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: Terryville’s Dorence Atwater Monument

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This monument in Terryville’s Baldwin Park offers testimony to one of the great episodes in Litchfield County’s Civil War history.

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Dorence Atwater

Dorence Atwater was only 16 when he enlisted – lying about his age – in the Union army. He was serving as a courier, running messages for a cavalry unit, when he was captured during the Gettysburg Campaign in July 1863.

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Camp Sumter, Andersonville, Georgia

Initially imprisoned at Belle Island in Richmond, Atwater was soon transferred to the notorious Camp Sumter – better known as Andersonville.   He fell ill in March 1864, but recovered to become a record keeper. While this removed him from the regular prison population, Atwater’s task was a morbid one, recording the names of the men who died.   The young man from Terryville, still only 19 years old, was consumed with ensuring that, in the words of a Hartford Courant article, “family members would know the fate and final resting spot of their loved ones.”

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Clara Barton

Atwater was paroled from Andersonville in March 1865 and upon leaving, smuggled the camp’s roll out in a bag. The punishment, had he been caught, would have been extreme. After the war, Atwater returned to Andersonville with Clara Barton to locate and mark the graves.  In all, approximately 13,000 Union prisoners died at the prison camp. For his actions, Barton reported to family members, “for the record of your dead you are indebted to the forethought, courage, and perseverance of a 19-year-old soldier named Dorence Atwater.”

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Princess Moeta Salmon Atwater

Atwater’s continued efforts on behalf of the victims of Andersonville – in this case protecting the list of names from those who wished to use it for commercial purposes – resulted in his court martial. Barton, however, took Atwater’s case directly to President Andrew Johnson, who not only pardoned Atwater but appointed him US consul to the Seychelle Islands. He followed this by serving as US consul to Tahiti, where he met and married his wife, an island princess. He also engaged in several highly successful business enterprises, including establishing a shipping line.

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Atwater and his wife returned to Terryville in 1908 to view the monument the town had erected in his honor in Baldwin Park. The monument had been dedicated one year earlier, with his great friend Clara Barton in attendance.

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