Monday, October 31, 2011

After Antietam: 'In death they were not divided'

My shadow eerily hovers by the tilted gravestones of Charles Lewis and his fiancee,
Sarah Hyde,  in
Carey Cemetery in Canterbury, Conn. Lewis, a sergeant in the
8th Connecticut Infantry,  was
killed at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.
Like many women in Connecticut in September 1862, Sarah Hyde anxiously awaited news from a terrible battle in Sharpsburg, Md., more than 400 miles away.
Large, bold headlines about an awful battle
in Sharpsburg, Md. three days earlier
jumped off the front page of the
Hartford Courant on Sept. 20, 1862.

The second youngest of six children of Reverend Nehemiah and Rebecca Hyde of Canterbury, a small town about 50 miles east of Hartford, 21-year-old Sarah was engaged to a soldier from nearby Griswold. Charles E. Lewis, the 25-year-old son of Jedediah and Clarissa Lewis, was an apprentice carriage maker in 1860 and perhaps had many dealings with the reverend, a wagon maker by trade. (1)

Before marrying, Charles, like many of his peers, heeded the call of his nation and enlisted in the Union army on Sept. 9,  1861. Lewis served with the 8th Connecticut Infantry during the Burnside Expedition in North Carolina, fighting in a battle near New Bern, N.C., on March 14, before the regiment was assigned to the Army of the Potomac in early July.

Antietam dwarfed any previous battle for the men of the 8th Connecticut, who as part of the Union left flank crossed Antietam Creek, marched through farmer John Otto's fields and then, unsupported, were overwhelmed on three sides and pushed back on the outskirts of Sharpsburg.  

Lewis was listed as a carriage maker apprentice from Griswold, Conn., in the 1860 U.S. census.
"The wounded prop themselves behind the rude stone fence," a post-war account of the 8th Connecticut's fight at Antietam noted, "and hurl leaden vengeance at the foe. Even the chaplain snatches the rifle and cartridge box from a dead man, and fights for his life." Among those killed in the confusing fight was Sergeant Charles E. Lewis of Company F, who "had always fought in the front ranks of the Eighth." (2)

Sergeant Charles Lewis' Civil War  memorial
stone  in  Carey Cemetery in Canterbury, Conn.
I believe he is buried beneath a gravestone
behind this marker. 
On Sept. 23, 1862, the Hartford Courant printed a long list of Antietam casualties from the 8th, 11th, 14th and 16th Connecticut regiments. How Sarah received the news about her fiance is not known, but she was "sickened upon hearing his death" and soon fell into a depression. On Oct. 16, 1862 -- almost a month to the day after Charles was killed -- she also died, perhaps of a broken heart. (3)

Three days later, two funerals were held at Canterbury's Carey Cemetery, not far from the center of town. Charles Lewis, his body likely recovered from the battlefield by his family, was laid to rest in a family plot. Immediately to the right of his final resting place is the grave of his fiancee, Sarah Hyde, described by the Courant as "a bright girl of twenty-one."

"They had been brought up together in life, in death they were not divided," the newspaper reported, "and together they sleep the last sleep."

Sadly, similar scenes played out thoroughout Connecticut as bodies flowed into the state in late September and October 1862 in the awful aftermath of Antietam. Funerals in towns from Lebanon to New Britain to Middletown and Rockvillle and elsewhere were commonplace.

"It is seldom that we are called upon to bury so many braves in so short a space of time," the Courant reported nearly a month after the battle.
Closeups of the well-worn gravestones of Charles Lewis (left) and Sarah Hyde. Although
difficult to read, Lewis' date and place of death can still be read near the bottom of his
tombstone. Sarah died Oct. 16, 1862, almost a month after Lewis was killed at Antietam.
Some of the accounts in the Hartford Courant and Hartford Daily Courant were written matter-of-factly, others eloquently. Like the story of Charles E. Lewis, each account is incredibly sad. Here are snapshots of newspaper coverage from fall 1862: 

Sept. 24: Yesterday was a day of sorrow, not only for Middletown (where the funeral took place), but for the whole State. One of Connecticut's bravest heroe's was consigned to the grave. Brig. General Joseph F. K. Mansfield, killed at the battle of Sharpsburg, and his body having been brought to Middletown, his native place, the funeral was announced for yesterday at 2 1/2 o'clock. Business in the town was generally suspended, and the stores and dwellings along the route of the procession were beautifully draped in mourning. On every side the National colors, draped in crape, met the eye. Across the main street hung in several places the American flag, also shrouded in black. Emblems of sorrow were seen in all directions."

Wadsworth A. Washburn's grave in tiny Denison Cemetery
in Berlin, Conn. Washburn, an orderly sergeant in the
16th Connecticut, was killed at Antietam. His father
retrieved his body from the battlefield.
Oct. 4: "Serg't E. A. Parmele -- The body of this much lamented young man, killed at the battle of Antietam, arrived in this city on Wednesday, and was temporarily placed in the receiving tomb of Spring Grove Cemetery. When found, the body was wrapt in the shelter tent in which he last slept. The funeral will take place at 11 o'clock to-day from his father's residence, No. 6 Chestnut street, after which the remains will be taken to Meriden for interment."

Oct. 13: "Three bodies of soldiers killed in battle, belonging to Rockville, arrived yesterday morning on the boat. We were unable to obtain their names. ... Their friends have the satisfaction of knowing that they have the sympathies of the city with them, and that their loved ones died in a glorious cause."

Oct. 13: "Rev. Mr. Washburn, of Berlin, having returned from the battle-field of Antietam with the remains of his son, Orderly Sergeant Wadsworth A. Washburn, of Co. G 16th regiment, C.V. Funeral services will be attended in the Congregational Church in Berlin, on Monday, (to-day) at 2 o'clock, P.M."

Oct. 27: "Never before have the citizens of Coventry been called upon to perform a more painful duty than they were last Thursday in cosigning the remains of Geo. W Corbit and Samuel L. Talcott, to their last resting-place. There two victims of this accursed rebellion were members of Co. D, 14th Reg't, and were wounded at the battle of Antietam, and after lingering some four weeks amid great pain and suffering have since died ... After the services the congregation viewed the remains, and the sad procession slowly wended its way to the cemetery. The flag draped in black was borne by the members of the Sunday School Class of Talcott, to whom he was strongly attached. Both of these young men were universally esteemed, and when the last call for troops was made, they manfully enlisted for the conflict."

Nov. 18: It is hardly two weeks since the citizens of Coventry performed the last sad duty of laying "neath the turf" the remains of George N. Corbit and Samuel L. Talcott, yet hardly had the sun of a fortnight set behind the western horizon, or the dread echoes of the rumbling hearse died away in the distance, than they were again called upon to perform a similar duty, and bear to his last resting place the remains of Henry Talcott, a brother and comrade of the above, and with them a victim of that blood-red field, Antietam. Finding his wound to be of too serious a nature to admit further service in the rank and file of our army, should he recover, when the remains of his fallen brother were started homeward, he obtained his discharge and came thither to seek his kindred and friends, and among the hills of his native town to recruit his fast wasting frame. But alas! his anticipations were not realized; he reached home only to breath his last, while near and dear friends tenderly watched beside him, and last Wednesday he was laid by the companions of his early days, beside his brother in the "city of the dead."

George Corbit, 25, and brothers Samuel, 20, and Henry Talcott, 26, were privates in Company D of the 14th Connecticut from Coventry. Henry was wounded when an artillery shell burst near a wall in the lane leading up to William Roulette's farmhouse, wounding three other men and killing three in his company. (4)

The death of second son was a huge blow for the Talcott brothers' parents, Erastus and Aurelia.

"Yet let us not dispair," the Courant noted in the Nov. 18, 1862 article, "the sun of Liberty will yet dawn, and its golden beams will yet shine with dazzling splendor o'er new made graves, and future generations will remember with pride those who have fallen in their country's behalf."

The brothers are buried next to each other in Center Cemetery in Coventry. Corbit also is buried there, 20 yards from the Talcotts.
The graves of the Talcott brothers, Samuel and Henry, and George Corbit are in
Center Cemetery in Coventry, Conn. Privates in Company D of the 14th Connecticut,
they died of wounds received at Antietam.
Center Cemetery in Coventry, Conn.
(1) 1860 U.S. census
(2) The Military and Civil History of Connecticut During the War of 1861-65, William Augustus Croffut, John Moses Morris 1869, Page 272, Page 277
(3) Hartford Courant, Oct. 24, 1862
(4) History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Conneticut Volunteer Infantry, Charles Davis Page, Page 43, 1906

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