West Cemetery’s Civil War Effigy Graves

IMG_3402Memorial Day is an appropriate time to reflect on the staggering statistic that forty percent of all Union dead in the Civil War were unidentified.  While this was a marked improvement from the Mexican War fifteen years earlier – in which 100% of the American dead were buried in unmarked graves – it nonetheless posed a particular problem for Americans.

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The Death of George Washington – a classic representation of the idea of the “good death.”

Death held a central place in the culture of Victorian America.  Society dictated that there was such a thing as a “good death,” in which the deceased expired in his own home, surrounded by loved ones.  To such a religious society, the dying individual was closer to God, and therefore his final words were dutifully recorded as being of great importance.

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A Civil War embalmer

The deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in the prime of their lives at great distances from their homes and families was therefore at variance with the notion of the “good death.”  While thousands of dollars were spent on embalming bodies to return them home for burial,  many families were left without even a place to mourn their fallen soldiers.

IMG_3403A solution was the effigy grave, a memorial stone for a victim whose body – because it was unidentifiable or for financial reasons – was unable to be returned home.  The Civil War graves grouped together in Litchfield’s West Cemetery (with a monument of a drum labeled “Mustered Out) are a good representation of these graves.

IMG_3405These men fought on some of the most famous battlefields of the Civil War.

IMG_3406Others suffered through unimaginable horrors in prisoner of war camps.

Perhaps these memorials gave some comfort to the families of these soldiers in the aftermath of the war.  One hundred and fifty years later, the stones continue to remind passersby of these soldiers’ service to our nation.

Northfield’s Civil War Monument

northfield monumentIn the center of Northfield’s small triangular green sits the borough’s Civil War monument.  While notable for the beautiful flame finial at its top, what really makes this monument remarkable is the story of its origin.

names 2Looking to memorialize the men from Northfield who died during the war, a committee was chosen from a public meeting held at Northfield’s center schoolhouse on January 16, 1866.

names 3This was only nine months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, making this one of the oldest Civil War monuments in the country.

flame finialThe site was chosen because it the Episcopal church had recently moved.  Nelson Bolles of Marbledale executed a design for a brownstone obelisk, and a team of thirteen oxen driven by Northfield resident Joel Thorpe brought the monument to Northfield.  Julius Grover, a sculptor whose niece lived in Northfield, carved the remarkable flame finial, which perhaps serves as an eternal flame, reminding future generations of the sacrifices of Northfield’s men in the Civil War.

lincolnThe names of the dead are carved on three sides of the monument, and are joined by the name “LINCOLN”, whose assassination was still fresh in people’s minds.  Also carved on the monument are the words “That the generations to come might know them,” taken from Psalm 78.

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The men listed on the Northfield monument are:
Morton Castle, died of wounds received at the Battle of Antietam
Charles Castle, died in a Virginia hospital
Horace Hubbard, killed at Winchester
Hiram Cooley, killed at Winchester
David Wooster, killed at Fisher’s Hill
Walter Hale, killed at Chancellorsville
Joseph Camp, killed at Cold Harbor
Henry Miner, died in a Virginia hospital
Apollos Morse, killed at Cold Harbor

flame finialWhile the committee hoped the monument would be in place by July 4th, 1866 (the nation’s 90th birthday), delays postponed the dedication until September.    Still, Northfield’s monument was dedicated eight years before Litchfield’s Civil War monument, and twenty years ahead of the nationwide movement to memorialize its Civil War dead.

(NOTE:  The Civil War monument in Berlin, Connecticut, erected in July 1863, is believed to be the oldest in the country.  See The Hartford Courant, March 24, 2013.)

Hidden Nearby: John Brown’s Torrington Birthplace

These ruins are all that remain of the birthplace of one of the transformative figures in American history, John Brown.  The house was built in 1785 and was purchased by Brown’s father, Owen Brown, in 1799.

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John Brown in 1856

John Brown was named for his grandfather, who died when Owen Brown – one of eleven children – was five.  With the family in dire financial straits, Owen was sent to live with various relatives and friends; ultimately, Owen Brown was sent to work at a young age.  He was trained as a cobbler and worked farming local fields in the summer and making shoes over the winter.

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John Brown’s birthplace, in a colorized postcard.

As a teenager he met and married Ruth Mills.  Their first child died before turning two.  They soon after moved to this saltbox-style home in the rocky countryside of Litchfield County.  Here, on May 9th, 1800, John Brown was born.   Of the child’s birth, Owen wrote that there was “nothing very uncommon.”

It doesn’t require too much imagination to speculate that Brown received his military spirit from his namesake grandfather, a Revolutionary War officer.  His religious fervor was likely acquired from his maternal grandfather, a preacher.  The combination of these inherited traits would set Brown on the path to his raid on Harper’s Ferry.

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Connecticut’s Western Reserve

 The Browns left the rocky soil of Connecticut for the more fertile fields of Ohio when John was five.  The Browns were joined in this migration to Ohio by thousands of other families.  Known as Connecticut’s Western Reserve – or even New Connecticut – much of the land of Northeastern Ohio was owned by the Connecticut Land Company.  So many Connecticut residents moved to Ohio that the Hartford Courant published an article wondering who would care for the cemeteries of Litchfield County when all the residents had left.  The Browns would have been familiar with the names of many of the places in their new home state – nearby were Litchfield and Kent, Ohio.  The Browns settled in the small community of Hudson.

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The James Morris School, site of the Morris Academy. Sounds like a future post!

Even with the move, success continued to elude the Browns.  Owen opened a tannery in Ohio, which prospered for a time.  He thrived enough to send Brown back to Connecticut to be educated – at the Morris Academy, in Litchfield.  He hoped to be a Congregational minister, but money ran out and he returned to Ohio and the family tannery.  Here he developed his abolitionist ideals.

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“John Brown’s Fort” in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

 John Brown would move often in his life, and often struggled financially.  By the 1850s, his abolitionist ideals became militant and he gained notoriety for his actions in “Bleeding Kansas.”  On October 16, 1859, Brown led 18 men in an attack on the federal arsenal and armory in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (today West Virginia).  In Brown’s mind, this was the opening action of a campaign to free the nation’s slaves and create an independent slave republic.  Two days later, U.S. Marines under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee stormed the town’s engine house, which Brown had commandeered as a fort.  Most of Brown’s men were killed or captured.  Brown was wounded in the assault, captured, tried for treason and convicted.  On December 2, 1859, Brown was executed in Charles Town, Virginia (today West Virginia).

His birthplace, meanwhile, was restored in 1901 and opened as a historic house museum, one of the first in Connecticut.  In 1918, however, the house was destroyed by fire.  Still, the forest has been kept from swallowing up the ruins, and in 1932 a granite monument was erected.  In 1997 the site became a part of the Connecticut African American Freedom Trail, and in 2000 the site was acquired by the Torrington Historical Society.

Plans are in the works to improve the visitor experience at the site and to construct interpretive trails on the property.  While these seem to be appropriate actions to commemorate the birthplace of the man whom Herman Melville called the “meteor” of the Civil War, it is certainly a challenge to present the story of a man whom some consider a martyr for a great moral crusade and others a terrorist.

One Hundred Fifty Years Ago This Month …

Marker identifying the location of the recruiting tent for the 19th Connecticut Infantry on the Litchfield Green.

On April 15, 1861 – within days of learning of the Confederate firing on Fort Sumter – President Abraham Lincoln issued issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to serve for 90 days in order to put down the rebellion.  Much has been made of this as evidence that Lincoln perhaps had his head in the sand or was ignorant about the realities of the manpower needed to win the Civil War; however, under the existing Militia Act, the 75,000 men were all that Lincoln was legally allowed to call out.  Regardless of the technicalities of the law, Northern enlistment offices were overrun by volunteers – in fact, some men were actually sent home.

The battles at Bull Run, Shiloh, and on the Virginia peninsula made it clear that significantly more Union troops would be necessary to vanquish the Confederacy.  Therefore, in July 1862, Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 additional volunteers to serve for three years.


Lincoln’s call inspired James Sloan Gibbons to write the war hymn, “We are Coming, Father Abraham”:

We are coming, Father Abraham, 300,000 more

From Mississippi’s winding stream and from New England’s shore.

We leave our plows and workshops, our wives and children dear,

With hearts too full for utterance, with but a silent tear,

We dare not look behind us but steadfastly before.

We are coming, Father Abraham, 300,000 more!

 

We are coming, we are coming, our Union to restore,

We are coming Father Abraham, 300,000 more!

As patriotic songs alone did not ensure the volunteers the Union army needed, the Lincoln Administration assigned each state a quota for the number of volunteers to be raised.   Connecticut was thus required to raise 7,153 men for the Union cause.  The state in turn assigned quotas to each town based upon population and number of men already in the service; if these quotas weren’t met, a state draft would follow.  Based upon the calculations, Litchfield needed to raise 48 men in August 1862.

A “grand convention” of citizens from all over Litchfield County met on July 22nd at the Litchfield court house to discuss how to best meet the quotas, at which it was decided to raise a County Regiment comprised of volunteers from across Litchfield County.  Leverett Wessels, “one of the best and most popular men of the county”, was selected to be the colonel of the regiment.  The convention also recommended that each town offer its volunteers a bounty of $100 for enlisting, a sizeable increase over the $7 bounty that 1861 volunteers received! A town meeting in Litchfield ratified this recommendation on July 25th, and it was reported that “the utmost enthusiasm and good feeling prevailed.”  (All told, the town of Litchfield would award more than $50,000 in bounties over the course of the war; a dollar in 1860 would be worth more than $25 today. And these bounties were in addition to bounties offered by the state and federal governments.)

A recruiting tent in New York’s City Hall Park.

Almost immediately, a recruiting tent appeared on the Litchfield green, with A. B. Shumway supervising the operation from an office at the Litchfield Enquirer.  By July 25th, Shumway could state that he had “already enlisted several men, and expects to enlist many more before the regiment goes into camp.”  The newspaper reported on August 7th that “Litchfield will fill up its quota during this week.  The work goes bravely on, and the Regiment will be full, we trust, before the 20th of August.”  Another article stated that “recruiting is going on briskly in Litchfield.  Our people are becoming aroused to the true appreciation of their duty in these times.  The prospect of an early draft creates excitement.  (Draftees received no bonus)  We shall take our full town quota in the regiment into camp as soon as it is formed.”  The paper went a step further, predicting that Litchfield and Goshen alone would fill an entire company of 100 men.

The enlistees from Litchfield and across the county reported to Camp Dutton on Litchfield’s Chestnut Hill (a site that will be explored in a later post).  Whether its citizens were motivated by patriotism, financial incentive, or fear of being drafted, Litchfield exceeded its quota, sending nearly 70 men off to war in the summer of 1862, nearly all of them in the 19th Connecticut Infantry, which would gain fame on fields including Cold Harbor as the Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery.

Questions remain about this marker.  It appears that at one time something was attached to the top of this marker.  What was it?  When was this marker erected?  Who put it up – the Village Improvement Society?  The 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery Veterans’ Association?  More research is needed/  Stay tuned!

Horace Bushnell’s Birthplace

At the southwest corner of the intersection of Routes 202 and 209 in the borough of Bantam lies a small marker noting the birthplace of one of the most important theologians in American history.

Horace Bushnell was born at this site on April 14, 1802. He was raised on the family farm – some accounts say he grew up in New Preston – and lived the difficult life of a farmer in early America, often working from sunup to sundown. While his family lacked both wealth and social status, they had always hoped he would become a minister, and he therefore enrolled at Yale University. Bushnell would spend ten years at the New Haven school, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Following graduation, he served as the editor of a literary magazine in New York City, and studied law and was admitted to the bar.

Yale Divinity School

Bushnell maintained religious doubts during his adolescence. These doubts, however, dissipated and in 1833 he returned to Yale and earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree, was ordained as a Congregational minister, and was named the pastor of Hartford’s North Congregational Church. He would remain at this post for more than twenty years, until poor health forced his retirement.

He became Hartford’s most respected citizen, and was one of the leading American theologians of the nineteenth century. The author of twelve books, Bushnell was a transitional figure in American religious history, standing between the conservative traditions of American Puritans, and the more emotional or romantic views being put forth by Ralph Waldo Emerson and others. Bushnell’s centrist views were laid out in his 1839 work, A Discourse on the Slavery Question, in which he put forth a moderate approach to the controversy that was beginning to rip the nation in two.

Bushnell’s moderate approach still managed to draw critics; this was especially so following the publication of God in Christ (1849) which argued that the lack of historical context for the language of the Bible prevented its readers from truly understanding the work. Conservative preachers saw the threat posed by Bushnell’s ideology, and responded with savage criticism. Bushnell answered his critics in Christ in Theology (1851).

The Civil War posed an additional challenge to the moderate Bushnell; however, when the firing began, he was a vehement supporter of the Union cause. He was also among the first to ascribe larger purposes to the war, writing three months after Appomattox: “It is the ammunition spent that gains the battle, not the ammunition brought off from the field. These dead are the spent ammunition of the war, and theirs above all is the victory. … Here it is that the dead of our war have done a work for us so precious, which is all their own – they have bled for us; and by this simple sacrifice of blood they have opened for us a new great chapter of life.”

Bushnell married Mary Apthorp in 1833 and together they raised three children. Declining health forced him to give up his pastorate in 1859. He never again held a formal position, but continued to preach and write until his death in 1876.

Horace Bushnell Memorial Hall

Today, Bushnell is likely best known as the namesake for Bushnell Park or the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. Reverend Bushnell was a determined advocate for the creation of urban parks. Speaking to the Hartford City Council in 1853, he said, “an opening in the heart of the city itself, to which citizens will naturally flow in their walks. A place where children will play and the invalid go to breathe the freshness of nature. A place for holiday scenes and celebrations; a green carpet of ground, where high and low, rich and poor will exchange looks; an outdoor parlor opened for the cultivation of good manners and a right social feeling. A place of life and motion that will make us more conscious of being one people.” The Council responded by allocating $105,000 for the purchase of the park that today bears the minister’s name. The Bushnell Memorial Hall opened in 1930, built as a living memorial by Dotha Bushnell Hillyer to her father.

Bushnell Park

These institutions remain as tributes to one of the preeminent figures in American theological history, who traveled a long road from the difficult life of a Bantam farmer to the nation’s leading philosophical parlors.