Memorial Day originated in the years following the Civil War, as a way to honor those Union and Confederate soldiers who died in that conflict. A large collection of photographs of Connecticut Civil War soldiers in the Connecticut Historical Society’s collection recalls the origins of the holiday and displays the pride and determination of those men who were prepared to give their lives in the service of their country. Over 5000 Connecticut soldiers died in service. Over 2000 of them were killed in battle. Even those who survived the war are now among the long-dead.
Colonel George Perkins Bissell commanded the 25th Connecticut Volunteers. His regiment took part in the siege of Port Hudsonfrom May 22 to July 9, 1863. Union army troops assaulted and surrounded the Mississippi townof Port Hudson, Louisiana, a Confederate stronghold. Colonel Bissell and his troops contributed to the Union victory. Colonel Bissell survived the war and later went on to become a successful banker in Hartford.
William Huntington of Lebanon Connecticut enlisted and was mustered into the 8th Connecticut Volunteers in September 1861. Huntington was injured at the Battle of Antietam, on September 17, 1862; shortly thereafter he was promoted to First Sergeant. In December, 1863 he reenlisted and was wounded again the following May at Walthall Junction. Despite his two injuries, Huntington remained in the army and was discharged from the Veteran Reserve Corps in September of 1866. A photograph album at the Connecticut Historical Society that belonged to Huntington includes not only portraits of his comrades in the 8th Connecticut Volunteers, but also of the nurses who cared for him after he was wounded at Antietam.
Edward Porter was from Middletown, Connecticut. He enlisted on April 20, 1861, immediately after Fort Sumter, and was mustered in to the Second Regiment Infantry, as a Sergeant. He was mustered out on August 7, 1861. A year later, he re-enlisted in the Eighteenth Connecticut Volunteers. He was promoted to Captain on May 20, 1863 and was killed in the Battle of Winchester, Virginia on June 15, 1863.
In the years following the war, monuments to honor men like these were erected all over Connecticut. The largest and most elaborate of these monuments is Hartford’s Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, which was dedicated in 1886. The arch is dedicated to the more than 4000 men from Hartford who served in the Civil War. Of that number almost 400 died in the service of the nation. Originally serving as a bridge across the now-buried Park River, the Memorial Arch remains an ornate entrance to Bushnell Park. Early photographs show Civil War veterans marching beneath the arch.
To view more photographs of Civil War soldiers and monuments plus related uniforms, and other military items, visit the Research Center at the Connecticut Historical Society, One Elizabeth Street, Hartford, CT 06105. For more information, go to www.chs.org.