Saturday, September 15, 2012

Antietam: Faces, stories of Connecticut's dead

Clockwise from top, these soldiers from Connecticut were killed or mortally wounded at the
 Battle of Antietam: Private Henry Barnett (Suffield), Private Gideon Barnes (Burlington), 
Private Robert Hubbard (Middletown), Lieutenant George Crosby (Middle Haddam), 
Private Daniel Tarbox (Brooklyn), Lieutenant Marvin Wait (Norwich), Captain  Jarvis Blinn 
(New Britain), Captain Newton Manross (Bristol) and  Private John Doolittle (Middletown).

"Why did I not die?"

"Why did I not die?"

Those five words almost jumped off the page as I read Private Henry Adams' account in the Connecticut State Library of his experience at the Battle of Antietam. Suffering from two bullet wounds in his right leg, the 22-year-old soldier, a teacher before the Civil War, lay in a cornfield for at least 17 hours before he was discovered by Union soldiers and carried to a nearby field hospital.

Henry M. Adams, shown in a photo
taken in 1895,  was shot twice in the
right leg at the Battle of  Antietam.
(Connecticut State Library archives)
Nearly seven months after Antietam, on April 1, 1863, Adams was finally discharged from the Union army because of disability and sent back home to Connecticut from a Maryland hospital.

"Was no April Fool day to me, when my mother and her cripple boy on crutches started 'Homeward Bound.' " the 16th Connecticut soldier bitterly noted. "I received my discharge papers at Hagerstown (Md.) and my full pay for doing ... nothing -- except to be maimed for life and to draw a U.S. pension."

Yet Henry Adams was among the lucky Connecticut soldiers at Antietam. He survived the bloodiest day in American history, fought 150 years ago Monday in the farm fields and woodlots near a speck on the map called Sharpsburg, Md.

So many men and boys from the state came back to Connecticut in wooden boxes, the remains of some dug up by a Hartford undertaker William Roberts, who advertised his grisly body retrieval services in the Hartford Courant. Many soldiers suffered and died from ghastly, multiple wounds. I'll never forget reading the surgeon's entry in his casebook for James Brooks, a teen-aged private in the 16th Connecticut from Stafford:

"He has six wounds...

"The boy is emaciated but has an appetite and there is hope."

"Oct. 7 evening: Doing pretty well considering multiplicity of his wounds."

"Oct. 9 morn.: Holding his own remarkably."

"Oct. 11th: Failing rapidly and might die soon."

 "Oct. 11th 3 p.m.: Just died."

Close-up of the grave of Newton Manross in Forestville Cemetery in Bristol, Conn.

In the past 15 months, stories of these men and boys who history has largely forgotten have been told on this blog. Who were these soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice at Antietam to preserve the Union? That simple question has driven me: Who were they? Several were laborers and teachers. At least one was a cigar maker. One was a brilliant, bookish professor, who had traveled the world before the Civil War. Nearly all were citizen-solders.

From Brooklyn in the east to Bristol in the west, I have visited their grave sites throughout Connecticut, often placing a penny on a tombstone (Lincoln side up!) as a small remembrance. Mining diaries, letters and albums in historical societies and libraries, I have attempted to paint a picture of their lives. Thanks to contributors such as Scott Hann, Matthew R. Isenburg, Tad Sattler as well as several descendants, I have photographs of many of these Antietam veterans to pair with their stories.

In a strange way, I feel like I know these men and boys. And so to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, here's a roll call of 29 Connecticut soldier stories I have posted here since June 2011, with a back story on each:

Henry Aldrich's pearl-white tombstone in 
Antietam National Cemetery.
Private Henry Aldrich, 16th Connecticut (Bristol): Aldrich's pearl-white tombstone, probably a replacement for an older marker, stands out among the many slate-gray markers in Antietam National Cemetery. Lieutenant Julian Pomeroy's letter to Sarah Aldrich informing her of the death of her husband began like I imagine thousands of other  letters home did during the Civil War: "It becomes my painful duty to inform you ..." The Aldrich family was not wealthy, and Sarah's written plea, full of misspellings, to the powers-that-be for the discharge of her oldest son from the Union army following her husband's death is heart-rending. "Think what a pleser it will be to have some one get food for my children," she wrote in the letter I found in her widow's pension file. "Think how a Mothers hart is broken to have her children criing for food when she hasnt any."

Private Gideon Barnes, 16th Connecticut (Burlington): Earlier this summer, Lester Larabee of Bristol read a short entry on my blog about Barnes, one of his wife's ancestors. A history buff who has a blog about his family, Larabee had a carte-de-visite of Barnes that his mother-in-law had set aside. He e-mailed me a copy of the photo and pointed me to some terrific nuggets about Gideon Barnes' family, which once lived not far from my home in Avon, Conn. Interestingly, Barnes is buried in Bristol's Forestville Cemetery, just a few steps from Newton Manross, the beloved captain of Company K.

Captain Frederick Barber, 16th Connecticut (Manchester): Antietam collector extraordinaire Scott Hann in Arizona supplied the CDV of Barber for this story. I'll never forget reading the account of the captain's surgery for the first time. Shot in the hip, his entire right leg was amputated a day after the battle. He died two days later. His wife, Mercy, funded the building of a memorial for Barber and the men of Glastonbury who died during the Civil War. Mercy Barber never re-married.

Antietam is misspelled on Barnett's gravestone in 
Old Center Cemetery in  Suffield, Conn.  A 32-year-old 
cigar maker, he left behind a wife and two young children.
Private Henry Barnett, 16th Connecticut (Suffield): After I posted the story on Barnett, I found a terrific account of his experience at Antietam. William Relyea, a private in the 16th Connecticut,  recalled the 32-year-old cigar maker's merry mood as he marched into battle in John Otto's cornfield. "You shant have any peanuts when your peanuts are gone," he sang, just as he did as he reviewed the dead after the Battle of South Mountain two days earlier. "Poor fellow," Relyea wrote of Barnett after the war, "we found him near a pile of fence rails where he fell and died on that fateful afternoon." (1)

Private John Bingham, 16th Connecticut (East Haddam): I talked my way into the Antietam National Battlefield research library in late August, hoping I could dig up a nugget or two on soldiers from Connecticut. I'm glad I did. Among a pile of soldier letters was a gem of a letter written by 16-year-old Wells Bingham to his father back in Connecticut. "It is a sad tale which I am about to tell you," he wrote Elisha Bingham. "John, poor, poor John, is no more." John Bingham, just 17 years old, was killed in Otto's cornfield. Wells survived Antietam and the war, but apparently upset over business dealings, he committed suicide in 1904. What demons from the Battle of Antietam did Wells Bingham carry for the rest of his life?

Captain Jarvis Blinn, 14th Connecticut (New Britain): Like many Connecticut soldiers killed at Antietam, including Captain Samuel Brown of the 16th Connecticut, Blinn's body was returned to the state by Hartford undertaker William Roberts. Connecticut Civil War researcher Mary Falvey supplied the fascinating account of a witness to Blinn's funeral in Rocky Hill. "His wife is heart-broken," Augusta Griswold wrote to her fiance, 8th Connecticut chaplain John Morris. "Their attachment to each other was unbounded -- he was all to her. Such a sad, hopeless, despairing countenance I never saw." (2) As of last Wednesday, Blinn's tombstone lay broken in Center Cemetery in Rocky Hill, Conn.

                       Video: Where Samuel Brown's body was found after the battle.

Captain Samuel Brown, 16th Connecticut (Enfield): In the lobby of the Captain Samuel Brown Elementary School in Peabody, Mass., hangs a painting of the 26-year-old soldier, one of the town's favorite sons. An 1858 graduate of Bowdoin College in Maine, Brown grew up in South Danvers (now called Peabody), and became a teacher at the Ellington School for Boys in Connecticut. I battled a swarm of gnats last month to shoot the video of the spot where Brown's body, stripped of his outer clothes and shoes, was found by two soldiers after the battle.

Private Oliver Case, 8th Connecticut (Simsbury): No one matches John Rogers' passion for telling the story of this soldier, whose beautiful tombstone is high up on the hill of Simsbury Cemetery. A Georgia native, Rogers bought the bible that Case carried at Antietam at a community yard sale 19 years ago. Cost: Three bucks. Inside the front cover, Case wrote: "If you die, die like a man." Rogers chronicles Case's story on his excellent blog.

In the weeks and months after Antietam, Smoketown Hospital occupied this site. 
Wounded at Antietam, Sergeant Rufus Chamberlain died here on Oct. 21, 1862.

Sergeant Rufus Chamberlain, 16th Connecticut (Stafford): Last month, I checked out the site of Chamberlain's death, a seldom-visited field near the Antietam battlefield. But in the days and weeks after the battle, it was a place of horror and misery. "This place is in a most miserable condition, the men complain very much,"a member of the Maine Soldiers Relief Agency reported in early November 1862. "The effluvia arising from the condition of these grounds is intolerable, quite enough to make a man in perfect health sick, and how men can recover in such a place is a mystery to me." Given leave, Rufus Jr., a private in the 16th Connecticut,  was by his father's side when he died at Smoketown Hospital on Oct. 21, 1862.

14th Connecticut Lieutenant George Crosby  is buried in
Union Hill Cemetery in  East Hampton, Conn.

Lieutenant George Crosby, 14th Connecticut (Middle Haddam):
Crosby's brownstone memorial, weather-worn and cracked, won't survive many more years if it's not repaired soon. Only 19, Crosby was mortally wounded at Antietam, dying at home in Middle Haddam 37 days after the battle. Brothers Frederick and Francis Hollister, privates of the 14th Connecticut, are buried 25 yards from Crosby's marker. They survived Antietam, but died within a half-hour of each other of disease on Dec. 23, 1862.

Private John Doolittle, 8th Connecticut (Middletown): Among the many photos in a tattered album of Middletown Civil War dead in the archives of the Middlesex County Historical Society is an image of an angelic-looking John Doolittle. Like many Connecticut soldiers, Doolittle received care at the German Reformed Church in Sharpsburg after he was wounded. He died there from effects of his wounds on Oct. 10, 1862. Seldom-visited by tourists today, the church should be on your battlefield itinerary -- especially if you are from Connecticut. In 1891, Connecticut veterans donated two beautiful stained-glass windows to the church to memorialize their fallen comrades.

Private Alvin Flint, 11th Connecticut, (East Hartford): The Flint family's tragic story, first recounted in detail in William Frassanito's terrific book, "Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America's Bloodiest  Day," has been told many times. Shortly after he enlisted, Alvin's mother and sister died of consumption. Alvin was killed near Burnside Bridge, and his father and 13-year-old brother George died of disease in the winter of 1863 in service of the Union army. On a wayside exhibit near the entrance to Center Cemetery, where the Flints are buried, is a reproduction of an ambrotype of young Alvin. My aim is to view the original, which may be in a Connecticut collection.

Captain John Griswold, 11th Connecticut (Old Lyme): Thanks to a Griswold descendant who unlocked the gate to the small, private cemetery where the captain is buried, I examined his intricately carved tombstone. The marker, created in the Hartford studio of Thomas Adams, was described in the Hartford Courant on Aug. 5, 1863, as "strikingly beautiful." My photograph of the bottom of Griswold's marker is one of my favorites. "Tell my mother I died at the head of my company," it reads.

Words at the bottom of John Griswold's tombstone in Old Lyme, Conn.

Sergeant Charles E. Lewis, 8th Connecticut, (Canterbury): Moments before I was about to leave rural Carey Cemetery on Canterbury, I discovered the weathered, side-by-side graves of Lewis and his fiancee, 22-year-old Sarah Hyde. She died on Oct. 16, 1862, almost one month after Antietam. Was the cause a broken heart? We'll never know, of course. The short account of Lewis' funeral in the Hartford Courant on Oct. 24, 1862, includes this poigniant sentence: "They had been brought up together in life, in death they were not divided, and together they sleep the last sleep."

Private William Hall, 11th Connecticut, (Chaplin): Information on Hall is scant, but his name sticks out to me for two reasons. Probably killed in a huge firefight near Burnside Bridge, he is buried in the aptly named Bedlam Road Cemetery in out-the-way Chaplin, Conn. And, sadly, his gravestone looks oddly out of place, tucked near a bush away from every other marker in the cemetery.

The out-of-the-way marker of  Private William Hall of the 11th Connecticut in the interestingly
named Bedlam Road Cemetery in Chaplin, Conn., about 50 miles east of  Hartford.

Corporal John Holwell, 11th Connecticut (Norwich): In reading the many letters in the Connecticut Historial Society Civil War collection from Holwell to his wife, I almost felt like I was invading the soldier's privacy. His young son, Eddy, was the apple of the eye of the Mexican War veteran. "Your dagerreotype and the children's look very natural and I was very glad to receive them. ..." he wrote to his wife. "I hope little Eddy will keep on going to school and be smart. The men down here all like his picture and praise it up highly."

16th Connecticut lieutenant William Horton's grave 
in Stafford, Conn. His 3-year-old son, James, died 
10 months after his father.

Lieutenant William Horton, 16th Connecticut (Stafford): Perhaps the only copy in the state of the sermon Reverend A.W. Ide read at Horton's funeral is at the Pecquot Library in Southport, Conn. I raced down to the library one Saturday afternoon, getting there shortly before it closed, and snapped photos of each page of the small, old book with my Blackberry. "It is God who has removed your husband, your nearest earthly friend; and He thus designs to bring you nearer to Himself," Ide said in addressing Horton's wife during the well-attended service. "He is the God of the widow and fatherless."

 Private Robert Hubbard, 14th Connecticut (Middletown): Longtime relic hunter Richard Clem of Hagerstown, Md., obtained a letter from a farmer to the Hubbard family that helped fill out the story of the 32-year-old soldier. After he was killed by friendly fire on  William Roulette's farm, Hubbard was buried near a corn crib by the barn, according to Roulette family lore. William Roulette arranged for the return of Hubbard's body to his family in Middletown in December 1862, three months after the battle. Hubbard's family sent a draft for $70 to cover the cost of a casket, disinterment of the body and shipment of  the remains to Connecticut. But according to letter sent by Roulette on New Year's Eve 1862 to the Hubbards, the cost was only $55. Ever the honest man, Roulette sent 15 bucks back to the Hubbard family.

Private Horace Lay, 16th Connecticut (Hartford): From diaries to photographs, there is a wealth of information at the Connecticut Historical Society on the Civil War. Perhaps the best source of information is the soldiers' letters home -- a typically unvarnished view of history. Many of the letters are in such pristine condition that they appear to have been written just recently. (But, really, who writes letters anymore?) In perhaps his last letter home to Charlotte, Lay begins with "Dear Wife," which seems oddly formal for a man who had been married for more than 14 years. "I shall write you as often as I can," the 36-year-old soldier wrote in the letter dated Sept. 8, 1862, from Leesboro, Md., "but if that is not as often as you expect don't be too alarmed. I may be too busy." Nine days later, Lay suffered wounds in both legs at Antietam and was carried from the field.  He lingered at German Reformed Church for weeks, but died with Charlotte by his side on Nov. 16, 1862, almost two months after Antietam.

In perhaps his final letter home to his wife before the Battle of Antietam, Horace Lay
closed a letter with these words. (Connecticut Historical Society Civil War Manuscripts Project)

Captain Newton Manross, 16th Connecticut (Bristol): You lose any romantic notions of war when you read accounts like this one in the Connecticut State Library: "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." Manross' sword, once part of the Bristol Historical Society's collection, was recently returned to a descendant.

General Joseph Mansfield, XII Corps commander (Middletown): Six days after Mansfield was mortally wounded near the East Woods, the 58-year-old general was buried in Middletown, Conn., in one of the largest and most elaborate funeral services held in the state for a soldier. Almost every business in town was closed, and houses and stores along the funeral procession route were draped in black. Mansfield's service was conducted from the entrance of North Church so the large crowd outside could hear. Among those attending were Governor William Buckingham, Colt's Armory Band and scores of military men. Even General George McClellan's wife, Ellen, was at the service. According to an account of the funeral in the Hartford Courant on Sept. 24, 1862, the Middletown mayor "called upon the ladies to provide refreshments for the military guests, and a superb collation was set in McDonough Hall. Five tables extended the length of the Hall and three across, fairly groaning under the weight of the luxuries upon them."

The grave of Private William Porter (middle), mortally wounded at Antietam, is next to his 
wife, Arazina (right), and brother, John, in Green Cemetery in Glastonbury, Conn. John also
 died in service  to the Union. William died on Oct. 10, 1862, after his left leg was amputated.

Private William Wallace Porter, 16th Connecticut (Glastonbury): In researching Connecticut's Civil War service, I already have found 20 sets of brothers who died during the Civil War -- including William Wallace Porter and John Porter of Glastonbury. John, who served in the 16th Connecticut until discharged for disability in December 1862, was killed near Petersburg while with the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery on Nov. 25, 1864.William's story is especially tragic. His 26-year-old wife, Arazina, died in 1860, a year before the Civil War began, leaving William to raise two children. After William died, his father raised the children. The brothers and Arazina are buried together in Green Cemetery in Glastonbury.

Private Henry Talcott and Private Samuel Talcott, 14th Connecticut (Coventry): A rebel artillery shell caused havoc in Company D of the 14th Connecticut, mortally wounding the Talcott brothers of Coventry, Conn., a small farming community of about 2,000 people.  Two other Company D soldiers were killed in that same barrage of rebel artillery on the William Roulette farm: privates William Ramsdell and Coventry's George Corbit, who is buried near the brothers in Center Cemetery.

A descendant of Daniel Tarbox supplied 
this photo of him as a youngster.

Private Daniel Tarbox, 11th Connecticut (Brooklyn):
A descendant in North Carolina supplied much of the information on Tarbox, an 18-year-old soldier who was mortally wounded near Burnside Bridge. He even provided a copy of the receipt for the cost of disinterment of Daniel's body and the purchase of a zinc-lined coffin that carried the soldier's remains back to Connecticut. The Tarbox family, the descendant wrote in an e-mail, have been pack rats for decades. Thankfully, they helped me tell the story of the son of a prosperous farmer.

Private Martin Wadhams, 8th Connecticut (Canton): When Martin Wadhams and two other Connecticut soldiers wrote a two-page note to Sophronia Barber of Canton Center thanking her for sending them mittens to withstand the bitterly cold winter of 1861, none of the young men probably thought they all would be dead within nine months. But that was their fate.  Privates Issac Tuller and Henry Sexton died of disease; Wadhams, a teamster, was killed at Antietam. The discovery of their thank-you note in the Connecticut Historical Society is one of the highlights of my 15-month journey.  Another highlight: Finding Barber's grave about eight miles from my house, near a memorial for Sexton.

Sophronia Barber received this thank-you note from Martin Wadhams and two other young 
Connecticut soldiers in December 1861.  Wadhams was killed at Antietam.
(Connecticut Historical Society Civil War Manuscripts Project)

Lieutenant Marvin Wait, 8th Connecticut (Norwich): Thanks to the generosity of early photography expert Matthew R. Isenburg of Hadlyme, Conn., I was able to post two photos of Wait to my blog. Like the Bingham brothers, Daniel Tarbox,  George Crosby and Alvin Flint, Wait was only a teen-ager. It was eerie to stand in the First Congregational Church vestibule, where Wait's coffin was placed before he was buried in nearby Yantic Cemetery. That cemetery is the final resting place of scores of Civil War soldiers and Connecticut's Civil War governor, William Buckingham, who attended Wait's service.

Close-up of wrought-iron fence that surrounds 
Wadsworth Washburn's grave.
Sergeant Wadsworth Washburn, 16th Connecticut (Berlin):
Using GPS and my wits, I usually have few problems finding the grave of a Civil War veteran. But the site of Washburn's final resting place proved to be a challenge. Tiny Bridge Cemetery is tucked into a non-descript suburban neighborhood in Berlin. The orderly sergeant's grave is one of the more beautiful I've seen for a Connecticut veteran of Antietam. Topped by figures of angels, a wrought-iron fence surrounds Wadsworth's grave. The death of their son was the second great tragedy for Rhoda and Reverend Asahel Washburn. Their first-born child, Emma, died at 17 in 1848. Reverend Washburn traveled to Sharpsburg, Md., to retrieve his son's body.  UPDATE: On Saturday morning, Sept. 22, I discovered a photo of Washburn in the Connecticut State Library archives.

Captain Samuel Willard, 14th Connecticut, (Berlin): Just before the Battle of Antietam, Willard -- who had embraced religion about a decade before the war -- wrote this in his journal:  "These may be my last words; if so, they are these: I have full faith in Jesus Christ my Saviour. I do not regret that I have fallen in defence of my country; I have loved you truly and know that you have loved me, and in leaving this world of sin I go to another and better one, where I am confident I shall meet you. I freely forgive all my enemies, and ask them for Christ's sake to forgive me." According to one account, his journal was recovered with his body after the battle. Where is it today? It's one of history's small mysteries.

(1) "16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Sergeant William H. Relyea," John Michael Priest Editor-in-Chief, Burd Street Press, 2002, Page 36.
(2) Letter from Augusta Griswold to John Morris, Oct. 19, 1862.
Close-up of  gravestone of 14th Connecticut captain Samuel Willard in Madison, Conn.


  1. Hazel Ballan3:55 AM

    Deep respect for all your research John, well done. Regards Hazel Ballan, Surrey UK

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