Friday, November 30, 2012

Connecticut's Photographic 'Album of the Dead'

Left: Captain Charles Tennant of the 16th Connecticut was mortally wounded in battle
near Suffolk, Va., in 1864. Captain Henry C. Smith of the 20th Connecticut was

 killed by a falling tree. (Photos: Connecticut State Library archive)
Private William T. Loomis died a gruesome death, crushed by railroad cars near Alexandria, Va.

Private Charles Comstock met his demise on the Washington turnpike, shot by a civilian "residing near the road."

Captain Charles Tennant and Lieutenant Charles Greenleaf were mortally wounded in battle, each dying far from their homes in Hartford.

Sergeant George H. Marsh was killed by the concussion of a Rebel artillery shell.

Captain Henry C. Smith was the victim of a falling tree.

Photographs of each of these soldiers appear in a small, fragile Civil War-era album, its front cover barely attached, found in the Connecticut State Library archives. Clearly, this is no ordinary family photo album. Rather, it's an “Album Of The Dead” -- an effort by its long-ago owner, whose name is lost to history, to memorialize a few of the more than 5,000 soldiers from Connecticut who died during the Civil War. A short newspaper account of each man's demise is pasted under many of the images, mostly carte de visites. Poems about death and remembrance are glued inside the front and back covers.

Oh comrades dead, whose spirits bright
Are gazing from the skies above
You've bravely done your deeds of might
Gaze down upon your work of love
The millions, whom ye freedom gave,
Hold equal rights eternal lease;
The land that you have died to save
Rests in the glorious light of peace
Comrades, each year these graves will still increase
And every year our numbers will be less
Until in distant times, with tottering knees,
The last survivors, bent with age's distress
Will throw a handful of the springday flowers
Upon our graves -- while yet they may --
But the memory of these deeds of ours
Will never, never, pass away!

Photos of dead soldiers from Connecticut are found in this tattered, old photo album in the 
Connecticut State Library archives.
During the Civil War, a constant drumbeat of death was reported in Connecticut newspapers, especially the Hartford Courant and Hartford Evening Press. Usually under the headline "Military Items," the Courant published reports of funerals and lengthy lists of the dead and wounded after major battles such as Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and Drewry’s Bluff. Connecticut soldiers died of disease, wounds suffered in battle or, in the case of William T. Loomis of Hartford, by accident.

"Young Loomis was an excellent soldier and was much liked by the members of his company," notes the blurb under the album image of the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery soldier, who was killed Jan. 28, 1863. Only 23 years old, he was stationed at Fort Blenker, one of the many defensive fortifications ringing Washington.

A little more than four months later, Loomis’ Company A tentmate, Charles Comstock, suffered the same fate. He was killed instantly when he was shot by an Alexandria civilian named Isaac Welburn, who was quickly arrested by military authorities. Whether by accident or malice, the circumstances of Comstock’s death are unknown. “The company have thus been deprived of two of their much loved friends,” the Courant reported, “and fellow soldiers who deeply mourn their loss.” (1)

When the prayer was said, and the requiem played;
In the bosom of earth the warrior laid,
About the spot the soldiers pressed
Where the bones of their comrades were put to rest
And eyes grew dim, and tongues were mute,
As they fired their thrice farewell salute,
That meed was his due, and they paid the "brave,"
And then left him alone in his soldier grave

After he was wounded the right leg in battle near Suffolk, Va., Charles Tennant “expressed a strong desire to see his mother,” who traveled from Hartford to Fortress Monroe  on the southern tip of Virginia peninsula, where her son’s health was rapidly failing. The young man's wound had been probed up to 8 1/2 inches, but the bullet couldn't be found. (2) Tennant, who replaced Samuel Brown as captain of Company D of the 16th Connecticut after Brown was killed at Antietam, died May 24, 1863. His church service in Hartford was so well attended – 50 soldiers arrived on the noon train from Knight Hospital in New Haven -- that many were forced to stand outside.

“There has not been a burial in this city since the war began of one of its heroes,” the Courant reported. “which called out a larger number of people than were attended on this occasion.” (3) Under Tennant’s image in the photo album is a crinkled report, brown with age, of his death. "He was but about 23 years of age,” it notes, “and was a highly esteemed member of the North Baptist church."

Left: Private Charles Comstock of the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery was killed
by a civilian near Alexandria, Va. Charles Greenleaf, a lieutenant in the 5th New York
Cavalry, was mortally wounded at Kearneyville, W.Va. He was from Hartford.
(Photos: Connecticut State Library archives)


Enlisting on April 18, 1861, as a private in the 1st Connecticut, Charles Greenleaf was among the first from the state to join the Union army. After his three-month term of service elapsed, he re-enlisted in a cavalry unit and was later transferred to the 5th New York Cavalry, also known as the Ira Harris Guard. Three days after Antietam, Greenleaf viewed the horrors of that battlefield. “On our way here we marched through that part of the field where the right wing fought,” he wrote in a letter home on Sept. 20, 1862. “ I have been in the service a year but I never knew what war meant till to day. All along both sides of the road for two miles dead rebels lay piled up like cord wood. They have lain there two days in the sun and are all bloated.... I was also up to one of the hospitals and saw over a hundred arms and legs in the yard." (4)

A little more than two years later, Greenleaf also became part of the grim Civil War body count. Wounded in a skirmish near Kearneyville, W.Va., the 22-year-old soldier died at U.S. General Hospital in Sandy Hook, Md.., on Aug. 27, 1864. "The funeral of Lieut. Greenleaf will take place from the residence of his father, Henry Greenleaf, on North Main street to-morrow (Sunday) at 1 o'clock," the newspaper account beneath his photo notes.

May heaven spread amaranths over each grave
Or plant these some evergreen tree;
May corals grow round and anemones wave
Where they’re lying down in a deep sea

May billows dash lightly against the lone shore,
And sing a low, mournful refrain;
May flowers of spring-time bloom evermore
And be wet by the tears of the rain

Left: William T. Loomis, a private in the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery, was killed in
a railroad accident near Alexandria, Va. George Marsh, a sergeant in the 8th Connecticut,
was killed at the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.
(Photos: Connecticut State Library archives)

If he had to meet his maker, Captain Henry C. Smith, a member of the Hartford Fire Department before the war, probably would have preferred a glorious death in battle. Never in his dreams could the 20th Connecticut soldier have expected what happened to him on Jan. 28, 1863, while camped near Stafford Court House, Va.  A tree fell on him, killing the man whom "everyone with the regiment loved and respected."

"A spirit of gloom was thrown over all by the sudden death of Captain Henry C. Smith of Co. C.," according to a regimental history. "He was a genial companion, a devoted friend, a thorough soldier, and his loss was severely felt by all. ... The best and only tribute which his fellow officers could now pay was to gather up his remains and forward them to his sorrow-stricken wife and children that he might be buried among friends, and not in the land of the stranger." (5)

Ill but determined to fight, George Marsh was resting about sunrise on Sept. 17, 1862, as the 8th Connecticut prepared for battle. Suddenly, Rebel artillery across Antietam Creek lobbed three solid shots into the regiment, wounding four and killing three -- including Marsh.

"He was lying on the ground when a ball entered the ground in front of him and came out of the earth a few feet from where he lay," notes the newspaper account below his photo in the "Album Of The Dead." "The concussion caused his death, as he was not hit by anything."

In late September, Marsh's brother-in-law traveled to the battlefield to retrieve George's remains. Marsh's body arrived back in Hartford on Sept. 30, and a funeral service was held at his father's residence at 77 Main Street at 3 p.m. (6)

"He died a trusty soldier with a spotless reputation," a post-war history noted about Marsh, one of scores of Connecticut victims at the Battle of Antietam. (7)

(1) Hartford Courant, March 9, 1863, Page 2
(2) Hartford Courant, May 23, 1863, Page 2.
(3) Hartford Courant, May 29, 1863, Page 2
(4) Charles Henry Greenleaf letters, Civil War Manuscripts Project, Connecticut Historical Society
(5) The Twentieth Connecticut, A Regiment History, John Whiting Storrs, Ansonia, Conn, Press of the Naugatuck Valley Sentinel, 1888, Page 278
(6) Hartford Courant, Sept. 29, 1862, Page 2
(7) The Military and Civil History of Connecticut: The War of 1861-1865, W.A. Croffut and John M. Morris, Ledyard Bill, New York, 1868


  1. Sounds like an earlier version of John Banks! Great work in reviving this album with its stories.

  2. Hello Mr. Banks, I am researching my 3X's great grandfather, Capt. Oliver R. Post. He was with the 20th Connecticut Vol. He was wounded at the Battle of Peach Tree Creek on 20 Jul 1864. He died from a musket ball wound on 21 Jul 1864. I noticed a photo of Capt. Henry C Smith. It mentions a Lt. Post who dispatched the letter to Mr. Lyman Smith. I believe that Lt. Post is in fact my grandfather. What I am looking for is any photos or information on Oliver Rawson Post. Can you help me with this? My name is Tod Warrington. My email is I live in New Orleans, which makes it very difficult to locate anything in CT from here. Thank you very much for your time. Tod.