Dispatches from Dennis: Spring 2011.
I have been studying the Civil War in spurts and starts since I was sent to Petersburg, Virginia in the 1980s for procurement training. Civil War history contains such a vast amount of information from varied sources that when I restarted my studies a few years ago, I decided to try to connect my understanding to local soldiers and local units here in Guilford. The problem that surfaces while studying the Civil War is that the more you discover, the more you realize what you do not know. This can be frustrating—but more often motivating for students of history.
I have always liked American History, long before I became a history teacher. But since three of my grandparents were born in Canada and the fourth was born in Upstate New York, across the border from Canada, I did not believe that my own family’s heritage preceded the 1880s in the U.S. I have always felt that people like George Washington, Abigail Adams, and Abraham Lincoln are our cultural ancestors. And on a similar note, just as I have adopted Guilford as my hometown, I have mentally or virtually adopted Guilford soldiers as Union Soldiers in my own family tree.
I started out one summer on the Guilford Green while looking at the Civil War statue with all of the names of soldiers who died fighting to preserve the Union. I made my way into the local history room (now called the Edith Nettleton Room) and began looking at records. With the assistance of Penny Colby, the reference librarian, the Raphael Ward Benton letters were dusted off and one of my spurts began. The longest list of soldiers on the monument are soldiers from the 14th Connecticut Volunteer Regiment, and Raphael Ward Benton, who wrote faithfully to his wife during the war, served in that regiment in Company I.
The Raphael War Benton letters are available online to read (at http://www.guilfordfreelibrary.org/benton.cfm ). If you are interested, please push through the first two or three letters and begin to read closely when Ward Benton starts to right home from his Civil War unit. Using those letters, and books such as History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Vol. Infantry, by Charles D. Page (1906), Mr. Dunn Browne’s Experiences in the Army: The Civil War Letters of Samuel W. Fiske, edited by Stephen W. Sears (1998), The Boys of Rockville: Civil War Narratives of Sgt. Benjamin Hirst, Company D, 14th Connecticut Volunteers, edited by Robert L. Bee (1998), and Connecticut Yankees at Gettysburg, by Charles P. Hamblen (1993), I was able to form a picture of this regiment’s contribution; but more specifically, the contributions in the Civil War made by our Guilford soldiers.
The 14th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry was formed in August of 1862 and fought in all the major battles of the Army of the Potomac starting at Antietam Creek on 17 Sep 1962, and ending at Appomattox Courthouse on 9 Apr 1865. I have dragged my family (and sometimes travelled alone) to Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wilderness, and Petersburg (again) over the last decade. These visits to the battlefields, as well as the books, letters and other documents, helped us develop a picture of the men from Guilford who fought and died in the war.
Documents such as the Record of Persons Made Orphans or Half Orphans by the War of the Rebellion in the Town of Guilford by Alvin Talcott, Registrar of Guilford, give us a great deal of insight. For instance, we know from other records that Richard Hull of the 14th Connecticut was killed at the Battle of Antietam Creek and is buried at the National Cemetery there in Maryland. But these records (provided by former First Selectman Carl Balestracci) also mention that Corporal Hull was “shot in the mouth while in the act of saying, ‘Keep cool boys.’” He left a nine year old daughter Catherine.
In another listing we find that the child Hattie L. Field, born in February of 1863, was the orphan of Edmund Field (also of the 14th,) who died five months prior to her birth after the Battle of Antietam. (At a talk I gave at the library this autumn, a member of the audience came up to me and mentioned that Hattie was her great-grandmother.)
Another record of interest is of Nathan Clements, also of the 14th Connecticut Volunteers. He died after a skirmish at Morton’s Ford, Virginia, in the winter of 1864. His record shows that he had already been promoted from corporal to sergeant. And because of his bravery, he was to receive a commission (to become an officer) but died of his wounds instead.
But is seems that the more information we gather, the more questions that remain unanswered. As I was compiling a list of soldiers to update the list read by the Guilford veterans group at the Memorial Day Ceremony, I found an intriguing set of soldiers’ names. In the History of Guilford book written by Ralph Dunning Smith (1877), there were three soldiers with the last name Fowler from Guilford who served in the 27th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. In the middle of December, 1862, the unit was in Fredericksburg, Virginia in the same Corps as the 14th Connecticut Volunteers. The 27th attacked Marye’s Heights along with the 2nd Corps and was repulsed. The three Guilford soldiers named Fowler died within a month of each other after the battle. More intriguing, Samuel Fowler was 45 years old and Emerson Fowler was only 15 years old. Richard Fowler was a 1st Sergeant in the unit. It seems a sad and strange coincidence that these three men from Guilford with the same name would serve and die within such a short period of time. I have yet to learn if they are related, but I am sure that this information is available in the Edith Nettleton Room of the Guilford Free Library.
The stories we can find of Richard Hull’s leadership, Nathan Clement’s bravery, and Raphael Ward Benton’s attempt to balance his duties as a husband, a father, and a soldier while foreshadowing his death (in 1862) in his carefully written letters—these letters, these books, these battlefields and stories are waiting to be discovered or rediscovered by all of us, neighbors and descendants, and by those of us who consider ourselves virtual descendants of our Civil War soldiers.
Dennis Culliton, May 2011