Monday, July 9, 2012

Military Monday: Connecticut Soldiers at Antietam from Guest Blogger John Banks

Hi all, 
I'm handing over  the blog today to my first guest blogger. I featured John Banks and his Civil War blog in last week's Military Monday. Today, he's sharing his interests, his favorite research resources and some stories of Connecticut soldiers. I hope you'll take the time to look at his blog (http://john-banks.blogspot.com/). 
-Bryna 

It was a scorching hot summer evening and the air was thick as hominy grits as I slowly drove around Cold Harbor National Battlefield, near Richmond, Va., two summers ago. Much of the great battlefield where men in blue and gray killed and maimed each other in June 1864 is in private hands, but the National Park Service-owned sliver, still pockmarked with trenches dug by soldiers nearly 150 years ago, is very much hallowed ground.

It was at Cold Harbor that the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, men from towns such as Litchfield, Waterbury, Goshen and Norwich, discovered a hell on earth.  On June 1, 1864, the regiment suffered 85 killed and 221 wounded in an ill-advised assault on Confederate breastworks.  "You cannot conceive the horrors and awfulness of a battle," wrote Chaplain Winthrop Phelps of the regiment's first major battle.  "I never wish to hear another much less see it. I went out to see this but found myself in such danger I soon fled ... Pray for me. I cannot write -- am not in a fit state of mind."

I can still recall the first time I saw the monument at Cold Harbor to honor the memory of those men from Connecticut.  As I walked ground that was heavily contested by both armies, I came upon a small clearing where I discovered  three blocks of light gray granite. Mounted to the front of that 2nd Connecticut monument is a  bronze plaque that includes names of Connecticut men killed at Cold Harbor. When I read the names aloud, hair on my neck stood up and goose bumps covered my arms.

Like most Civil War battlefields, Cold Harbor holds a special sway over the those like me who still hear the guns.

As darkness settled over the Virginia battlefield that summer day in 2010, I met a local couple on a walk with their large dog. They said they often walked the battlefield to enjoy the now-peaceful setting.

"This was an awfully bloody place," the man said matter-of-factly. The woman nodded and then glanced at their dog.

"He often goes into the woods," she said, "to chase the ghosts."

Chasing ghosts.

In an odd way, that’s an apt description of what I have been doing the past 18 months.



My passion is the Battle of Antietam, where four regiments of men and boys from Connecticut fought in woodlots and farm fields in Sharpsburg, Md., on Sept. 17, 1862. Scores of soldiers from the 8th, 11th, 14th and 16th Connecticut regiments were killed or mortally wounded during that battle  --  the bloodiest day in American history. In the days and weeks after Antietam, funerals for Connecticut soldiers were common in the state.

"It is seldom that we are called upon to bury so many braves in so short a space of time," the Hartford Courant reported nearly a month after the battle.

Many of the stories of Connecticut soldiers who fought at Antietam have never been told. Crisscrossing Connecticut -- from Brooklyn in the east to Bristol in the west to Madison in the south -- I have mined information, including many primary sources, at historical societies, libraries and cemeteries for Connecticut Antietam stories. Resources such as the Connecticut Historical Society's Civil War Manuscript Project (http://www.chs.org/finding_aides/kcwmp/index.htm) and collections at the Connecticut State Library (http://www.cslib.org/civwar.htm) are invaluable. Google has digitized many regimental histories (http://books.google.com/books/about/History_of_the_Fourteenth_Regiment_Conne.html?id=rwY0RR_tT0sC), making previously hard-to-access resources available only a couple clicks away on the Internet. Find A Grave (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=vcsr&GSvcid=272644) is also a terrific starting point for information on soldier graves. The research department at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Md., proved helpful in uncovering the casebook of surgeons who treated 16th Connecticut soldiers at a small Sharpsburg church. (http://john-banks.blogspot.com/2012/04/antietam-church-of-misery-for-16th.html). And many Connecticut libraries provide digital access dating to 1724 for the Hartford Courant. I have found excellent accounts of funerals by tapping into that resource.

Of course, there’s no substitute for boots-on-the-ground reporting at cemeteries. (Hmmmm, sounds a little strange, doesn’t?) For posts on my blog, I often come up with good color by checking out graveyards and gravestones myself.

Much of what I have uncovered is on my blog (John Banks' Civil War Blog http://john-banks.blogspot.com/), which focuses on Connecticut, Antietam, Gettysburg and stories of common soldiers of the Civil War. Stop by for a visit or two or three. 

Here are snippets of stories on my blog of 10 men and boys who were killed or mortally wounded at Antietam. Each deserves to be remembered.


Captain Frederick Barber, 16th Connecticut, Glastonbury




In the chaos of the 16th Connecticut's poorly conceived attack at Antietam,  Barber was pierced by a musket ball near the top of his right leg. Like many other men, he soon took his turn on a bloody table for surgery in a barn. A post-war account described Barber's gruesome operation in cold, clinical language. "On the morning of September 18th, the patient being anaesthetized by chloroform, Surgeon Melancthon Storrs, 8th Connecticut Volunteers, proceeded to make a straight incision four inches long passing through the wound of entrance," the  report published in 1869 noted. "The comminuted fragments of the neck and rochanter were extracted, the round ligament was divided, the head of the femur was removed, and the fractured upper extremity of the shaft was sawn off by the chain saw." Translation: Barber's entire right leg was cut off. He died on Sept. 20, 1862.



Private Alvin Flint, 11th Connecticut, East Hartford

Only 17 years old, Alvin joined the 11th Connecticut as a private on Oct. 1, 1861. Less than a year later, he was dead, killed in the attack near Burnside Bridge.  The loss was no doubt excruciating for 53-year-old Alvin Flint Sr., who had enlisted in the 21st Connecticut along with his 13-year-old son, George, in August 1862. In the winter of 1861-62, Alvin Flint Sr.'s wife and daughter died of consumption in East Hartford. "Hardly had the sadness of the death of a dear daughter, that I had lost last January, worn off when this sad, sad calamity should come upon me," he lamented about his oldest son in a letter published in the Hartford Courant on Oct. 29, 1862. Incredibly, tragedy again visited the Flint family when  Alvin Sr. and George died of disease in January 1863.

Captain Jarvis Blinn, 14th Connecticut, New Britain 

Barely a month after he enlisted in the Union army, Blinn -- a man who had an "expression of quiet but earnest resolve tinged with a dash of sadness in his air" -- was one of 38 men killed and mortally wounded in the 14th Connecticut at Antietam. Moments after he was shot through the heart, the 26-year-old captain shouted: "I am a dead man!"  A Hartford undertaker named W.W. Roberts brought Blinn and the bodies of seven other soldiers killed at Antietam back to Connecticut in the second week of  October 1862. His funeral was held at Center Church in New Britain on Oct. 14, 1862. Afterward, his body was escorted to Rocky Hill, about 10 miles away, in "one of the largest processions ever seen" in New Britain. He is buried near the back of Center Cemetery.

 Private Robert Hubbard, 14th Connecticut, Middletown

A 31-year-old private in Company B of the 14th Connecticut, Hubbard was one of at least two soldiers in the regiment killed by friendly fire on William Roulette's farm during the Battle of Antietam. Nearly a month before his death, he wrote an impassioned letter to his brother. "Must it be written that 360,000 slaveholders wielded such influence and power," he wrote Josiah Hubbard. "as to destroy a government which can place a million armed men in the field, and which has conferred greater blessing on its citizens than any other that has ever existed since the days when God was the direct ruler over His own peculiar people."
"I feel as if I could not forgive myself," Robert concluded in the letter, "if this government should be overthrown and I had no weapon in its defense." His body was buried on the Roulette farm after the battle, and that December, farmer William Roulette shipped the body back north to the Hubbard family.
  
Lieutenant George Crosby, 14th Connecticut, Middle Haddam

A student at Wesleyan University in Middletown before the war, the 2nd lieutenant in the 14th Connecticut Infantry was mortally wounded at Antietam barely a month after he enlisted. Thirty-seven days later, Crosby, not quite 20 years old, died at home in Middle Haddam. "From the beginning of the battle till he received his death wound, he fought nobly, encouraging his men and leading them on," the Middletown Constitution reported on Oct. 29, 1862. "And for a half hour after he was wounded, while he lay helpless on the ground, without regarding his own condition, he kept constantly exhorting his comrades to do their duty." His funeral service at Middle Haddam's Episcopal Church was described at the time as "one of the largest funerals ever attended in that place."  

Captain John Griswold, 11th Connecticut, Lyme

Under fire from the bluffs above,  the 25-year-old captain boldly led a group of skirmishers across the 4-foot deep Antietam Creek on Sept. 17, 1862. "In the middle of the creek a ball penetrated his body," Griswold's friend, Dr. Nathan Mayer of the 11th Connecticut, wrote in a letter from Sharpsburg to his brother on Sept. 29, 1862. "He reached the opposite side and lay down to die." Griswold, who hurriedly returned to the mainland from Hawaii to enlist in the Union army in 1861, died the next day. He is buried in a small private cemetery in Old Lyme  under a beautifully carved 8-foot gray marker. Near the bottom of the memorial are these words: "Tell my mother I died at the head of my company."

Private John Bingham, 16th Connecticut, East Haddam

Only 17,  Bingham was killed at Antietam a little more than a month after he enlisted. Younger brother Wells, also a private in Company H of the 16th Connecticut, apparently survived Antietam physically unscathed, but the memory of that terrible day was probably seared into the 16-year-old boy soldier's brain the rest of his life. Three other Bingham brothers served during the Civil War, including Eliphalet, who died May 1, 1864, in Virginia. John and Eliphalet are buried at First Church Cemetery in East Haddam, about 45 miles southwest of Hartford. Apparently upset over a failing business, Wells committed suicide in 1904.  
 
Lieutenant Marvin Wait, 8th Connecticut, Norwich

A "brave, noble-hearted man and highly esteemed by all who knew him," Wait, 19, was killed late in the afternoon as the Ninth Corps made an ill-fated push toward Sharpsburg.  "If Lieutenant Wait had left the battle of his own accord when first hit in the arm, all would have been well," Captain Charles Coit, also of Norwich, wrote after the battle, "but he bravely stood to encourage his men still further by his own example." From a prominent Norwich family, Wait had an large funeral that was attended by the governor and other dignitaries. The young man who planned to become a lawyer is buried under a beautiful white marker that includes the word "Antietam" in raised letters on the front.

Private George Chamberlain, 16th Connecticut, Middletown

Wounded in the knee in Farmer John Otto's cornfield during the Battle of Antietam, George Chamberlain was eventually taken to the German Reformed Church on Main Street in Sharpsburg for treatment. Like most churches in the area after the battle, it was used as a field hospital. Chamberlain's mother, Mary Ann, traveled from Connecticut to Sharpsburg to help nurse her son back to health. "Present condition: Wound from the entrance of a musket ball a little below the bend of the right knee," a surgeon noted about Chamberlain in his case book " ... he keeps the leg flexed at a right angle and is careful not to move the joint for reason of pain." Chamberlain was discharged from the army because of disability on April 1, 1863, but the wound suffered at Antietam plagued him for the rest of his life. He died in Ohio on May 11, 1865.

Private Daniel Tarbox, 11th Connecticut, Brooklyn Conn.

In a letter to his father on Sept. 6, 1862, Daniel Jr. had a sense of impending doom. "I expect we are going into it now for good," he wrote from Washington. "Right where grape & shrapnel and chain shot fly thick. And whole company’s and Reg’ts are mowed down at one volley. If we go in, we can’t think of coming out. If I do fall, you take what money I have sent home and get my bounty and appropriate it to yourself as a present. But I hope for the best." Eleven days after he wrote that letter home, Daniel Tarbox Jr. was mortally wounded near Burnside Bridge during the Battle of Antietam. The 18-year-old soldier died a day later.


Sources:
(1) "Not War But Murder," Ernest B. Furguson, 2000, Page 102
 

3 comments:

  1. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

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  2. What a wonderful effort! I found out some info on one of my wife's 2nd ggrand uncle in your blog.

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  3. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. To see the follow up to Les's story, read the following : http://john-banks.blogspot.com/2012/07/faces-of-civil-war-gideon-s-barnes.html.

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