Friday, December 09, 2011

Faces of the Civil War: Lieutenant Marvin Wait

Left, Marvin Wait as a private after he enlisted in Union army on Oct. 3, 1861. Right, Wait
shown as a lieutenant in Company A of the 8th Connecticut. He was promoted on Dec. 24, 1861.
Wait, 19, was killed at Antietam. (Photos: Matthew R. Isenburg collection)

As bodies poured back into Connecticut in the terrible aftermath of Antietam in late September and early October 1862, funerals for soldiers were held in towns all over the state.

Marvin Wait's gravestone in Yantic Cemetery in
Norwich, Conn., about 50 miles south of Hartford.
"It is seldom that we are called upon to bury so many braves in so short a space of time," the Hartford Courant reported nearly a month after the battle.

In Norwich, about 40 miles southeast of Hartford, one of the more impressive services was held for a teen-age lieutenant in the 8th Connecticut Infantry named Marvin Wait. Even the governor of Connecticut attended the funeral.

Described as a "brave, noble-hearted man and highly esteemed by all who knew him," Wait was killed late in the afternoon of Sept. 17, 1862 as the Ninth Corps made an ill-fated push toward the small Maryland farming community of Sharpsburg. (1)

As he urged on his men of Company A, Wait, sword in hand, was struck by a bullet in the right arm and later in the left arm, leg and abdomen. Helped to the rear by a private and the chaplain of the 8th Connecticut, Wait was wounded yet again by a shot that went through his side and pierced his lungs as he lay near a low stone wall. (2)

Wait's refusal to leave the battlefield after initially being wounded may have cost him his life.

"If Lieutenant Wait had left the battle of his own accord when first hit in the arm, all would have been well," Captain Charles Coit, also of Norwich, wrote after the battle, "but he bravely stood to encourage his men still further by his own example, and at last nobly fell pierced by bullet after bullet."  Wait's last words to a private who helped carry him to the rear were: "Are we whipping them?" (3)

Just 19 years old, the son of a prominent Norwich lawyer and state politician was one of 194 men in the 8th Connecticut killed and wounded that Wednesday during the Battle of Antietam.  Wait's body, "plundered by the rebels," was buried on the battlefield, the spot marked so it could be found. (4) Because he was an officer and from an influential family, the army likely sent Wait's body back to Connecticut, where his father, John, and mother, Elizabeth, grieved with his younger sisters Ann, 16, and Mary, 9.

A wartime image of William Buckingham.
The Connecticut governor gave a speech at
Marvin Wait's graveside service.
(Photo: Matthew R. Isenburg collection)
When word of Wait's death reached Norwich, the town passed resolutions of regret and the Norwich Daily Bulletin printed a long, glowing article. "His death brings a peculiar and poignant sorrow," the newspaper wrote of the first commissioned officer from the town who was killed during the Civil War.

On Wednesday, Oct. 1, 1862, the young man who planned to become a lawyer, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, was finally laid to rest. A private service was held late that morning in the house of Wait's parents in Norwich, and mourners later gathered at 2:30 p.m. at the white-washed First Congregational Church, just off the town green. Wait's sword and cap, as well as flowers, were placed atop his flag-draped coffin in the small church vestibule. After a reading of scripture by two local reverends and the singing of a hymn by the church choir, prominent local attorney George Pratt, who once worked in John Wait's law office, eulogized the young soldier.

"What words can add beauty to such life, or what praise enoble such a death?" Pratt said of Wait. "When we think of those who fell on on that field, we count them all heroes -- we name them all among the brave." (5)

Following the church service, a long procession of carriages, escorted by the Norwich Light Infantry, accompanied the teenager's coffin to Yantic Cemetery, about a mile and a half away. In a graveside speech before a large crowd that included the mayor, Norwich city council and line officers of the 26th Connecticut, Governor William Buckingham spoke of the "glory of dying for such a cause."

On Oct. 1, 1862, a service for Wait was held at First Congregational Church in Norwich, Conn.
Above right, the church  in the 1860s. Wait's coffin was placed in the church vestibule (middle right).
The sanctuary is shown at bottom right. (Old church photo: Matthew R. Isenburg collection)

As Wait's coffin was lowered into the grave, the Norwich Light Infantry fired three volleys.

Nearly eight months after Wait was buried, a "beautiful monument" was crafted by Norwich's C.D. Corbett in his workroom on Water Street. (6) Made of Italian marble and seated on a three-foot block of granite, it is adorned with the carving of a shield and crossed swords and muskets on one side; two flags and an outstretched arm holding a signal officer's glass are carved on the opposite side. The names of four battles in which Wait participated appear in raised letters near the bottom of each side of the monument.

Although the impressive, 7-foot white marker for Marvin Wait is worn by the elements over the past 149 years, these words can still be read near the bottom:


 "He died with his young fame about him for a shroud."

(1) Memorial of Marvin Wait, Jacob Eaton, 1863
(2) Ibid
(3) Ibid
(4) Norwich Morning Bulletin, Sept. 29, 1862, Page 2
(5) Ibid
(6) Norwich Morning Bulletin, May 14, 1863, Page 2
A close-up of Wait's gravestone in Yantic Cemetery in Norwich, Conn.

Close-ups of Marvin Wait's gravestone reveal the craftsmanship of a stonemason long ago.



  1. Hello, Mr. Banks!

    I wanted to say thank you so much for this post on Lt. Marvin Wait whose stone I have seen many times in my wanderings through the Yantic Cemetery and whom I have often wondered about. I was pointed in the direction of your blog by a lady who has been researching her family genealogy which includes the young Lieutenant. Margie told me that you had written a piece about him and indeed you have!

    I have always had a fascination with the Civil War (particularly Gettysburg and Antietam) and with the gravestones in the Yantic Cemetery for those who died during the War of Northern Aggression - as my southern friends like to call it! I've posted pictures of many of the stones on my blog - Are We There Yet?? - and as I've taken the pictures and walked through the cemetery, I've wondered about the men who lie beneath those stones.

    Thank you for answering a few of my questions thorough your history of Lt. Wait and for taking the time to research the story of his death and subsequent burial. I figured he had to have come from a fairly prominent Norwich family due to the size and elaborateness of his stone and indeed he did.

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts!


    1. Hi, Linda...thanks for the kind words. I love the Yantic Cemetery. Lots of really cool gravestones there. As you probably know if you read the other posts on my blog, I really love writing about Antietam, a place I have visited many, many times. Since I moved to Connecticut five years ago, I have discovered a ton of stories on the men from this state who served -- and died -- there. I actually found your blog a couple months ago. Your photo of Wait's gravestone helped me locate his final resting place. Keep up the fine work on your blog. Perhaps we'll meet sometime. Take care...

      John Banks