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Gratitude Etched In Stone

Civil War Launched Modern Tradition Of Memorials To Veterans

Mary M. Donohue

November 14, 2010

The groundbreaking Wednesday for the $1.2 million Connecticut State Veterans Memorial in Rocky Hill will continue a process honoring veterans living and dead that reached an apogee 150 years ago. Connecticut's people have expressed deep and heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to veterans of all wars. But when it comes to creating monuments to veterans, The Civil War stands alone.

Not only did we create more monuments to those who fought in the War Between the States, we created a monument industry. So great was the pull of the Civil War that the last two memorials were completed just two years ago, in 2008.

The democratic revolutionaries who won independence for this country had an initial distase for monuments, thinking them the province of monarchies or papists. The first publically funded Revolutionary War monument, to Nathan Hale in Coventry by noted architect and designer Henry Austin, wasn't done until 1846 (the earlier Groton Heights memorial was privately funded).

But that changed with the sheer numbers of men who served and the unprecendented collective grief for the many state residents among the Union dead. There was a groundswell of demand for memorials. So in Connecticut in the 1860s, as society grappled with the task of interpreting and commemorating the Civil War, demand for public monuments to those who served or died helped to create an industry. Connecticut's numerous stone quarries, stone yards and metal casting companies began to produce public monuments for sites across the country.

In Hartford, this industry was promoted by businessmen such as Hartford's James G. Batterson. In addition to establishing the Travelers Insurance Co., of which he was president, in 1864, he was the owner of a cemetery monument company. A dealer and importer of stone, Batterson employed Carl Conrads, a German sculptor, to design sculptures, and George Keller, an Irish-born architect, to design their bases. Their work can be seen at the national battlefield parks at Gettysburg, Penn., and Antietam, Md. Hartford has a remarkable eight major Civil War monuments, including Keller's Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in Bushnell Park, and there are another 130 Civil War monuments across the state.

The Civil War touched someone in every town in the state, even those in groups at the bottom of the ladder. African Americans and Irish Americans, groups that were economically disadvantaged and marginized by Connecticut's upper classes in the 1860s, served the Union cause loyally in Connecticut's Civil War regiments. They were rememebered In 2008, when the two newest Connecticut Civil War monuments were dedicated.

The Connecticut 29th Colored Regiment Connecticut Volunteers Memorial is in Criscuolo Park, New Haven, the regiment's original muster and camp grounds (then called Grapevine Point). Nine hundred African American and American Indian free men and former slaves from 120 Connecticut towns joined the regiment beginning in 1863. Required to have white officers, the regiment couldn't muster in until March 8, 1864.

The unit, the state's first African American Civil War regiment, saw action from Maryland to Texas. A small group of descendants of the veterans of the 29th Regiment began meeting in New Haven in 1990s. Research revealed that there was no monument to the state's black soldiers. Inspired by the dedication of the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, the "Descendants of the 29th Regiment" organized for action.

After raising $200,000 in public and private funds, the monument was dedicated with hundreds in attendance. Nationally known sculptor Ed Hamilton designed the memorial with a central obelisk featuring a bronze bas relief and a list of battle engagements surrounded by eight matching obelisks with soldiers' names. The memorial is now listed on the Connecticut Freedom Trail, the state's African American heritage trail.

Another New Haven unit, the Ninth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, known as the "Irish Regiment" due to its predominant makeup of soldiers born in Ireland, mustered in September 1861. Like the group that formed to honor the 29th Regiment, one that would go on to honor the "Irish Regiment" started with a visit to Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi by a descendent of the regiment. Unable to find a monument on the battlefield with his ancestor's name, Bob Larkin of Cheshire began digging.

Connecticut has dozens of Civil War monuments spread across the nation's battlefields, located, as required, at the precise locations where Connecticut men fought and fell. After an invitation was extended in 2005 by the National Park Service to the governor of Connecticut to allow a Connecticut memorial at Vicksburg, a volunteer group got the job done.

The Ninth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers memorial is located at Grant's Canal, where the regiment was ordered to dig an ill-considered and ill-fated canal to divert the Mississippi River. The memorial is composed of a black stone stele etched with portraits of men of the infantry flanked by green granite. The names of all the men who served and their stories are kept on a website.

The men of the Ninth and the 29th regiments, Irish immigrants and African Americans, are now remembered and celebrated by permanent memorials meant to last longer than a single lifetime. They will be remembered again in Rocky Hill.

Mary M. Donohue is an architectural historian in public practice and a member of the Courant's Place Board of Contributors.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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