Sunday, September 03, 2017

'His whole face was shot away': The trials of Private Oliver Dart

14th Connecticut Private Oliver Dart was grievously wounded at Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862.
(Image courtesy Alan Crane)
A tattered CDV of Oliver Dart was found among papers in his pension file at the National Archives.
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Within a year of his regiment's ill-fated charge at Fredericksburg, Oliver Dart Jr. faced another great trial: a sitting for a photograph at a studio on Main Street in Hartford, Conn.

The resulting carte-de-visite, found in the 14th Connecticut veteran's pension file in the National Archives, is difficult to view. Bundled in a heavy coat, the blue-eyed veteran with black hair and thick eyebrows stared at the Kellogg Brothers' photographer. A mangled lower jaw, mouth and nose -- the awful effects of a shrapnel wound suffered during the attack on Marye's Heights -- were obvious. How Dart summoned the fortitude to sit for the CDV, undoubtedly evidence for his pension claim, was remarkable.

The CDV of Dart was taken by the
Kellogg Brothers in Hartford.
As he waited for his turn to be photographed that day, Dart's mind may have drifted to Dec. 13, 1862, and the Battle of Fredericksburg. Marching onto the battlefield via Princess Anne Street, the 14th Connecticut came under "a most galling fire" after crossing a causeway over a canal near the railroad depot.

Then an artillery shell fired from high ground on the 14th Connecticut's right burst among prone soldiers in Company D. A 3 x 2-inch fragment smashed into the ground, firing sand into the eyes of 14th Connecticut Corporal John Symonds, blinding Private Dart's brother-in-law. A chunk of metal crashed into the arm and face of  the 23-year-old Dart, before striking a four-inch square, wooden post. Corporal Charles Lyman, lying next to Dart, recalled years later that the fragment surely would have ripped through his head and killed him had it not struck that obstacle. (In the charge on the well-defended stone wall at the foot of Marye's Heights, Oliver's cousin Charles, the 14th Connecticut's regimental color bearer, was mortally wounded.)

Dart's wounds horrified another soldier in the regiment. "Poor Oliver Dart," he said. "As he rolled over he looked as though his whole face was shot away."

In this enlargement of a war-time photo of Fredericksburg, Va., the Rowe House is shown. 14th Connecticut wounded,  including Oliver Dart, were among Union soldiers cared  for  at the divisional hospital there. 
(Library of Congress).
A circa-1940s image of the Rowe House at 607 Sophia Street in Fredericksburg.
 The house no longer stands. (Library of Congress)
Frank Niederwerfer, descendant of Oliver Dart, holds an image of the 14th Connecticiut private at the
 site of the old Rowe house in Fredericksburg, Va. Dart was cared for at the divisional hospital there.
May 1865 image of Stanton General Hospital in Washington, where Dart recovered from his wounds.
(Library of Congress)
Comrades carried Dart to a divisional hospital at the Rowe House on Sophia Street. The scene there stunned the 14th Connecticut regimental chaplain. "On the northern porch lay, among others, our Dart, his face torn off as though slashed away with a cleaver," Henry Stevens recalled, "and by his side lay Symonds, his eyes swollen with inflammation to the size of eggs, the sand grains showing through the tightly stretched and shining lids."

On the day after Christmas, Dart was admitted to Stanton General Hospital in Washington, one of dozens of military hospitals in the capital. His chances of recovery were considered slim -- "wounded in battle," a doctor there wrote, "probably mortally." When his older brother George, a farmer, visited Oliver at the hospital, he found the conditions deplorable.

A circa-1866 image of Oliver Dart with a
bushy beard and mustache. (Image courtesy of
Dart descendant Frank Niederwerfer)
After five weeks in the Washington hospital, Dart was mercifully discharged from the Union Army and sent home to South Windsor, Conn. Miraculously recovering, he underwent an operation on his face at the home of his older brother, James. Oliver, the youngest of the six children of Amanda and Oliver Dart Sr., underwent a second procedure on his face at the home of his father in South Windsor.

"George Dart and his wife were almost constantly with their injured brother," a post-war account noted, "and gave him every care and attention."
For three months in the summer of 1863, Oliver also spent time at a soldier's home in Hartford, where he received sustenance from a special cup because of his terrible face wound.

In June 1863, Oliver filed for divorce from his second wife, Maria, claiming "a total neglect of all duties of marriage" Nearly three years later, the divorce was granted. Maria was the sister of John Symonds, the soldier who suffered a wounded next to Oliver at Fredericksburg.

In December 1863, Dart filed for a government pension; the application was approved, and he initially received $8 a month. In 1869, Oliver married his third wife, Aurelia Barber, with whom he had his only three children. In an attempt to cover up his grievous war wounds, he grew a bushy beard and mustache.

"In time he recovered," the post-war account noted, "though the wound was always visible and in later years his mind was somewhat affected, undoubtedly due to the shock and the suffering that ensued from the injury."

Life remained an almost constant struggle for the Civil War veteran, and in the summer of 1879, consumption struck down Dart. Only 40 years old, he died on Aug. 11. He was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Vernon, Conn., next to first wife Emily, who died in 1860, and Aurelia.

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

  • Dart family history
  • Oliver Dart pension file, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
  • Page, Charles Davis, History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Meriden, Conn.: The Horton Printing Co., 1906.
  • Stevens, H.S. Souvenir of Excursion to Battlefields by the Society of the Fourteenth Connecticut Regiment and Reunion at Antietam, September 1891, With History and Reminiscences of Battles and Campaigns of the Regiment on the Fields Revisited, Washington, D.C.: Gibson Brothers Printers, 1893.
  • The Boys from Rockville, Civil War Narratives of Sgt. Benjamin Hirst, Co. D, 14th Connecticut Volunteers, edited, with commentary, by Robert L, Bee, The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, Tenn., 1998.


  1. Great job, as always, John. Terrific (as in the original meaning of the word) photos.

  2. Most interesting article and I would like to visit the site if only I could definitively find it.
    I was searching Google maps for the 607 Sophia Street site but can only see the empty parking lot that does not appear to be like the area in the photo with Frank (Oliver Dart’s descendant).
    That recent photo shows a depression on one side of the property.
    I just don’t see that in the Google street photos.
    I suppose the canal crossing a Princess Anne Street is no longer there.

    1. I believe the photo with Frank is correct. He appears to be right on the northern edge of the parking lot visible in current Google aerial views. That area is now under construction as a new Riverfront Park. The brick building across the street behind him still stands at 108 Charlotte Street.

      Sanborn Fire Maps show and label the location of 607 Sophia staring with the 1902 edition, which is available at the Library of Congress repository. The 1886 edition does not fully show that side of the street, but it does appear that the house is there as well. I'm not sure when the house was removed. (Very oddly, however, the house behind Frank is NOT on the Sanborn maps! The city's GIS site says it was built in 1846, so I have absolutely no idea why it would not be on the maps.) All the canals that played a role during the battle have been removed. Many of them were filled in and paved over to become city streets.

      The landscape around the train station has also been drastically changed since then. The streets were lowered in conjunction with the construction of the current train station in 1910, to allow for the tracks to be elevated to avoid grade level crossings.

      This is the 1902 Sanborn Fire Map showing 607 Sophia:,0.2,3.054,1.098,0

  3. Anonymous4:48 PM

    Excellent article. As horrifying as the original wound was he looked much better with the beard! It was truly remarkable that he was able to marry again . . . RSH

  4. Anonymous5:58 PM

    Great article John! A fitting reminder on this Memorial Day weekend

  5. Enjoyed then read as usual and the pictures - thanks John.

  6. Excellent John! This was a great story. Thank you for your great effort.

  7. I live in South Windsor. Right near Dart Hill Road.

  8. It's good that war is so bad or we may come to like it,God forbid.

  9. Very interesting article.

  10. Thank You John, i love all your post, Its like we are there with these young men, And we see the hell they went through !

  11. Thanks John for the wonderful account of my great grandfather. I would like to know more about him. Please contact me at

  12. Anonymous2:13 PM

    Oliver Dart was such a brave man.He suffered terribly and his life destroyed.It brought more than a tear in this old man’s eyes.So many lives destroyed in a war between the states that should never have happened.No wonder they are called ‘PBI’ it means poor bloody infantry

  13. Anonymous2:27 PM

    Such a tragic life. First wife dies in 1860 (from what)
    Civil War.
    Horribly disfigured.
    2nd Wife abandons him.
    Early death from TB.
    Ahhh, the good old days.

  14. I've often wondered about the experiences of the war-maimed veterans. There were many, some (like Oliver) more visibly affected than others.

  15. Anonymous10:34 AM

    You’ve told this horrible story well.

  16. Anonymous12:41 PM

    Did Oliver have a brother or cousin named Horace Dart who was also a Civil War vet who is buried in South Lyme, CT?