Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Antietam: Shining a light on Corporal Henry Evans

Henry Evans of Avon, Conn., was killed at the Battle of Antietam. This is a previously 
unpublished photo of the 21-year-old soldier.  

He's buried under a weather-worn, slate-gray tombstone, No. 1,084, just to the left of Private Henry Aldrich of Bristol, on the peaceful, beautiful grounds of Antietam National Cemetery in Sharpsburg, Md. Like many soldiers in the 16th Connecticut, 21-year-old Henry D. Evans was killed in farmer John Otto's 40-acre cornfield during the Battle of Antietam on the afternoon of Sept. 17, 1862. For nearly 150 years, the young corporal has largely been anonymous, just another name on a long list of Connecticut dead from the bloodiest day in American history.

Corporal Henry Evans' gravestone in Antietam National Cemetery.
But thanks to a lifelong resident of Avon, Conn., a previously unpublished image of the soldier who marched off to war in the summer of 1862 is now available. And thanks to information gleaned from widow's pension records, the 1860 census and other sources, we can shine a light on Evans' short life.

A laborer from Avon, a small farming community near the Farmington River, Henry married 23-year-old Mary Ann Richards of nearby Wethersfield on Aug. 21, 1861, about four months after the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter. Their union produced a daughter, Florence, on Jan. 31, 1862. As talk of war swirled in New England that summer, Henry pondered an agonizing question: Should he  fight to help save the Union or remain with his family?

Evans chose war, joining at least a dozen other men from his town in the 16th Connecticut. No doubt the offer of a $50 bounty from Avon, equivalent to 40 times the average man's daily wage, was a huge enticement.

Mustering into Company I of the the 16th Connecticut as a corporal on Aug. 24, 1862,  Evans was one of about 100 men from Avon to join the cause. At least 20 men from the town died during the Civil War, including Edgar Woodford, a 38-year-old quartermaster sergeant in the 7th ConnecticutWallace Woodford, a 22-year-old private in the 16th Connecticut; and brothers James and John Willard. It was a horrible toll on a community whose population was slightly more than 1,000 people in 1860.

The memorial marker for Evans in West Avon (Conn.) Cemetery 
is an effigy grave. Henry is actually buried at the 
national cemetery in Sharpsburg, Md.
For Evans and the men in his regiment, late summer 1862 was a blur.

After organizing and basic training in a camp near Hartford, the 16th Connecticut received a rousing send-off in the city on Aug. 29 on its way to New York, the first leg of a journey that would take them to the front lines. For Henry and his comrades, the trip down the Connecticut River aboard the steamers City of Hartford and George C Collins must have been thrilling.

"...at every village and hamlet the people line the banks, waving their flags and cheering us on the voyage," Private William Relyea of Company D noted. "The boys forgot their disciplinary troubles in flirting with the girls and answering the greetings of grey-haired sires on the banks, but darkness put the end to this sport, and preparations began to pass the night in quiet sleep. There were a few youngsters who kept up a wild roistering far into the night." (1)

On Aug. 30, the regiment arrived in New York and then traveled by steamer to Elizabeth, N.J. Henry and his comrades took a circuitous route to Washington via train, traveling through Reading, Harrisburg and York in Pennsylvania and to Baltimore before finally arriving in the capital. "We were a very dirty lot when we arrived in Washington, " Relyea noted. (2)

Henry Evans' commander, Company I captain 
John Drake of Hartford, was also killed at 
Antietam. Three other 16th Connecticut captains
 were killed or mortally wounded at Antietam. 
(Connecticut State Library archives)
During a short stay in Washington, perhaps Henry visited the White House grounds or the still-under-construction Washington Monument and Capitol building, as many soldiers in the regiment did. On Sept. 7, the 16th Connecticut was again on the move, leaving Fort Ward outside Washington and joining the Army of the Potomac that was marching into Maryland to stop Robert E. Lee.

On the morning of Sept. 17,  Evans and the 16th Connecticut were positioned in a farm field near Antietam Creek, a couple miles from the village of Sharpsburg. Elements of  the Ninth Corps finally fought their way across a small stone-arch bridge, later famously called Burnside Bridge, and the 16th Connecticut crossed the creek upstream by early afternoon.

"We were marched into a piece of woods and formed a line of battle," Private Wells Bingham of Company H wrote to his father after the battle. "From there we were marched up onto a high hill. All this time the battle was going on only a short distance from us. We had a chance to witness some of the most splendid firing with artillery. We could see the shells and shot strike around the rebbel battery. It took but a short time for our battery to silence theirs." (3)

In a letter published in the Hartford Courant on 
Sept. 30, 1862,16th Connecticut adjutant 
John Burnham noted the location of the 
regiment's dead at Antietam. Henry Evans
was buried with other soldiers from Company I.

As the 16th Connecticut marched into a field of tall corn late that Wednesday afternoon, the untested regiment  was smashed on two sides by veterans of A.P. Hill's division. Company I suffered terribly, with Captain John Drake of Hartford and two sergeants killed. Privates Wallace Woodford, Frank Alford, Charles Parker, Robert Hawley and Newton Evans -- all from Avon -- were wounded. Corporal Henry D. Evans, the father of an 8 1/2-month-old daughter,  was killed.

Because of the remarkable efforts of regiment adjutant John Burnham, an unsung hero of Antietam, the dead of the 16th Connecticut were buried in marked graves on the Otto farm two days after the battle, each soldier's name carved in a wooden headboard. Evans was buried with his comrades from Company I: privates Stephen Twiss, Augustus Truesdell, Stephen Himes, James Grugan and sergeants Orville Campbell and Thomas McCarty. "The collection of the bodies was conducted under my own personal supervision," Burnham noted, "and after the men had reported them all picked up I examined the whole field myself, so that I am confident none were left on the ground." (4)

More than 400 miles away in Avon, Mary Ann Evans soon received word of her husband's death. Although Henry was buried in a well-marked grave, she did not or could not arrange for the return of his remains to Avon,  perhaps because she did not have the financial means. In the years after the battle, Henry's body was disinterred from the field and re-buried in the national cemetery in Sharpsburg.

Six days after Mary Ann Evans' death, her daughter wrote this note to the Board of Pensions. 
Florence Post's mother never remarried after her father was killed at the 
Battle of Antietam 57 years earlier.

On Christmas Eve 1863, more than a year after her husband was killed, Mary Ann applied for a widow's pension from the government. Her application approved, she soon received $8 a month (and $2 a month for Florence) from Uncle Sam. Mary Ann received that widow's pension until Dec. 6, 1919, when she died at 2:30 p.m. in Colorado Springs, Colo. The cause of death was apoplexy and old age. She was 81. (5)

She had never remarried.

(1) "16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Sergeant William H. Relyea," John Michael Priest Editor-in-Chief, Burd Street Press, 2002, Page 8.
(2) Ibid, Page 9.
(3) 16th Connecticut private Wells Bingham letter to his father, Elisha, Sept. 20, 1862, Antietam National Battlefield research library
(4) Hartford Courant, Sept. 30, 1862, Page 7
(5) Widow's pension documents, Henry Evans and Mary Ann Evans

In an undated photo, Henry Evans' wife, Mary Ann, holds their only child, Florence.

HARTFORD COURANT ON ANTIETAM: Check out Jesse Leavenworth's story on soldiers' letters.
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FACES OF THE CIVIL WAR: Stories and photos of common soldiers who served during the war.
MORE ON 16TH CONNECTICUT SOLDIERS: Tales of the men in the hard-luck regiment.
MORE ON ANTIETAM: Read my extensive thread on the battle and the men who fought in it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for bringing history and meaning to the life of Henry Evans who existed only as a photo in an album and the name on an effigy monument in our cemetery. You have brought honor and recognition to the men from Avon who fought and died that bloody day.