Saturday, May 24, 2014

Then & Now: Memorial Day 1903 in Collinsville, Connecticut

THEN: A crowd gathers at Collinsville's Congregational Church shortly before a nearby
 Civil War memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 30, 1903.
 (Photo courtesy Clifford T. Alderman/scanned by Peg Giles)
NOW: The church has changed little since 1903.
Four decades after more than 250 area men marched off to fight the Civil War, 4,000 people gathered in the village of Collinsville, Conn., to honor 39 of those soldiers whose bodies were believed to be buried in unknown graves in the South. On a Memorial Day afternoon, May 30, 1903, the Collinsville Brass Band performed on the small town green across from the Congregational Church, a clergyman offered a prayer, politicians delivered speeches and a choir sang "Aware, Put On Thy Strength" and "America" before a parade that included many veterans formed and the crowd walked up a steep hill to the town cemetery.

A rare ribbon from the Civil War monument 
dedication on May 30, 1903 in Collinsville, Conn.
(Courtesy Clifford T. Alderman)
In a corner of the terraced Village Cemetery overlooking the factory town where bayonets, axes and picks were made for the Union army during the war, a huge American flag draped a granite Civil War memorial. A large chorus sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" after the grandsons of two of the men listed on the monument removed the flag to reveal a large bronze plaque that included the names as well as the date and site of death of the Connecticut soldiers.

Before the war, many of those men, ranging in age from their late teens to early 40s, were employed as laborers and factory workers in the Collinsville area. George A. Tatro worked as a polisher, perhaps in the town's Collins Co. factory that supplied John Brown with pikes for his ill-fated slave rebellion in 1859 at Harpers Ferry, Va. A 27-year-old private in Company E of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, he was killed at Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864. Orrin Case, a 41-year-old 2nd lieutenant in the 31st U.S. Colored Infantry, was a lawyer from Collinsville. He was killed on Aug. 6, 1864 in Petersburg, Va.

Asa L Cook, a stone mason from Canton, was a corporal in Company E of the 16th Connecticut. When the Rebels captured Plymouth, N.C., on April 20, 1864, he was shot in the head and taken prisoner with nearly his entire regiment. Married to a woman named Julia and  father to a 9-year-old son named Walter, he died 19 days later. Another 16th Connecticut soldier, 19-year-old private Miles Shepard, died of pneumonia in a government hospital in  Knoxville, Md., on Nov. 12, 1862. His mother, who lived in nearby Simsbury, relied on Miles' support ever since her husband had died in 1854.

Asa Cook and Julia Gleason were married on Jan. 5, 1851. A corporal in the 16th Connecticut,
Asa died of a head wound at Plymouth, N.C., on May 9, 1864. (

Fittingly, three of the soldiers listed on the monument are grouped together. Apparently close friends, Martin Wadhams, Isaac Tuller and Henry Sexton, privates in their 20s in the 8th Connecticut, wrote and signed a thank-you note on patriotic stationery to a woman from Canton Center on Dec. 16, 1861. A member of a soldiers' aid society, Sophronia Barber had sent the three soldiers a care package that included mittens and socks.

"May the richest of Heavens blessing rest upon the ladies who so kindly remember us," read the letter from a camp in Annapolis, Md., "and we hope that this war soon be over and none of the Stars that now are emblazoned on the Flag of our Country be effaced and we be returned to our homes again and see our friends again in a free & united country, under the same old flag the heroes of the revolution fought under."

Within 10 months, each of the soldiers was dead.

Henry Sexton, Isaac Tuller and Martin Wadhams were comrades in the 8th Connecticut.

Delirious and frothing at the mouth, Sexton, a teacher, died of jaundice aboard a schooner in Annapolis Harbor on Jan. 7, 1862. "It took five of us to hold him and keep him from tearing his face with his hands," wrote his friend, Private Oliver Case of the 8th Connecticut. On May 12, 1862, a captain in the 8th Connecticut relayed the circumstances of the death of Tuller, who succumbed to typhoid fever on April 9, 1862 in New Bern, N.C., to his sister back in Connecticut.  "...You have lost a noble brother," Henry Hoyt wrote of Isaac, who worked as a clerk before he enlisted. "I have lost a man whose loss we all deeply feel. He was noble hearted and generous to a fault." A teamster in the 8th Connecticut, Wadhams was killed at the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.

Lawrence Gleason, a private in  the
1st Connecticut is buried in
Arlington National Cemetery.
Another soldier listed on the bronze plaque, 1st Connecticut Cavalry Private Lawrence Gleason, survived until the hostilities ended only to die of pneumonia in a Washington hospital on June 16, 1865. Before the war, Gleason was employed as a mule spinner in a textile mill in Providence, R.I., and much of his earnings helped support his widowed mother, Bridget, who immigrated to the United States from England with her son after her husband had died in Ireland in 1849. Perhaps enticed by a bounty offered in Connecticut, Gleason enlisted on Aug. 13, 1864.

Unlike his 38 other comrades on the Civil War memorial, Gleason does have a known grave. He's buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Grave No. 12502, under a weathered, pearl-white tombstone.

SOURCES:, pension records for Lawrence Gleason, Asa Cook and Miles Shephard.

Hartford Courant, June 1, 1903, Page 9

1860 U.S. census

THEN: A chorus sang The Star-Spangled Banner after the flag that draped the memorial 
was removed at the 1903 Memorial Day ceremony.
  (Photo courtesy Clifford T. Alderman/scanned by Peg Giles)
NOW: The Civil War memorial in Collinsville, Conn., attracts little notice today. A bronze plaque
 lists the names of  39 Civil War soldiers from the area who died during the war.
THEN: At the end of the dedication ceremony, Taps was played. 
 (Photo courtesy Clifford T. Alderman/scanned by Peg Giles)
NOW: Collinsville Cemetery is also known as Huckleberry Hill Cemetery or Village Cemetery.


  1. Anonymous9:21 AM

    Canton still honors it's fallen heroes of all wars at this monument on Memorial Day. My grandfather Maryan Volovski, marched in the procession to dedicate the monument. He was president of the St. Joseph Society, an organization that no longer exists. The Canton Historical Society has the program from the dedication in it's archives.

  2. William: Thanks for the info. I'll check out the dedication program soon. That was a very big day in Collinsville in 1903. John Banks