Friday, March 16, 2012

Thomas Burpee: 'He was a pure patriot'

Mortally wounded at Cold Harbor on June 9, 1864, Thomas Burpee died two days later.
He is buried in Grove Hill Cemetery in Rockville, Conn.

A sword adorns the brownstone gravestone of
Colonel Thomas Burpee at Grove Hill Cemetery
Rockville, Conn.
At the New England Civil War Museum in Rockville, Conn, there is an outstanding collection of the personal effects of Thomas Burpee, a colonel in the 21st Connecticut who was mortally wounded at Cold Harbor on June 9, 1864. Even the sharpshooter's bullet that eventually killed him is there. A short distance from the museum, in the vast Grove Hill Cemetery, I found Burpee's gravestone, an 8-foot slab of brownstone that includes words I found especially poigniant:

"In the hour of national peril, he gave his life to his country, leaving this testimony that he was a pure patriot, a faithful soldier, and a sincere Christian."

A finisher in a wool mill before the Civil War, Burpee raised a company of men in the 14th Connecticut and was named captain of Company D in July 1862. A short time later, he was promoted to colonel of the 21st Connecticut.

In his last letter home, Burpee wrote of his devotion to the Union.

“The lofty inspiration of this cause is worth a lifetime to feel,” the 34-year-old soldier wrote his wife. “And, if I had a thousand lives, I would not withhold one of them. Should I be laid in the grave, remember our heavenly Father doeth everything well. Look on the bright side, and the bright side only. God bless you and the children!” (1)

I'll tell much more about this soldier -- "a man of earnest piety" -- in the coming weeks. (2)

(1) The Military and Civil History of Connecticut During the War of 1861-65, William Augustus Croffut, John Moses Morris, 1869, Page 600.
(2) Memorial of Deceased Officers of Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers, Henry Goodard, 1869. Page 30

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