Call to arms: Local men rally to Union cause
Updated 8:45 am, Saturday, June 25, 2011
The following is the second part of a series of articles on the Civil War, the sesquicentennial of which is being commemorated this year.
Approximately 500 Fairfield and Westport servicemen enlisted or were drafted into the Union Army during the Civil War, but even though the conflict was the bloodiest in the nation's history, more than half of them survived and returned home.
The war, from 1861 to 1865, claimed the lives of more than 600,000 men -- from the estimated 4 million or more of both the Union and Confederate forces. The Union Army suffered more than 360,000 deaths, according to the best estimates. Of that number, more men were lost to disease than to battle. Disease took the lives of seven local men. They died of infections from their wounds or typhoid fever, dysentery, pneumonia, measles or chickenpox, among other ailments.
The Fairfield and Westport soldiers -- farmers, shoemakers, blacksmiths, clerks, mechanics, teachers or laborers -- ranged in age from their mid-teens to their late-40s. Some were married with children, others single. The majority of them were uncertain what they would face once they left the safe confines of Fairfield County.
Many entered the military as privates but later emerged as corporals, captains, majors or brigadier generals, and they served in various Connecticut regiments; some in out-of-state units. The tours of duty for some lasted only a year or two; others for the entire campaign. And yet others enlisted on one day, only to desert the next. More than 100 Fairfielders and Westporters fled, particularly those who entered the war in the later years.
Westport was less fortunate, as seven men were killed. Both Francis Nash and Francis Foot died at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. The others were: Robert Werner, killed at Cedar Mountain, Va., on Aug. 9, 1862; Samuel Morehouse, at Bisland, La., on April 13, 1863; William Mott, at Bristoe Station, Va., on Oct. 14, 1863; Robert Foster, at Deep Bottom Run, Va., on Aug. 14, 1864; and George Schmidt, at Reams' Station, Va., on Aug. 25, 1864. Schmidt had been in the war for only about two weeks when he was killed.
Following is a snapshot of some of the Civil War soldiers from Fairfield and Westport. Two of them were highly decorated and regarded servicemen. The others explained, through letters they wrote to family and friends back home, life in the service 150 years ago.
Morehouse, born in 1826 in Fairfield, enlisted as a sergeant on Oct. 16, 1861, about a half-year after President Abraham Lincoln issued the call to service. He was a member of the 1st Calvary Regiment from Connecticut, which engaged in more than 85 battles, and he was promoted to full second lieutenant, full first lieutenant and full captain, all in 1863. On Feb. 16, 1865, he was promoted to full major, and mustered out of the war on Aug. 2, 1865.
Prior to his Civil War service, Morehouse, who attended Fairfield Academy, was a farmer at 18 years old, but didn't think it was his calling. He was drawn to the sea, so he headed to New York and landed a job on a large vessel. He sailed for three years until illness forced him go ashore permanently. He then went west to California for the Gold Rush, panned for the precious metal and worked in the mines. He stayed there for 13 years until the Civil War broke out and he returned home.
When Morehouse enlisted he was 35 years old. Over his years of service he became known for his bravery and willingness to engage in dangerous assignments -- and was given the moniker, "The War Horse." In 1862, he was captured at Cross Keys, Va., and held as a prisoner of war for three months, and again in 1863 at Frederick, Md., and held for two months. In 1865, he was wounded at Ashland, Va., and at Reams' Station, Va.
In the "Military and Civil History of Connecticut," the authors wrote about the engagement at Cross Keys, "Sgt. Morehouse and four men, sent to reconnoiter close to the enemy's lines, were captured. Morehouse ... was a sober, solid man, near middle life, and possessed of considerable wealth. He returned from California in order to enter the army, and enlisted in the first company he met, which chanced to be in the cavalry battalion. Attracting attention at once for his promptness and enthusiasm, he was offered a commission, but refused it, conscientiously regarding himself as unqualified. He studied tactics and practiced sword exercise constantly. Through four years of sturdy service, he rose steadily to a major's commission; never better earned by a living soldier."
In the last month of the war, Morehouse led an attack near Harper's Farm against Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's wagon train. Bvt. Brig.-Gen. Erastus Blakeslee wrote, "Major Morehouse with the left battalion went towards the head of the train, capturing men, horses and mules, and burning wagons; but the enemy being reinforced, the regiment retired with its splendid trophies." Thousands of Confederate soldiers were captured.
Perhaps Morehouse's greatest engagement was being among the men selected in the 1st Cavalry to escort Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to the Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia on April 9, 1865, for Lee's surrender, which effectively ended the war.
Morehouse returned home to Fairfield a hero. He married Julia Sturges and they had three children, all of whom died of diphtheria at young ages. Morehouse had gone to Colorado after the war to work on a ranch to earn money for his family. Upon his return to Fairfield, he was an active member of First Church Congregational, and was elected a selectman in 1881 and served for four years. He lost his eyesight from war wound infections, and walked with a cane. He suffered from a failing heart and died Aug. 17, 1894, at the age of 68. He is buried in East Cemetery on Old Post Road.
Westport can lay claim to a Civil War brigadier general in Judah, who spent his entire life in military service. Although he was born in Maryland, the son of the Rev. Henry R. Judah, a minister in the Episcopal church, including one in Bridgeport, and Mary Jane, his grandfather and other relatives lived for years in town, specifically in the Saugatuck area. In fact, Judy's Point at one time was called Judah's Point or Cove, named after the family, according to "Westport Connecticut, The story of a New England Town's Rise to Prominence." The brigadier general and several members of his family are buried in Kings Highway Cemetery.
He was trained at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and was a classmate of Ulysses S. Grant. Judah served with distinction in the Mexican-American War, including being commended for bravery and being promoted. He was stationed in California when the Civil War began and served in various locations, including Ohio, Kentucky and Georgia, where he led a division during the campaign at Atlanta. He suffered personal setbacks and was disciplined at times, until he was given more chances to display his military acumen.
While in Georgia for the surrender of thousands of Confederate troops in 1865, Judah saw that the local economy was suffering and no crops had been planted because of the war. To aid the local citizens, former soldiers among them, Judah provided corn and bacon until crops could be harvested. In Marietta, Ga., at the Archibald Howell House, a historical marker is placed commemorating the humanitarian effort. It reads, in part, about his gesture of food, "The issue, approved, was made and these rations did much to put Georgians and their economy on a sound basis." Judah's name is engraved on another historical marker, in Kingston, Ga., alongside a roadway, explaining the surrender of those Confederate soldiers on May 12, 1865.
After the war, he was on garrison duty in Plattsburgh, N.Y., when he died at the age of 45. His funeral in Westport was attended by numerous personal and military friends. His obituary, carried in several national newspapers, read, "He was among the distinguished list of those whose noble services have amply repaid the nation for all the pains bestowed on their military education, and his name will ever be cherished by a grateful country, as one of its most zealous and faithful defenders."
Born in 1844, his family has roots in Southport and Westport, where it is believed they moved to when he was 6 years old. At 17, he enlisted in the 8th Connecticut Infantry Regiment on Sept. 25, 1861.
The 8th Infantry fought in more than 80 battles from March 1862 to April 1865 in North Carolina and Virginia, and was engaged in some of the heaviest fighting, including at Antietam in Maryland. The Battle of Antietam, fought on Sept. 17, 1862, was the first major firefight in the war to take place in the North. Historians label it the bloodiest battle in a single day during any American war. More than 20,000 soldiers were killed. The Union forces approached Lee's army at Sharpsburg and a powerful attack ensued. In his report on the battle, Maj. J. Edward Ward wrote, "The fire from artillery and musketry was very severe, the regiment receiving fire in front and on both flanks. The conduct of both officers and men was all that could be asked for ..."
The horrors of that battle were indescribable. The authors of "The Military and Civil History of Connecticut" tried to capture the scene after fighting ceased: "The wounded cared for, they turned to bury the dead. All day went on the excavation of graves where the martyrs found a truce; and, as the shadows lengthened and faded out, the sad work was ended. The dead of the Eighth ... were laid side by side on the ridge just above the point where the gallant charge began ... The graves were marked with pine headboards to tell where each patriot rested."
Northrop survived the carnage. He returned to the battle site in 1894, however, for the dedication of monuments to the Connecticut regiments.
Prior to the Battle of Antietam, in November 1861 while stationed at Camp Hicks in Annapolis, Md., the young Northrop wrote to his family back home, explaining life in military service. "There is [sic] quite a number of troops quartered here. In fact, the State is covered with men, horses, mules and waggons [sic]. We have seen some ruff [sic] times. Today is the first soft bread I have seen since I left L.I. Since we left there we have not had much to eat but hard bread and some daze [sic] not but a little of that. I know what it is to be hungary [sic]." In several letters he asked his family for money, specifically gold because "paper money is not good here." The soldiers, Northrop among them, longed for supplies -- clothing, food, jams and stamps.
In the next month while he was stationed in a camp near Fredericksburg, Va., he told about the lack of rations. "That is the way soldiers live -- one day they have good feed and the next perhaps nothing at all. So a fellow don't know when he eats one meal wheather [sic] he will have anything for the next or not."
Soldiers' pay often was late. Northrop wrote about that too, showing how disgruntled he was with government. "No signs of pay very soon. As I see the government is very fair to promise but not to keep them with her soldiers. When we get our six months pay, there will be our clothing bill to pay out of it because the government makes the soldiers pay more than is put down in Army regulations for their clothes and they are often of inferior quality. The soldiers are cheated by everyone from the White House in Washington down to the cooks in the Company who very often sell rations for whiskey. Everyone who has ennything [sic] to do with the government calculates to make something out of it -- but enough of that."
He mustered out of the war on Sept. 25, 1865. That same year, in Port Chester, N.Y., he married Margaret Hannagan. They had two children. He died in 1906 at the age of 62 and is buried at Oak Lawn Cemetery in Fairfield.
A family genealogy by his great-granddaughter notes that Northrop went into business with his brother and established Northrop Brothers Builders of Southport, which was instrumental in some of the finest craftsmanship of homes in the Fairfield-Southport-Westport area.
In 1895, when he was 50 years old, he became the first chief of the Southport Fire Department, which consolidated with the Pequot Fire Department and now is the Southport Volunteer FD. The department was formed in October 1895 after an arson fire caused $10,000 in damages to the warehouses of C.O. Jelliff and killed four horses in a neighboring barn.
A single man at 22 years old and a farmer from Westport, Hale enlisted as a corporal in August 1862 with the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. He was promoted to full sergeant in September 1863 and then full second lieutenant in June 1865 but was not mustered with the rank. He left the war in July 1865, mustering out at Hilton Head, S.C., where many others in the 17th Infantry did.
During his service, the 17th saw action in more than 20 battles. At Gettysburg, he was wounded on the second day of fighting, July 2, 1863. In a letter home on July 9, 1863, while recuperating at West Philadelphia Hospital, Hale wrote, --¦ my wound is a little better as we are where we have better care. We have had a hard battle and suffered a good deal but the old flag still waves where the rebel flag waved on the first of July." He was hit by a musket ball in the left hip. "I think I shall be ready to fight them rebs once again in a couple of months," he told the folks back home.
Two years before the war ended with Lee's surrender in April 1863, Hale wrote to a bank cashier in Southport who handled his money, "Our time is drawing to a close very fast as I trust the war is also ... The United States may well be proud of her Army and Navy and also of her generals. While the South is growing weak we are growing strong. We expect to hear of some good news pretty soon."
In May 1863 while at a camp near Brooks Station, Va., he responded to the news of the death of his father, who apparently shot another man, and comments on his temper. "If he wanted to shoot so much he could have plenty of chances here to shoot men. It makes me feel bad he committing such a crime." He wrote that he was happy to learn that the victim recovered.
In December 1864 in St. Augustine, Fla., where the infantry was dispatched and stayed until June 1865, Hale wrote still hoping for the end to the war. "We are looking for some good news from General Sherman. We hope it will be good. We are much pleased to hear of the reelection of Lincoln. We done all we could here for him ... I think now our country's flag looks brighter than ever."
In that same month, he also told of guarding the Confederate prisoners of war. "We have sixty here now and every boat brings more ... some of them are hard customers."
When he returned home to Westport, he continued to farm and did so throughout his life. He married Sarah in 1867 and they had four children. Although not confirmed, Sarah may have been the sister-in-law of George Northrop. Sarah predeceased her husband, and according to the 1920 federal census, at the age of 79, Hale was living with his son and daughter-in-law and seven grandchildren. He died in August 1920.
Information for this article was gathered from the archives of the Fairfield Museum and History Center and the Westport Historical Society; ancestry.com, seventeenthcvi.org, civilwar.com, georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu and archives.gov; a genealogy by Beth Northrop; materials provided by Town Historian Marcia Miner; and the books, "Fairfield: The Biography of a Community, 1639-1989" by Thomas Farnham; "Westport Connecticut, The story of a New England Town's Rise to Prominence by Woody Klein" and "The Military and Civil History of Connecticut During the War of 1861-1865."
Future articles on the Civil War's sesquicentennial will take a look at the 29th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry and the Fairfield and Westport home fronts.