Saturday, February 16, 2013

Antietam: Descendant reunited (briefly) with ancestor's rifle

As Civil War collector Jeffery Cook looks on, Matt Reardon of Tolland, Conn., holds his
 great-great-great grandfather's Sharps rifle, the first time a member of his family has 
held the weapon since 1864. Michael Farley used the rifle at the Battle of Antietam.

The Sharps rifle was manufactured in Hartford. A close-up 
of the stock reveals six notches.

On Sept. 17, 1862, Michael Farley, a 21-year-old Irish-born private in Company G of the 8th Connecticut, carried his Hartford-manufactured Sharps rifle into the Battle of Antietam. The soldier from Stonington, about 60 miles southeast of  Hartford, had enlisted in the Union army three months earlier, no doubt hoping that the Civil War would be brought to a swift conclusion. Farley survived Antietam and Fredricksburg as well as smaller battles in Virginia at Swift Creek and Walthall Junction, but he became a prisoner of war at the Battle of Drewry's Bluff on May 16, 1864. Farley disappeared into a series of Southern prison camps, including the most notorious one of the Civil War, at Andersonville in Georgia. Farley's Sharps rifle disappeared too, never to be in held again by the 8th Connecticut private or another member of his family.

Until Saturday afternoon.

Thanks to Connecticut Civil War collector Jeffery Cook, Farley's great-great-great grandson took temporary possession of the rifle carried by his ancestor so long ago. It was an extra-special moment for Matt Reardon of Tolland, Conn. -- and members of the audience -- at the Connecticut Civil War Roundtable event in Torrington, Conn. The rifle is on temporary loan from a New Jersey collector to Cook, who gave a presentation Saturday about his impressive collection that includes the blood-stained scabbard of a presentation sword of a 16th Connecticut 1st lieutenant who was wounded at Antietam.

Left: Farley's muster-in papers. Right, his grave in Pawcatuck, Conn.
(Muster-in papers courtesy Tad Sattler; Grave photo courtesy Matt Reardon)
In beautiful shape, the Sharps infantry rifle, a breech-loader, includes six notches (Rebel victims perhaps?) carved on the stock below the band as well as the 8th Connecticut regiment designation and Farley's company carved on the butt. Understandably, Reardon, the enthusiastic executive director of the New England Civil War Museum in Rockville, Conn., was reluctant to part with the prized relic. Perhaps he'll find a way to add the pricey antique to his personal collection someday.

Enduring four prisoner-of-war camps, Farley was paroled on Nov., 19, 1864 in Savannah, Ga. He survived the war, becoming a member of the Grand Army of the Republic Post No. 18 in Westerly, R.I. and Hancock Post No. 81 in Pawcatuck, Conn., and eventually settling in Anniston, Ala. He died there on May 2, 1917, and is buried in Old St. Michael's Cemetery in Pawcatuck.

If he can't acquire the old weapon, Reardon would happily settle for a photograph of his great-great-great grandfather. If you find one, contact me here or Reardon here or through the New England Civil War Museum Facebook page. 

Matt Reardon holds the presentation sword of 16th Connecticut 1st lieutenant George S. Gouge, 
who was wounded at Antietam. The sword is part of Jeffery Cook's collection.

Close-up of the presentation sword of 1st lieutenant George Gouge of  the 16th Connecticut. The 
sword  was given to the Hartford soldier by  members of Company C. Wounded at Antietam, 
Gouge bled on the scabbard of the sword (bottom photo), collector Jeffery Cook said.  Gouge, who 
survived Antietam, resigned from the Union army on Dec. 24, 1862.

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FACES OF THE CIVIL WAR: Stories and photos of common soldiers who served during the war.
16TH CONNECTICUT SOLDIERS: Tales of the men in the hard-luck regiment.
MORE ON ANTIETAM: Read my extensive thread on the battle and the men who fought in it

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