Sunday, June 19, 2011

Civil War under my nose: Berlin's Bacon brothers

Elijah William Bacon, awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for capturing a Rebel flag at
Gettysburg, was killed at the Wilderness on May 6, 1864. 
Almost every family in Connecticut was touched in some way by the Civil War. Many families were jolted more than once by tragedy.

As I wrote in this post, Edwin and Mary Wadhams of Litchfield lost three sons, all dying within 18 days of each other in fighting near Richmond, Va., in 1864.

The Bacon family of Berlin also suffered more than most.
Marker for Andrew Bacon, who served 
in the 14th  Connecticut,  in Maple Cemetery
in Berlin, Conn.

By 1860,  Roswell and Betsy Bacon had a typically large family for the era: sons Oliver, Andrew, Elijah and Almeron and a daughter, Maria. In his early 50s, Roswell was a stonecutter, and at least two of his sons followed in his footsteps at the family quarry in Berlin, a small town about 15 miles from Hartford. Because of  the expansion of the railroads in the 1840s and a thriving brickmaking industry, Berlin enjoyed a solid economy at the start of the Civil War in April 1861. (1)

Like many Berlin men, the Bacon's sons joined the Union army, with Oliver enlisting first, on Aug, 9, 1861, as a saddler in the 1st Connecticut Volunteer Cavalry. After President Lincoln called for 300,000 volunteers in the summer of 1862, Andrew and Elijah enlisted as privates in Co. F of the 14th Connecticut Infantry on July 28. Berlin, a stop on the Underground Railroad for runaway slaves, strongly supported the Union cause: 216 men from the town served in the Federal army out of a population of nearly 2,200. (2).

On Aug. 25, the 1,015 soldiers of the 14th Connecticut left the state for Washington, where they served in the defenses of the capital until early September. By that time, Andrew and Elijah Bacon likely were well aware that a Rebel army under Robert E. Lee was moving north to draw the Army of the Potomac from its encampments around Washington.
At Antietam, 14th Connecticut troops
"didn't know what they were expected
to do," Captain Samuel Fiske wrote.

Along with the rookies of the 108th New York and 130th Pennsylvania, the barely trained troops of the 14th Connecticut received their baptism of fire at Antietam on the morning of  Sept. 17, 1862. The performance of the Connecticut boys at the Roulette Farm and nearby sunken road was hailed as "behaving like veterans" in some accounts, but the reality was probably quite different.

"The battle was a scene of indescribable confusion. Troops didn't know what they were expected to do and sometimes, in their excitement, fired at their own men," Captain Samuel Fiske of the 14th Connecticut wrote. Some of the raw troops even "shut their eyes, and fired up in the air" (3). Elijah and Andrew escaped unscathed, but the 14th Connecticut suffered 38 killed and mortally wounded, 88 wounded and 21 missing.

By July 1, 1863, the 14th Connecticut had suffered heavy losses in major battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville and was "reduced in size to a battalion," according to its chaplain, Henry Stevens. The remaining 200 men in the regiment fought well at Gettysburg, flushing sharpshooters from the Bliss Farm and helping stop the Rebels during Pickett's Charge on July 3. Incredibly, the 14th Connecticut captured nearly 200 prisoners and five Rebel battle flags during that fighting.

I haven't found an account detailing the specifics of Elijah Bacon's role at Gettysburg, but he captured a flag of the 16th North Carolina during Pickett's Charge. For his valor, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on Dec. 1, 1864 --  one of 63 Union soldiers so honored for their actions at Gettysburg.

But the son of a stonecutter from Berlin, Conn., never received the medal.
 Medal of Honor marker for  Elijah Bacon.

Civil War Medal of Honor.
(National Park Service)
Elijah William Bacon was killed in action at the Wilderness on May 6, 1864. He left behind a wife, Eliza, and two daughters. (4)
Also in early May, Andrew was captured at Ely's Ford, Va., and sent to Andersonville, the notorious Rebel prisoner-of-war camp in Georgia. Seven months later, he too was gone. After being transferred from Andersonville to another camp in Florence, S.C., Andrew died on Jan. 25, 1865, one of 10 Berlin men to die as a prisoner of war. He left behind a wife, Marissa, but no children. (5)

Word likely traveled slowly, but sometime in May 1864, Roswell and Betsy Bacon were notified that one son was dead and another was captured. Sadly, this was not unusual news in Berlin -- at least 42 soldiers from the town died during the Civil War. (6)

Oliver Bacon, whose cavalry regiment also served at Gettysburg, survived the war, but not without tragedy. After he was discharged Sept. 15, 1864, he married a Berlin girl, Rosa Woods, the 16-year-old daughter of Charles Woods. Rosa was "pretty as a picture, with her great brown eyes and dark curling hair." Soon after they were married, however, Rosa died, another terrible blow for the Bacon family. (7)

It's unclear if the bodies of either brother were returned to Connecticut..

Markers for Elijah Bacon (left) and Andrew Bacon next to the grave of their father.
a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp in Florence, S.C., on Jan. 25, 1865.

(1) Berlin (Conn.) Historical Society
(2) American Civil War Research Database
(3) Mr. Dunn's Experiences in the Army: The Civil War Letters of Samuel W. Fiske, Pages 8-9, edited by Stephen W. Sears, 1998.
(4) Research by Cathy Nelson, historian and assistant director Berlin-Peck Memorial Library
(5) Cathy Nelson research
(6) American Civil War Research Database
(7) The History of Berlin, Catherine M. North, Page 249, 1916

1 comment:

  1. Sad. So many tragedies, so many stories. Thank you for bringing individuals to life; easy to get lost & overwhelmed in the numbers. The horror has so many levels: from those gone in an instant in a 'red mist' to those who lingered in agony only to succumb, to those awaiting the surgeon's brutal knife, to those maimed & scarred forever, along with disease, weather, malnutrition to the horrid prison camp conditions. The psychological angst of death away from home, without proper burial or no burial at all must have weighed heavily. The majority of the nation lost someone-repercussions which would haunt for generations. From honor & valor to atrocities & horror, this was no doubt the most powerful time in our history, changing us forever.