Perhaps you’ve stopped and taken note of our fair town’s Civil War Statue as you’re strolling up the sidewalk into the town hall on Boston Neck Road. Certainly if you have a young child you must have fielded questions on the details of this noble monument to our nation’s most difficult hour. In this week’s column we are going to take a closer look at the story behind this stoic gentleman perched out there on the front lawn and the younger innocent lad for whom this monument was, in part, dedicated to; Charles C. Baker.
Charley Baker was born in the early 1840’s to Captain and Mrs. David S. Baker of Pleasant Street in Wickford. He was the third of seven children and his father was a well-respected packet master (ship’s captain) of the packet boats that plied the waters of Narragansett Bay on a daily run between Wickford and Providence. The Baker home was a large gambrel-roofed house that sat right on the corner of Pleasant and Friend Streets. It is still there to this day and can be seen in the accompanying photograph.
Charley was educated in the local schools and like most young men of his age, he heeded the call of his Country and joined the “Grand Army of the Republic” to fight the good fight to save the Union. At the end of the summer of 1861 Charley, son of a packet master from Wickford, along with many other local lads, including George T. Cranston, son of a farmer from Swamptown, climbed upon a train at the Wickford Junction station as a part of the Rhode Island Regiment, and headed off on the long journey to Camp Sprague just outside of Washington, D.C. Charley was a part of Company H, while George belong to Company E.
Apart from their obvious stations in life, there was little difference between them. Neither had an inkling of what lay ahead for them. The big difference between the two was that George, some four years later, returned alive to his family. Charley, died in his first battle, at New Berne, only a short while after climbing on board that local train. He was the first local boy to die in the War to save the Republic. As you can see by his last photo, a boy is what he truly was. His family and his community mourned their loss.
As a by-product of that mourning process, the local chapter of the GAR named its Post after Charley. The C.C. Baker Post was a support and fraternal group for returning veterans; think of it as the 1860’s version of the American Legion or the VFW. Eventually George T. would become it’s leader; I expect he often thought of his comrade Charley and that fateful day they boarded the train together and headed off to their separate fates. As the 1800s drew to a close, the membership of the Post dwindled, as veteran after veteran died and was buried with honor by his comrades. As the 20th century began, there were only a handful of remaining members; all “long in the tooth” they, like countless of other Posts across our nation, began to think of a way to close things out; to provide a permanent and appropriate way for future generations to always remember the ultimate sacrifice that good folks such as Charley had made for their nation. They emptied their Post’s coffers for the final time and made their selection. Many of these groups made the same choice that the C.C. Baker Post made, there are countless numbers of these “made-to-order” statues across America.
North Kingstown’s Memorial, as can be seen by the accompanying colorized postcard, was originally placed across the street from its present location (the two tenement houses that still exist on Updike Ave. can be seen in the background). That spot, in front of the Wickford Station, was appropriate for obvious reasons. When the station building was demolished in the 1930’s the statue was moved across the road, albeit in a less elaborate form, to its present spot in front of the town hall. There it quietly sits, still performing the function that those old soldiers envisioned it doing; reminding us all of what was required to insure our nations greatness, enormous sacrifices by boys who were barely men, boys like Charley Baker.
Reprinted with permission by Swamptown Enterprises G. Timothy Cranston