Thursday, September 20, 2012

Antietam: An old soldier's smalltown triumph

A huge U.S. flag drapes the Civil War memorial in Unionville, Conn., before its unveiling on 
July 15, 1916. (Photos courtesy Unionville Museum)  
A crowd estimated at between 3,000 to 5,000 people turned out for a parade and the dedication of the memorial, according to an account in the Hartford Courant on July 16, 1915.
Antietam veteran Nathaniel Hayden, a captain in the 16th Connecticut, was the chief donor
 for the memorial. The frail 80-year-old man was greeted by "great applause" after he was 
introduced at the dedication, according to the Hartford Courant
As factory whistles blared promptly at 2:15 p.m. on July 15, 1916, one of the grandest celebrations in the long history of the village of  Unionville, Conn., began.
Captain Nathaniel Hayden's obituary
in the Hartford Courant on Sept. 2, 1916.

About 1,000 people in a mile-long parade wound their way to the small triangular green in front of the Congregational Church. The throng included 30 touring cars carrying members of the Burnside Grand Army of the Republic Post, schoolchildren, Boy Scouts, a man mounted on a gray horse dressed as a Tunxis Indian, the 25-piece Bristol Band and guests from nearby Hartford, Simsbury, Torrington and Southington.

In an apparent attempt to out-do each other, owners of local factories, which had suspended activities for the day, supplied brightly decorated floats. Riding on a float covered with flowers, young women from Charles W. House & Son  carried white Japanese parasols while the young ladies of J. Broadbant & Son, dressed as Red Cross nurses, rode on a red, white and blue one trimmed with roses. (1)

After the parade ended in front of the church, an enterprising photographer climbed into the steeple to record the scene below. A large crowd, including men wearing straw hats, women in long dresses and frolicking children, had gathered for the dedication of a 40-foot memorial for the 100 Unionville men who served in the Union army during the Civil War.

Although the Hartford Courant reported it was "pathetic to see the weakness of declining health holding him back," 80-year-old Nathaniel Hayden must have been pleased as he surveyed the grand scene that Saturday afternoon. (2) After a chorus sang "Columbia, The Gem of the Ocean" and an invocation by a local reverend, the Civil War veteran was greeted with "great applause." (3)

A highly successful local businessman, Hayden provided the inspiration and much of cash for the monument, which was described on the cover of the dedication program as "the most beautiful G.A.R. monument in New England." One can only imagine the thoughts that went through his head as the enormous American flag was slowly removed from the granite monument to reveal these words on the front of the base:

Unionville honors the earth that wraps her heroes' clay.

Civil War memorial in Unionville, Conn.
Nearly 54 years earlier, on the afternoon of Sept. 17, 1862, in a cornfield outside a small western Maryland town called Sharpsburg, Hayden surveyed a much different scene.

"The Most Beautiful G.A.R. monument in 
New England," the program for the event 
on July 15, 1916 declared.
(Courtesy Unionville Museum) 
Rebel soldiers rose from behind a stone wall, blasting away at the 16th Connecticut, a regiment mustered in only weeks earlier.

Men were cut to pieces by bullets and shell.

Dazed and bleeding soldiers skedaddled for the rear. Some 16th Connecticut soldiers deserted, two fleeing all the way to England.

Perhaps Hayden watched in horror as 16th Connecticut Captain Newton Manross of Company K was struck in the left shoulder by grapeshot, exposing the 37-year-old soldier's beating heart.

Or maybe he saw another 16th Connecticut captain, 26-year-old Samuel Brown of Company D, riddled with bullets and killed.

Perhaps he heard 16th Connecticut captain Frederick Barber of Company H cry out as he was hit in the right hip, "Oh, my God. I'm killed! Goodbye, boys. You've lost your captain. Farewell! Farewell!" (4) His entire right leg amputated a day after the battle, the 32-year-old soldier died on Sept. 20 at a field hospital.

A captain of Company G in the 16th Connecticut, Hayden also suffered at the Battle of Antietam. Struck by a bullet or piece or shell, the 26-year-old soldier was severely wounded in the left arm, below the elbow. Discharged for disability on Jan. 17, 1863, Hayden dealt with small bits of bone oozing from the wound as late as May 1863 and was scarred for the rest of his life. (4).

But overcoming obstacles was nothing new to Nathaniel Hayden. Born on May 10, 1836, in West Hartford, he was one of eight children of Ransom and Hannah Hayden, who died at 41 when Nathaniel was only 5 years old. By age 10, Hayden was earning his own living, once holding a job making whiplashes from sheepskin.

Advertisement in the Hartford Courant on July 28, 1862,
 seeking men to fight in the War of Rebellion.
Nathaniel Hayden was listed as recruiting officer.  
As a young man, Hayden also worked in the liquor business in Winsted, Conn., but he quit because he was a teetotaler. According to one account, he was so eager to get a job as a clerk in Hartford dry goods store that he walked 22 miles in a snowstorm from Barkhamsted to Hartford to interview.

He was hired, beating out six other boys for the position. (5)

A clerk in a Hartford dry goods store of Pease & Foster when the war broke out, Hayden enlisted in the Union army on July 11, 1862. After raising a company of men, mostly clerks from Hartford County, he was elected captain and mustered in on Aug. 24, 1862. "He was an officer of decided capability," the Hartford Courant reported four decades after the war, "and his loss was thoroughly regretted by the men" after Antietam.

After the Civil War,  Hayden married Elizabeth Dodd of Jersey City, N.J., made a small fortune in the coal, feed and trucking business and dabbled in thoroughbred horse racing. Elizabeth enjoyed the ponies, too. When cars became fashionable, Hayden bought one, often taking his for long drives. Retiring in his early 50s, he frequently attended the many reunions of the 16th Connecticut Infantry, swapping old war stories but never partaking in a strong drink.

On Sept. 1, 1916, six weeks after the huge celebration in his adopted hometown, the 46-year resident of  Unionville died at his home on Main Street. After a funeral service there, the Captain was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Avon, a little more than a mile from the soldiers' memorial that he championed.

After the Civil War, Nathaniel Hayden lived in this house in Unionville, Conn.,
 a short distance down the street from the Civil War memorial. It's now  the Ahern Funeral Home.
Nathaniel Hayden's gravestone in Greenwood Cemetery in Avon, Conn.
(1) Hartford Courant, Sept. 2, 1916 Page 9
(2) Hartford Courant, July 16, 1916, Page 7
(3) Hartford Courant, Sept. 2, 1916 Page 9
(4) 16th Connecticut private Wells Bingham's letter to his father, Sept. 20, 1862, Antietam National Battlefield research library.
(5) George Whitney Collection, Connecticut State Library.
(6) Ibid.

1 comment:

  1. I found this really interesting, I now work in Captain Hayden's old home in Unionville. Thanks for posting this.