Saturday, April 16, 2011

Civil War under my nose: John Sedgwick

Major Gen. John Sedgwick is buried in Cornwall Hollow, Conn.
Major Gen. John Sedgwick was wrong.

Dead wrong.
As Sedgwick was lowered into his grave, "a peal
of thunder like the roar of distant artillery
reverberated along the heavens."

As the Union officer visited his troops on the front lines at Spotsylvania Courthouse, Va., on May 9, 1864, Sedgwick scolded them for ducking at scattered Rebel gunfire coming from a good distance away. "I am ashamed of you, dodging that way," Sedgwick said. "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." A short time later, blood spurted from a wound on Sedgwick's left cheek, just below the eye. The general fondly called "Uncle John" by his troops was killed by a sniper's bullet. (1)

He was 50 years old.

Sedgwick, the highest-ranking Union officer killed during the Civil War, was born in Cornwall, Conn., about an hour from Hartford. The house that he briefly lived in during the Civil War still stands on a corner on Hautboy Road in tiny Cornwall Hollow, about 3/4 of a mile from the cemetery where Sedgwick is buried. (There's a pool in the back yard now, probably not something the general enjoyed during his era.) Sedgwick lived in the house briefly while recovering from three wounds suffered at the Battle of Antietam in 1862. (2)

On this miserably cold April afternoon, I visited Sedgwick's grave as well as the large monument to the general directly across the road from the cemetery. I've been there several times, but never on a day as cold as this. With the wind blowing, it was challenge to photograph Sedgwick's grave with a printout of a Civil War era image of him in my left hand (above).

Sedgwick briefly lived in this house in Cornwall Hollow, Conn.,  
while recovering from wounds he suffered at Antietam in 1862.

Sedgwick's funeral in 1864 and the dedication of his monument on Memorial Day in 1900 were huge deals in rural Cornwall Hollow. According to accounts, more than 3,000 people attended the monument dedication 36 years after Sedgwick was killed.

"After his tragic death his remains were borne to his home at Cornwall Hollow and a public funeral, offered by the legislature, was declined by his family," according to a book on the Sedgwick family. "No military salute was fired above his grave but as his body was lowered to its last resting place, a peal of thunder like the roar of distant artillery reverberated along the heavens, sounding his requiem and the tired soldier rested." (3)

The monument originally included piles of real Civil War cannonballs, but they were sold for scrap during World War II and replaced. The monument has been vandalized several times, and the original bronze plaque of Sedgwick was replaced after it was stolen.(4). 
Plaque on front of Sedgwick memorial.

The front of the monument includes this simple, eloquent inscription:

"The fittest place where man can die is where man dies for man.”

(1) "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War"
(2) Cornwall Historical Society
(3) "A Sedgwick Genealogy: Descendants of Deacon Benjamin Sedgwick", Page 101
(4) CT

More than 3,000 people turned out for the dedication of this Sedgwick  monument in 
Cornwall Hollow, Conn., on Memorial Day in 1900.


  1. A most interesting blog. I ran across it checking out my civil war interest link. Well done!

  2. I appreciate the kind words. I have kinda gotten carried away designing it, but hey...

  3. Anonymous11:28 PM

    wow...great site...thanks for doing this

  4. A month or so back I realized that at 50 this year, I am the same age as Sedgwick was when he fell. Kind of puts a different spin on it when I stop by where it happened, roughly 2.75 miles west of my house, as the crow flies. Looks to me as if I have the same amount of gray in my beard too.

  5. John Buchanan5:48 PM

    Excellent website and Blog.

    Go Mountaineers, 1980!

    What year did you graduate?