-old statue erected by the city to honor the local soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War was toppled and shattered to pieces sometime overnight Wednesday, outraging public officials and historians.
The statue, located in a prominent place just inside the entrance to Congress Park, honors the 77th New York Volunteers. The statue sat atop a tall pedestrial, but was somehow pulled down or knocked down. The damage was discovered by city police officers during a routine patrol about 3:30-3:45 a.m., said Saratoga Springs Police Department spokesman Lt. Robert Jillson.
“It’s destroyed,” Jillson said.
Police will be determining whether any security cameras in the area or any nearby businesses captured images of the culprits, and whether any physical evidence was left at the scene, Jillson said.
The destruction follows an incident last Saturday night in which the lengthy Katrina Trask staircase in the park was tagged with spray-paint, as were nearby trees, benches, and garbage cans. Jillson said it’s unknown if the incidents are related.
Congress Park has had periodic acts of vandalism before — the classic fountain statues known as “Spit and Spat” were badly damaged in 1999, leading to the installation of surveillance cameras throughout the park — there have seldom been such incidents in quick succession.
“The city of Saratoga Springs condemns these recent acts of vandalism in the strongest possible terms and will hold the parties responsible to the fulliest extent of the law,” city Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton said. “The Department of Public Works and Department of Public Safety will be taking additional measures to secure Congress Park from these unprecedented acts of violence.”
The monument stood overlooking Broadway near the park entrance. It was made of cast iron and zinc. It was dedicated in 1875, a decade after the end of the Civil War.
According to the city Department of Public Works, which oversees the park, veterans from the 77th Regiment donated $3,000 for the installation of the monument. The statue was cast from the foundry of J.W. Fiske of New York City.
The destruction is “unacceptable and frustrating,” said Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco. “Congress Park is a year-round destination for everyone, with visitors from around the country and world. It’s disappointing that anyone would vandalize this monument in our beautiful park.”
Scirocco said he doesn’t think the statue can be repaired — it would need to be replaced.
The 77th Regiment, New York Volunteers, also known as the Bemis Heights Regiment, was in the war from 1861 to 1865, mustering out only after the Confederate surrender. “Took part in all the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac, also in the Battle of Fort Stevens at Washington, D.C. and in the campaign in the Shenandoah Valley under Sheridan,” according to the inscription on the monument.
The statue honored Union troops who fought to preserve the Union and put an end to slavery — but its destruction comes at a time when there is huge controversy about statues in the South honoring Confederate military leaders, with some statues being removed by local governments and others torn down by crowds.
However, there is no record of organized or angry opposition to Union military statues in the North.
“The desecration of a Union Army veteran memorial is inexcusable and every elected official needs to speak out against this sick destruction,” U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, wrote on Twitter.
The monument was put up by what was then the village of Saratoga Springs.
In a joint statement, James Parillo of the Saratoga Springs History Museum and Samantha Bosshart of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation said they were “sad and disappointed” at the damage.
“The monument was erected in 1875 on the tenth anniversary of the end of the Civil War to honor the men of the 77th who lost their lives fighting in the Union Army,” they said.
According to the historians, the unit’s officers requested it be numbered the 77th Regiment in honor of the Battle of Saratoga, fought in 1777. That battle was fought around Bemis Heights in the town of Stillwater, giving the regiment its nickname.
The monument originally stood in the center of Broadway in front of Congress Park, but in 1921 it was moved into the park because it was creating difficulties for automobile traffic, they said.
“We hope that security cameras show the vandals in the act so they can be identified and found,” Bosshart and Parillo wrote in their statement.
According to information gathered by the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs, the Bemis Heights Regiment was recruited at the beginning of the Civil War in November 1861, organized in Saratoga Springs and including men drawn from Saratoga, Wilton, Ballston, Charlton, and Schuylerville — but also as far away as Gloversville and Westport. All were volunteers, and nearly 100 of them would be killed or mortally wounded.
The Bemis Heights Regiment saw heavy fighting and casualties at the battle of Antietam and Fredericksburg in 1862, and also during the Wilderness campaign in 1864. It was involved in all the major battles of the Army of the Potomac, though it was only in artillery support at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.
Anyone with information can contact the city Police Department at 518-584-1800.