Sunday, April 29, 2012

16th Connecticut: 'Martyr to this unholy rebellion'

Close-up of eagle atop brownstone memorial for Rodolphus Rowe and John F. Banning, soldiers
in the 16th Connecticut who became prisoners of war on April 20, 1864.

Scattered throughout Connecticut, from Avon to Bristol to Glastonbury and East Haddam, gravestones and memorials for soldiers in the hard-luck 16th Connecticut aren't difficult to find.

Two tragic events took a terrible toll on the regiment.

On Sept. 17, 1862 at Antietam, the inadequately trained 16th Connecticut suffered 43 killed and 161 wounded in its first battle of the war. On April 20, 1864, nearly the entire regiment was captured in Plymouth, N.C., and sent to Andersonville, Ga., where many of the men died in the most notorious Civil War prisoner-of-war camp.

Memorial to 16th Connecticut soldiers Rodolphus Rowe
 and John Banning in East Hartland Cemetery.
On a recent weekend, I stumbled upon a memorial for two more 16th Connecticut soldiers in a small church cemetery in Hartland, a beautiful, little town near the Massachusetts border.

Rodolphus Rowe, a musician in the 16th, and John Banning, a private, were captured at Plymouth and sent to Andersonville. Neither soldier from Company E returned home alive. In fact, neither man is buried under the weathered, 8-foot brownstone monument in their memory near the entrance to East Hartland Cemetery.

After he was exchanged, Rowe, quite ill from  months in a squalid POW camp, died aboard a ship heading north on Nov. 29, 1864. The 26-year-old soldier was buried in Beaufort, S.C. Banning, 32, died Sept. 3, 1864 at Andersonville, where he is buried under Grave No. 7742.

Who were Rodolphus D. Rowe and John Banning?

Were they friends before they went off to war?

What instrument did Rowe play?

Did they run when the 16th Connecticut was routed at Antietam, as many of their comrades did?

Sadly, I have more questions than answers about two men who died nearly 150 years ago.

John Banning lived with his mother,  Martha, a seamstress, and three other Bannings,
according to the 1860 Federal census.
According to the Federal census, Rodolphus Rowe lived with his parents, John and Anna, in 1860.
Each soldier was from Hartland, a small farming town of nearly 900 people about 30 miles from  Hartford. (1) Banning, the son of Benjamin and Martha Banning, was born the day after Christmas 1831. John's father died in 1845 when he was a teenager, so his mother, a seamstress, depended on her only son for support.

"Merchants in this place know that previous to John F. going into the army he furnished groceries for his mother," Philo. Coe of Hartland noted in an affidavit in support of Martha Banning's pension claim after her son's death. After he joined the army, John continued to support his mother by sending money home, including his $75 state bounty. (2)

This cracked brownstone memorial notes that Rodolphus Rowe
 enlisted on Aug. 7, 1862 as a musician.
A year before the Civil War began, John lived with his mother and three other Banning family members, including Ambrose, whose occupation was listed as farmer. John undoubtedly helped with the many duties required to maintain a farm.

Details of Rowe's life are more sketchy. The son of John and Martha Rowe, Rodolphus was born on March 1, 1838.  In  July 1860, when a Federal census taker visited the Rowe farm, 22-year-old Rodolphus still lived at home.

Perhaps persuaded by the call of Connecticut governor William Buckingham and President Lincoln for volunteeers in 1862 or the offer of a bounty, Banning and Rowe enlisted in the Union army that summer. Banning joined July 23 and mustered into the 16th Connecticut on Aug. 24, 1862. Rowe enlisted on Aug. 7, 1862, and  mustered in the same day as Banning.

Banning never married, and Rowe left behind a wife. Clearly, both men were mourned when news of their deaths reached the small town in northwestern Connecticut.

Banning's mother depended on her son for support. In an affidavit filed Jan. 22, 1865, she noted
that her son left her his entire estate, which after it was settled was valued at $450.
(CLICK TO ENLARGE.)
Below Rowe's name on the brownstone memorial, perhaps placed in the ancient cemetery years after he died, these words appear:

"Beloved husband there's no parting in heaven."

Worn by the elements and obscured by moss, some of the words are difficult to decipher under Banning's name. But someone, perhaps the mother who depended on his support, made their feelings clear about his death and a horrible Civil War. Inscribed near the bottom of the monument are these words:

"A martyr to this unholy rebellion."

(1) 1860 Federal Census
(2) Pension claim affidavit, Nov. 30, 1865, other pension affidavits
An eagle grasps an American flag above musician Rodolphus Rowe's name on a memorial
marker in East Hartland Cemetery in Hartland, Conn.

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