Monday, May 28, 2012

The Curious Case of the 27th Connecticut - Part 2

Stereo view of the marker placed in honor of Lieutenant Colonel Henry C. Merwin along the Wheatfield Road, c.1880. Note the presence of Big Round Top in background. The marker's inscription was later changed c.1897. Photo source: Library of Congress.
The five monuments and markers dedicated to the 27th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry in the Wheatfield and in Rose's Woods provide the modern Gettysburg visitor with the unique opportunity of tracing the clear path of one unit's participation in the battle, as laid out by veterans of that unit following the war. Yet to understand the limitations of such a monument trail, one must first grasp the history of the monuments - when they were placed, what the veterans intended to mark, and if and when these monuments were altered or moved. In this case, the monumentation process of the 27th Connecticut provides us with an interesting tale in itself.

The first markers placed by veterans of the 27th Connecticut were two small tablets that purported to mark the location where Lieutenant Colonel Merwin and Captain Chapman fell. Both markers were placed several yards apart along the Wheatfield Road, a crossroad that connected the Taneytown and Emmitsburg Roads and ran across the northern border of the Wheatfield. The stones had simple inscriptions:
Henry C. Merwin was born in Brookfield, Connecticut on September 17, 1839. The outbreak of the Civil War found Merwin living in New Haven and operating a business with his father and brother. As a member of the New Haven Grays militia, Merwin immediately volunteered for 3-months of service with the 2nd Connecticut Regiment, serving as a sergeant. With the 2nd, Merwin first saw combat during the battle of Bull Run. In the summer of 1862, Merwin recruited what would become Company A of the 27th Connecticut, and was subsequently elected Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment. In this position Merwin served at both Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, becoming a prisoner of war held in Richmond following the latter battle. Upon being exchanged, Merwin swiftly returned to the regiment, assuming full command. Leading it into the Wheatfield, Merwin was shot down, mortally wounded. Eye witnesses recorded his last words as: "My poor regiment is suffering fearfully."

Jedediah Chapman was born in New Haven Connecticut on November 21, 1839. Along with Merwin, Chapman served as a member of the New Haven Grays, and served for three months with the 2nd Connecticut in 1861. In August of 1862, Chapman enlisted in the 27th Connecticut and won election to the post of First Lieutenant of Company H. According the Regimental History published in 1866, Chapman acquitted himself admirably during the battle of Fredericksburg, but missed the battle of Chancellorsville due to sickness. Only two full companies escaped the disaster at Chancellorsville, and when Chapman returned from sick leave he was placed in command of a third company cobbled together from the survivors of the other 8. In this position, Chapman had won a commission as Captain dating to May 13th. News of this commissioner however had not reached the new Captain by the time he died at Gettysburg.

I have not located a definitive date for the placement of these two markers. The Location of the Monuments, Markers and Tablets on Gettysburg Battlefield, compiled by Kathy Georg Harrison in 1993, dates them to the early 1880s. Some battlefield guides believe that the markers appeared shortly after the placement of a marble stone marking the location of Strong Vincent's wounding on Little Round Top in August of 1878 - the first marker placed outside of the cemetery. If this is in fact true, it would make the Chapman marker the oldest original marker still on the battlefield (outside of the cemetery) today. Vincent's marker was damaged and subsequently replaced in 1978, and the Merwin marker, as we shall see, was altered in the 1890s.

 Writing in 1886, Gettysburg resident J. Howard Wert noted the two stones in A Complete Hand-book of the Monuments and Indications and Guide to the Positions on the Gettysburg Battlefield:
These stones were placed here some years ago before the Battle-field Association owned the Wheat-field, and do not exactly mark the spot where these officers fell. As the Twenty-seventh Connecticut has since erected the magnificent monument near by... these stones have lost, to some extent, their historic value.
Veterans of the regiment clearly desired to memorialize their fallen officers, and acted on this desire well before the beginning of the monument craze in Gettysburg. At the same time, those that initially placed these two markers did not intend to mark the exact spot that Merwin and Chapman had fallen. While modern visitors expect these types of markers at Gettysburg to denote the exact spot of a particular incident, perhaps the original intent focused on simply marking the field in which the officers fell.

Beginning in 1879 with the placement of the 2nd Massachusetts monument near Spangler Meadow, the next decade saw a drastic increase in the monumentation of the Gettysburg battlefield, particularly in the placement of monuments to commemorate each federal regiment's location during the battle.

27th Connecticut Monument Dedicated in 1885. The worm fence in the background
marks the path of the Wheatfield Road, and the location of the original markers.
 The regiment charged from the road towards the camera and beyond on
July 2nd, 1863. Photo by Michael Noirot.
By the early 1880s the GBMA had significantly increased its battlefield possessions, and used the desire to build regimental monuments as a way of purchasing and preserving more land. The 27th Connecticut's Regimental Association, desiring to honor the regiment, raised $950 and constructed a monument in the middle of the Wheatfield, about 75 yards south of the two stone markers. The monument sat astride the path the regiment took in charging across the Wheatfield on July 2nd, 1863.

The inscription of the monument states:
27th Conn.
Erected 1885
The 27th Regt. Conn. Vols. Commanded by Lieut. Colonel Henry C. Merwin and forming a part of the 4th Brigade, 1st Division, 2nd Corps charged over this ground, the afternoon of July 2, 1863. The 4th Brigade forced the enemy from the Wheat Field and beyond the woods in front where the advanced position of the 27th Regt. is indicated by a tablet on the crest of the ledge. On this spot Lieut. Col. Merwin was killed while gallantly leading his command of 75 officers and men. 38 of whom were killed or wounded in the charge. Eight companies of the Regt. captured at Chancellorsville were still prisoners of war. Capt. Jedediah Chapman Jr. was also killed in the charge while commanding a company organized from detached members of the eight companies taken prisoners at Chancellorsville. The 27th Regt. Conn. Vols. was recruited and organized in New Haven County State of Connecticut. 
July 2, 1863
The monument was dedicated on October 22nd, 1885, along with an advanced marker placed upon the rocky ledge overlooking the fields of the Rose Farm. The advanced marker indicated the farthest point reached in the charge, whereas the monument, as its inscription describes, marked the spot purportedly where Lt. Col. Merwin fell.

Advanced marker, 27th Connecticut, located on Brooke's Ledge
Photo by Jen Goellnitz.

In my final post in this series - I will take a look at the incredible celebration that marked the dedication of the 27th's monument, the construction and dedication of yet another monument, and the changes to the original Chapman and Merwin markers.

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