Connecticut Civil War History

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Connecticut in the American Civil War

Connecticut Civil War History


Connecticut was one of the Thirteen Colonies that participated in the American Revolution and it became the fifth U.S. state on January 9, 1788. Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south (with which it shares a water boundary in Long Island Sound). The name of the state is an Anglicized version of the Algonquian word "quinatucquet", meaning "upon the long river". The state of Connecticut began as three distinct settlements, referred to at the time as "Colonies" or "Plantations". These ventures were eventually combined under a single royal charter in 1662.

Various Algonquian tribes, including the dominant Mohegan tribe, inhabited the area prior to European settlement. The first European explorer in Connecticut was the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block. After he explored this region in 1614, Dutch fur traders sailed up the Connecticut River (then known by the Dutch as Versche Rivier – "Fresh River") and built a fort at Dutch Point in what is present-day Hartford, which they called "House of Hope" (Dutch: Huis van Hoop).

Connecticut and the American Civil War
Connecticut Colony Map.jpg
Map of Connecticut, New Haven, and Saybrook colonies from 1636-1776.

The Connecticut Colony or Colony of Connecticut was an English colony located in present-day Connecticut. Originally known as the River Colony, it was organized on March 3, 1636 as a haven for Puritan gentlemen. After early struggles with the Dutch, the English had gained control of the colony permanently by the late 1630s.

John Winthrop, then of Massachusetts, received permission to create a new colony at Old Saybrook at the mouth of the Connecticut River in 1635. This was the first of three distinct colonies that later would be combined to form Connecticut. Saybrook Colony was a direct challenge to Dutch claims. The colony was not more than a small outpost and never matured. In 1644, the Saybrook Colony merged itself into the Connecticut Colony.

The first English settlers arrived in 1633 and settled at Windsor, and then at Wethersfield the following year. The English settlement and trading post at Windsor especially threatened the Dutch trade, since it was upriver and more accessible to Native people from the interior. That fall and winter the Dutch sent a party upriver as far as present-day Springfield, Massachusetts, bestowing gifts to the indigenous inhabitants in the area to encourage their trade with the Dutch post at Hartford. Unfortunately, they also spread smallpox and, by the end of the 1633–34 winter, the Native population of the entire valley was reduced from over 8,000 to less than 2,000. Europeans took advantage of this decimation by further settling the fertile valley.

However, the main body of settlers arrived in “one large group in 1636.” The settlers were Puritans from Massachusetts, led by Thomas Hooker. Hooker had been prominent in England and was a professor of theology at Cambridge. He was also an important political writer and made a significant contribution to Constitutional theory. He broke with the political leadership in Massachusetts, and, just as Roger Williams created a new polity in Rhode Island, Hooker and his cohort did the same and established the Connecticut Colony at Hartford in 1636. This was the second of the three colonies.

The third colony was founded in March 1638. New Haven Colony (originally known as the Quinnipiack Colony) was established by John Davenport, Theophilus Eaton, and others at New Haven. The New Haven Colony had its own constitution, "The Fundamental Agreement of the New Haven Colony", which was signed on June 4, 1639. For the next century, Connecticut was involved in border disputes with New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

Connecticut continued to evolve and prosper as its seaports were busy and the first textile factories were built. The American Embargo and the British blockade during the War of 1812 severely hurt the export business, but it promoted the rapid growth of industry. Eli Whitney of New Haven was one of many engineers and inventors who made the state a juggernaut and leader in machine tools and industrial technology. The state was known for its political conservatism, typified by its Federalist Party and the Yale College (now known as Yale University). The foremost intellectuals were Dwight and Noah Webster, who compiled his great dictionary in New Haven in 1828.

Beginning in the 1830s, and accelerating when Connecticut abolished slavery entirely in 1848, African Americans throughout the nation began relocating to urban centers for employment and opportunity, forming new neighborhoods such as Bridgeport's Little Liberia.

As a result of the industrialization of the state and New England as a region, Connecticut manufacturers played a prominent role in supplying the Union Army and Navy with weapons, ammunition, and military materiel during the American Civil War (1861-1865). A number of Connecticut residents were generals in the Federal service and Gideon Welles was the United States Secretary of the Navy and a confidant of President Abraham Lincoln.

Connecticut Civil War Map
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Connecticut, Slavery, and the Civil War


Before the Civil War, Connecticut residents such as Leonard Bacon, Simeon Baldwin, Horace Bushnell, Prudence Crandall, Jonathan Edwards (the younger) and Harriet Beecher Stowe, were active in the abolitionist movement, and towns such as Farmington and Middletown were stops along the Underground Railroad. Slavery in Connecticut had been gradually phased out beginning in 1797 with less than 100 slaves in Connecticut by 1820; slavery was not completely outlawed, however, until 1848.

The state, along with the rest of New England, had voted for Republican presidential candidate John C. Frémont in the 1856 presidential election, giving "the Pathfinder" all 6 electoral votes. The Republicans opposed the extension of slavery into the territories, and Connecticut residents embraced their slogan "Free speech, free press, free soil, free men, Frémont and victory!" Four years later, once again Connecticut favored the Republican candidate, this time Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln. Residents cast 58.1% of their ballots for Lincoln, versus 20.6% for Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas and 19.2% for Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge. A handful of voters (1,528 or 2% of the ballots cast) favored John Bell of Tennessee.

The 1860 U.S. Census enumerated 460,147 people living in Connecticut as of June 1 of that year. Of that count, 451,504 were white, with only 8,627 blacks and 16 Indians. More than 80,000 of the whites were foreign-born, with 55,000 coming from Ireland. More than 20% of the population was still engaged in farming, but industry and the trades had become major employers. Starting in the 1830s, and accelerating when Connecticut abolished slavery entirely in 1848, African Americans from in- and out-of-state began relocating to urban centers for employment and opportunity, forming new neighborhoods such as Bridgeport's Little Liberia.

Civil War

According to the 1860 U.S. census, Connecticut, a free state, had a population of 460,147.

During the conflict, more than 50,000 Connecticut men served in the Union Army and fought in numerous major battles and campaigns. The state furnished twenty-eight regiments of infantry (including two composed of black men). Two regiments of heavy artillery also served as infantry toward the end of the war. Connecticut also supplied three batteries of light artillery and one regiment of cavalry.

According to The Union Army, vol. 4, "[T]he total quotas of the state during the war amounted to 44,797, while she sent to the army a total of 54,349, and 1,515 paid commutation. She thus furnished a surplus of 11,067 men. As there were only 80,000 voters in the state at this period, she contributed nearly seven-tenths of her voting strength. These 54,000 men were distributed among twenty-eight regiments of infantry, two regiments and three batteries of artillery, and one regiment and one squadron of cavalry. As already noted, she also furnished one squadron of cavalry which was included, despite promises to the contrary, in the N.Y. Harris light cavalry and credited to that state. The above enumeration likewise fails to include over 2,000 men from Connecticut who enlisted in the U.S. Navy, as well as large numbers who served in the regular army and in the regiments of other states." During the Civil War, Connecticut suffered a total of 5,254 in killed and thousands more in wounded.

Prominent among military manufacturers with Connecticut ties was the New Haven Arms Company, which provided the Union Army with the Henry rifle, developed by New Haven's Benjamin Tyler Henry. Colt's Manufacturing Company, founded and owned by Hartford-born industrialist Samuel Colt, was another significant arms and munitions supplier. The company shipped large quantities of sidearms to the Union Navy. The Hartford-based firm of Pratt & Whitney provided machinery and support equipment to Army contractors to produce weapons. Most of the brass buttons used on Federal uniforms, belt buckles and other fittings, were made in Waterbury, the "Brass City", notably by the Chase Brass and Copper Company. The shipyards at Mystic provided ships for the Union Navy. The USS Monticello (1859), USS Galena (1862), USS Varuna (1861) were all built at Mystic. See also The State of Connecticut and the Civil War (1861-1865).

Following the bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor in April 1861, a few days later, on the 15th, President Lincoln called for volunteers to join the new Union army. The next day, Governor William A. Buckingham, like Lincoln a Republican, issued a proclamation urging his citizens to join state-sponsored regiments and artillery batteries. In response, by the end of the month, the 1st Connecticut Infantry and two other regiments had been raised and recruited for a term of three months (all the time that was expected to be needed to crush the rebellion and end the war). Daniel Tyler of Brooklyn was selected as the 1st Regiment's initial colonel, and the regiment arrived in Washington, D.C. on May 10.

Fort Trumbull in New London served as an organizational center for Union troops and headquarters for the U.S. 14th Infantry Regiment. Here, troops were recruited and trained before being sent to war. Among the regiments trained there was the 14th Connecticut Infantry, which played a prominent role in the Army of the Potomac's defense of Cemetery Ridge during the Battle of Gettysburg. The 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery (19th Connecticut Infantry) suffered significant casualties in the 1864 Overland Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg. Among the troops from the "Nutmeg State" that fought in the Trans-Mississippi Theater was the 9th Connecticut Infantry, which aided in the capture of New Orleans, Louisiana, as part of the "New England Brigade."

Connecticut Map
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Connecticut and the American Civil War Map

Notable figures from Connecticut included Glastonbury native Gideon Welles was a prominent member of the Lincoln Cabinet and perhaps its leading conservative. He was the Secretary of the Navy from 1861 to 1869 and was the architect of the planning and execution of the blockade of Southern ports. During his tenure, he increased the size of the United States Navy tenfold. The popular late war marching song Marching Through Georgia was written by Henry Clay Work, a Middletown resident.

Shortly after the war began, Col. Daniel Tyler of the 1st Connecticut was promoted to brigadier general. Later, other field officers in Connecticut regiments such as Alfred Terry, Henry Warner Birge (both born in Hartford), and Robert O. Tyler of the 4th Connecticut Infantry would be promoted to general. Some Connecticut-born men with antebellum U.S. Army service also became leading generals early in the war, including Ashford-born Nathaniel Lyon, one of the war's earliest army commanders to be killed when he was shot down at the Battle of Wilson's Creek in Missouri. Cornwall's John Sedgwick commanded the Union VI Corps for much of the war until killed at the Spotsylvania Court House. He was succeeded by Horatio G. Wright of Clinton, a long-time officer in the Regular Army.

Major General Joseph K. Mansfield of Middletown led the II Corps of the Union Army of the Potomac during the middle of 1862. He was killed in action at the Battle of Antietam during the 1862 Maryland Campaign. Another casualty of the fighting at Antietam was Brig. Gen. George Taylor, who had been educated at a private military academy in Middletown.

Joseph R. Hawley of New Haven commanded a division in the Army of the Potomac during the Siege of Petersburg and was promoted in September 1864 to brigadier general. Concerned over keeping the peace during the November elections, Hawley commanded a hand-picked brigade shipped to New York City to safeguard the election process. Other Union generals with Connecticut roots included Henry W. Benham of Meriden, Luther P. Bradley of New Haven, William T. Clark of Norwich, Orris S. Ferry of Bethel, and Alpheus S. Williams of Deep River. New Haven native Andrew Hull Foote received the Thanks of Congress for his distinguished actions in commanding the Mississippi River Squadron gunboat flotilla in the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson and Island No. 10. 

During the war, the State Hospital in New Haven (a precursor to Yale-New Haven Hospital) was leased to the government to serve as the Knight U.S. Army General Hospital. 23,340 soldiers were treated in the hospital with only 185 deaths. One of the first officers killed in the Civil War was New Haven's Theodore Winthrop, who died in an early engagement at Big Bethel in eastern Virginia.

Casualties from Connecticut military units during the war included 97 officers and 1094 enlisted men killed in action, with another 700 men dying from wounds while more than 3,000 perished from disease, and thousands more returned to Connecticut wounded. 27 men were executed for crimes, including desertion. More than 400 men were reported as missing; the majority were likely held by the Confederate Army as prisoners of war. According to "The Union Army," the 14th infantry suffered the greatest loss, with 188 killed or mortally wounded and 552 wounded. The 5th and 18th infantry show the smallest losses, losing 63 and 48 men respectively. See also Connecticut, The Union Army, and the Civil War (1861-1865).

Connecticut Civil War Battlefield Map
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High Resolution Map of Connecticut. Were there any Civil War battles fought in Connecticut? No.


The New England state of Connecticut played a relatively small, but important role in the American Civil War, providing arms, equipment, money, supplies, and manpower for the Union Army, as well as the Union Navy. Several Connecticut politicians played significant roles in the Federal government and helped shape its policies during the war and the subsequent Reconstruction. The number of farms in long-settled Connecticut did not change much during or after the Civil War. Already the home of business successes like the Colt firearms factory, the state experienced growth in manufacturing and finance during Reconstruction.

In addition to manpower, Connecticut donated nearly seven million dollars (nearly $100 million in modern currency) to the war efforts of arming, clothing, transporting, and feeding Federal troops. The state’s infrastructural and industrial prowess was immeasurably vital in this mission. Connecticut businessman Samuel Colt became a millionaire by providing excellent quality Colt revolvers to Union officers and cavalrymen. Likewise, the New Haven Arms Company (later the Winchester Repeating Arms Company) produced the Henry Rifle and subsequent Winchester Rifle which played such major roles in both the Civil War and western expansion. Like so many fellow northern states, Connecticut undeniably helped attain final Union victory.

See also Connecticut in the Civil War (1861-1865)

Sources: Library of Congress; National Archives; National Park Service; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; The Union Army (1908); US Census Bureau; Croffut, William A. and John M. Morris, Military and Civil History of Connecticut During the War of 1861-1865, New York: L. Bill, 1868; Dyer, Frederick H., A Compendium of the War of Rebellion (1908): Fox, William F. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War (1889); Phisterer, Frederick. Statistical record of the armies of the United States (1883); Hardesty, Jesse. Killed and died of wounds in the Union army during the Civil War (1915) Wright-Eley Co.; Compiled and Arranged From Official Records of the Federal and Confederate Armies, Reports of the Adjutant Generals of the Several States, The Army Registers and Other Reliable Documents and Sources, Des Moines, Iowa: Dyer Publishing, 1908 (reprinted by Morningside Books, 1978), ISBN 978-0-89029-046-0; Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3; The Union Army; A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States, 1861–65 — Records of the Regiments in the Union Army — Cyclopedia of Battles — Memoirs of Commanders and Soldiers, Federal Publishing Company (Madison, Wisconsin), 1908 (reprinted by Broadfoot Publishing, 1997); Clark, George L. A History of Connecticut: Its People and Institutions. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1914; Lane, Jarlath Robert, Brother.A Political History of Connecticut During the Civil War.Catholic University of America Press, 1941; Smith, Sharon B. Connecticut’s Civil War: A Guide for Travelers. Featherfield Publishing, 2009.


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