Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Civil War soldier's hometown

Ever since I purchased an original photograph of Civil War soldier Justus Wellington about two years ago, I was curious about his life. How did he die? Where is he buried? Where did he live? Today, I finally visited Justus' hometown, West Brookfield, Mass., about 50 minutes northwest of Hartford.

Wellington, a 24-year-old shoemaker serving in the Union army, was killed at the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862. West Brookfield is a typical small Massaschusetts town, with a common, 4-5 churches and many quaint, old buildings, several dating to the 1700s. The First Congregational Church, across the street from the town common, was organized 289 years ago this weekend. (I wonder if Justus attended services there?) After visiting the town historical society (it was closed) and a cemetery in nearby Brookfield, I decided to park near the common. There were two war memorials in the park, and I was hoping to find Justus' name on one of them.

As luck would have it, he was there (above). In 1921, West Brookfield erected a monument to its sons who served in the Civil War, Spanish-American War and World War I. On the lower right on one side, I found Justus' name four spots ahead of his brother-in-law, Oliver Woodbridge. I'm sure the town common has been a favorite gathering spot for West Brookfield citizens for a couple hundred years.

This afternoon, a man and his son were metal detecting there. Who knows what they found? Coins dating to the Revolutionary era? An old horseshoe? Or perhaps a Liberty nickel from the 1940s?

A short distance from the monuments, down a pretty side road, is Pine Grove Cemetery. I noticed markers for several Civil War soldiers, and some of the graves there date to the 1800s. I'm sure there are many older ones. Is Justus buried there? We'll save that discovery for another day.

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