Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Civil War under my nose: Kensington, Conn.

This flag in the Kensington Congregational Church in Kensington, Conn, was sewn by
church members during the Civil War and hung from the belfry.

In researching Berlin's Bacon brothers -- try saying that three times really fast -- I stumbled upon a few nuggets of Civil War history early Sunday afternoon.

The Kensington Congregational Church
was dedicated in 1774.
Behind the Kensington Congregational Church stands what some claim is the first monument in the United States dedicated to Civil War soldiers. (Kentuckians may want to duel Nutmeggers for that honor.) If you think it's a little odd for a war monument to be placed next to a church, you aren't alone. But passions ran high during the Civil War.

On July 28, 1863, a little more than three weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg, a small crowd gathered at the church for dedication of the 18-foot brownstone obelisk, a word that will never again appear on this blog. The event would have been better attended, but area farmers had more important things to do, according to an account in the Hartford Courant. (1) Rev. Elias Brewster Hillard apparently was instrumental in developing the idea for the monument and another church member, Nelson Augustus Moore, designed it. Church members and area residents raised funds to build it -- some accounts say it cost $350, others $475. (2)

On the monument are listed the names of 14 area soldiers who died during the Civil War, including a pair of brothers (John and William Warner) and a father and son (Richard and James Ringwood).  A bronze plaque for Berlin's Elijah Bacon, who was killed at the Wilderness on May 6, 1864, was added at the base of the monument in 1988. (Another soldier listed, Nelson Ritchie of the 16th Connecticut, died after the Civil War.) Interestingly, Bacon's father, a stonecutter from Berlin, may have cut the stone for the memorial. That merits more research.
"Erected to commemorate the death of those who perished in
suppressing the Southern Rebellion." an inscription
on the monument reads.

I wanted to know more about this large, old relic, so I rang the church doorbell. Rev. Olivia Robinson, a friendly, soft-spoken woman, answered and quickly took me to the back parlor of the church, where she pointed out an even more impressive relic behind protective glass: a 10-foot by 18-foot red, white and blue flag with 33 stars. (Thanks for correcting me on the stars, mstrauch.)

There's a neat story on the history of the flag that I found in a book published in 1912 on the 200th anniversary of the founding of the congregation. On the morning of April 13, 1861, the good Rev. Elias Brewster Hilliard, apparently an excitable sort, heard word that the Rebels had shelled Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor in South Carolina.
“(Hilliard) was standing at the door of the church … when Mr. Samuel Upton, at the time the village postmaster, came in, bringing the news that Fort Sumter had been fired on the day before. Mr. Hillard entered the pulpit, laid away his prepared sermon, and delivered a stirring patriotic address whose echoes rang in the town for many a day. During the following week the ladies of the church held a meeting, and made, without the aid of sewing-machines, the grand old flag which was hung from the belfry of the church at its completion, and continued to float in the breeze throughout the war.” (3)

The flag was restored in 2002.

(1) Connecticut Civil War monuments web site
(2) Research by Cathy Nelson, historian and assistant director Berlin-Peck Memorial Library
(3) Two Hundreth Anniversary, Kennington Congreational Church, Page 100, 1912

This Civil War monument next to the Kensington Congregational Church
  was  dedicated July 28, 1863.  The cannon was added in 1913.
  Approximately the same view as above in 1913, on the 50th anniversary of the  monument's
dedication. Note the ivy on the monument. (Photo courtesy Kensington Congregational Church)


  1. obelisk
    I just had to say it!

  2. mstrauch8:24 AM

    I count 33 stars - which would have been right for the time it was sewn.

  3. thanks for correcting me there, mstrauch.

  4. My gg grandfather James Luby from Cashel, Tipperary, Ireland built this monument, at least the cannon etc. He was a stone mason His son,William was a drummer boy at Bull Run. When asked what he did at Bull Run he said he ran like hell with all the rest of the damn Yankees. He also saw Lincoln in his bathrobe picking strawberries in the White House garden

  5. Anonymous11:27 PM

    Regarding note 2. Research by Cindy Nelson, historian and assistant director Berlin-Peck Memorial Library

    Was it Cindy Nelson or Cathy Nelson?