Monday, February 13, 2012

Faces of the Civil War: George H. Crosby


George Crosby, a student (left) at Wesleyan University when the Civil War broke out, was mortally
wounded at Antietam. The 19-year-old was a 2nd lieutenant in the 14th Connecticut.
(Left: Wesleyan Univ. Library Special Collections and Archives. Right: Middlesex County Historical Society.)
A teen-aged soldier's name appears on a beautiful stained-glass window in Wesleyan University's Memorial Chapel, fourth from the top and among the names of 17 other men from the school who died during the Civil War.

Prominently etched in elaborate script in the bottom window panels are these words:

Bottom panels of stained-glass windows at
the Memorial Chapel at Wesleyan University
in Middletown, Conn. The chapel was
dedicated in 1871.
Alumni and Students Who Died for Our Country
1861 1865.

Inside the chapel on this cold Monday morning, an instructor gently admonishes her student choir. And outside a short time later, a young woman, perhaps 20 years old, stands in front of the beautiful brownstone chapel and points out landmarks on the bucolic Middletown, Conn., campus to a group of prospective students.

It's doubtful any of them know the story of another Wesleyan University student, 19-year-old George Heman Crosby, who died nearly 150 years ago and whose name is etched on that Memorial Chapel stained-glass window.

The son of a ship captain from Middle Haddam, Conn., about 20 miles southeast of Hartford, the 2nd lieutenant in the 14th Connecticut Infantry was mortally wounded at the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, barely a month after he enlisted. Thirty-seven days later, he died at home in Middle Haddam, his parents Heman and Mary likely by his side.

Before he joined the fight for his country, Crosby probably was like many of today's Wesleyan students. Full of promise and hope for the future, he enrolled at the university in the fall of 1861. A very good student, one of his former teachers wrote of the "enthusiasm and spirit of perserverance with which he pursued his studies. He was ever anxious to improve." Crosby, who twice was unsuccessful in obtaining an appointment to West Point,  had a keen military mind and joined the Mansfield Guards, a local militia group named after General Joseph Mansfield of Middletown, while he was in college. (1)

The Memorial Chapel at Wesleyan University was completed in 1871 to honor Wesleyan students
  who died during the Civil War. Right, George Crosby's name is etched on a stain-glassed window.

When the Civil War started in April 1861, Crosby was eager to enlist, but friends apparently talked him out of it. Perhaps persuaded by the call of Connecticut governor William Buckingham and President Lincoln for volunteeers in the spring of 1862, Crosby opened recruiting offices in Middle Haddam and Middletown, recruited a company of men and finally joined the fight that summer. "I feel it is my duty to go," he told his mother. (2)

Crosby's image appears in this Class of 1865 Wesleyan University album.
(Wesleyan University Library Special Collections and Archives)
Despite his age, Crosby had the respect of his comrades, who elected him lieutenant on Aug. 18, 1862. Crosby -- who stood 5-8 and weighed 141 pounds, according to a Wesleyan University document -- undoubtedly earned more admiration when he purchased rations for his men because government supplies were deemed inadequate.

Antietam was the first fight for the 14th Connecticut, but unlike the  16th Connecticut, the regiment fought well. As the 14th Connecticut closed in on the Sunken Road bordering the William Roulette farm, Crosby was struck by a bullet that sliced into his side, just missing his spine, and through his lungs.

"From the beginning of the battle till he received his death wound, he fought nobly, encouraging his men and leading them on," the Middletown Constitution reported on Oct. 29, 1862. "And for a half hour after he was wounded, while he lay helpless on the ground, without regarding his own condition, he kept constantly exhorting his comrades to do their duty."

After he was severely wounded, Crosby endured surgery
in this springhouse on William Roulette's farm.
Crosby was eventually carried to William Roulette's springhouse, where doctors performed what surgery they could under extremely difficult battlefield conditions. (3) The severely wounded young soldier was sent back home, arriving by boat on Saturday, Oct. 4. Tended to by Dr. A.B. Worthington of Middle Haddam, Crosby was a "great but a very patient sufferer." (4)

His health failing, Crosby died on Oct. 22.  Two days later, in a service at Middle Haddam's Episcopal church described as "one of the largest funerals ever attended in that place," Crosby was eulogized. His classmates from the Wesleyan Class of 1865 attended, as well as the president of Wesleyan University, faculty and the Mansfield Guard. Crosby's coffin then was borne a short distance up the road, to Union Hill Cemetery, where he was buried.

Today, the teenager from the small town along the Connecticut River rests near a cracked, brownstone memorial marker; his parents are buried in the same plot.

A funeral service for Crosby was held at this
Episcopal church in Middle Haddam, Conn.
In a lengthy article published in the weekly Middletown Constitution a week after Crosby's death, he was lauded as "generous, brave and ardent, and wholly devoted to the national cause."

"We believe no nobler spirit fell that day than he," the paper reported of his wounding at Antietam. "...he had every requisite for rising to a high and responsible place in the public service. But his career was short. From the halls of college to the field of battle was but a single step, and his young life was laid on the altar of his country." (5)

Two years after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, a campaign was started to build a memorial for Wesleyan undergraduates and alumni who died during the Civil War. In 1871, a memorial chapel was finally completed and dedicated. Thirty-one men from the school perished during the war, including one (Milton Butterfield) who served for the Confederacy. (6)

(1) Memorial of Deceased Officers of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers, Henry P.Goddard, 1872, Pages 9-10

(2) Ibid, Page 10

(3) Souvenir of of the 14th C.V. Excusion to  Battlefields and Reunion at Antietam 1891, Chaplain H.S. Stevens, 1893, Page 66

(4) Memorial of Deceased Officers of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers

(5) Middletown Constitution, Oct. 29. 1862

(6) Roster of Wesleyan University's Civil War Participants, Lesley Gordon, 1988 (unpublished report)

Cracked down the left side, the brownstone memorial marker for Crosby is in Union Hill Cemetery
in East Hampton, Conn. Crosby is probably buried under the nearby marker at right.

A tattered American flag and a plastic G.A.R. marker by George Crosby's marker.

MORE ON ANTIETAM: Read my extensive thread on the battle.



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