Thursday, January 28, 2016

'Everyone feels sad': Connecticut captain died in freak accident

 20th Connecticut Captain Henry C. Smith.  (Connecticut State Library)
Adapted from my latest book, Hidden History of Connecticut Union Soldiers. E-mail me here for information on how to purchase an autographed copy.


Bundled up during a blizzard, Henry Smith was oblivious to the danger as he walked down a path near the camp of the 20th Connecticut in Stafford Courthouse, Va., on Jan. 28, 1863. In the process of cutting down a tree, soldiers in the regiment tried to alert the 20th Connecticut captain, but they were too late. As the tree tumbled to the ground, a heavy limb struck the 25-year-old officer from Hartford squarely in the chin, breaking his neck and killing him instantly.

Smith’s demise made an already gloomy day “much more gloomy,” according to another soldier in the regiment. “Not one hour before he was talking with the Boys,” Corp. Albert Platts recalled, “and now he is gone. He was beloved by all. Everyone feels sad.”

“... The best and only tribute which his fellow officers could now pay,” Lt. Col Philo Buckingham wrote, “was to gather up his remains and forward them to his sorrow-stricken wife … that he might be buried among friends, and not in the land of the stranger." An assistant foreman at Neptune Engine Co. No. 2 in Hartford, Smith also was survived by a one-year-old son.

At Smith’s funeral service at Hartford’s St. Paul Church on Feb. 3, 1863, the main aisle was reserved for mourners and firemen. After the service, the officer’s sword and photograph were taken from atop the coffin and the lid was removed so firemen and other friends could get one last look at Smith. “The mark of the death blow was plainly visible upon the face of the deceased,” the Hartford Courant reported the next day. “Otherwise it looked quite natural.”

A close-up of the engraving on Smith's sword, which,  according to family lore, was bent
 along with the scabbard by the falling limb that killed the captain.
(Courtesy of Smith descendant)

SOURCES:

20th Corp. Albert Platts letter to parents, January 31, 1863, The Totoket Historical Society, Branford, Conn.

Storrs, John Whiting, The Twentieth Connecticut, A Regiment History. Ansonia, CT: Press of the Naugatuck Valley Sentinel, 1888, Page 278

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