Thursday, September 22, 2011

Civil War under my nose: Flint family tragedy



I have come across several especially tragic stories involving Connecticut families during the Civil War in the past two years. The Wadhams family of Litchfield lost three sons in battles in Virginia within an 18-day span in the summer of 1864, and the Bacon family of Berlin lost two sons -- one in battle at the Wilderness and another at a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp in Florence, S.C.

In a letter published in the Hartford Courant
on Oct. 29, 1862, Alvin Flint Sr. lamented the
 death of his 18-year-old son  at Antietam.  "My boy
 was brutally murdered by
a band of midnight assassins," he wrote.
But the story of the Flint family of East Hartford, Conn., may be even more heartbreaking.

I first read about the Flints nearly 30 years ago in William Frassanito's excellent book, "Antietam: The Photographic History of America's Bloodiest Day." Tapping into the 1860 census and other sources, Frassanito did a masterful job detailing Alvin Flint Jr.'s service in the Union army and the history of the family.

One of two sons of Alvin and Lucy Flint, Alvin Jr. enlisted as a private in Company D in the 11th Connecticut Infantry on Oct. 1, 1861. He was just 17 years old.  Perhaps the young soldier from East Hartford was acquainted with George Bronson, a hospital steward in the 11th Connecticut from nearby Berlin whose story I told in this post.

On Dec. 6, 10 days before young Alvin Jr. departed Hartford for the war, his mother died of consumption. She was nearly 50 years old.  While serving at the front in North Carolina in mid-January, Alvin received word of another family tragedy: his 15-year-old sister, Evaline, had also died of consumption back in East Hartford. (1)

By September 1862, Alvin Jr. undoubtedly was well aware that a Confederate army under Robert E. Lee moving north. The Union army would move from its encampments around Washington for Maryland, where it fought Lee's army at the Battle of South Mountain, near Boonsboro, Md. At Fox's Gap on Sept. 14, 1862, the 11th Connecticut was not heavily engaged.

Three days later, on the bloodiest day in American history, the 11th Connecticut was ordered to cross a stone bridge and attack Confederate forces atop the heights overlooking Antietam Creek.  Sometime during the charge across the creek, 18-year-old Alvin Flint Jr. was killed, one of 36 soldiers in the 11th Connecticut to die during the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862. That stone bridge would become one of the most famous sites of the war: Burnside Bridge.

The Flints in the 1860 U.S. census, compiled on July 23, 1860. Nearly 2 1/2 years later,
they all were dead. Alvin Jr. was killed near Burnside Bridge at Antietam.

"I do not know the name of the creek," George Bronson wrote his wife, Mary Anne, after the battle, "but I have named it the creek of death. Such slaughter I hope never to witness again. The fight was very severe."

For Alvin Flint Sr., the death of a third member of his family within a year must have been excruciating. In August 1862, Flint Sr. and his youngest son, 13-year-old George, had also enlisted, in the 21st Connecticut Infantry. Flint Sr., a papermaker before the war, happened to be serving near Sharpsburg after the battle and went to search for the grave of his son. According to Frassanito's account, he never found the grave, but Flint Jr.'s body was eventually sent back to East Hartford by someone for burial. (2)

In a letter to the Hartford Courant a little more than a month after the battle, Flint Sr. lamented the loss of his oldest son.
The Flints are buried in Center Cemetery in East Hartford. The cemetery dates to 1709.

"You doubtless are aware that I have come to the land of Dixie, to engage in this killing business," he wrote. "Three weeks ago last Sunday night, at 12 o'clock, we were called up by the beat of the drum, to receive orders. We were sent to Frederick City, where we remained two days and thence marched to Sharpsburg.. We arrived Saturday night, near what I call "Antie-Dam," where my boy was brutally murdered by a band of midnight assassins. Oh that I could revenge on them, as Sampson did upon the Philistines! I was leaning upon that dear boy, as a prop in my declining years; but if my life is spared, I shall knock out some of the props that hold up this uncalled for, and worse than hellish, wicked rebellion. Hardly had the sadness of the death of my dear daughter in January worn off, when this sad, sad calamity should come upon me."
Civil War monument in Center Cemetery.
Alvin Flint Jr, Alvin Flint Sr. and George
Flint are listed on the monument.

Incredibly, tragedy hit the Flint family again. Alvin Flint Sr., 53, died of typhoid fever on Jan. 10, 1863, while the Union army was encamped near Fredericksburg, Va. Five days later, young George also died of the same illness. (3)

Earlier this afternoon, I made a 25-minute drive to East Hartford to find the final resting place of Alvin Flint Jr. Center Cemetery, just off Main Street in East Hartford, is one of older cemeteries in the state, dating to 1709. It looks it. The grounds are not well-maintained and many of the gravestones, including several for Revolutionary War veterans, are cracked or broken.

On a knoll 25 yards from the entrance to the cemetery stands a large brownstone monument dedicated to the citizens of East Hartford who died during the Civil War. The names of Alvin Jr., Alvin Sr. and George are listed on one side of the monument.

I didn't know the exact location of the grave of  Alvin Jr., and in a cemetery of several thousand headstones, one would expect the search for Flint's to take at least an hour. But I seem to have a sixth sense for finding Civil War graves in Connecticut. Sure enough, I quickly found Alvin Jr., just 20 yards or so down a path near the East Hartford Civil War memorial. He is buried near his brother George, father Alvin Sr., sister Evaline and mother Lucy.

It was nice to finally meet him.

Private Alvin Flint Jr. (upper right) is buried near his brother, George, and father,
Alvin Sr.,  at Center Cemtery in East Hartford, Conn. His mother and sister,
both of whom died of consumption in  the winter of 1861, are also buried nearby.
(1) Antietam: The Photographic Legacy of America's Bloodiest Day, William Frassanito, Page 233
(2) Ibid, Page 234
(3) Ibid, Page 235

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