Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Antietam: Seeking the elusive story of Captain John Drake

Captain John Drake of the 16th Connecticut was killed at the Battle of Antietam
on Sept. 17, 1862. (Photo Connecticut State Library archives)
Of the four Connecticut regiments that fought at the Battle of Antietam, I find the story of the 16th to be the most compelling -- and heart-rending. Fighting in its first battle of the Civil War, the ill-trained regiment was cut to pieces at Antietam, where four of its captains were killed or mortally wounded. While I have been able to dig up information on Frederick Barber of Company H, Newton Manross of Company K and Samuel Brown of Company D, an in-depth story of Captain John Drake of Company I proves elusive.

Drake's grave in Hartford's Spring Grove Cemetery. Antietam
 is barely legible on the marker. (Photo courtesy Mary Falvey)

Born in New Hampshire, Drake spent part of his life in Cincinnati before moving to Hartford. On June 23, 1860, he married Anna Very, who worked for many years as a book keeper at Phoenix National Bank in Hartford. Like many men who served in the Union army -- including Captain Edwin Lee of the 14th Connecticut -- Drake was employed at the Colt Arms factory in Hartford. He was "much interested in the religious work of Warburton Chapel,"  which served immigrant families on Temple Street in Hartford. (1) After President Lincoln called for 300,000 volunteers in July 1862, Drake enlisted on Aug. 8 and helped raise a company, which was mustered into the Union army on Aug. 24, 1862. Not quite a month later, Drake was dead, killed in farmer John Otto's cornfield.

"Captain Drake was the most gentlemanly man in the regiment," Surgeon Nathan Mayer noted. "He was the very soul of courtesy and unaffected dignity of deportment. He always had a quiet care for his men, when they were sick, and was a marked favorite with them, as well as with comrades in the line." (2)

Regiment adjutant John Burnham, Antietam's unsung hero, supervised the burial of 16th Connecticut soldiers, ensuring that the graves of soldiers such as Drake could be found later. Along with the bodies of Brown and 16th Connecticut privates William Nichols and Seth Franklin Prior, Drake's remains were returned to Hartford by undertaker William Roberts on Oct. 10, 1862. Advertising his ghastly services in the Hartford Courant, Roberts made a good living retrieving bodies of soldiers throughout the South during the Civil War. Drake had a military funeral in Hartford, where he was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery.

If you can help me build a complete story of Drake, send me an e-mail at jbankstx@comcast.net.

(1) George Q. Whitney Collection, Connecticut State Library, Biographical Sketches of 16th Connecticut soldiers
(2)  History of the Sixteenth Connecticut Volunteers, B.F. Blakeslee, Hartford, The Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co., 1875

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FACES OF THE CIVIL WAR: Stories and photos of common soldiers who served during the war.
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:

Brian Downey said...

Thanks for this John - I updated my listing for him, and grabbed his face too. In googling I find there's a 2 page article about him titled "A Brief but Gallant Career, Capt. John L. Drake Antietam 1862" in the December 1978 issue of Arms Gazette magazine (ebay: http://www.ebay.com/itm/ARMS-GAZETTE-V6-N3-December-1978-Colt-s-Philippine-Constabulary-Revolver-/221157712463). I suspect it's in the context of a presentation revolver Colt gave Capt Drake before he left for the War.