Nearly every city and town in Connecticut has a Civil War monument, usually a standing soldier or an obelisk. Of the 169 municipalities in the state, 135 have at least one. The monument typically memorializes the soldiers who served from that town – not the generals.
Why so many? And why so many more Civil War monuments than monuments to soldiers of the American Revolution or the Mexican-American War?
Perhaps, argues historian Thomas Brown, the ubiquitous Civil War monument represents the growing acceptance of a standing army. The idea was much more palatable after the Civil War than before the American Revolution. After all, Americans fought the British partly because they objected to the standing army of redcoats in their midst.
Or perhaps the availability of talent, technology and materials explains the Civil War monument. After the war, quarries employed stonecutters in places like Barre, Vt., Concord, N.H., and nearby Westerly, R.I., and Guilford, Conn. Talented stonecutters immigrated from Europe, while architects and designers learned their craft to meet the demand of the postwar building boom.
But maybe it just came down to the unprecedented emotional impact of the Civil War on American families. In Connecticut, more than 55,000 residents fought in the conflict and 5,300 of them died during their military service. Overall, 620,000 died in the war.
Here are some more fun facts about the Connecticut Civil War monument:
1. The leading supplier and designer of Connecticut’s Civil War monuments also founded the Travelere’s Insurance Company.
Joseph Batterson was born into the stone business in Bloomfield, Conn. His father owned a marble quarry in Washington, Conn. Batterson expanded the business, acquired several quarries and employed a team of designers and sculptors to create monuments.
President Lincoln appointed him building contractor for the Library of Congress Building. He also built the Connecticut State Capitol, the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Building and Marble House in Newport, R.I., among others.
Some of his Civil War memorials include The American Volunteer at Antietam National Cemetery, the Soldiers’ National Monument at Gettysburg National Cemetery and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in New London.
Batterson got the idea for the Travelers Insurance Company during his travels in Europe. He’d seen the success of the Railway Passenger Assurance Company and launched a similar business on his return.
Batterson had an avid interest in Egypt and was recognized as an expert Egyptologist. He also considered himself an artist and designed the Soldiers Monument in Granby, Conn.
2, Nathaniel Lyon’s memorial shows why you shouldn’t use marble.
He has a monument in Eastford and one in St. Louis. The one in St. Louis is in much better shape.
Lyon was just a captain in the Union Army when he was put in charge of the St. Louis Armory just before war broke out in 1861. But Missouri’s governor refused to supply troops for the Union forces, so Lyon began recruiting his own military units. He drew from the Wide Awakes, a Republican paramilitary organization that had spent months preparing for war.
The makeup of the units offended Southern-leaning Missourians, but Lyon did not worry about the tactics he used to win. He armed his own units, 10,000-strong, and began shifting the militia’s supplies to Illinois. L did it for fear the secessionists in Missouri would seize them.
He died in battle months later, on Aug. 10, 1861. The first general to die in the Civil War, a crowd of 15,000 attended his funeral when his remains returned to Eastford, Conn.
Connecticut put up a marble memorial to him. And that isn’t a good thing. As the Connecticut Museum of Culture and History points out, it displays “ the attractive quality of marble for carving in combination with its unsatisfactory aging characteristics.” Three sides of the four-sided obelisk are black, deteriorated and covered with crusts, algae and cracks.
3. There was no Civil War memorial to Connecticut’s black regiment until 2008.
The 29th Regiment Connecticut Colored Volunteers was declared full on January 8, l864 and “mustered in” on March 4, 1864. Nine hundred men trained in Fair Haven. Afterward, they served as a discrete unit. The 29th had the distinction of being the first infantry to enter Richmond.
Until the erection of the monument in New Haven in 2008, the race of soldiers who died was indicated on only four monuments.
At Smith Gateway in Union Cemetery, Niantic, symbols designating “colored” follow the names on the plaque.
On Soldiers Monument in Weatogue, seven of the 194 names are identified as from “Colored Regiments.”
The Soldiers Monument in Center Cemetery, East Hartford, also identifies a name with “(col’d).”
Soldiers Monument in Watertown recognizes the 29th Regiment along with other regiments.
4. The oldest permanent Civil War monument in the U.S. is in Berlin, Conn.
There’s a reason for it. The Congregational Church in Kensington, part of Berlin, wanted to honor six men killed in the war. And the pastor had a special interest in veterans.
The monument was a joint project of Kensington artist and photographer named Nelson Augustus Moore and the Kensington Congregational Church minister, Elias Brewster Hillard.
Moore and Brewster would embark on a second joint project to collect the reminiscences of the Revolutionary War veterans still alive. They had fought as teenagers and lived a century or more.
Hillard and Moore traveled to their homes, interviewed them and took pictures of them and their houses. The two men compiled the photos and narrative into a book called The Last Men of the Revolution, published in Hartford in 1864. The book showed how little they had received for their service.
Historian Thomas J. Brown notes the book and the monument stemmed from public awareness of the stingy pensions allocated to the Revolutionary veterans. That happened when Congress passed legislation to increase their pensions.
The monument is an obelisk made of brown sandstone from Portland, Conn. It included the name of each Kensington soldier who died in the conflict and the date and place of his death. The orator at the dedication ceremony was the chair of the Senate Committee on Pensions.
The Soldier’s Monument included an inscription:
ERECTED TO COMMEMORATE THE DEATH
OF THOSE WHO PERISHED IN SUPPRESSING
THE SOUTHERN REBELLION.
“HOW SLEEP THE BRAVE WHO SINK TO REST
BY ALL THEIR COUNTRY’S WISHES BLEST.”
Less than a month after the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, the Kensington Soldier’s Monument was dedicated.
The Kensington Congregational Church still owns and cares for the monument.
5. Yale waited until 1913 to dedicate a Civil War monument
At the end of the conflict, Yale considered creating a Civil War Monument dedicated to the 700 students who died fighting the confederacy. The university’s students were overwhelmingly northern and opposed to slavery.
And yet Yale waited until 1913 to dedicate its memorial–to both Union and Confederate soldiers. Attitudes had changed by then, the Yale News reported. People had moved on from thinking of the war as the rebirth of the republic. Instead, they focused on binding up the wounds that divided North and South.
Judge Henry Howland, a Yale graduate, proposed a memorial for all the Yale men, northern and southern, who gave up their college years to fight in the war. “When the passions of that time have died away…it seems an appropriate moment to bring before the alumni of Yale the propriety of commemorating the men of both sides who gave their lives in the great struggle.”
6. Connecticut has one other monument to a confederate soldier.
A general, in fact. In Cedar Grove Cemetery in New London, a stone marks the grave of Maj. Gen. G. W. Smith.
Gustavus Woodson Smith grew up in Kentucky, fought in the Mexican-American War and then worked as a civil engineer in New York City. He served as the city’s Streets Commissioner for three years, but when the war broke out he went to Richmond and volunteered to join the Confederate States Army.
Smith briefly commanded the Army of Northern Virginia until Robert E. Lee took over, handled the defenses around Richmond and served as interim Confederate States Secretary of War. He survived the war and eventually moved back to New York, where he died.
So why was he buried in New London?
7. The most disastrous dedication of a Civil War monument happened in Mystic.
Nothing seemed to go right from the beginning of the dedication of the Soldier’s Monument at Mystic Bridge in Stonington. Batterson’s New England Granite Company of Westerly, R.I., didn’t deliver the statue in time — May 31, 1883, Decoration Day. They had to postpone until June 13.
When the morning of the big day came, a thousand local residents assembled. Trouble was, that represented only half the crowd. The rest were either on the train with Gov. Thomas Waller or coming from Norwich with more veterans on a steamboat. But the train was late and so was the steamboat.
As the audience waited for the latecomers, part of the platform collapsed. spilling several dignitaries in the street.
Then a row of seats gave way and deposited onlookers into the grass.
Finally the train arrived. The National Guard and a band escorted Gov. Waller up the street toward the reviewing stand.
At just about the same time the steamboat docked. and a contingent of Mystic veterans rushed down to the wharf to escort Norwich veterans to the monument.
Lt. Fish was standing by with the Fort Trumbull artillery battery. Lt. Fish thought it would be nice to fire off a salute to the governor. Only he forgot to tell the artillerymen to point their guns in the air.
Just as the Norwich and Mystic veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic came into view, Fish yelled “Fire.”
The first volley hit the Mystic veterans, the second hit the Norwich men. At least the artillerymen did not fire a third volley. Twenty-eight men suffered burns, cuts, torn clothing and a concussion. Three needed medical attention.
The dedication went on however, despite the continued collapse of the platform and seats.
At least the ladies served them a good lunch.
“Perhaps it would have been well to allow the women to handle all the details,” opined the New London Day.
With thanks to the Connecticut Museum of Culture and History, which has a list of Connecticut’s Civil War Monuments on its website, and to Thomas J. Brown, Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America. United States: University of North Carolina Press, 2019.
Images: 29th Regiment monument in New Haven: By Blerdlife – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=82717765. Yale By Ad Meskens – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20409102. St. Louis Arsenal monument By Americasroof at en.wikipedia – Self-photographed (Original text: Photo by poster in September 2007.), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4602308. Standing soldier, Milford By Kenneth C. Zirkel – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57042204. Nathaniel Lyon Monument in Eastford By Morrowlong – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14882416. Granby monument By Wknight94 talk – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15343319. Kensington Soldiers Monument By John Phelan – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69309657.