Monuments to the Great War

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This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. The global conflagration, which resulted in nearly 20 million deaths, had an impact on the small towns of Litchfield County. The above photograph shows two red oaks in front of the Bridgewater town hall. They were planted in 1922 in memory of two town residents who lost their lives in the war, Joseph Wellwood and John Sheskey.

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Wellwood, 21 years old, enlisted in May 1917 and was assigned to an ambulance company. Sent to Kansas for training, he died there of scarlet fever in February 1918. Shesky was killed during an artillery barrage at the Battle of Vesle on September 3, 1918, a bit more than two months before the end of the war.

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Many of the towns in the county have monuments commemorating their dead from the Great War, or the World War; those who put up these monuments in the 1920s and 20s had no inkling that another world war was approaching. Typical of these monuments is the monument on the Litchfield green. Stars denote those who died in the war.

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However, a close examination of the Litchfield monument reveals that these stars were perhaps added to the monument later, with holes being drilled into the bronze and the stars inserted like a pin. Clayton Devines died of influenza (which killed 50 to 100 million people worldwide between 1918 and 1920) at training camp in Jacksonville, Florida. Joseph Donohue served in Company D of the 102nd Infantry. Killed in France, he had lived at the Junior Republic in Litchfield. His adopted hometown honored him by placing his name on the town monument and recognizing his sacrifice with a star still visible today.

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Henry Cattey was from Northfield, living on Marsh Road. He was also killed in action in France. While his name is on the memorial, next to it is only a small hole. Was there once a star that perhaps fell out over time? Cattey is not the only casualty of the Great War to have lost his star. Three names have stars next to them; six others have only the hole. It is fitting during this centennial that these stars be replaced and the proper tribute paid to these made who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

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Hidden Nearby: John Sedgwick’s Grave and Monumenthttp://youtu.be/PVDBNIzGi6ghttp://youtu.be/PVDBNIzGi6gPVDBNIzGi6ghttp://youtu.be/PVDBNIzGi6g

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Author’s note:  See a related video about Litchfield and the Civil War done in cooperation with litchfield.bz here:   http://youtu.be/PVDBNlzGi6g

Along Route 43 in Cornwall Hollow lies the grave of one of the highest-ranking Union generals killed 150 years ago in the Civil War, Major General John Sedgwick.

The battles of the Mexican War in which John Sedgwick participated, from the monument in Cornwall Hollow.

The battles of the Mexican War in which John Sedgwick participated, from the monument in Cornwall Hollow.

Sedgwick was born in Cornwall Hollow on September 13, 1813. From a military family, he enrolled at the United States Military Academy after attending Sharon’s one-room schoolhouse. Graduating from West Point in 1837 he fought in the Seminole War and the Mexican War. While serving on the Kansas plains in the 1850s he received word that his family’s Cornwall Hollow home had been destroyed in a fire. He took leave from the army to build the house that still stands near his grave.

Major General John Sedgwick

Major General John Sedgwick

Sedgwick’s star rose rapidly after the firing on Fort Sumter. He was commissioned a brigadier general, then was promoted to command a division and ultimately the Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac. He was beloved by his men, who called him “Uncle John.” One of his soldiers described him as “an old bachelor with oddities, an addiction to practical jokes and endless games of solitaire.” He fought at some of the war’s most famous battles: Antietam (where he was wounded three times), Chancellorsville, Gettysburg.

"The Death of General Sedgwick, Spotsylvania, May 9, 1864" by Julian Scott.

“The Death of General Sedgwick, Spotsylvania, May 9, 1864” by Julian Scott.

Commanding his corps at Spotsylvania Court House on May 9, 1864, Sedgwick was surprised to see his men dodging the fire of a distant sharpshooter. “What, what!” he proclaimed. “Men dodging this way for a single bullet? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line. I am ashamed of you.” Laughing, Sedgwick announced, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” Almost instantly a bullet struck “Uncle John” just under the left eye. His lifeless body fell into the arms of his chief of staff.

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Sedgwick’s body was taken to Washington, DC, where a military procession was held. Another procession was held in New York City. More than 2,000 people turned out for the Cornwall Hollow funeral. In 1892, the Grand Army of the Republic marked the grave with an obelisk bearing the Greek Cross, symbol of Sedgwick’s beloved Sixth Corps. In 1900, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Stoeckel, friends of the general’s sister, erected the monument across the street, which bears the names of the Mexican and Civil War battles in which the general fought, and the inscription “the fittest place where man can die is where man fights for man.”