Sunday, June 24, 2012

Antietam: Where Uncle Loren left his arm

Private Loren Griswold "lost his arm" at  the Roulette Farm at Antietam, according to a notation 
on the reverse of this cabinet card. (New England Civil War Museum collection)

The New England Civil War Museum is on the second floor of the
 building that also serves as Vernon Town Hall. The museum
 has a cool Facebook page here.
As Company D of the 14th Connecticut scurried into a farmer's lane during the Battle of Antietam, an artillery shell burst among its ranks, killing three men and tearing apart Loren Griswold's left arm. A 20-year-old private from Vernon, Griswold was never quite the same after suffering the grievous wound on William Roulette's property. Not only did the young soldier later lose his arm to amputation, he also lost his brother, 30-year-old Russell, who was among those killed by the shell burst. (1) Loren was discharged from the Union army because of disability on Jan. 3, 1863, a little more than three months after the bloodiest day in American history.

Years later, a relative of the private noted Loren's misfortune on the back of a cabinet card  -- a late-19th century image the size of an oversized postcard -- that depicts a plowed field, large barn, farmhouse and spring house that once were Roulette's property. "Field at Antietam where Uncle Loren Griswold left his arm during Battle of Antietam -- Civil War," the ink script reads. Perhaps Uncle Loren had his arm amputated in Roulette's barn or spring house, both used as Federal field hospitals during and after the battle.

14th Connecticut sergeant Benjamin Hirst of Vernon wore this forage cap during the Civil War.
It's part of the collection at the New England Civil War Museum.

14th Connecticut regimental badge donated 
to New England Civil War Museum.
The cabinet card is just one of many Antietam-related items in the collection of a little gem of a Civil War museum in Rockville, Conn., an old mill town about 25 minutes east of Hartford off I-84. The New England Civil War Museum includes the strange (Dunker Church shingle), bizarre (X-ray of bullet in ankle of 16th Connecticut soldier) and fascinating (bullet that mortally wounded 21st Connecticut Colonel Thomas Burpee at Cold Harbor). Once a Grand Army of the Republic hall where area Civil War veterans gathered, swapped war stories and undoubtedly shared a pint or two, the museum takes up the second floor of a building that also houses the Vernon Town Hall.

My focus this afternoon was Antietam, so I enjoyed perusing the mirror picked up by the brother of 14th Connecticut sergeant Benjamin Hirst in Bloody Lane after the battle. Benjamin  later sent it to his wife, Sarah, back in Vernon. "When you look at yourself in it remember me always," he wrote her. I also enjoyed an up-close-and-personal view of Hirst's old forage cap and a silver 14th Connecticut regimental badge with its distinctive clover design.

Matt Reardon, the museum's enthusiastic executive director/archivist/acquistion director/jack-of-all-trades,  cheerfully answers all questions about the wide-ranging collection. Most of the relics were donated by Civil War veterans. Other items were acquired from collectors. And some, such as the Roulette farm cabinet card, just seem to turn up in nooks and crannies of the former GAR hall. 

The museum, which also has a Facebook page, is staffed by volunteers, so it's open infrequently. Check it out the second and fourth Sundays of every month from noon to 3 p.m. There's no admission fee, but donations are appreciated. (I got a dandy Civil War coffee mug for a $5 donation today.) And unlike a certain Civil War museum in New Orleans, photography is allowed.

(1)History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Charles Davis, The Horton Printing Company, 1906, Page 43

14th Connecticut sergeant Benjamin Hirst's brother, John, picked up this mirror in 
Bloody Lane after the Battle of Antietam.


  1. Another truly awesome post!

  2. stephen: Thought you would enjoy that one. neat, little museum. Loved that cabinet card. Looking forward to your book. Send me an advance copy to review. :)))