Thursday, May 31, 2012

Faces of the Civil War: John Manross

Brothers Eli and John Manross of Bristol, Conn. Their older brother, Newton,
  also served during the Civil War.  (Photo courtesy Bristol Public Library)

John Manross' brother, Newton, was killed at Antietam, a cannonball tearing off his left arm and exposing the beating heart of the 16th Connecticut captain to a private who never forgot the gruesome sight.

Another brother, Eli, a sergeant in the 5th Connecticut, suffered a wound during the Union army's disastrous defeat at Chancellorsville in May 1863 but survived the war.

For the youngest of eight brothers in the prominent family from Bristol, Conn., however, the Civil War was a different kind of hell.

Thirty-seven-year-old  Newton Manross, a captain in
 the 16th Connecticut, was killed at Antietam on
Sept. 17, 1862.
The rebellion apparently drove John Manross insane, finally killing him nearly seven months after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.

If you want to research Civil War soldiers, pension records are invaluable. Often a trove of legal documents and letters that can piece together a soldier's life and death, they are available at the National Archives in Washington and through web sites such as fold.com.

In the pension records for 15th Massachusetts private Justus Wellington, I discovered an affidavit from his sister noting that the young soldier lost all the money he intended to send home to his financially-strapped family when he swam the Potomac River under fire from rebels during the Battle of Ball's Bluff. A shoemaker from West Brookfield, Mass., Wellington was killed at Antietam.

In pension records for 16th Connecticut private Henry Aldrich, also killed at Antietam, I found the heart-rending letter his wife wrote to the pension board requesting that her oldest son be discharged from the army to support her and three young children back home in Bristol. "Relieve a Mothers hart and yo shall have a Mothers blessing," Sarah Aldrich pleaded.

The 48-page widow's pension file for John Manross -- a man once described as a "noted hunter" and a "famous ball player" (1) -- tells a similar, sad tale.

John was the son of  Maria and Elisha Manross, a War of 1812 veteran and a well-known clockmaker in Bristol, a manufacturing town about 20 miles southwest of Hartford. Employed in his father's clock-making business before the Civil War, John married a Maine woman, 21-year-old Lena Gale, on Nov. 12, 1860 in Farmington, Conn. The couple had one child, a girl named Juanita, who was born on Jan. 29, 1862.

John Manross' army disability discharge from Knight Hospital in New Haven, Conn. He was 
unfit for the Veterans Reserve Corps because of "insanity, disease contracted while in line of duty."

John, who stood 5-9 and had a dark complexion, blue eyes and dark hair, enlisted in the Union army on Jan. 28, 1864, mustering into Company B of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery as a private the same day. (Eli and Newton enlisted in the summer of 1861 and 1862, respectively.)

Army life was a lousy experience for John almost from the start of his service. Sometime in early February 1864, he suffered in the barracks instead of on the battlefield when the top berth of a bunk and several soldiers fell on him, causing a severe head injury. Later that year, perhaps about the time of the momentous Battle of Cold Harbor near the Confederate capital of Richmond in June, Manross was a very sick man. The frequent marching of the Army of the Potomac and exposure to the elements wore down the young soldier.

Eli Manross' grave in Forestville Cemetery in Bristol, Conn.
"By reason of exposure and fatigue consequent upon the discharge of his duties he contracted a cold and fever which confined him in hospital for a long time," noted Captain William Lewis of Manross' Company B. "...he attempted to return to duty but was prevented by the state of his health and in my opinion his constitution was broken down and he (was) rendered unfit for any sort of labor." (2)

Manross eventually was sent to Knight Hospital in New Haven, Conn., a facility set up soon after the Civil War began to handle the massive number of war casualties. He was treated there for consumption, known  as tuberculosis today, and for "insanity," thought by doctors of the time to have been caused by fever.

On Jan. 31, 1865, Manross, a shell of the man who entered the service about a year earlier, was discharged from the hospital and the army because of "insanity and disease contracted while in the line of duty."

"Not fit for V.R. (Veterans Reserve) Corps," the discharge for disability document matter-of-factly noted. "Disability total. His friends are able and willing to take charge of him." How John's condition affected his marriage is unknown, but it undoubtedly did not make life easy for the couple. Lena's name is not mentioned in the discharge for disability document.

In a John Banks' blog tradition, I placed this penny on Newton Manross' grave today.
Nearly seven months after the Civil War ended, John Manross, a "faithful soldier" with "good habits," died in his hometown of Bristol. The physician who treated him had no doubt about the cause of death. "Have been acquainted with him for some fourteen years," Dr. Frank Whittemore noted, "and had no symptoms of insanity until he returned from the army (and) consider cause of disease fatigue consequent with army life." (3)

John Manross was only 28 years old.

Soon after her husband died, Lena Manross applied for a widow's pension, and in late 1865, she was granted $8 a month; an additional $2 a month was added for Juanita. Lena, who never remarried, lived out her days in Rhode Island. By the time she died at age 87 in 1926, her Civil War widow's pension paid her $50 a month.

John Manross is buried under a plain, gray marker in Bristol's Forestville Cemetery, not far from the shop where he and his brothers worked on their father's clocks and the house where the family once lived. Several paces to the left of John's marker are the final resting places for Newton and Eli.

(1) Commemorative Biographical Record of Hartford County, J.H. Beers & Co., 1901, Page 355
(2) Widow's pension file affidavit, Oct. 16, 1865.
(3) Widow's pension file affidavit, May 30, 1867

John Manross is buried in Forestville Cemetery in Bristol, a few steps from his brother, Newton,
who was killed at Antietam.

  • FACES OF CIVIL WAR: Read my extensive thread.




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