Sunday, March 15, 2015

Authors' Q&A: 'Heroes for All Time' on Connecticut soldiers

Colonel Elisha Kellogg (left) was killed at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864. 
Private George Parmalee of the 7th Connecticut (right), shown with an unidentified boy, 
survived the Civil War. (Photos: BZC)
The major Civil War battles in which Connecticut soldiers fought -- Gettysburg, Antietam, Petersburg, Cold Harbor and others -- have been well-documented. The stories of common soldiers from the state have not been as well-covered. Longtime Civil War collector Buck Zaidel, a dentist from Cromwell, Conn., and Dione Longley, former director at the Middlesex County Historical Society, teamed to help fill that void in their recently published book, Heroes for All Time: Connecticut Civil War Soldiers Tell Their Stories (Wesleyan University Press) .

Lavishly illustrated, the book includes many images from Zaidel's impressive collection, which has been featured at the Metropolitan Museum Of Art.  The authors tapped into diaries, soldiers' letters and more to give a grunt's-eye view of the war, which claimed the lives of nearly 6,000 men and boys from the state.  One of Zaidel's favorite photographs from his collection, an image of 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery officers about to eat a meal (see below), is included in the book, which includes a lengthy chapter on my favorite topic, the Battle of Antietam.  

The authors recently took time out to answer a few questions about their favorite soldier stories, their passion for the Civil War and more. (For more information on the book, check out the Heroes Facebook page and this recent story from the Hartford Courant.)

What was the motivation for the book?

DL:  Every Civil War soldier had a story. And we kept coming across unbelievably good examples, with images to go with them.  We knew we had to bring them into the light of day so other people could understand what the soldiers went through and appreciate their sacrifices.

BZ: We had access to all these great images, in both public and private collections, many of which had significant stories associated with them. It came down to what we tried to do at the “Civil War Days” we ran at the Middlesex County Historical Society. We felt it was important to honor the service and sacrifice of all those Civil War Veterans. My son when he was about 5 said it best when asked what it was all about: "To remember the soldier men.”

Heroes For All Time is available on and elsewhere.
Your book consists of scores of individual soldier stories. Which one is your favorite?

DL: I particularly love the story of George Foote, a Guilford farmer. After Antietam, Foote had gotten sick, probably with dysentery, but he insisted on marching with the boys until he fainted and had to be carried in a wagon.

On the morning of the Battle of Fredericksburg, Foote fell in for duty with his regiment, the 14th Connecticut.  His captain told him he was too sick, but Foote refused to leave.  When a shell fragment smashed the bottom of his cartridge box, Foote scooped up his cartridges and put them in his pocket.  When a bullet pierced his canteen, he took a drink from the hole and kept going.

As the 14th Connecticut made its way to Marye’s Heights, Foote took a bullet in the leg.  When he tried to get up, two more bullets wounded him in the hip and head.  That night, he dragged himself off the field and into a little shed where other Union wounded lay. Three days later, a group of Confederates found them there. A Rebel officer demanded to know why they were there, and some of the wounded made excuses, saying they hadn’t wanted to fight the Confederates.

George Foote lifted his head and said he’d come to fight the Rebel army, and if he ever recovered, he would come back and fight again.  The Confederate liked Foote’s bravado and had his men help him to a Union hospital.

George’s leg was amputated; then he was sent to Washington where a surgeon found he had to amputate it even higher.  Somehow Foote survived to make it home to Connecticut, but he never recovered, dying a few years after the war ended.  In his last days of life, he told his mother he would do it all again for the same cause.

BZ:  I like the words of David Torrance, after encountering a freshly dug grave outside of Petersburg in the spring of 1864: “At the head of the grave stood a rough board with a brief memorial of the name, company, regiment of the sleeper, rudely carved thereon and beneath all the simple words: ‘We miss him much.’”

For someone who abides by the old maxim “a picture is worth a thousand words,” I was repeatedly impressed by the writing talents of handfuls of soldiers who were so perceptive and insightful in documenting their war experiences. They included Henry Goddard, Samuel Fiske, William Relyea, and Uriah Parmalee. Homer Sprague’s narrative, which chronicled dying in battle versus dying as a prisoner of war in a particularly moving way, was most impressive to me.  Throughout the book, I found examples where Di masterfully found the written word that so beautifully accompanied an image that I thought was best at illustrating that theme.

Why is the Civil War so compelling for you both?

1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery soldiers preparing for 
dinner in 1863.  (Photo: BZC)
DL:  I first felt the pull of the Civil War when I was 17 and my older sister took me to the Wilderness.  Standing in the hollows where Civil War soldiers had crouched, I suddenly felt a chill come over me -- that weird feeling when the past makes itself known. Reading thousands of soldiers’ accounts helped me to put that feeling of “being there” into a better context -- which made it even more powerful.

BZ: It was admiration for Abraham Lincoln that originally captured my interest. That broadened to Civil War history. Upon moving to Connecticut, I found myself drawn to local soldiers and their stories. That’s what I’ve enjoyed collecting the past 25 years or so; particularly images and objects that reflect aspects of Union soldiers’ daily lives. I enjoy looking for the next cool image or artifact that helps to tell their stories. I also continually plan the next display or exhibit.

Connecticut soldiers fought in the major battles of the war -- Antietam, Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, Petersburg. But regiments from the state also fought in little-known engagements in the Deep South. Is there a favorite story about their service there?

DL: One I find very disturbing is about Cornelius Dayton of the 28th Connecticut. While in the trenches at Port Hudson, the terrible Louisiana heat gave Dayton and many others hyperthermia. Some men died from it; Dayton suffered brain damage and became insane.  At home in Windham, his elderly parents kept Cornelius shut in a large iron cage on their farm.  He would live there for almost 50 years.

Captain William May of the 23rd Connecticut. While a POW
 in Texas, he compiled a camp "newspaper" that he
 secretly shared with his fellow prisoners. 
(Photo: BZC)
BZ: The story of Captain William “Billy” May would be mine. He was a captain in the 23rd Connecticut Volunteer Infantry who was captured while guarding a railroad line in Lousiana along with a few of his mates. He was sent to a prisoner-of- war camp, Camp Ford, in Tyler, Texas. While there, he published three editions  of a single-sheet “newspaper” that he handwrote and illustrated. He allowed it to be passed secretly among his fellow prisoners. It was said to be a great benefit to the men’s morale. His fellow prisoners purchased a violin for him from a Confederate guard. Upon his release, the violin received a pass for safe passage north, and May documented his release in a wonderful portrait showing him in ragged attire, barefoot, carrying his violin. Hidden folded under his shoulder straps were the three issues of  “The Old Flag” newspaper.

There are many, many stories of tragedy involving Connecticut soldiers. Which one resonates with you most?

DL: I can never forget a story of two buddies in the 10th Connecticut at Petersburg. Their chaplain described how the two men went on picket duty in the trenches (or vidette pits) close to enemy lines.  Some vidette pits were only 50 yards from Confederate entrenchments, and Rebel sharpshooters watched every second for a sign of movement.  The pickets could only be relieved at night when darkness protected them.

These two friends had settled into their pit for the day, but one of them, shifting his position, showed the top of his head for an instant above the trench walls. Instantly he was hit by a bullet in the forehead.

All day the wounded man lay in the hot, stinking, buggy pit with his friend unable to help him.  If he’d tried to carry him out of the trench, they both would be killed.  For nine agonizing hours, the friend shielded his wounded pal from the sun, wiped away the blood, moistened his lips with water from the canteen, and tried to keep the insects away.

When night fell, he was finally able to lift his wounded comrade out of the pit and bring him to the rear, where he died a few hours later. I wish I knew the names of the two men.  I have to think that the surviving friend never got over that hellish experience.

Mortally wounded at Cold Harbor, Luman Wadhams of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery was 
one of three Wadhams brothers who died during the Civil War. 
(Photo: Litchfield County Historical Society)

Close-up of the Wadhams brothers' marker in
 West Cemetery in Litchfield, Conn.
BZ:  The story of the Wadhams brothers (Luman, Henry and Edward) would be mine. Three brothers, in three different regiments, in three different army corps, killed in a two-week span fighting around Richmond in the spring of 1864.

And finally, a question for Buck: What is the favorite Civil War photo in your collection?

BZ: Asking me about my favorite image in my collection is like asking which of my kids is my favorite. That’s tough. Images appeal to me on a variety of levels. I look for content. I look for images that represent the intersection of art and history. Others have a particularly fine connection between the camera and the soldier in the portrait. Certainly one of my favorites is a group of NCOs of the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery (see image above) posed seated around their dinner table. The scene includes a bunch of hungry soldiers, a stove, a kettle, a drummer boy, their fare, and the shelter tent roof sections pulled back by the photographer to illuminate the scene. This intimate glimpse into soldier life, the peeling of the roof back to peek in, is what we tried to do with the book. Find great images, artifacts and snippets of their written words that allow us to have their history at our fingertips.

No comments:

Post a Comment