Friday, November 13, 2015

Antietam: Emotional dedication of 16th Connecticut monument

The 16th Connecticut monument at Antietam before it was dedicated on Oct. 11, 1894. 
The photographer of these rare images is unknown.
(Image from Gil Barrett collection via Stephen Recker, Rare Images Of Antietam)
Former 16th Connecticut officer Frank Cheney, who gave a dedication speech
 at Antietam on Oct. 11, 1894,  may be second from the right of the monument. 
 (Image from Gil Barrett collection via Stephen Recker/Rare Images Of Antietam.)
Adapted from my latest book, Hidden History of Connecticut Union Soldiers. E-mail me at  for information on how to purchase an autographed copy.

On Sept. 17, 1891, Frank Cheney, clutching the deed of ownership, drew a huge reaction when he told more than 100 16th Connecticut comrades of the purchase of 10 acres of land at Antietam on which the regiment shed so much blood. Cheney, a lieutenant colonel in the 16th who was severely wounded in the left arm at the battle, contributed a large sum to buy the property, with the intention of placing a monument there in the regiment’s honor.

"The effect was magnetic. The men arose and cheered for the colonel again, and again, and again,” the Hartford Daily Times reported about the speech. “And many were touched almost to tears by this generous manifestation of his interest, and by the consciousness that the regiment held the sacred ground which drank the blood of their brothers, in ownership for all time to come.” Cheney, who had resigned from the army on Christmas Eve 1862 because of his wound, was among the more beloved men in the regiment.

Post-war image of  Frank Cheney
A little more than three years later, on Oct. 11, 1894, monuments to the 16th, 14th, 11th and 8th Connecticut regiments that fought at Antietam were dedicated. The lead-up to the event and dedication day were covered extensively in the Hartford Courant and Hartford Daily Times. On Oct. 12, 1894, the Courant featured a lengthy, six-column article with an illustration of each monument and partial transcripts of speeches veterans of each regiment gave at the dedications. (The monuments had been paid for by the state.)

"Antietam battlefield memories were refreshed on that memorable field yesterday by many Connecticut Union Veterans who lived again the days of the initiation into the realm of shot and shell and the carnage of battle," the Courant reported.

During his monument dedication speech in the field where the 16th Connecticut was routed on Sept. 17, 1862, Cheney spoke of "vain regrets wasted over what was left undone" on the battlefield and dead comrades. "Our work is nearly done," the 62-year-old veteran said. "Our children must carry it on. Let us bring them up so that they will hold on to the faith in all the Old Flag represents, and will believe that brave men fought and died for it, down here in Maryland." (Click here to see present-day photo of the monument.)

 Dedication day ribbon
that may have belonged
to Frank Cheney.
(CHS collection)
Perhaps the most poignant moment that Thursday afternoon came during a reading of an original poem by Nathan Mayer of Hartford. An assistant regimental surgeon in the 11th Connecticut at Antietam who was known to dole out morphine by having soldiers lick his hand, Mayer later served as chief surgeon for the 16th Connecticut.

After Cheney spoke, Mayer, a brilliant man, recited a long poem that eloquently summed up the veterans’ experience at Antietam. In part, it read:

This brought us here — a thousand men
With hearts on fire — but bare in ken
Of warlike methods and of arms.
Such as they came from shops and farms,
From busy mart, from college halls.
From life 'tween close-set office walls,
They stood in line, undrilled, untrained.
Though shrapnel burst and bullets rained
Beyond the broad brook's verdant banks,
Among the green corn's waving ranks,
They fill the gap ! -- Forward ! -- Advance ! -
They send their lead down in the dance
Of Death, who sweeps with crimson hand
O'er the blue hills of Maryland.
And forward still I Stern duty placed
Their brave and untried ranks. -- Square faced
Against the picked men of the South,
Against their batteries' belching mouth.
Against the fire-lined gray stone wall --
A living line to stand or fall --
They met their fate, this martyr band.
For Union and their Native Land !

As Mayer read his poem, many in attendance wept.

                                                                          X X X

During a visit to Hartford last weekend, I had the file pulled on Cheney in the research room of the Connecticut Historical Society, which has the former 16th Connecticut officer's army frock coat, trousers, shirt and kepi in its museum. The file included a dedication day ribbon and a program from the 1894 dedication of the 16th Connecticut monument at Antietam. Perhaps Cheney was clutching the program during his address there more than 121 years ago.

(My thanks to Stephen Recker, author of Rare Images Of Antietam: And The Photographers Who Took Them, for permission to post the 1894 images of the 16th Connecticut monument dedication. Click here for my Q&A with Recker. Both of the rare images appear in his book.)

16th Connecticut monument dedication program from Frank Cheney file at
Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford. Cheney  was severely wounded at Antietam.

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