Saturday, April 09, 2011

Faces of the Civil War: Wadhams brothers

Edward Wadhams: Killed at Fort Darling, Va., on May 16, 1864.
Luman Wadhams: Mortally wounded at Cold Harbor, Va., June 1, 1864.
Henry Wadhams: Killed at North Anna, Va., May 26, 1864.

Wadhams brothers monument, Litchfield, Conn.
In an 18-day span in 1864, three brothers from Litchfield, Conn., were killed on Civil War battlefields in Virginia. I traveled to the West Cemetery in Litchfield this afternoon to visit the gravesite of Luman Wadhams, taking with me a copy of a period photograph of him as well as one of each of his brothers killed during the war. Using the sepia tone option on my Blackberry, I photographed each brother by their tall, weather-worn stone memorial. (Further research will determine if Luman's brothers, Henry and Edward, are also buried by him.)

There were other instances of multiple members of the same family dying during the Civil War. But three brothers in 18 days? This story is "Saving Private Ryan" way before "Saving Private Ryan." One can only imagine the reaction of the brothers' parents, Edwin and Mary, when Deacon Adams delivered news of their deaths at the Wadhams farm just outside of town. In gathering information from the National Archives in Washington, the Litchfield Historical Society and from other sources, here's some of what I know about this fascinating story of three brothers:

Camp Dutton today: Luman Wadhams trained here.

Camp Dutton marker
LUMAN WADHAMS: The middle brother, Luman first enlisted in the 1st Connecticut Volunteer Infantry in 1861. He participated in the Bull Run campaign and later re- enlisted in the 8th Connecticut for three years, serving as a lieutenant in Company E. The 8th Connecticut saw action in North Carolina during Gen. Burnside's expedition at Roanoke Island and Newbern, after which Luman resigned because of poor health. Not one to remain out of the action, Luman later re-enlisted in the 19th Connecticut Volunteers, the "County Regiment" that trained at Camp Dutton, about two miles outside of Litchfield. (At right, marker put up in 1912 at the site by Civil War veterans.) The 19th consisted of farmers, machinists and laborers from towns surrounding Litchfield -- places such as Goshen, New Canaan, Barkhamsted, Winsted and Torrington.

Luman, commissioned a 1st lieutenant, was highly regarded by his men throughout his service, seldom punishing them. A visitor from Litchfield, while visiting Wadhams' troops after he became captain, remarked to him: "I find none of your men in the guard house, the boys say that is always so. How do you manage?" "I talk to my boys,” Wadhams replied. (1)

Luman Wadhams is in sixth row, second from left. (Litchfield Historical Society)

Luman Wadhams, dead at 29.
The 19th served mainly in the defenses of Washington, near Alexandria, Va., before being transferred to the artillery and becoming the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery. Gen. Grant pulled the Connecticut boys out of the Washington defenses in May 1864, and they saw some action at North Anna River. But their first battle came June 1 at a little crossroads outside Richmond called Cold Harbor. Wadhams, by now a captain in command of Company A, and 333 other soldiers from the 2nd Connecticut were killed at Cold Harbor, mowed down by Rebels behind strong fortifications.

According to The Connecticut War Record: "In the moment of success [Wadhams] fell pierced through the body. His devoted men sprang to his assistance. In the absence of a stretcher they made a stretcher of their muskets, and carried him on their shoulders a mile and a half to the hospital."(2) Wadhams lingered for two days and died in an ambulance on the way to White House, Va., on June 3, 1864.  He was 29 years old.

Wadhams' funeral service, held at the Congregational Church opposite the Litchfield village green, was "crowded to its utmost capacity by sympathizing friends, and large numbers of strangers from out of town came to pay their respects to the lamented deceased." (3)

Following Luman's death, his widow, Louisa, worked as a nurse in the South, where she often encountered horrid conditions in Union hospitals. "There was not an arm, head, leg, or any wound even, I shrank from, however bad it was," she wrote in a letter to a Rev. George Richards in October 1864. "There was one poor boy that had his right eye entirely shot away, and his left was so filled with blood dirt and powder he thought that was gone too, as he told me: 'I am blind, Lady, blind for my flag.' ...

"Another has his left lung laid entirely bare," she wrote, "you can look in and see the beating and working of that delicate machinery, but there he lies, unmurmuringly, patiently awaiting death." (4)

More to come.

(1) The Connecticut War Record, Wadhams brothers obituary, published September 1864.
(2) The Connecticut War Record, Page 277.
(3) The Litchfield Times, June 1864
(4) The History of Litchfield, Page 227.


  1. John--What a great story. This is history at its best! That you were able to find and weave the threads of this story into such a narrative is quite remarkable. I particularly like the juxtaposition of the photos next to the monuments. Excellent work!

  2. thanks much, Jim. Much more to come on the brothers.

  3. John,

    Henry Wadhams was my great-great grandfather. I have his picture at my elbow as I type. Thanks for the story.

  4. John,

    Thanks for the story. Henry Wadhams was my great-great grandfather and his picture is at my elbow as I type.

  5. John,

    Henry Wadhams was my great-great grandfather. I have his picture at my elbow as I type. Thanks for the story.