Saturday, December 13, 2014

16th Connecticut Private Edward Smith: 'Lost at Sea'

Edward Smith , a 21-year-old private in Company K of the 16th Connecticut, was from 
Bristol.  This is an 1892 copy of a war-time image of Smith. 
 (Photo: Connecticut State Library)

In a Bristol, Conn., cemetery dotted with graves of Civil War soldiers, it's easy to miss the weather-beaten memorial for Edward Smith, a 21-year-old private in Company K of the 16th Connecticut. From Bristol, Smith survived the Battle of Antietam and seven months' confinement in Rebel prisons in Andersonville and elsewhere only to drown when the steamer Massachusetts collided with the propeller barge Black Diamond on the Potomac River on the night of April 23, 1865, nine days after President Lincoln was assassinated. Smith, a mechanic and the son of English immigrants, was one of seven soldiers in the regiment to lose his life in the little-known incident that may have claimed the lives of nearly 90 soldiers, many of whom were recently released or paroled prisoners of war.

Two days after the accident, the Hartford Daily Courant published a 185-word account of the tragedy in a Page 2 column of short stories that included news from Havana, Cuba. Another Hartford newspaper, The Daily Times, also provided scant coverage, noting on April 26 that “the loss of life, as near as we can ascertain at present, will certainly exceed 50.”  The names of the seven sons of the state who met their demise in the Potomac were not reported in the Courant until April 29. According to the newspaper, the last words of one of the victims, 16th Connecticut drummer George W. Carter, were "write to my dear mother. Boys I must go."

Smith's name is barely discernible on a four-foot family marker in West Cemetery, about 200 yards from a 25-foot brownstone Civil War memorial for Bristol soldiers on which his name is listed as "Lost At Sea." The body of only one 16th Connecticut soldier, Charles Robinson of East Windsor, was recovered after the accident. The 24-year-old private is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Grave No. 8828.

A close-up of  the Smith family memorial in West Cemetery in Bristol, Conn. Edward Smith's
 death date is incorrectly noted on the family monument as May 2, 1865. 
He died the night of April 23, 1865.
Smith's body was never recovered after he drowned in the Potomac River. This marker is a cenotaph.

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