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.

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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: Bethlehem’s War of 1812 Monument

Most New England towns have a monument to their Civil War veterans.  Many also honor their sons who fought in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.  Bethlehem, Connecticut, is one of the few towns to honor its War or 1812 veterans.

This year marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812.  While the anniversary has been largely overshadowed by the Civil War sesquicentennial, the War of 1812 was an important event in the history of the young American republic.  For the second time in 35 years Americans had stood up to the British, the world’s great power, and had held their own.  The end of the war, followed by the American success at the Battle of New Orleans (word of the treaty reached Louisiana too late to prevent the battle) led to a surge in American nationalism and a spirit of political unity known as the Era of Good Feelings.

The Old State House, site of the Hartford Convention, 1814-15

Still, the war was quite unpopular in Connecticut.  As much of the state’s economy was tied to trade with Great Britain, the state suffered financially from the decision to go to war.  Connecticut’s entire Congressional delegation voted against the war.  Many of Connecticut’s Federalist politicians supported the call for the Hartford Convention, an assembly of leading New Englanders concerned, among other things, with ending the war.  Seven Connecticut representatives, including Nathaniel Smith of nearby Woodbury, attended the Convention, where calls were made for the secession of New England states from the Union.  The end of the war and the results from New Orleans made fools of these men, most of whom saw their political careers ruined.

Residents of Stonington work on fortifications for their town, 1814.

Connecticut’s opposition to the war was manifested in other ways, as well.  While some 10,000 Connecticut men turned out for the war, the state government refused to allow the members of the Connecticut militia to leave the state.  There was little military action in the state.  An contingent of ships was trapped by the British at New London, but the appearance of a large group of state militia allowed the American sailors to escape.  In 1814, a British fleet bombarded Stonington for three days, while $200,000 worth of damage was done to shipping concerns at Essex.

With hindsight, we know that the war had a minimal impact on Litchfield County.  Statewide, there were 233 casualties as a result of the war.  Few families of Litchfield would have felt the effects of the war.  Still, the men of Bethlehem who enlisted to serve knew none of this.  They joined the war effort with the belief that they would be thrust into action against the British, and were willing to make this sacrifice.  It is this patriotic spirit that the town of Bethlehem commemorated with this monument.

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.

Anson Dickinson: Milton’s Miniature Portraitist

Marker for the site of the Dickinson home, along Sawmill Road in Milton.

Litchfield’s borough of Milton, located in the northern part of town, derives its name from the several small mills located there along the Shepaug River.  One of those mills was the corn mill of brothers Benjamin and Oliver Dickinson.  Oliver was a master carpenter who counted among his constructions the Trinity Episcopal Church in Milton.  Around 1778, Oliver married Anna Landon, and their son Anson was born in 1779.

Tools of a silversmith

Around 1796, when he was 17, Anson became the apprentice of Isaac Thompson, a Litchfield silversmith.  Of his apprenticeship, it was written:

He was frequently observed to steal away to a retired chamber and spend hours of solitude, intent upon some deep and self-imposed task.  Some of the family finally discovered that he had been intently engaged in painting

Elizabeth Canfield Tallmadge, painted by Anson Dickinson. Courtesy of Litchfield Historical Society.

Dickinson’s work was evidently of such beauty that he was released from the terms of his apprenticeship, and he embarked on a career as a miniature portraitist.  In 1802, the following advertisement appeared in the Connecticut Journal:

Anson Dickinson has taken a room directly opposite the Episcopal Church, he he offers his services to the Ladies and Gentlemen of New Haven, in the line of MINIATURE PAINTING.

Dr. Daniel Sheldon of Litchfield, painted by Dickinson in 1831. Courtesy of Litchfield Historical Society.

The earliest known portrait by Dickinson is of his uncle, Abel Dickinson, which was painted on New Year’s Day, 1803, and is signed by the artists on the reverse side.  Litchfield, with several well-to-do residents and the students of the Sarah Pierce Academy and Tapping Reeve Law School provided a steady source of commissions when Dickinson’s practice was starting out.

Attorney Charles Perkins, painted by Anson Dickinson, likely when Perkins was a student at Tapping Reeve’s law school. Courtesy of Litchfield Historical Society.

A particular challenge for all miniature portraitists of the time period was obtaining the necessary equipment for the craft.  In addition to the pigments needed to ground into watercolors and the glycerins and gum arabic that were utilized to achieve consistency, Dickinson required magnifying and reducing glasses.  The reducing glass was used to secure the correct proportion for his subject, and the magnifying glass allowed for the fine detail work in his paintings.  Both of these required stands so that the artist’s hands were free to paint.

New York City, 1830

Soon, Dickinson exhausted the potential commissions of Litchfield, and embarked on a being an itinerant artist.  He traveled to New York, Albany, Montreal, and even Charleston, South Carolina between 1805 and 1812.  In 1812, Dickinson married Sarah Brown of New York City.  The couple settled in New York City, and in 1824 adopted two children.

“Colonel McIntyre” painted by Anson Dickinson around 1810.

Dickinson would spend the next eight years operating a New York studio, and became so well established that he no longer needed to seek out commissions.  In this eight year period, he painted almost three hundred portraits, including some of the most famous residents of the city.

Portrait of Asa Bacon by Anson Dickinson. Courtesy of Litchfield Historical Society.

In 1819, however, financial panic struck the city and the country, and Dickinson relocated his operations to Montreal and Quebec, and in 1822 moved to Boston.  A few years later, he had relocated to Washington, D.C.  He was unable, however, to rediscover the success he enjoyed before the panic, and returned to Connecticut in the early 1830s.

Again, we are left to ask: who erected this monument?

Dickinson died in Milton on March 9, 1852, at the age of 73.  He had spent over forty years traveling the United States and Canada to execute what many considered to be the finest American miniature portraits.  His tally of portraits exceeded 1500, an average of about one a week over the length of his career.  Celebrated in his own time, Dickinson has been largely forgotten in ours.  His works, however, grace the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Alain and May White Memorial Boulder

Here is among the most hidden in plain sight of Litchfield’s many monuments and markers.  How many hundreds, if not thousands, of hikers and bikers pass by this engraved boulder near the intersection of White Memorial’s Mattatuck and Beaver Pond trails without seeing it?

The boulder honors two of Litchfield’s most distinguished residents, Alain (1880-1951) and Margaret “May” (1869-1941) White.  Together they preserved nearly 9,000 acres of land that today comprise the White Memorial Foundation, Mohawk State Forest and Mohawk Mountain State Park, Kent Falls State Park, Macedonia Brook State Park, the People’s State Forest, Campbell Falls State Park, and portions of the Steep Rock Preserve.

The Whites were the children of John Jay White, a New York City real estate magnate who built Whitehall, a Victorian summer estate in Litchfield that today is the main building of the White Memorial Foundation.  Alain was educated as a botanist at Harvard in the era of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, a combination that may have led to his first impulses of conservation.  (It is interesting to note that White was a champion chess player, who is credited in some circles with breaking the German code in World War I, which was based upon a pattern of chess moves.)

Fishing the Bantam River with his friend William Mitchell Van Winkle in 1908, Alain commented “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to preserve this river, lake and countryside as we see it now?”  With his sister May he would devote nearly the next half century to acquiring additional lands for a preserve dedicated to the memory of their parents, including the Babbit farm along today’s Route 63, on which this boulder stands.

Their goal was not simply to allow nature to run its course on these lands, however; rather, they hoped to “make shoreline available for youth camps, simple vacation home and convalescent retreats” (Rachel Carley, Litchfield, p. 225).  This, then, was practical conservationism.  Nor were their philanthropic impulses limited to nature; Alain was deeply involved in the establishment of the Connecticut Junior Republic, and in fact collaborated with Cass Gilbert, the architect of New York’s famed Woolworth Building, on its design.  He also wrote a detailed history of Litchfield in 1920.

May was a Sunday school teacher and avid theater aficionado who began a series of children’s performances at Whitehall, and who worked to turn the Lakeside Hotel into a summer getaway for children from New York City, a forerunner of the Fresh Air Fund.


Still, they are rightly best remembered today for their remarkable contribution of a 4,000-acre backyard for Litchfield, a refuge not only for animals but for hikers, bikers and kayakers.  As real estate development infringes upon more and more open spaces, the words carved on the boulder are increasingly appropriate:

In most grateful memory of

ALAIN AND MAY WHITE

brother & sister who loved

the quiet and beauty of the

forest and who saved these

thousands of acres for us.

To find the monument, park in the small parking area near the intersections of Routes 63 and 61.  Walk east on the Beaver Pond Trail (white blazes) until the trail intersects with the Mattatuck Trail (blue blazes).  Follow the fork to the left, the Mattatuck Trail.  The monument will soon appear, set in the woods on your left.

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!