Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Curious Case of the 27th Connecticut - Part 3

The Star & Sentinel had kind words for the survivors of the 27th
Connecticut when they reported on the dedication activities on
October 27th, 1885.
At 5:45 p.m. on October 20th, 1885, a special train pulled into the Gettysburg Station on Carlisle Street, a block from the center of town. The train, containing a Pullman Palace coach, five passenger cars, and a baggage car, had left New Haven, Connecticut at 6:45 a.m. that same day. The Connecticut passengers, consisting of survivors of the 27th Connecticut, many ladies, and dignitaries such as Connecticut Governor Henry Baldwin Harrison, scattered to various accommodations in town. The Governor's party set out for the Eagle Hotel on Chambersburg Street (General Buford's headquarters during the battle, and today the site of a 7/11 oft used by college students), while many others set off for the McClellan House (today the Gettysburg Hotel) in the square.

Gettysburg's Star & Sentinel reported that "the party had hardly alighted from the train until our citizens heard the charming strains of the Wheeler and Wilson Band, and knew that a rich treat was in store for them whenever the band commenced to play."

Thus the survivors of the 27th Connecticut introduced themselves to citizens of Gettysburg. By the end of their visit, the Star & Sentinel would state unequivocally:
"During the last twenty years very many pleasant and enjoyable military and civic parties have visited our town for the purpose of seeing and studying the historical field of Gettysburg, but none have surpassed in intelligence, refinement and representative character the large and genial company which accompanied the excursion of the survivors of the 27th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers."
Stormy weather could not dampen the revelry that first night in Gettysburg. The Wheeler and Wilson Band set up shop in the sitting room at McClellan's, and entertained a large crowd. Meanwhile, many visitors "crowded the hotel sitting rooms, mingled among the citizens and talked 'battle' until the late hours of the evening."

The next day, Wednesday the 21st, the poor weather continued and the regimental association cancelled all formal programs. Nonetheless, many veterans and visitors braved the elements to tour the battlefield. That evening, the Wheeler and Wilson Band performed a concert at the Court House on Baltimore Street to a packed and enthusiastic audience.

On Thursday the weather finally broke, and "the autumnal sun shone resplendently and showed the vari-colored tints and shades of the rapidly changing foliage of the woods in all its beauty." That morning, after a splendid street parade, a special train took those attending the dedication ceremonies to southern end of the battlefield [During this period a branch of the Gettysburg & Harrisburg Railroad ran from the town to the vicinity of the Round Tops]. From the train the party marched via the Wheatfield Road to the site of the new monument.

Manufactured by the St. Johnsbury Company of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, the monument cost $950 and featured a 25 foot shaft surmounted by a bronze eagle resting on crossed cannon. The monument was purported by veterans to mark the exact spot where Lt. Col. Merwin fell leading the regiment. The exercises commenced from a stand erected for the occasion, with musical selection from the Wheeler and Wilson Band and a prayer from Reverend William D. Sheldon, a veteran who had written the unit's regimental history in 1866. The monument, draped in national colors, was then unveiled and presented to the regiment. James Brand, Color Sergeant of the 27th, delivered the oration, recounting the unit's history. Following Brand, Governor Harrison spoke, delivering custody of the monument to the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association. Just before the benediction - also by Sheldon - five survivors of the 2nd Connecticut (the three-month regiment in which both Merwin and Chapman had served) placed a wreath of evergreen and flowers on the monument. Following the ceremony, the party returned to town, and at 4 p.m. processed to the National Cemetery to lay flowers on the graves of the Connecticut Dead. More revelry followed on Thursday night, though official ceremonies had come to a close. On Friday morning, the Connecticut party departed at 8 a.m., bringing to an end the 27th Connecticut's formal association with Gettysburg.

Or so many thought. Having dedicated their monument in the Wheatfield and erected an advanced marker along Brooke's ledge, one would think that the regiment had adequately memorialized their experience at Gettysburg. This especially seems the case when also accounting for the Chapman and Merwin markers. Yet as the monumentation process at Gettysburg gained traction, more veteran organizations across the north sought to acquire funds from their state legislatures to erect monuments. These organizations had great success. After all, by the 1880s Civil War veterans had become an important voting block, and many veterans now served in these very legislatures.

27th Connecticut's 5th monument, placed along Brooke Avenue in Rose's Woods in 1889. Photo by Michael Noirot. Licensing Info

In the late 1880s the 27th, along with the 17th Connecticut and 2nd Connecticut Light Artillery, received appropriations from the state to construct yet another monument. This fifth monument for the regiment would be placed along Brooke avenue, and serve as an upgrade for the advanced marker placed in 1885 (though that remained). There the monument, which cost $1,000, would stand in brigade line along with its sister regiments, the 2nd Delaware, and the 53rd and 145th Pennsylvania. The final regiment of Brooke's brigade, the 64th New York, would add their monument to the line in 1890. The inscription on the 27th's new monument read:
Front: 27th Conn. Vol's - 4th Brigade - 1st Division - 2nd Corps
Advanced position of this regiment in the Brigade charge, July 2nd 1863
27th CONN. INFANTRY

Reverse: Erected by the Commonwealth of Connecticut
As a Memorial to the Valor of Her Loyal Sons
On October 27, 1889, the regimental survivors and guests returned to Gettysburg, along with the survivors of the 17th Connecticut, for a "Connecticut Day" to dedicate two monuments (for the 17th, it was their second monument on the field). The citizens of Gettysburg had not forgotten the 27th. In noting their arrival in town a full five days before the dedicatory exercises, the Star & Sentinel noted: "There are many familiar faces and many pleasant acquaintances have been renewed."

The veterans continued to perfect their Gettysburg legacy over the years. At some point I have been unable to determine, the survivors moved the Jedediah Chapman marker from its original location along the Wheatfield Road, placing it several hundred yards to the southwest along DeTrobriand Avenue, near the edge of Rose's Woods. Presumably the survivors believed this marked the site of his death more accurately than their first attempt, when the Wheatfield was under private ownership. Finally, in 1897 the original Merwin marker was re-cut. Instead of reading "Here Fell Lt. Col. Henry C. Merwin," The stone now reads:
IN MEMORY OF
LT. COL.
HENRY C. MERWIN
27TH C.V.
WHO FELL MORTALLY
WOUNDED WHERE
THE MONUMENT OF HIS
REGIMENT STANDS

Merwin Marker as it appears today.
Photo by Michael Noirot. Licensing Info
Chapman marker in its current location along DeTrobriand Avenue. Photo by lcm1863.
Licensing Info
So what, if anything, of value can the modern Gettysburg scholar learn from the 5 monuments dedicated to the 27th Connecticut? As with many cases of memory and commemoration on the battlefield, this is a difficult question to answer.

Certainly, the current layout of these five monuments provide us with excellent documentation of the 27th's fight at Gettysburg. Armed with an adequate knowledge of the battle, the modern visitor can trace the path of the 27th Connecticut on the afternoon of July 2nd, 1863 as it swept across the Wheatfield. He or she can then pause at the 1885 monument, noting that at this location fell the beloved Lt. Colonel Merwin, as he exclaimed "my poor regiment is suffering fearfully." Continuing on as the regiment did without their leader, the modern visitor can then stop short of the edge of Rose's Woods at the small marker where Captain Chapman fell, and imagine the volley of fire that must have erupted from the Confederates in the woods.
Photo looking west across the Wheatfield and toward Rose's Woods (left woodlot). The 1885 monument lies to the right and rear of this photograph. The 27th charged from right to left across this view towards woods in the center background. Inside Rose's Woods the regiment charged to the top of Brooke's Ledge, which is out of view but located directly above the two left-most monuments in view. Today the Jedediah Chapman Marker rests alongside the road running in the middle background of this view.
Photo by lcm1863. Licensing Info

The adventurous battlefield-goer could then set off through the woods, cross over the sluggish stream at the base of Brooke's Ledge, and ascend the steep ridge to the advance markers that indicate the end of the 27th's drive in their final battle of the Civil War. Certainly, this is a unique and well marked opportunity.

Yet, one must consider the history of the monuments to decide how accurately they reflect the reality of the battle. Who placed the original stones to mark the fall of both Chapman and Merwin, and when exactly? Did they intend to ever mark the exact spot of each man's fall? In 1885, who chose the location of the regiment's monument, what role did that individual or individuals have in the battle, and how accurately, 22 years after the battle, could a veteran pinpoint such an exact spot? And of Chapman's marker, when did it move to its current location? How did the construction of battlefield avenues and other modern features change this area by the time the marker was relocated. Finally, which of the two advanced monuments accurately depict the furthest point reached by the men who survived their charge. The original marker, placed in 1885, is located south of the 1889 monument, and some 25 to 30 yards further down the slope of the ledge.

In short, the monuments cannot on their own reveal the complete and accurate history of the battle. They can however serve as important clues to help historians unlock some of the conflict's puzzles. In the case of 27th Connecticut, they left five significant clues. Not a bad considering only 65 men survived to tell their tale of heroic struggle on July 2nd, 1863.

2 comments:

  1. I enjoyed your piece on the 27th Connecticut very much. I was born and raised in New Haven and have studied the regiment for close to 22 years. In all that time I never came across any prime source material relating to the regiment at Gettysburg. All I ever found was what was written in the unit history and by a member of the regiment named Almond Clarke in the National Tribune. I guess the obvious reason I never found anything was due to the small number of men engaged here. There may not be much out there to be found. It has been a few years since I have done any research. With todays technology perhaps more can be discovered. Whatever I had on the 27th I turned over to the Gettysburg National Military Park Library. I am sorry to say I do not think you will find anything earth shattering amongst my research but you may find a few interesting things should you care to look.
    Best wishes to you.
    Andy De Cusati
    Fairfield, Pa.

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  2. Thanks for the kind words Andy. It means a lot coming from someone who has spent so much time studying the 27th Conn. Next time I am in Gettysburg I will have to try to set up a library appointment and take a look at your file. I graduated from Gettysburg College in the mid-2000s but alas I live about 6 hours away now, so I typically get down there only once or twice a year.

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