Saturday, September 01, 2012

Where does Avon's Edgar Woodford rest?

A quartermaster sergeant in the 7th Connecticut, Edgar Woodford of Avon, Conn.,
died in Jacksonville, Fla., on Oct. 6, 1862. This carte-de-visite is in my collection.
On a late spring day in 1913, nearly 51 years after Edgar Maurice Woodford was first laid to rest 1,100 miles from his home in Avon, Conn., a memorial service was held in a small cemetery next to a Congregational church near where he grew up.

"On yonder brownstone monument is inscribed the name Edgar M. Woodford," noted Dr. Edward Kellogg in his speech as he pointed to an 8-foot high monument near the middle of the cemetery. "Doubtless most persons of the present generation supposed the soldier's body lies beneath, but that is not the fact." (1)

Etched on that brownstone in the cemetery near the beautiful, whitewashed West Avon Congregational Church are the barest of facts of Woodford's life and death:
    Com. Serg. 7th Conn. Vol.   
     in the service of his country at Jacksonville, Florida  
    Oct. 6, 1862. Age 38

    So who was Edgar M. Woodford and how did the 7th Connecticut quartermaster sergeant die?

    And where is he really buried?

    There's a brownstone memorial for Edgar Woodford and another marker (right) with his name on
    it at West Avon (Conn.) Cemetery, but the 7th Connecticut soldier isn't buried there.

    A farmer, self-taught civil engineer and surveyor, Woodford was a leading member of the prosperous community of Avon, about 10 miles northwest of Hartford. "He was a man of marked abilities in many directions and those who remember him will bear witness that he filled an important place in the activities and life of the community," Kellogg gushed in that long-ago speech.

    On Sept. 7, 1843, Woodford married the daughter of a preacher, Mary Elizabeth Kellogg of Somers, Conn., and by 1860, the couple had three children: Mary, 13; Edgar, 11; and Anna, 9. In the 1860 Federal census, Woodford's occupation was listed as "peddlar" and his property was valued at $5,000, an indication the family certainly was well off.

    Before the Civil War, Woodford was the captain of a local militia company, and Kellogg remembered as a youth watching him drill his men on the town green in East Avon. An ardent abolitionist, Woodford was "highly indignant, as were many others," Kellogg noted, "because the government did not strike a death blow to slavery and thus crush the rebellion also" in 1861. (3)

    In the summer of 1862, as war fever gripped New England, Woodford decided to leave behind his three children and wife of nearly 19 years to join the Union army. Recruited by old friend Colonel Joseph Hawley of Hartford, he enlisted on Aug.7, 1862 as a private and mustered into Company K of the 7th Connecticut. During his last Sunday in Avon, Woodford attended morning and afternoon church with his family. And after attending a town meeting the next day in East Avon, he bade his family and friends farewell and marched off to war.

    An accomplished surveyor, Woodford contributed to the making of this 1855 map 
    of Hartford County. (Map courtesy of Avon Free Public Library)
    By August 1862, the 7th Connecticut was an experienced fighting unit. Organized Sept. 13, 1861, it was deployed as a part of the "Anaconda Plan," General-in-Chief Winfield Scott's grand and often-derided scheme to strangle the South by blockading its ports and conquering key military targets. Along with the 6th Connecticut, the regiment captured Fort Walker and Fort Beauregard in South Carolina, along the Atlantic coast, in early November 1861. From December to April 10, 1862, the two regiments helped lay siege to massive Fort Pulaski in Georgia, near the mouth of the Savannah River. The fort eventually was captured with minimal Union losses.

    Two months later, at James Island, near Secessionville, S.C., the 7th Connecticut was less fortunate. Attempting to capture Charleston by land for the only time of the war, the Union army was whipped; the 7th Connecticut was especially hard hit, suffering nine men killed. 69 wounded and four missing. In early July 1862, the regiment retreated to sandy, swampy and mosquito-infested Hilton Head, S.C.

    Finally joining the regiment  in Hilton Head in early September, Woodford quickly benefited from his friendship with Hawley. On Sept. 21, 1862, he was promoted to quartermaster sergeant. Nine days later, the 7th Connecticut and Woodford sailed to Florida aboard the steamship Ben De Ford -- he shared the stateroom with Hawley at the colonel's invitation -- and a date with destiny.

    By comparison to Shiloh, Antietam and Gettysburg, the Battle of St. John's Bluff, near Jacksonville, was a very minor event. On a high bluff overlooking the St. John's River, Southern engineers placed a series of gun batteries, making it a formidable position. But blasted by Federal gunboats on Oct. 1 and pressured on two sides by the Union army, including the 7th Connecticut, the rebels surprisingly abandoned the outpost under the cover of darkness on Oct. 3, 1862.

    Anchored in the St. John's River, the Ben De Ford took on Union sick and wounded the next day -- as many as 46 soldiers, according to one account. Woodford helped, pulling aboard many of the wounded using a swinging rope ladder, a difficult challenge for even a younger man aboard a rocking ship.
    "He was a man of most exemplary character and habits," Colonel Joseph Hawley wrote 
    of Edgar Woodford on July 20, 1863.  (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)

    "It was not Mr. Woodford's duty nor was he asked to carry these men," Kellogg said, "but his great heart of helpfulness to others impelled him to do so and not withstanding his recent life and avocations had unfitted him for great muscular effort, he did carry some of these men up the side of that ship and the violent exertion raised a rupture of a large internal blood vessel..." (4)

    In agony, Woodford slipped in and out of consciousness while doctors tried to save his life. But as Hawley wiped sweat from his friend's brow, the father of three slipped away to meet his maker the morning of  Oct. 6, 1862. "I have no fear for myself, but oh! My dear wife and children," he said as he died (5). Describing the cause of death as "congestive fever," Hawley believed his friend "undoubtedly overextended himself in caring for the sick men and the stores of the regiment." (6)

    Hawley saw to it that Woodford was buried in a well-marked grave in a small cemetery behind St. John's Episcopal Church in Jacksonville. A group of soldiers from the Ben De Ford fired a volley over the grave, and Hawley even sent a map of the grave site and cemetery to Mary Woodford.

    Sadly, however, the Woodfords were unable to retrieve the soldier's body and return him to Connecticut. In a massive effort shortly after the Civil War, the Federal government exhumed the bodies of Union soldiers throughout the South and reburied them in newly established national cemeteries. Edgar Woodford's body probably was removed to a national cemetery in Beaufort, S.C., where today he rests under a grave marked "Unknown."

    Postscript: In June 1913, Woodford's grandchildren sought the aid of the Federal government to find the final resting place of their grandfather.

    The effort proved fruitless.

    "An earnest search has been made through the records of those cemeteries to which the body would, most likely, be taken," the superintendent of Andersonville (Ga.) National Cemetery wrote, "but no information as to the location of the body has been found."

    (1) Hartford Courant, June 11, 1913, Page 11
    (2) Ibid
    (3) Ibid
    (4) Ibid
    (5) Ibid
    (6) Widow's pension file affidavit, Joseph Hawley, July 20, 1863.

    According to this document, Edgar Woodford's  grandchildren inquired about finding their 
    grandfather's grave in 1913. Originally buried in St. John's Episopal Cemetery in Jacksonville, 
    his remains probably were moved to a national cemetery in Beaufort, S.C., after the Civil War.


    1. Do you have any information or especially pictures of Private Milton Woodford of the 7th Connecticut?

    2. Sorry, BT, I don't. Will keep a lookout.