Saturday, October 01, 2011

Civil War under my nose: Deaths of Lee brothers

Edwin R. Lee, killed at New Bern, N.C. on March 14, 1862, is buried in
Riverside Cemetery, near the Farmington River, in Barkhamsted, Conn.

Worn by the elements, the words carved on Edwin Ruthven Lee's brownstone memorial still resonate nearly 150 years after he was laid to rest with military honors in Riverside Cemetery in tiny Barkhamsted, Conn.

"His last words were Go on for your Country.

"He died that his country might live."
Brothers Edwin and Henry Lee were killed during the
 Civil War. Edwin was never married. Henry left behind a wife
 and four children.
(Photos from John Lee of Hartford Co. and His Descendants)

A captain in the 11th Connecticut Infantry, Lee was just 28 years old when he was killed in battle at New Bern, N.C. on March, 14, 1862. His body was buried near the battlefield and eventually brought back north for burial.

A little more than two years later, Edwin's oldest brother, Henry Bryan Lee, suffered the same fate. A 37-year-old lieutenant in the 7th Connecticut Infantry, Henry was mortally wounded at the Battle of Deep Run (also called Deep Bottom), near Richmond, on Aug. 16, 1864. Although his name and place and date of death are carved on the side of his brother's grave marker, Henry isn't buried next to Edwin. His final resting place is in Virginia in a grave marked "Unknown," the sad fate of many Civil War soldiers.

The deaths of the Lee brothers is another reminder of the immense toll the war took on some Connecticut families. During the past two years, I have found four western Connecticut families who lost multiple members during the Civil War. Three Wadhams brothers died in battle in Virginia in the summer 1864. Elijah Bacon, awarded the Medal of Honor for capturing a flag at Gettysburg, was killed in battle at the Wilderness, and his brother, Andrew, died in a prisoner-of-war camp in South Carolina. Brothers Alvin and George Flint, as well as their father, Alvin Sr., also died in service to their country.

I often pass by the Lee brothers' 10-foot marker, a stone's throw from the Farmington River, during bike rides along scenic River Road near People's State Forest. Until today, I knew little about them. Here's some of what I have uncovered:

Edwin Lee, described as a "young man of a clear head and earnest convictions," was a supporter of  Abraham Lincoln, often making speeches for the Republican  candidate during the 1860 presidential campaign. (1) Inspired by the Union cause, Edwin raised a company of men, enlisted from Hartford as a captain in the 11th Connecticut on Sept. 27, 1861, and was commissioned into Company D two months later. One of three brothers who served in the Union army (another brother was rejected as unfit to serve because of a disability), Edwin was a rifle maker before the war. (2)  He was employed at the Colt Armory and Sharps Rifle Company in Hartford, both of which supplied a large number of small arms to the Union army during the war. (3)

After drilling in Hartford, Lee and his comrades headed for New York, where the 11th Connecticut left by steamer on Dec. 17, 1861, bound for Annapolis, Md. In early January, the 11th broke camp and eventually made its way to North Carolina as part of Gen. Ambrose Burnside's Expedition.

Edwin Lee's occupation was listed a rifle maker on the 1860 U.S. census.

In early March, the 11th Connecticut moved from Roanoke Island to take part in an attack near New Bern, an important link in the Confederate supply chain and thus a key military target. In helping overwhelm the poorly trained and hugely outnumbered rebels, the 11th Connecticut suffered 14 wounded and six men killed.

"It was a sickening sight that met us, dead horses, mangled men, broken cannons, knapsacks and guns were slung in every direction," an officer in the 11th Connecticut wrote of the battle's aftermath.

Among the dead was Captain Edwin R. Lee, struck in the abdomen by a shell that also killed five other men. Lee, just 44 days short of his 29th birthday, died shortly after being wounded as he was leading a company into line. "Tell my brother I died at the post of duty," he said shortly after suffering the mortal wound. "Good-by. Go on for your country!" (4)

Edwin Lee (upper right) was listed as killed in action at New Bern in the
Hartford Courant on March 20, 1862.
A day after the battle, Lee was buried on the bank of the Neuse River. Because he was an officer, Lee's body probably was handled with care and eventually shipped back north, perhaps at the army's expense, for burial. "I was conversing with him the morning of the battle," Henry Roger Jones of New Hartford, a sergeant in the 8th Connecticut, wrote after the war. "He was killed about 9 o'clock a.m. ... He was a young man of talent, and a gallant soldier." (5)

Like his brother Edwin, Henry apparently also was well regarded by his comrades. A machinist who resided in Derby, Conn,  about 45 miles southeast of Hartford, Henry was described as a "brave, faithful, uncomplaining soldier" and an "honest, conscientious, devoted patriot." (5) Henry, who enlisted as a sergeant on Sept. 9, 1861, was married to a woman from Massachusetts. He and wife Arre Ann had four young children under 10 years old at the start of the war in April 1861: Ellen, 7; Emma, 4; Charles, 2; and Maria, 2 months. (Another child, Henry, died shortly after he was born in March 1853.) (6)

Against his brother's wishes, Henry Lee re-enlisted in the army in 1864
When Henry's enlistment was up in 1864, William Wallace Lee, the brother who was rejected for service in the 2nd Connecticut Artillery because of a disability, urged him to stay at home with his young family. But Henry re-enlisted anyway and was promoted to Second Lieutenant on March 1, 1864.

"I will fight the enemies of my country while I live," Henry replied to William. "I'll see the end of this, or it shall see the end of me." (7)
Henry B. Lee, a lieutenant in the
 7th Connecticut,  died at Deep Run, Va.,
 on Aug. 16, 1864.

The 7th Connecticut served in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida from April 1862 to late February 1864 before being moved to Virginia in May 1864. Believing he could end the siege of Petersburg and Richmond, General Ulysses Grant concentrated his forces, including the 7th Connecticut, on Rebel entrenchments near the James River beginning Aug. 13, 1864.

Three days later, Henry B. Lee, the father of four young children, was mortally wounded in another assault on Confederate entrenchments in the Battle of Deep Run.  The eldest Lee brother died in enemy hands as the Union army hastily retreated, and was buried on the battlefield. (8). Henry was later reburied in Fort Harrison National Cemetery, near Richmond, where his body lies with many other Union soldiers whose tombstones are marked "Unknown." (9)

(1) The Military and Civil History of Connecticut During the War of 1861-65, William Augustus Croffut, John Moses Morrism 1869, Page 175
(2) 1860 U.S. Census
(3) Ellery Bicknell Crane. Genealogy of the Crane family (Volume 1)
(4) The Military and Civil History of Connecticut During the War of 1861-65, Page 175
(5) Barkhamsted And Its Centennial, William Wallace Lee and Henry Roger Jones, 1881, Page 175
(6) John Lee, of Farmington, Hartford County, Conn., and His Descendants, Sarah Marsh Lee, 1878, Page 144
(7) The Military and Civil History of Connecticut During the War of 1861-65, Page 655
(8) Ibid
(9)  John Lee, of Farmington, Hartford County, Conn., and His Descendants, Sarah Marsh Lee 

Two Grand Army of the Republic markers and two American flags adorn the gravesite of
Edwin R. Lee, a captain in the 11th Connecticut.
The fate of Lee's brother,  Henry, is also
carved into this brownstone memorial in Barkhamsted, Conn., but he is buried elsewhere. 

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