Saturday, April 07, 2012

Antietam: Captain Newton Manross' sword, pistol

Close-ups of sword Newton Manross, captain of Company K of the 16th Connecticut, carried at
Antietam when he was killed on Sept. 17, 1862.  The grip of the sword is shark skin,
according to  Bristol historian Tom LaPorte. The sword is in the Memorial Military Museum
 at the Bristol (Conn.) Historical Society.


A seldom-seen civilian view of Newton Manross.
(Bristol Public Library History Room collection)

"Brave and intelligent."

Such praise from Civil War soldiers about dead comrades is common in letters, diaries and post-war assessments that I have read during the past year.

Were most of these dead men really gallant and heroic?

The love, respect and admiration soldiers in the 16th Connecticut and others had for Captain Newton Manross --a brilliant professor-turned-soldier killed during the regiment's first fight of the Civil War -- seem especially genuine.

By all accounts, this man was special.

Two weeks ago, I told the story of  Manross and his gruesome death at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862. A Yale graduate and world traveler, Manross was acting professor of chemistry and philosophy at Amherst (Mass.) College when he recruited a company of men, mostly from Bristol, and enlisted in the Union army on July 22, 1862. Upon joining the cause, he told his wife: "You can better afford to have a country without a husband than a husband without a country." (I love that quote.)

Nearly two months later, the 37-year-old son of a clockmaker was dead, his left arm torn apart by artillery fire.

George Robbins of Farmington was an 18-year-old private in the 16th Connecticut who served under Manross in Company K at Antietam. In a letter to his sister written six days after the battle, Robbins described the confusing fight in farmer John Otto's 40-acre cornfield.

Framed copy of  an albumen of Newton Manross, who holds
 the sword shown above and below, at Bristol Historical Society.
"Before we got into position, we were under fire of the enemy three times," he wrote. "We were taken into a cornfield where we could not see anything. Our captain was killed by a grape shot when we first went into the field." (1)

More than five decades later, the memory of Manross still tugged at Robbins.

"The loss of our Captain was keenly felt by every member of the Company, for he not only recruited the men, mostly from the town of Bristol, Connecticut, but cared for his men constantly," Robbins wrote in 1918 in an amazingly detailed account of his Civil War service. "They felt for him almost a filial affection. He cheered us when tired and depressed with words of encouragement not only once but many times on that trying march from Washington, when slender boys were ready to drop by the wayside, he helping to carry their loads.

"I recall one instance near the close of an intensely hot day when we were all about at the limit of endurance he voluntarily carried the muskets of three boys, added to which was a drum. He was a superb specimen of manhood, toughened by his travels in many lands. ..." (2)

After Manross' death, his successor told the colonel of the 16th Connecticut:  "Those boys care for Manross's old shoes more than for the best man in the regiment." (3)

And then there's this from fellow Amherst professor B. Silliman:

"Had he lived -- but what need is there for conjecture now? The world will never know its loss; but his friends will never forget theirs." (4)

Your humble blogger with Newton Manross' sword.
With those stories in mind, I was especially eager today to visit the Bristol Historical Society. In a glass case in the terrific Memorial Military Museum collection in the former Bristol High School, the sword and pistol that Manross carried at Antietam are kept in a glass case. Bristol Historical Society first vice president Carol Denehy and Bristol historian Tom LaPorte were kind enough to let me inspect the Manross mementos up close. (Too close at one point, when I was accidentally stuck by the sword. Yikes!)

Part of the historical society's collection for years, the sword has a sharkskin grip and is inscribed on the hilt in ornate script:  "Presented to Capt. N.S. Manross by his friends in Bristol."  The weapon was made in nearby Collinsville by the Collinsville Company, which supplied John Brown with pikes that the abolitionist had hoped to use to incite a slave rebellion at Harpers Ferry in 1859.  The .32-caliber pistol still appears to be in working order.

This little gem of a museum, which includes many other Civil War relics, is at 98 Summer Street in Bristol, Conn. It's open Wednesday (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) , Saturday (noon-4 p.m.) or by appointment. For more information, call 860-583-6309 or 860-583-5466. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. If you're a history buff, it's absolutely worth your time.

(1) George Robbins letter to his sister, Sept. 23, 1862, Connecticut Historical Society Civil War Manuscripts Project

(2) "Some Recollections of a Private in the War of the Rebellion," George Robbins, 1918, Connecticut Historical Society Civil War Manuscripts Project

(3) The Military and Civil History of Connecticut During the War of 1861-65, William Augustus Croffut, John Moses Morris, 1869, Page 282-83

(4) Ibid, Page 283

Carol Denehy, Bristol Historical Society first vice president, and her son, Tim at the museum.
Carol's husband, Jack,
started the terrific Memorial Military Museum at the Bristol Historical Society.
.32-caliber pinfire pistol that Manross carried at Antietam. Below: Close-up of  the barrel.

1 comment:

  1. Joe Maghe12:15 AM

    A very well done Blog entry with some excellent information about the museum, thanks.