Saturday, March 24, 2012

Faces of the Civil War: Captain Newton Manross

"A man of exceptional learning and scholarship," Newton Manross, a 37-year-old captain
in the 16th Connecticut, was killed at Antietam. (Photo: Bristol Historical Society)

Even decades after the Civil War, the memory of the gruesome death of Newton Manross -- a brilliant, bookish globetrotter from Bristol -- was seared into the brains of two Connecticut soldiers.

A 37-year-old professor, Manross enlisted in the Union army on July 22, 1862, telling his wife Charlotte "you can better afford to have a country without a husband than a husband without a country." (1) On Aug. 24, he was commissioned captain of Company K of the 16th Connecticut, comprised of men from Hartford County towns such as Canton, Avon, Glastonbury, Granby and Bristol.

Manross was among the many 16th Connecticut 
casualties at Antietam listed in the 
Hartford Daily Courant on Sept. 23, 1862.
Less than a month later, Manross and the very raw 16th Connecticut -- many of the men had never trained extensively with their weapons -- were thrown into the bloody chaos of the Battle of Antietam. As Manross led his company into action in farmer John Otto's 40-acre cornfield that terrible Wednesday afternoon, he was blasted in the left shoulder by grapeshot.

"I often think of that day, Sept. 17, 1862, and helping Captain Manross into the fence corner," Lester Taylor, a private in Company H of the 16th Connecticut, wrote 39 years after the battle. "I could look down inside of him and see his heart beat, his left shoulder all shot off.

"When I first saw him, he was trying to get up," Taylor added, "so I went to him and helped him to his feet, being assisted by George Walbridge of H Company.  ... we helped him a little way to the left and laid him down. The only thing I remember him saying was: 'I am bleeding inwardly.' " (2)

Jasper Hamilton Bidwell, a private in the 16th Connecticut from Canton, recalled in 1909 a dazed and bleeding Manross resting on his right elbow, his head up.  After he gave the captain water, Bidwell heard Manross moan, "My poor wife!" Although accounts from the period differ, Manross likely died shortly after receiving the terrible wound. (3)

Among four captains in the 16th Connecticut killed or mortally wounded at Antietam, Manross was anything but your typical citizen-soldier.

Survivors of Company K of the 16th Connecticut placed 
a memorial  for Captain Newton Manross near his grave 
at Forestville Cemetery  in Bristol, Conn.
One of nine children of prominent Bristol clockmaker Elisha Manross and his wife Maria, Newton was very inquisitive even as a teenager. Taking refuge from the rain during a fishing trip near his home, Manross discovered what he thought was a white stone on the floor of cavern. Upon closer inspection, the "stone" proved to be a skull of an Indian. Manross returned the next day, unearthed the entire skeleton of the Indian and took the skull to his father's shop, where it was used as a grotesque holder for small parts for clock movements. (4)

Highly educated, Manross graduated from Yale in 1850 with a degree in geology. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Gottingen in Germany in 1852 and spent time in Europe exploring mines. Especially interested in mining engineering, he traveled the world in the decade before the Civil War, analyzing rocks and minerals in such far-flung places as Trinidad, Panama and Mexico.

Once described as "a man of exceptional learning and scholarship," Manross received a patent in 1859 for a valve to retard and arrest the flow of gasses, and was so well regarded that his work frequently appeared in the prestigious American Journal of Science. (His obituary also appeared in the Journal in 1862.)

In 1861, before he enlisted in the Union army, Manross was named of acting professor of chemistry and philosophy at Amherst (Mass.) College. But like his brothers, Eli and John, he couldn't ignore the call of his country. (Eli, a sergeant in 5th Connecticut, was wounded at Chancellorsville in 1863; John, a private in the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, was discharged from the army because of  insanity and disease in 1865.)

Newton Manross' occupation was listed as mechanic in the 1860 U.S. census. His family
 apparently employed three servants. (CLICK TO ENLARGE.)
"He was a man of great promise in science and rare nobility of character," an 1873 history of Amherst College noted about Newton Manross.  "A great favorite with officers and students, he stood up boldly for the Christian faith, and used all his influence for the highest good of the students and the prosperity of the Institution."

Manross clearly left a lasting impression on Bristol, a manufacturing town 20 miles southwest of Hartford.

Manross was killed near the 16th Connecticut monument at Antietam.
The regiment suffered 43 killed, 161 wounded and 204 captured
or missing in its first battle of the Civil War.
Nearly thirty years after Antietam, the Bristol Herald published a long, glowing front-page article about its favorite son under a headline that read: "Soldier, Scholar and Gentleman in All Positions in Life." The article included an account of how Manross helped rescue his stranded party in the South American interior by devising the idea of making a boat from trees and floating upriver to the coast. (5)

On May 9, 1902, a crowd that included many veterans of the 16th Connecticut and Manross' only child gathered for a maple tree-planting ceremony in the captain's honor in the Forestville section of Bristol, where he had lived and gone to grammar school. After schoolchildren sang "The Gladness of Nature" and the superintendent of schools gave a "brief but interesting" speech, an old soldier delivered an address in honor of his long-dead friend. (6)

"From this little district school to the great institution of learning with which he was connected he kept in mind the resolve to benefit the world by his life and example," said 65-year-old William Relyea, a private in the 16th Connecticut. "...Captain Manross' mind grew stronger and his mind was a delight to all who knew him.

"Such a man we honor here today by planting a tree in his memory," Relyea added. "He was a man beloved by all us soldiers in the Sixteenth. The day when he marched into camp at the head of his band of sturdy Bristol boys he put new life into the old Sixteenth, for they had realized they had not only a man of deep learning among them, but one who was patriotic and sincere to all."

Newton and Charlotte Manross are buried side-by-side in Forestville Cemetery in Bristol, not far from the house where he grew up. Several paces away, a monument in his memory was placed by survivors of Manross' Company K.

(1) History of the Sixteenth Connecticut Volunteers, B.F. Blakeslee, Hartford, The Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co., 1875, Page 20
(2) George Whitney Collection, Connecticut State Library
(3) George Whitney Collection, Connecticut State Library
(4) "Bristol, Connecticut, In The Olden Time New Cambridge, Which Includes Forestville," Hartford Printing Company, 1907, Pages 13-14
(5) Bristol Herald, Aug, 11, 1892, Page 1
(6) Hartford Courant, May 10, 1902, Page 15

A contemporary marker replaced an older gravestone for Manross and his wife, Charlotte, who
died in 1874. "You can better afford to have a country without a husband," he told
his wife after he enlisted in 1862, "than a husband without a country."
In this photo taken in 1887, Civil War veterans from the Manross G.A.R. post gather by the
Newton Manross monument in Forestville Cemetery in Bristol, Conn. The monument was

placed there by survivors of Company K of the 16th Connecticut.
(Photo courtesy Bristol Historical Society via Tom LaPorte; CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)

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