After decades in storage, Amherst’s Civil War tablets return to public eye

  • Debora Bridges stands with the tablets with the names of those who fought in the Civil War from Amherst, including African-American residents who were members of the famed 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment and 5th Cavalry. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Debora Bridges gives a tour to Ed and Sandy Nowak of the photos and tablets that contain all the names of those who fought in the Civil War from Amherst, including African American residents who were members of the famed 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment and 5th Cavalry. Christopher Thompson was Bridges’ great-great-great-grandfather and was one of the men who traveled to Texas to inform the slaves there they were free men. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Debora Bridges gives a tour to Ed and Sandy Nowak of the photos and tablets which contain all the names of those who fought in the Civil war from Amherst, including African-American residents who were members of the famed 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment and 5th Cavalry. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Debora Bridges gives a tour to Ed and Sandy Nowak of the photos and tablets which contain all the names of those who fought in the Civil war from Amherst, including African-American residents who were members of the famed 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment and 5th Cavalry. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Debora Bridges gives a tour to Ed and Sandy Nowak of the photos and tablets that contain the names of all those who fought in the Civil War from Amherst, including African American residents who were members of the famed 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment and 5th Cavalry. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/1/2021 7:54:11 PM

AMHERST — Civil War tablets inscribed with the names of the 300 Amherst residents who fought on behalf of the Union, including African-American residents who were members of the famed 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment and 5th Cavalry, are on public view for the first time since the 1990s.

Debora Bridges, whose late father Dudley Bridges Sr. pushed to have the plaques seen by the public, says it feels like he is looking down on her as she begins providing guided tours of the plaques at the Pole Room at the Bangs Community Center.

“I feel really honored to do this because this is what my dad wanted, and to make sure we keep going on this,” Bridges said. “As a veteran, he was adamant about getting them out to be seen.”

The plaques will be on view Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Dudley Bridges Sr., a World War II veteran who died in 2004, spent the last years of his life advocating and fundraising to find a prominent place to honor the handcrafted memorials donated to the town by the Grand Army of the Republic in 1893. The large marble plaques were removed from Town Hall during a renovation several years ago and placed in storage.

When Debora Bridges and her daughter Anika Lopes both returned to Amherst a year or so ago, they began advocating immediately for getting the tablets back in view. In fact, her daughter began writing letters to Town Hall and speaking to various town committees.

“My daughter said, ‘I don’t care how long it takes,” Bridges said.

Bridges’ great-great-great grandfather, Christopher Thompson, is one of those African-American soldiers whose name is inscribed on the tablets. He, along with his brother Charles Thompson, not only served in the war, but they were among the troops that arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865, informing people that the Civil War had ended and with it slavery.

Bridges said it took gumption for them to go back and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas, a day that formally marks the day that all slaves in the United States were freed. That is now celebrated nationally as Juneteenth.

The size of the five plaques, each measuring 56 x 75 inches and weighing between 600 and 800 pounds, had posed challenges for the town in finding a suitable display area. A Civil War Tablets Committee eventually found the room at the Bangs with assistance from Town Manager Paul Bockelman.

They are meant to be viewed together and sequentially. A small dedication plaque introduces the other five. That plaque reads, “These tablets are to perpetuate the memories of the soldiers and sailors of Amherst who served in the War of the Rebellion.” The remaining plaques contain the names of those who fought and died in the war, with the notations “our dead in the War to the Preserve the Union” and the phrase “to die for the Nation is to live,” followed by a roll call of Civil War combat veterans

Dudley Bridges Sr. had developed a plan to place the tablets in the Gates Lot at the corner of Main and Lessey streets, in the vicinity of a metal sculpture showing Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost conversing. In 2001, the Select Board endorsed his plan over a competing one that would have placed the plaques in front of Town Hall. Debora Bridges noted her father raised significant money for this project that has not yet been used.

Though in storage, Town Meeting several years ago approved having Monument Conservation Collaborative of Norfolk, Connecticut restore the plaques.

Along with the displayed plaques are photos on the walls showing the 54th Regiment in training, other historic photos of Black Civil War soldiers and family photos of Bridges’ grandmother and father.

Bridges said she hopes families and children, especially those who grew up in Amherst, may see familiar names, and that the tablets being on display will fit in with other historic areas of town, such as the West Cemetery, where Christopher Thompson is buried, and the Amherst History Mural that depicts some of the soldiers from the 54th Regiment.

“This is a way to represent all the ancestors in town who fought in the Civil War,” Bridges said.

Those interested in learning more about the tablets can call the Senior Center at 259-3060 or the town manager’s office at 259-3002.

Scott Merzbach can be reached smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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