Sunday, May 31, 2015

Then and now: General John Sedgwick monument dedication

THEN: A huge American flag covers the Sedgwick monument in this image on dedication day, 
May 30, 1900. (Period images from excellent Cornwall Historical Society collection)
NOW: The original cannonballs were sold for scrap during World War II and replaced with fakes. 

On May 30, 1900, more than 3,000 people gathered in sleepy Cornwall Hollow, Conn., for the dedication of a monument in honor of the town's favorite son, Major General John Sedgwick. Thirty-six years earlier, on May 9, 1864, "Uncle John" had been killed by a sharpshooter at Spotsylvania Courthouse, Va., a death that struck the Union army "like an electric shock."

John Sedgwick was killed by a sharpshooter on May 9, 1864.
(Library of Congress collection)
Cornwall Hollow today remains just as sleepy as it was more than a century ago. As I slowly made my way along the country road toward the out-of-the-way monument Saturday morning, I trailed a farmer trucking hay. Unknowingly, my visit just happened to be on the 115th anniversary of the monument dedication, which in 1900 was attended by the governor of Connecticut and his staff, 20 members of the Grand Army of the Republic Admiral Foote Post of New Haven; General J.F. Kent, a member of Sedgwick's war-time staff; the major general's great-niece and the Citizen's Band of Winsted, Conn.

Before the monument dedication, a crowd gathered around the monument for Sedgwick across the road in the cemetery where the general was buried on May 15, 1864. Upon that monument rested a large cross of red, white and blue flowers, given by the daughter of the general who succeeded Sedgwick, Horatio Wright. In a moment that surely stirred passions of veterans, a former Union soldier briefly laid at the foot of the cemetery memorial a large section of a captured Confederate flag that once flew in Richmond.

Thirty yards or so from the new monument, organizers set up a huge tent (see photo below), where dignitaries and guests were fed. During his dedication speech, the governor may or may not have scored points with the crowd when he compared Sedgwick favorably to Robert E. Lee. Another speaker, former Union officer George Ruggles, said of Sedgwick: " honor was too great to pay his name."

The U.S. government also got into the act, donating piles of cannonballs that surrounded the monument as well as a cannon tube, reportedly used by Sedgwick's troops during the Mexican War and Civil War. (The cannonballs were used for scrap during World War II and replaced with fakes.) The next day, the local newspaper devoted 5 1/2 columns of coverage to the big day, surely the greatest event in the small town's history.

SOURCE: Hartford Courant, May 31, 1900

THEN: The horse-and-buggy was one mode of transportation to the dedication in 1900. The large tent
 in the leftbackground accommodated dignitaries and their guests,
 who were fed there before the dedication.
NOW: I was the only soul at the monument when I shot this image Saturday morning, quite
 a contrast  to the thousands of people who gathered for the dedication on May 30, 1900.
THEN: The cannonballs and cannon tube for the monument were donated by the U.S. government.

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