Saturday, September 17, 2011

Civil War under my nose: Hartford, Conn.

Some guy named Lincoln and Connecticut Civil War governor William Buckingham speak
Saturday at a commemoration ceremony for the Solders and Sailors Memorial Arch in Hartford.
It's not every day that you see a governor, a senator, a U.S. president and a dictator.

Today was one of those days.
Detail of the Soldiers and Sailors
Memorial Arch in Bushnell Park.

On a crisp fall-like morning, the 125th anniversary of the dedication of the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in Hartford's Bushnell Park was marked by speeches by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, as well as by impersonators of William Buckingham, Connecticut's Civil War governor, and ol' Honest Abe himself.

I've chugged under the arch several times during Max's O'Hartford 5K runs but never really knew much about its history until today. (Cue the tour guide voice.) The arch commemorates the 4,000 Hartford men who served in the Union army and navy during the Civil War. About 400 of them died, losing their lives in battle in such places as Sharpsburg. Md.,  Cedar Mountain, Va., and Irish Bend., La., or in POW camps such as  Andersonville in Georgia. The memorial was formally dedicated in 1886, 25 years after Antietam -- the bloodiest day in American history and in Connecticut's history as well. The 8th, 11th, 14th and especially the 16th Connecticut Infantry suffered casualties at Antietam.

When the morning sun hits the brownstone just right, the arch is a photographer's dream. Rich hues. Blue sky. Ornate monument details. Ahh, that's nice stuff.

Of course, no Civil War-themed day is complete without checking out a  cannon and a whole bunch of old lead. Several Civil War memorials are located near the gold-domed State Capitol building, a short walk from Bushnell Park. The most intiguing is the First Connecticut Heavy Artillery monument that is topped with a squatty cannon on steroids. Actually a 13-inch seacoast mortar and nicknamed the "Dictator," it was capable of lobbing 200-pound shell several miles. The First Connecticut may have used this one during the sieges of Yorktown and Petersburg, although that's in some dispute.
A rare Civil War relic monument pyramid.

At the Museum of Connecticut History across the street from the capitol building (free admission today!), museum administrator Dean Nelson was kind enough to show me exhibits of guns made in the state during the Civil War. (The Connecticut River Valley supplied a huge number of arms to the Union army.) As a bonus, Nelson took me to a small back room where the museum keeps items currently not on public display --- including Samuel Colt's Civil War uniform (cost to state: $150K) and a rare Antietam relic monument pyramid.

In the years immediately after the war, relic collectors and war veterans made displays of bullets, shrapnel, belt buckles, bayonets and the like to commemorate a battle. Until today, I've only seen one of these highly collectible and rare relics in books or on the Internet. The Horse Soldier, a Gettysburg antiques store, offers a similar Antietam relic monument pyramid for $22,500; Nelson said the one in the museum is probably worth $12,000 to $13,000. I don't think I'll be adding one to my collection anytime soon.

I really needed a Civil War fix today, the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, so a trip to the Hall of Flags at the State Capitol building was a must. Thanks to terrific -- and costly -- conservation work, Civil War battle flags carried by Connecticut regiments at places such as Gettysburg and Cold Harbor are displayed so the fragile cloth relics won't be damaged further. Most Civil War battle flags in other states are too deteriorated to display.  Kudos to Connecticut for making these unique pieces of history available to the public.

Say hello to my little friend! A 13-inch mortar on the First Connecticut Heavy Artillery
monument on Capitol Street in Hartford. The state capitol building is in the background.

The beautiful Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in Hartford's Bushnell Park.
The arch was dedicated on Sept. 17, 1886 -- 25 years after the Battle of Antietam. 
Regimental flags in the Hall of Flags in the State Capitol building in Hartford.


  1. Thanks! John for this report and the photos. I am certainly going to add this monument to my next swing through Connecticut. The Antietam artifact is quite a display--do you have any information on who put it together?

  2. Thanks John for the interesting post and great photos. Quite a monument--will add it to my next visit to Connecticut. Do you have any information on who assembled the Antietam artifact?

  3. Anonymous10:45 PM

    Jim: I need to ask about that relic pyramid again. He told me who it belonged too, but I didn't write it down in my notebook.
    John Banks