Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Civil War under my nose: Dorence Atwater

The Dorence Atwater monument is in Baldwin Park in Terryville, Conn.
As I have noted in posts here, here and here, you don't have to look hard to find a marker, monument or grave related to Civil War history in Connecticut. On a drive from Thomaston, Conn., back to Avon on a rainy Memorial Day morning, I pulled off the road into a park in the village of Terryville. That's when I happened upon a sign that -- surprise, surprise -- told an intriguing Civil War tale.

Dorence Atwater

I wasn't familiar with the incredible story of Dorence Atwater, who was born in Plymouth Center, Conn. (Terryville) and probably lied about his age when he enlisted in the Union army at the start of the Civil War when he was barely 16.

After being captured at Hagerstown, Md., on July 7, 1863, Atwater was sent to a prisoner of war camp in Richmond before eventually ending up in the notorious Rebel POW camp in Andersonville, Ga. (1) While imprisoned there, he had the presence of mind to secretly record the deaths and burial locations of many of his fellow soldiers. He survived Andersonville and then turned over the death records after the war to Clara Barton., the famous Civil War nurse (and later the founder of  the American Red Cross). Atwater and Barton used the records to help properly mark the many previously unknown graves at Andersonville, no doubt bringing comfort to their families back north.

Clara Barton in 1902
In his amazingly colorful life, Atwater was a gold speculator, selected as U.S. Consul to the Seychelles by President Andrew Johnson at age 23, married a Tahitian woman and worked with lepers. (2) Pretty incredible stuff. Atwater died in 1910 in San Francisco and was buried in Tahiti. Deborah Safranski has an excellent account of her ancestor here, and Judith Giguere of the Plymouth (Conn.) Historical Society has more detail on Atwater here.

As for the cannon at the memorial, well, it's a biggun'. I am not a Civil War cannon expert, but I think this is a  Columbiad tube, many of which are on display at courthouses and memorials throughout the United States. The barrel of the cannon (bottom photo below) has markings and a serial number, which I believe identifies the foundry where it was made.

By the way, Atwater isn't the only famous citizen of Terryville. Tadeusz Wladyslaw Konopka, better known as Ted Knight of "Mary Tyler Moore Show" fame, is also from Terryville.

Clara Barton, the famous Civil War nurse who founded the American Red Cross
after the war, attended the dedication of the Atwater monument in 1906.

A look straight down the barrel of the Atwater monument cannon.

(1) American Civil War Database
(2) Angel of Andersonville: The Extraordinary Life of Dorence Atwater by Deborah Safranski, 2008

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:17 PM

    you can see the old geocache in the canon on the top :D