Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sergeant George Marsh: First Connecticut death at Antietam?

A daguerreotype (top) and tintype of 8th Connecticut Sergeant George Marsh, who was
 killed at Antietam. (Photos: Blogger's collection)
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Shortly after sunrise on Sept. 17, 1862, “some curious fools” in the 8th Connecticut climbed atop a knoll on Henry Rohrbach’s farm to sneak a peek at their enemy, alerting Rebels on the far side of Antietam Creek. Suddenly, a 12-pound solid shot burst from a cannon and crashed into the regiment’s ranks in a field near Rohrbach's farmhouse, killing Sergeant George Marsh and two other soldiers, wounding four and splattering 19-year-old Lieutenant Marvin Wait with blood and dirt.

At least one report speculated that railroad iron fired by the Rebels killed Marsh, but the real cause was the massive concussion of the solid shot that plowed into the ground in front of the prone officer. A "trusty soldier with a spotless reputation," the 29-year-old Marsh, who was "ill that morning but determined to be at his post," may have been the first soldier from Connecticut killed at the Battle of Antietam.

George Marsh's family: Father Guy (top), mother 
Lamira and sister Susan. The Marsh family was 
from Hartford.
(Photos: Blogger's collection)
For his parents Lamira and Guy and sister Susan back in Hartford, George's death must have been a crushing blow. An unmarried carpenter and polisher for a silversmith, Marsh financially supported his sickly father, who worked in a sash and blind factory and was described as a man of "feeble strength, and never able to do anything like hard labor." From 1855 until George's death, Guy Marsh made from $1.25 to $2.25 a day. Two years before his son enlisted in the army, the elder Marsh, who barely weighed 110 pounds, had a "long and dangerous sickness" that the family physician attributed to the "effects of working with paints" at the factory.

While he served in the Union army, George frequently sent money home, sometimes as much as $40 at a time, and often inquired about his father's health, noting in one letter that he thought it "will do father good to take a trip to Waterbury [Conn.]." In rich detail, he also wrote about his war experience, telling his parents of skirmishing against Rebels, frustrations and boredom with army life and about prisoners of war.

"Today I have tattoo'd about 2 dozen men with India ink just to keep myself busy," he wrote in one letter.

In another letter, he wrote about a young Rebel POW: "One man showed me his thigh today where he had a bayonet put through it for putting his head over the line to vomit, and that was by a boy not over 14 years old."

In late spring 1862, George proudly told of his promotion from corporal to sergeant.

"I am fourth sergeant now," he wrote on June 3, 1862 from New Bern, N.C., "our orderly having been promoted to be second lieutenant of our company. Lieutenant [Wolcott] Marsh is captain of Company F now. I have to do the duties of 2nd sergeant as the 2nd is color bearer and the 3rd has done no duty since we left the Banks and I guess never will do any more. He is the tallest man in the regiment and I am the shortest sergeant so we look gay marching near each other and are known as the 'long' and 'short' sergeants of Company A."  (Marsh, who had a light complexion, hazel eyes and light hair, stood only 5-4, about four inches shorter than the average height for a Civil War soldier.)

Added Marsh in the same letter: "Some of this military business is like a farce but I like to see the whole performance and think I shall be able to if I don’t get killed in a battle or by disease."

Oliver D. Seymour, Marsh's brother-in-law, went to the battlefield to retrieve George's body, which was sent to New York by steamer. In late September, Marsh's remains arrived on a noon train to Hartford, and three hours later, a funeral service that "was very largely attended" was held at his parents' house at 77 Main Street. Afterward, his remains were buried a short distance away at Hartford's Old North Cemetery.

Today, on the battered, brownstone Marsh family memorial at the ancient Hartford cemetery, the word "Antietam" is barely legible.

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-- Croffut, William Augustus, and John Moses Morris. The Military and Civil History of Connecticut During the War of 1861-65, New York: Ledyard Bill, 1868.
-- George Marsh pension file, National Archives and Record Service, Washington, D.C.
-- Hartford Daily Times, Sept. 27, 1862.
-- PG 80, Box 3, Connecticut State Library, Hartford, Conn.

George Marsh's state-issued tombstone in Old North Cemetery in Hartford.