Tuesday, September 04, 2012

A visit to Major General John Sedgwick's grave

Emblem of the Sixth Corps of the Union army on Major General John Sedgwick's grave
 in tiny Cornwall Hollow, Conn., about 40 miles west of Hartford. Sedgwick was
commander of the Sixth Corps of the Army of Potomac.
A sharpshooter's bullet killed Sedgwick.

Sedgwick's grave in Cornwall Hollow, Conn.
Six days after a sharpshooter's bullet ripped a hole in his left cheek, just below his eye, and killed him at Spotsylvania Courthouse, Va., Major General John Sedgwick was laid to rest in tiny Cornwall Hollow, Conn. More than 1,000 people, including Sedgwick's neighbors and friends, members of the state legislature and three officers from the general's staff, gathered at the 50-year-old soldier's house and then at the cemetery less than a mile down the road.

One witness called the May 15, 1864 funeral "one of the saddest, and yet one of the more interesting ceremonies I have witnessed since the breaking out of the vile rebellion." (1)

"The ceremonies were simple, orderly and in appropriate taste," the unnamed witness wrote the Hartford Courant. "Two or three eloquent and soul-moving addresses, suited to the occasion, were made by the clergymen present, and then, after the immense throng had been indulged with a look at the manly face of the noble soldier, his remains were borne to their final resting place by a respectable company of gentlemen from among his fellow townspeople without ostentation, and with more sincere sorrow, and sadder hearts, than are often found among the followers of distinguished men. He was a noble soldier, and no country makes such sacrifices in vain."

Major General John Sedgwick.
(Library of Congress collection.)
A public funeral was offered the Sedgwick family by the state, but they declined. And no volley was fired over the officer's grave, as was customary for a military figure of such stature. But Mother Nature provided her own salute for the general, who was fondly called "Uncle John" by his soldiers.

"As his body was lowered to its last resting place," a Sedgwick family history noted. "a peal of thunder like the roar of distant artillery reverberated along the heavens, sounding his requiem and the tired soldier rested." (2)

Even 36 years after his death, Sedgwick held a special place in the hearts of the people of Connecticut. At 11:30 a.m. on Memorial Day 1900, more than 3,000 people, including the governor, gathered for the dedication of a memorial about 40 yards west of Sedgwick's grave. Just before the unveiling, a veteran, surely caught up in the moment, briefly laid an amazing Civil War relic in front of the 12-foot granite monument: a large piece of a Confederate flag that once waved over Richmond. A short time later, as a band from nearby Winsted played "The Star-Spangled Banner," Sedgwick's great-niece removed a large U.S. flag from the memorial, revealing a beautiful bronze relief plaque of the general. (3)

A tiny speck on the map about 40 miles west of Hartford, Cornwall Hollow has changed little since "Uncle John" was buried there 148 years ago. The immediate area remains mostly farmland and woods. The small  cemetery is bordered by a lightly trafficked country road. And Sedgwick's house --the same house where  he recuperated from three wounds suffered at the Battle of Antietam -- remains, almost hidden by shrubs and trees.

UPDATE: Sedgwick's remains were embalmed in Washington. Ron Baumgarten has an excellent account of the stop in the capital here on his All Not So Quiet Along the Potomac blog.

(1) Hartford Courant, May 18, 1864, Page 2
(2) "A Sedgwick Genealogy: Descendants of Deacon Benjamin Sedgwick", Page 102
(3) Hartford Courant, May 31, 1900, Page 12

The memorial to Sedgwick, across the road from his gravesite, was dedicated Memorial Day 1900
The original bronze plaque was stolen  from the memorial, which has been vandalized several times.
Sedgwick's memorial originally included real Civil War ordnance, but it was sold for scrap
during World War II and replaced with imitations.

3 comments:

Alden Woodside said...

Is the house dilapidated or does the family or town maintain it?

John Banks said...

Alden: Privately owned; great shape. Beautiful home.

Alden said...

That is good to know. Thanks and I like your page.