Friday, January 06, 2012

A gift from Connecticut before they died

Sophronia Barber received this thank-you note from three young Connecticut soldiers
in late 1861.
(Connecticut Historical Society Civil War Manuscripts Project)
Grateful for a package from back home in Connecticut, three young soldiers sent a two-page thank-you note on patriotic stationery to their benefactor, Sophronia Barber.

'We have this day been the recipient of some mittens and stockings which we are informed you helped knit." read the letter, dated Dec. 16, 1861. "We thank you kindly for them, and as we are engaged in helping to maintain the government and wear these to keep our bodies warm, you may be assured that our hearts will warm toward those who have remembered the soldier in his need."
Signatures of privates Henry Sexton, Isaac Tuller and Martin Wadhams on
their thank-you letter home.
They served in the 8th Connecticut.

Perhaps huddled in a tent to avoid the cold as they composed the letter in a camp in Annapolis, Md.,  the soldiers from Canton longed for an end to the war.

"May the richest of Heavens blessing rest upon the ladies who so kindly remember us," the letter continued, "and we hope that this war soon be over and none of the Stars that now are emblazoned on the Flag of our Country be effaced and we be returned to our homes again and see our friends again in a free & united country, under the same old flag the heroes of the revolution fought under."

The letter was signed by Henry D Sexton, Issac H Tuller and Martin L. Wadhams, privates in their early 20s in Company A who had mustered into the 8th Connecticut less than two months earlier.

Nine months later, each soldier was dead, the fate of at least 620,000 men during the Civil War.

Memorial in Canton (Conn.) Cemetery
for soldiers from Canton who died during the
Civil War. 
The names of Henry Sexton, Isaac Tuller
and Martin Wadhams appear on the reverse.
A teacher before the war, Sexton died, apparently of jaundice, three weeks after he and his Canton pals sent their thank-you note to Ms. Barber.

Oliver Case, a private in the 8th Connecticut, wrote movingly to his sister of his friend's death aboard a ship transporting Burnside's Expedition to North Carolina. (Check out this terrific post on Case's graphic letter at John Rogers' excellent blog on the soldier from Simsbury, Conn.)

"About three he had a spasm and rushed out of his bunk," Case wrote about Sexton. " I had no control of him as he could handle me like a child. ...It was very difficult to get anyone to take hold of him as they seemed to be afraid of him. It took five of us to hold him and keep him from tearing his face with his hands. He would bite at us and froth to the mouth, making a horrid noise all of the time. I stayed over him twenty four hours in succession before his death. I never saw anything so horrible in my life and if it had not been for the sailors I do not know what I should have done."

Tuller, a clerk, died on April 9, 1862 of typhoid fever in New Bern, N.C.. And Wadhams, a teamster, was killed at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862 during the Union army's ill-fated attack on the extreme left  that Wednesday afternoon. Wadhams' body was identified two days after the battle, following the rebels' retreat into Virginia.

In a letter excerpted on this excellent 8th Connecticut Infantry site, Wolcott P. Marsh described the horrific scene where the Federals suffered hundreds of casualties.

"About 9 o'clock A.M. Friday we were ordered across the bridge and on to the field where the battle of Wednesday was,"  the captain in the 8th Connecticut wrote nine days after the battle. "The rebels having skedadled the night before and our forces were then following them up capturing many of their rear guard. We stacked arms and details were sent from different to pick up the dead so that could be buried together. I went up where our regit. was engaged and there what a sight. 30 men from our regit. alone lay dead in a little field and near by was 42 Zouaves (9th N. Y.) and many more from other regit.

"The first man I came to of my company was Charles E. Louis my acting orderly. (Blogger's note: probably Charles E. Lewis.) Then Corp. Truck my color corporal and close by them lay Dwight Carry, Herbert Nee, Horace Rouse and Mr. Sweet all of my company then passing on to Co. A. were the body's of Oliver Case, Orton Lord, Martin Wadhams and Lucius Wheeler then to Co. K. saw Jack Simons body the only one whose name remember had all body's brought from hill down by several straw stacks."

Perhaps like men of the 16th Connecticut killed at Antietam, the bodies of men in the 8th Connecticut were buried in well-marked, temporary graves so they could be more easily retrieved by family members. I could not find a record of Wadhams' burial in Connecticut, so maybe he's in an unmarked grave at Antietam National Cemetery.

The soldiers' names on the Canton Civil War memorial, which was dedicated in 1903.

As I read the letter from the three young men this morning at the Connecticut Historical Society, their story was brought full circle for me. Nine months ago, I wrote this short post about the Civil War memorial near the entrance of Canton Cemetery in Collinsville. On a large plaque on one side are the names of 39 soldiers from the area, including Sexton, Tuller and Wadhams, who died during the Civil War. Now I have a tangible connection to the three men from Canton, a short distance from my home.

Like Wadhams, the final resting places of Tuller and Sexton are unknown.

Henry D. Sexton's occupation was listed as teacher in the 1860 U.S. census.

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