Saturday, May 23, 2015

Greene brothers' artifacts and a huge family tragedy

A pre-war image of 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery Quartermaster Sergeant James Greene in
the collection of the Colebrook (Conn.) Historical Society.
A brownstone monument for James Greene in 
Center Cemetery in Colebrook, Conn. A close-up  of the 
monument (below) reveals the weather-worn name of 
 Greene and the site where he was wounded.
On a brisk May morning, I traveled to tiny Colebrook, in Connecticut's beautiful Litchfield Hills, for a visit to the town's historical society. In a large vault in an early 19th-century building that was first used as an inn, two historical society members allowed me to dig into two boxes that contained artifacts from a family that suffered a massive tragedy during the war.

Three sons of Allen and Lois Greene died: George, 26, who served in the Union navy, from disease in a hospital in Peru on Feb. 22, 1863; Stephen, 18, and James, 25, who both served in Company E of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery.

After they suffered leg wounds at Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864, James and Stephen wrote letters home to allay fears of their parents. At the time, the brothers’ wounds were not considered serious. James, a quartermaster sergeant, was transported to a hospital in Alexandria, Va., and Stephen, a private, was sent to recover at De Camp Hospital on David’s Island in New York Harbor.

When they heard that James’ health had declined, his wife Martha and father rushed to Alexandria, but they arrived about two hours before he was to be buried. The bullet in James’ foot was not removed until nine days after he was wounded, “and then amputation afforded but a faint hope for him,” the Winsted (Conn.) Herald reported on July 15, 1864. He died on July 6.

After he arranged for his son to be embalmed, Allen Greene took a train north, hoping to visit Stephen, who suffered from a wound in his left knee, at the hospital in New York. But he took the wrong train and instead went directly home to arrange for James’ funeral. Upon his arrival back in Colebrook, Allen Greene found letters that said Stephen had died three days earlier.

Those letters may not have survived, but James Greene's wartime ledger book and a portion of a letter Stephen wrote to a friend are preserved in the Colebrook Historical Society's collection. Also preserved in the collection is a pre-war image of James, whose thoughts of an obscure crossroads town called Cold Harbor were a long way off.

James Greene signed his small ledger book and identified his regiment and company. 
The "Heavies" were stationed at Fort Worth, one of the defenses ringing Washington, in 1864.
In his ledger book, Greene noted: "Reveille at 4:30. Embarked at 8 a.m.," and added 
"passed Mt. Vernon," George Washington's home, "at 10:30. A nap despite the beautiful scenery."
Inside the ledger book, Greene accounted for what was issued to troops on March 12, 1864.
A war-time letter signed by 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery Private Stephen Greene.

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