April 9th, the anniversary of the Lee’s surrender to Grant, marks the culmination of the Civil War sesquicentennial. Litchfield County soldiers served with the 29th Connecticut Infantry, an African American unit that was the first Union regiment to enter the Confederate capital of Richmond, and the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery that pursued Lee’s army to the surrender at Appomattox Court House. While the war ended in the early spring, it was not until August 1865 that many of Litchfield County’s veterans returned home. That month a great celebration in Litchfield honored returning veterans from the county. The village was decorated with enormous national flags while the smaller flags of a dozen army corps flew from the giant pole on the Green. A triumphal arch, made of papier-mâché, was erected on East Street, near where the Litchfield Historical Society now stands. It had the Sixth Corps flag in the center and two divisional flags on the side, commemorating the army units to which Litchfield’s soldiers belonged. Below those flags were the names of the battles in which the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery fought.
The returning veterans – 300 to 400 strong – arrived in East Litchfield by rail, marched to the town, and paraded through the arch – soldiers on one side, civilians once again on the other.
The local newspaper reported that “The reception of the 19th in this town on Tuesday was a most gratifying success.” Residents of neighboring towns began arriving in the early morning. Reverend Richards gave a benediction, and Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Smith of Woodbury gave a welcoming speech:
I will not recount the list of your battles – they are known to all present – from that first bloody day to the last unparalleled march of over 100 miles in 22 marching hours – ending in Lee’s surrender. These things – memories to you – are glorious wonders to us! We look upon you with emotion! With joy and gratitude, and bid you welcome!
Congressman Hubbard, who lived on South Street and was a favorite of Lincoln’s who referred to the representative as “Old Connecticut, also spoke:
Your hard fare, your toilsome marches and constant exposure to wounds and death have been crowned by the highest reward ever gained by men at arms. The conspirators against a people’s government are in the dust and freedom is triumphant.
Thousands of people attended the festivities, which consisted of bands, food and drink, and performances. An exhibit hall was set up with relics from the war, including the coat with the bullet hole that killed General John Sedgwick of Cornwall, captured swords, battlefield artifacts, paintings and photos of Henry Dutton (killed at Cedar Mountain, John Hubbard (the Congressman’s son), the three Wadhams brothers (killed at Fort Darling, the North Anna, and Cold Harbor), and Colonel Elisha Kellogg (killed at Cold Harbor).
At dark, an illumination allowed the festivities to continue until the lights went out at 10 p.m., when the crowd dispersed.