Armistice Day in Litchfield

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The recent centennial of the end of World War I provides a timely opportunity to look back on how that occasion was marked in Litchfield. The following account of November 11, 1918, is from Alain White’s 1920 book, The History of the Town of Litchfield, Connecticut, 1720-1920:

“The Court House bell gave the local signal and soon all the church bells
joined in, ringing out the tidings in a perfect medley of noise.  The firemen manned the chemical engine, and started out on a procession all over the Borough, a crowd quickly gathered, and soon about 200 men, women and children were in line, headed by the Stars and Stripes. They marched down South Street, and at the invitation of the rector, Mr. Brewster, into St. Michael’s church, where the people with deep emotion, sang together the Doxology and the national anthem, and gave thanks with grateful hearts that the long terrible years of conflict were ended at last. Out again on the Green, a bonfire was built, and while it was burning brightly impromptu speeches were made. The day dawned, soft and mellow, as a November day sometimes is. About seven o’clock there was a little let up for breakfast, but the bells never quite ceased ringing. The dignified village of Litchfield had a disheveled look on that morning, very unlike its usual trim appearance. Papers, confetti, the remnants of the bonfire littered the center and plainly showed that the town had been up all night celebrating. Refreshed by breakfast, every one who could get there, hastened to Bantam to join the parade. A band, provided by the forethought of W. S. Rogers led the procession, which included about sixty automobiles. Another pause came for the noon-day meal, then came the Litchfield parade, in which Bantam joined. The marchers were headed by Frank H. Turkington, and the Home Guard, the D. A. R., the Red Cross, the fire departments, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, the service flag of St. Anthony’s carried by young women, and many automobiles were in line, a coffin dedicated to the Kaiser was a special feature.  Litchfield’s enthusiasm did not spend itself with these demonstrations, but finished the day with a patriotic “sing” on the Green in the evening, patriotic speeches and an appeal for the United War Work Campaign, which was then in progress.”

Amidst the understandable celebration, the town still mourned for its ten sons who died in the conflict. The sacrifices of these men were noted with a star next to their name on the town’s monument to its men who served in the World War. In many cases, those stars are now missing; in this centennial year of the Great War’s end, it seems appropriate for the town to repair this honor. But it is important to remember that these were men with lives and families, not just names on a plaque, deserving to be remembered for their sacrifices and experiences. They are:

Henry E. Cattey, who is often listed as being from the “Marsh District” of Northfield, but sometimes listed as being from Thomaston. He was a mechanic in Company I of the Sixth Infantry, and was killed in October 1918 while liberating the French town of Bois des Rappes in the first phase of the Meuse-Argonnes Offensive. 

Roy F. Cornwell, who enlisted as a member of the New York State Militia from his father’s residence in Ellenville, but had lived in Litchfield for some time. He died on the ship en route to France.

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Clayton Devines died of the Spanish Flu in November 1918 while at an army camp in Florida. Between 50 and 100 million people worldwide died of the epidemic.

Joseph Donohue – hometown unknown – was a student at the Connecticut Junior Republic who enlisted in the army and died in action on July 23, 1918, during a French and Americans advance on the Ourcq River. 

August Guinchi of the 56th Regiment Coast Artillery was gassed was driving a tank. In a weakened condition, he succumbed to typhoid fever October 31, 1918.

Robert Jeffries died of pneumonia on January 20, 2018, at Camp Gordon, Florida.

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Litchfield’s Morgan-Weir American Legion Post is named for Frank A. Morgan and James V. Weir, both of whom died in combat in World War I.

Frank A. Morgan was eager to enlist but was twice rejected from military service because he didn’t weigh enough. When the weight limit was lowered, Morgan became the first man from Litchfield to enlist. A corporal, he also became the first of Litchfield’s men to die in battle. His mother, Mrs. G. Durand Merriman, received a letter from her son’s commanding officer, providing details about his death: “Your son, Corporal Frank A. Morgan was killed June 20, 1918, near Mandres in the Toul sector. He was killed by the concussion of a shell; even though he died instantly, there was not a mark on him. . . . When we first went into the line he acted as a runner between the platoon and company headquarters and did his work so well that I proposed his name to the company commander as one to be made corporal at the first opportunity, and I am sure that had he lived he would have continued to win promotion. He is buried in an American Military Cemetery and the flag he fought for floats over his grave, while by his side are comrades who with him have paid the supreme price.”

Howard C. Sherry died of pneumonia on January 16, 1918, at Camp Johnston, Florida.

James V. Weir served in the 102nd Regiment alongside his brother, Thomas. Thomas provided the following account of his brother’s death at the Battle of Chateu Thierry:  “At the start of the Chateau Thierry drive they went over the top at 5:30 A.M. and went into woods the other side of the starting position. They relieved the Marines, with Marines on left and French on right; the position was in a horse shoe. The company went ahead and had to wait for the French. They went back and went ahead again without barrage. Co. H. was in the 2nd batallion. Enemy artillery fire was very heavy, 2nd battalion in support, 3rd battalion ahead and 1st in reserve. The company was in open field kneeling down in close formation, a German big shell came over and landed 200 yards away. A piece landed beside the two Weir boys and hit James between the eyes. Roy Hotchkiss helped to carry out and bandage James, who was taken to the 103rd Field Hospital at La Ferte and buried there”.

Of Pio Zavotti, little is known except that he was born in Italy and was killed in action fighting for his adopted country.  

                                     Calm fell. From Heaven distilled a clemency;
                                     There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky;
                                     Some could, some could not, shake off misery:
                                     The Sinister Spirit sneered: ‘It had to be!’
                                     And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, ‘Why?’
                                          – From Thomas Hardy, “And There Was a Great Calm”
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Litchfield County at Gettysburg

I’ve just returned from my annual trip to the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, which led me to think about Litchfield County’s role at the battle. Gettysburg was not Litchfield County’s battle; the majority of volunteers from the northwest hills served with the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery. Their day would come at the Battle of Cold Harbor, nearly a year after Gettysburg. Still, a glance at the casualty lists on Charles P. Hamblen’s Connecticut Yankees at Gettysburg reveals the sacrifices made by some residents of the county in the Civil War’s greatest battle.

Robert McCarrick of Lakeville was 19 when he left the state to serve the Union cause, enlisting as a private in the 20th New York State Militia (also known as the 80th New York  Infantry). He was captured by Confederates on July 1, 1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg. He returned to the Union army and served through 1864.

Allen Brady of Torrington served as the major of the 17th Connecticut, which was primarily a Fairfield County unit. When Lt. Colonel Fowler was killed on July 1, Brady assumed command of the regiment, which bravely repulse a Confederate assault on Cemetery Hill on July 2nd. In this action, Brady was wounded by a shell fragment and was discharged from the army for disability. He received an honorary promotion to colonel.  With Brady on Cemetery Hill was Private Daniel Hunt of Bethlehem. He was captured by Confederates on the morning of July 3rd. Paroled in August, he served through the rest of the war.

Charles Squires of Roxbury, a private in the 5th Connecticut Infantry, was captured in the fighitng on Culp’s Hill on July 2nd. He was paroled in August 1863, but was killed in fighting at the coincidentally-named Culp’s Farm in Georgia in 1864.

Nathan Abbott of Watertown, a sergeant in the 20th Connecticut, was wounded in the fighting on Culp’s Hill on July 3rd. He recovered from his wounds and was promoted to be an officer. He served through the remainder of the war, returning home in June 1865.

 

 

Litchfield County’s most famous Civil War soldier was John Sedgwick of Cornwall. A West Point graduate and a major general, Sedgwick commanded the Sixth Corps of the Union Army of the Potomac, at 18,000 men the largest corps in the army. He led his men on a famous 34-mile march to Gettysburg, arriving in time for some of his men to go into action on July 2nd and 3rd. Following the battle, Sedgwick was tasked with leading the pursuit of Robert E. Lee’s retreating Confederate army. Sedgwick was killed at the battle of Spotsylvania Court House in May 1864. He is buried in Cornwall, and monuments to his honor stand at West Point, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, and in his hometown.

 

 

LHRR Series: The Sixth Mile: The West Cemetery

Microwave Mile (Courtesy of Janet Serra)

Entering the sixth mile of the Litchfield Hills Road Race, runners encounter what is known as the “Microwave Mile.” Here the shade of White Memorial forests is left behind, and in the open the sun of a hot June afternoon is brought fully to bear. The scene becomes more ominous to those runners who take note of the West Cemetery alongside the course.

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Here, some of the town’s earliest settlers were buried. Current burials continue in the adjacent Saint Anthony’s Cemetery (an annex is across the street). The historian, however, is drawn to effigy markers, gravestones without accompanying bodies. One of these is a memorial to Joseph Harris, the first original settler of the town to die. In 1723, Harris was killed by  a group of Native Americans while tending to his fields. Shot dead and scalped, his body was found by neighbors the next day, sitting on the ground with his head resting against a tree. This was in the area of town where Litchfield Ford now stands. That area became known as Harris Plains.

Harris’s burial location is no longer known, but in 1830, Litchfield residents erected a monument to their ancestor in the West Cemetery. It reads:

In Memory of Joseph Harris who was murdered by the Indians in the year 1721. While plowing in his Field in the vicinity of the Alms House, he was shot by the Indians concealed in Ambush. He was found dead Sitting on the Ground, his Head and Body reclining against the Trunk of a Tree. To record the first Death among the original Settlers of this Town & to perpetuate the Memory of a worthy but unfortunate Citizen this Monument is erected 1830 by the voluntary Benefactions of individual Subscribers

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Effigy graves in the West Cemetery

A second example of effigy graves is in the area of the cemetery reserved for Civil War veterans. Initially, this land was donated as a potters field for those soldiers who could not afford a grave plot. Over time, it became a place for families to erect markers to their sons and husbands whose bodies did not return home from the war. In Victorian America, the idea of a “good death,” in which the stricken died at home, in their bed, surrounded by loved ones, gave comfort in times of grief. The Civil War, with young men dying in brutal fashion in unfamiliar surroundings posed an obvious but serious threat to this notion. A solution was the effigy grave, a place on which where families could focus their grief and prayers.

For more information on the history of the Litchfield Hills Road Race, see Lou Pellegrino’s book A History of the Litchfield Hills Road Race: In Smallness there is Beauty (now available at the Litchfield Historical Society).

 

 

 

Hidden Nearby: Sheffield’s Shays’ Rebellion Monument

IMG_2014The United States’s first national government, the Articles of Confederation, was approved by the states beginning in 1777. In Connecticut, this was done through town meetings. Despite this support, the Articles did not solve all the young nation’s problems. Many farmers returning from war found themselves in debt and unable to pay their taxes in the gold or silver that Massachusetts required. When, in 1786, courts in that state began seizing the farms of delinquent taxpayers, angry farmers in western Massachusetts took up arms in an attempt to shut down these courthouses. The leader of the this movement, Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays, gave his name to the rebellion.

Daniel Shays (left) and supporter Jacob Shattuck

Shays and his men marched on courthouses throughout the central part of the state, while other Shaysites closed the court in Great Barrington. In January 1787, Shays led a force in an attempt to seize the federal armory in Springfield.  There they were met and routed by Massachusetts militia led by General Benjamin Lincoln.  Shays’s force dispersed, with many men making their way to New York and Vermont.  Many of those attempting to reach the Empire State were cut off by militia on February 27, 1787, on the road between Sheffield and Egremont.  In the ensuing battle, the last organized part of Shays’s forces was defeated.

Roger Sherman, a one-time resident of New Milford, played a prominent role at the Constitutional Convention.

Roger Sherman, a one-time resident of New Milford, played a prominent role at the Constitutional Convention.

Several of Shays’s men – as well as the spirit of the rebellion – crossed the border into Litchfield County. In the spring of 1787, Dr. John Hurlbert of Alford, Massachusetts, a supporter of Shays, arrived in Sharon to awaken “a similar spirit.” Hurlbert organized a number of men under William Mitchell, who as captain trained his company in secret. Hurlbert, Mitchell, and three others were arrested, but when Shays’ Rebellion collapsed, the prosecutions were discontinued. The alarm raised by Shays’ Rebellion – and the inability of the federal government to act to stop it – resulted later that year in the Constitutional Convention that would meet in Philadelphia.

Hidden Nearby: Sharon’s Moravian Monument

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Jan Hus

The Unity of Brethren, better known as the Moravians, also played an important role in the early religious history of the county.  The group’s nickname stems from the refugees from Moravia, an area of the present day Czech Republic.  The Moravians were essentially followers of the Catholic revolutionary Jan Hus, who advocated for giving lay people a more prominent role in the church and having masses said in vernacular languages.  Hus was burned at the stake in 1415.

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Nicolaus von Zinzendorf

One of the principal tenets of the Moravian church is the “ideal of service,” which emphasizes the importance of educational and missionary work.  At the forefront of these ideals was Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, a German social reformer and Moravian bishop who led efforts to spread Christianity through the Native Americans of the Northeast.  Around 1740, von Zinzendorf himself came to America, and preached to Indians in New Milford.  He was so successful in igniting the fire of Moravianism that the natives agreed to move with Zinzendorf to Bethlem (today Bethlehem), Pennsylvania.  Harsh conditions and illness, however, soon led the Native Americans to return.

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Monument to Rauch in Pine Plains, NY. Courtesy of Ancestry.com

Around the same time, a second Moravian mission was established in Sharon to minister to the settlements at Shekomeko (Pine Plains, NY), Wequagnock (near Sharon), and the Schaghticokes in Kent.  The mission was founded by the Reverend Christian Henry Rauch, who presided for two years before turning the work over to 26 year-old Reverend Gotlieb Buetner, who died two years later, and was buried at the site of the mission.

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New York State chased the Moravians out of their borders in 1745, fearing that the missionaries were secret emissaries of the Catholic Church.  This led numerous Christian Indians to settle around Sharon, where the Moravian mission continued under the leadership of David Bruce, a Moravian teacher from Edinburgh, Scotland.  In 1789, George Loskiel wrote of Bruce’s activities in his History of the Moravian Missioners Among the North American Indians:

Bruce … resided chiefly in a house at Wequagnock … but sometimes resided at         Schaticook, whence he paid visits to Westenhunk, by invitation of the head chief of the Mohikan nation, soweing the seeds of the gospel wherever he came …. Twenty Indians were added to the church by baptism.  Brother Bruce  remained in his station till his happy departure out of time …. He was remarkably cheerful during his illness, and his conversation edified all who saw him.  Perceiving that his end approached, he called his Indian brethren present to his bedside, and, pressing their hands to his breast, besought them fervently to remain faithful unto the end, and immediately fell asleep in the Lord.

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That was July 9, 1749.  A monument to Bruce and Joseph Powel, a later Moravian missionary, was erected in Sharon in October 1859, 110 years after Bruce’s death.  The monument still stands, hidden deep within the woods along Route 361.  On its east face is the following passage from Isaiah:

How beautiful upon the mountains

Are the feet of him that bringeth

Good tidings, that publisheth peace,

That bringeth good tidings of good,

That publisheth salvation.

Special thanks to my friend and colleague Warren Prindle of Sharon for not only bringing this monument to my attention, but also hacking through the woods with me to find it!

Road Race Park

Road Race parkWith the 37th annual Litchfield Hill Road Race only days away it seems appropriate to highlight a relatively new monument that shows that commemoration is an ongoing process.  Where the trail over Plumb Hill intersects with Whites’ Woods Road stands Road Race Park, a small plot of land with markers to recognize the contributions of those who have helped make the race possible.

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Photo courtesy of Waterbury Republican American

What began in 1977 as the brainchild of a few friends to bring to Litchfield a road race modeled after the famed seven-miler in Falmouth, Massachusetts, has grown into a weekend of events that culminates with approximately 1,500 runners making their way through town and White Memorial.  Participants have come from all age groups and dozens of countries and have included those who walk the course to marathon champions Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson.  Runner’s World Magazine declared Gallow’s Hill the eighth most difficult hill in racing.

Of course, none of it would be possible without the volunteers.

flamingoOne of the race’s notable volunteers was George Dwan, who served as race marshal at the site of Road Race park from the first race until his death in 2008.  With his friend Roberta Coffill Healy, Dwan would decorate the area with pink flamingos, silver Christmas trees, pinwheels, and other tacky trinkets.

LHRRWhen George passed away, Roberta continued the tradition with her husband Jack.  She also was instrumental in commemorating the work that Dwan and others put into the race.  On the Saturday before the 2009 race, Road Race Park was dedicated.  It consists of three large stones; those on the left and right are sitting stones.  The center stone is inscribed with the words of race co-founder (with Bill Neller) Joe Concannon, “A labor of love and a celebration of the community.”  On the back of the stone is a running beer mug, a reminder that a sense of fun has always pervaded the race.

DwanIn front of the stone is a marker honoring George Dwan’s service to the Litchfield Hill Road Race.  It is fitting that a flamingo sits in the marker’s upper left hand corner.

Special thanks to Roberta Coffill Healy for sharing her memories of George Dwan and the story of Road Race Park!

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.