The Derby Soldiers' Monument was the first Civil War memorial erected in the state and was dedicated on October 31, 1866. Unlike later monuments that frequently featured goddesses and soldiers, this one reflects the sober mood of the war and immediate postwar years. It is a solemn granite funereal memorial, an eighteen-foot-high granite obelisk that rests on a square, raised viewing platform with rounded-edge coping. In raised letters the dedication reads, “In memory of the Volunteers from Derby who lost their lives in the Great Rebellion, 1861–1865” along with the names of 49 privates and 4 officers from Derby who died in the war, from a town of 1,900 residents.
The monument sits above Derby Center on the highest point of a knoll surrounded by an open two-acre lawn and approached by a long pathway from Main Street (U.S. 5). Its location generated some controversy, as the town argued the merits of the site and whether the old burying ground or the green of Derby Academy, from which many of the war dead had graduated, might be more proper. The granite was quarried on a nearby farm, drawn by oxen to the academy common where it was cut, and then drawn by pieces to its site. In 1888 some fifty maple trees were planted along the north, east, and south sides of the lot. Proposals to turn a portion of the monument site into a parking lot so far have not come to pass, preserving the memorial as intended with a long serene and solemn approach.
As in most Vermont communities, the meaning of the monument evolved to include all veterans. So in 1917 three bronze plaques with the names of 256 citizens from Derby who served in the Civil War were added to the monument, amid exhortations to enlist to fight in the “War to End All Wars.”