The American Civil War is generally accepted as the most traumatic event in this nation’s history. It radically changed the way we were governed, it delivered four million people from slavery and it sustained casualties of ? million dead from battle and disease.
Wethersfield sent 193 men to this war of which 6 were killed, 17 died of wounds or disease, 5 died in prison, 1 was shot for desertion and 19 were wounded. Wethersfield’s population was 2705 in 1860 and nearly one half of the eligible men served in the war. The experience of the 16th Connecticut Regiment was particularly difficult.
The Sixteenth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers was organized during the month of August in 1862. The regiment was formed primarily of Hartford area men and included 15 men from Wethersfield. The service of these Wethersfield men was especially tragic as two were wounded, 9 captured and 4 died, 3 of them at Andersonville Prison.
August of 1862 was a trying time for the North. McClellan’s ponderous campaign to take Richmond and end the war was frustrated in seven days in July by a new Southern hero, Robert E. Lee. As McClellan brooded over his real and imagined lack of support from Washington, there were stirrings in other parts of Virginia that led to uneasiness in the North. However, the public still had confidence in that the war would soon be over and the new Connecticut Regiment went off to war with youthful enthusiasm.
The 16th had little time to train. It left for Washington on August 29th and went into camp. Less than three weeks later, on September 17th, the regiment was involved in the battle of Antietam on the bloodiest day of the Civil War.
Their participation occurred at the end of that day, as general Ambrose Burnside’s 9th Corps made a last push for victory. This Corps was driving Lee’s forces back when attacked by Gen. AP. Hill’s Confederate Troops, which had marched 17 miles from Harper’s Ferry. The New regiment was no match for Hill’s tested soldiers. Stephen Sears in ‘Landscape Turned Red’ says this of the 16th. ‘The Case of the 16th Connecticut was typical. Less that two weeks after taking the oath in Hartford, these green groups went on campaign having received, the regimental historian wrote “no drill, no discipline, few instructions even marching. It was little more than of crowd of earnest Connecticut Boys” ‘. The terrible casualty count was 39 killed, 76 mortally wounded, 135 wounded and 21 captured or missing. Corporal Samuel Baker of Wethersfield was among the wounded.
The 16th had minor action in the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg and shortly after was detached from the Army of the Potomac to fight in several small battles in southern Virginia. On January 21st, 1864, the regiment was ordered to Plymouth, North Carolina.
Plymouth was a port for sea going shipping on the Roanoke River about 6 miles from Albemarle Sound, the Union had controlled eastern North Carolina since the summer of 1862. Its superior naval forces were effective in this area of bays, sounds and navigable rivers. There was a strong pro-Union presence among he Eastern North Carolinians many of whom had associations with Northern ports. The South found the region to difficult to hold and had not devoted a lot of effort to it. In the spring of 1884, however, the Confederates built a new ironclad, which they felt would neutralize the Union sea power. A Southern force of 12,000 men was sent to besiege Plymouth, which had a garrison of about 1600. Even with this large discrepancy, the garrison held, thanks to the support of four Union gunboats in the river. However when the Confederate ironclad arrived, it sank one Union boat, badly damaged another and drove the others off. The firepower of this gunboat on the river and the overwhelming difference in troop strength quickly forced the Union troops to surrender. Only Company H that had been on detached duty escaped capture. Before the 16th regiment surrendered, its men tore the battle flag into small pieces and divided them among the members rather than being disgraced by its loss. It was considered a great dishonor to lose your battle flag.
The captured troops were dispersed to various Southern prison camps, the majority going to Andersonville. Eight Wethersfield men were sent to Andersonville and three died from conditions there.
One of the Wethersfield survivors was Sergeant Major Robert Kellogg. He wrote a book of his experiences entitled ‘Life and Death in Rebel Prisons’. The book was published in 1865 and the Wethersfield Historical Society was recently given a copy of the first edition. The book is a good read although it is written in the florid Victorian style of the mid-19th century. He writes of this of the battle at Plymouth…’Lt Col Burnham ordered the band to the breast works and had them strike up some national airs and though they might not have been particularly satisfying to the gray-robed legions without, the spirit-stirring strains were in no way lost upon the hearts of our own boys. Brave hearts became braver, and if the patriotism of any waxed cold, and the courage of any faltered, they here grew warmed and stronger until pride of country had touched the will and indomitable principle had been kindled they eventually declared the man a hero until death’.
Andersonville was a horrible place. There was insufficient food and shelter, medical care was virtually non-existent and there were organized bands of ‘raiders’, captured Union soldiers who preyed on the weak and the newcomers. (Statistics vary, but from 1/3 to ? of those captured died in prison). In spite of this there was community in the prison camp as the men worked together for shelter and protection. Several attempts to tunnel out of the camp were made and nearly all were unsuccessful. There was barter among the prisoners with what little money and trinkets they were able to retain.
Ira Forbes of Wethersfield noted in his diary that ‘on October 4th he traded a gold pen and a silver pencil for a dollar to buy a few potatoes.’ The prisoner’s knowledge of the progress of the war was surprisingly up to date. They received fresh news whenever new prisoners arrived in camp. Rumors of exchange were constant and always disappointing.
At this stage of the war, exchange of prisoners had been discontinued because of the South’s unwillingness to exchange black soldiers and the North’s realization that the south was rapidly running out of men and did not wish to provide a supply. Sgt Major Kellogg was a leader and father figure among the prisoners and his book reveals his quiet heroism. In the autumn of 1864 prisoner exchange was renewed and in November, members of the 16th regiment were shuttled by train to Savannah, Georgia where they were transferred to a Union ship and taken north. The war was essentially over for the 16th. The prisoners were in no condition for battles and they had served their country enough.
In 1879 the remaining remnants of the regimental flags were gathered together, sewn together into a new flag, and presented to the State where it can be seen today in the hall of flags at the State Capitol.
The Wethersfield men who died from their captivity were Corporal Samuel Belden, Private John Damery and Pvt David Deming. Private Deming’s grave is in the Wethersfield burying ground, his young wife remarried after the war and moved west with her children and her new husband.
Wethersfield men served in 26 different regiments in the Civil War. Some enlisted for as little as ninety days and never fired a gun in combat. Others fought valiantly in most of the major campaigns, particularly in the East. It is clear that the men of the 16th Volunteer Regiment experienced the worst of the war’s horrors.
There is a monument on the west side of the State Capitol entitled Andersonville Boy and it honors the men who were imprisoned there. The monument was erected in 1907 and Sgt Major Robert Kellogg was one of the men responsible for the design and placement of the monument.
It was fitting, that Kellogg himself, who was nearing age 70 at this time, was the model for Andersonville Boy.