The Civil War

Connecticut's role in the Civil War and wartime politics in the state do not have an extensive literature, but what is available is quite good. Readers with a high tolerance for straightforward battle narratives might start by looking at Regimental Publications and Personal Narratives of the Civil War: A Check List (New York, 1961), compiled by C. E. Dornbusch. (This is a revision of Bibliography of State Participation in the Civil War, published by the War Department in 1913.) Volume I of the 1961 edition includes a section on the New England states. One reviewer called it "the very model of a military bibliography. It includes all publications which can be directly associated with the history of a particular battery or regiment." (R. Harwell, New England Quarterly 35:125) About 75,000 Connecticut men fought in the War. The Connecticut Adjutant-General's Office published a Catalogue of Connecticut Volunteer 0rganizations, with Additional Enlistments and Casualties to July 1, 1864 (Hartford 1864). That 847-page work is supplemented by one of over a thousand pages, Record of the Service of the Connecticut Men of the Army and Navy of the United States During the War of the Rebellion (Hartford, 1889). This work, also published by the Adjutant General, is arranged by regiments and companies; it includes regimental histories and an index.

If you have a real addiction to boring research, you might now turn to William A. Croffut and John M. Morris, Military and Civil History of Connecticut During the War of 1861-1865 (New York: L. Bill, 1868). The first eighty pages of this work discuss events in Connecticut. The next six hundred or so present a plodding, chronological, battle-by-battle narrative focusing on the activities of Connecticut units. Appendices list the names of Connecticut men killed, town war expenses, and Connecticut generals. There is an index of regiments and of names. There are also two pages on Connecticut men in the Navy. John Niven finds the work useful but warns that "it must be used with care, as there are many errors and some distortions to fit the political and moral biases of the authors." (p. 455 of Niven, cited below) For regimental histories, see also the essay on "Biographical Directories," below.

Modern scholarship on Connecticut and the Civil War focuses on John Niven's Connecticut for the Union: The Role of the State in the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965), an exemplary study. The bibliography at the back of the book should be first reading for anyone beginning research in the subject. Niven sees no tendency towards placid, steady habits in antebellum Connecticut. Rather, he portrays society as having been repressed, but ready to explode, for thirty years. The war gave that pent-up energy an opportunity for release which ultimately brought about social changes wholly unrelated to military and political affairs. In the foreword, Allan Nevins calls Niven's work "one of the fullest, best proportioned, and most penetrating of all state records of the war." (p. x) Niven wrote a 1954 dissertation at Columbia, "The Time of the Whirlwind: A Study in the Political, Social and Economic History of Connecticut from 1861 to 1875." The era, says Niven, had brought "a cataclysmic upheaval in manners, morals, and habits. Connecticut in 1860 had been a composite of the old and the new, with rather more of the old in her make-up; Connecticut in 1875 presented an aspect which was entirely different, a style which owed nothing to the classical and was outmoding the romantic design. Industry was the sorcerer...industry had coruscated the simplicities of an earlier age, imparting complexity to the problem of living. By 1875, momentous advances in production and communication had practically erased the last vestiges of agrarian parochialism from the Connecticut mind." (from the abstract)

Another work by Niven is Gideon Welles, Lincoln's Navy Department: New York: Oxford, 1973. The biography of Gideon Welles by Niven benefited from Bownsword's dissertation, and includes much detail on Connecticut politics from about 1826 to the Civil War. It is especially informative about the organization of the Democratic Party in Connecticut, and later the Republican Party.

Niven's two excellent works were preceded by a workmanlike and useful book by Robert Jarlath Lane, A Political History of Connecticut During the Civil War (Washington: Catholic University Press, 1941), a dissertation done at Catholic University under Richard Purcell. The focus here is on the decade following 1855 and on state politics, in which Lane is especially good. He says his "scheme centers political events in the annual state and regular elections.... It also allows for study of events and developments which were not strictly political in for example the response of the state to the call for volunteers in 1861." (p. ix) Niven characterizes Lane's book as one of "impressive scholarship," but long on facts and short on interpretation. We are assured by another commentator that Lane's approach is thoroughly objective even where religious views might have created bias, as, for instance, in his treatment of the Know-Nothings. (A. B. Darling, New England Quarterly 15:365)

Niven and Lane can be usefully supplemented by Joanna Dunlap Cowden's University of Connecticut dissertation (1975), supervised by Richard O. Curry, who is more interested in Reconstruction than in the War. Cowden's dissertation discusses anti-bellum party formation, but the primary focus is on "the adjustment of competing parties to the conditions of war and peace." The Civil War helped the Republican party, and during the War the Radical wing was strengthened. But Radical efforts to push civil rights for blacks alienated too many voters, and the Democrats regained strength after the War.

Another useful dissertation is Lawrence Bruser's "Political Antislavery in Connecticut, 1844-1858" (Columbia, 1974). "Connecticut was one of the critical swing states that held the balance of power between the North and the South in the 1850s. In order to succeed there, the Republican party had to put together the right combination of political factions and formulate an antislavery appeal that was attuned to the broad mainstream of Northern life. The obstacles to an antislavery party in Connecticut were the state's traditional distrust of social reform, its intense dislike of Negroes, and its vested interest in Southern trade. Encouraging the rise of republicanism were the inexorable forces of the modern world: a sense of moral right, the growth of democracy, and the industrial revolution. "Free soil and free labor were the basis for a broad platform upon which all antislavery men could stand, and the Republican party commanded a small but secure majority in Connecticut throughout the Civil War Years." (from the abstract)

Two articles published in the CHS Bulletin and one other are relevant:

Fowles, Lloyd W. "No Backward Step: The Connecticut Gubernatorial Elections of 1861 and 1862." 2 (January, 1962) 1:l-7. "Connecticut's gubernatorial elections of 1861 and 1862 clearly reflect the political struggles and changing forces of the national scene at one of the most important times in the history of this country." (p. 1)

Helmreich, Paul C. "The Diary of Charles G. Lee in the Andersonville and Florence Prison Camps, 1864." 4l (January, 1976) 1:12-28.

Talmadge, John E. "A Peace Movement in Civil War Connecticut." New England Quarterly 28 (September, 1964) 3:306-21. This is an excellent study of the internal politics of Connecticut, 1860-61. "As a whole the state stood for war. Its peace agitations were the expression of a resolute minority which grew bold in the brief defeatist atmosphere" following the Union defeat at Bull Run. (p. 321)

See also:

Cowden, Joanna D. "The Politics of Dissent: Civil War Democrats in Connecticut," New England Quarterly 56(Dec. 1983).

Duffy, Joe. "Anna Dickinson and the 1863 Connecticut Gubernatorial Campaign," CHS Bulletin 49 (Fall, 1984) 4:165-171. A twenty-one year old Quaker abolitionist took Connecticut by storm with her fiery oratory on behalf of the Republican Party. Duffy implies that she saved the election for Buckingham and thus kept Connecticut in the pro-War camp. He also maintains that "Anna Dickinson did indeed destroy the last vestiges of opposition to women on the public platform. …" (p. 171). The Concise DAB describes Dickinson as "orator, actress, playwright. An eccentric egotist [who] made wildly emotional platform pleas for harsh treatment of the South." She lived until 1932.

Hamblen, Charles P. Connecticut Yankees at Gettysburg ed. By Walter L. Powell. Kent, Kent State University Press, 1993.

McSeveney, Samuel T. "Winning the Vote for Connecticut Soldiers in the Field, 1862-1864: A Research Note and Historiographical Comment," Connecticut History No. 26 (Nov., 1985) pp. 115-24. Republicans were more likely to enlist and therefore the GOP lost votes in the elections of 1861 and 1862, a finding that contradicts assertions of Nevins and others. This article traces the successful partisan battle to secure an amendment to the Connecticut Constitution which would permit absentee voting by soldiers in the field.

Contemporary sources worth looking at:

Bacon, G. W. and Howland, E. W., eds. Letters of a Family During the War for the Union. New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse and Taylor, 1899.

Barnum, Phineas T. Struggles and Triumphs: Or Forty Years Recollections. Hartford: J. B. Burr, 1869.

Cheney, Mary Bushnell, ed. Life and Letters of Horace Bushnell. New York: Scribner's, 1905.

There are two editions of the Diary of Gideon Welles, Connecticut newspaper editor, politician, and Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy, both of three volumes. One is edited by John T. Morse (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1911) and the other, favored by Niven, by Howard K. Beale (New York: W. W. Norton, 1960).

Connecticut's highest ranking general is the subject of a dissertation by Richard Elliott Winslow (University of Pennsylvania, 1970), "John Sedgwick, Major-General of the Union Army." Sedgwick was killed by a sniper at the Battle of the Wilderness. Sedgwick is also the subject of a short, popular, thirty-one-page pamphlet by Robert J. Jurgen and Allan Keller, published by the Connecticut Civil War Centennial Committee, Major General John Sedgwick, U.S. Volunteers, 1813-1864 (Hartford, 1963).

Another general whose life has been the subject of a dissertation is Joseph Hawley. In "New England Idealism in the Civil War: The Military Career of Joseph Roswell Hawley" (Claremont Graduate School, 1970), John Allan Nicholson tries "to show the effect of Hawley's family ideology upon the behavior and public career of the man himself." Hawley, who was also a lawyer and journalist, is described as a "political general." His career "illustrates the remarkable vitality of the Connecticut community in American public life of the period.... Beginning with his enlistment as the first Union volunteer in the State of Connecticut and his role in organizing a volunteer force of recruits, Hawley's military career is followed through several major campaigns; through his administration of Wilmington...; and his return to Hartford and his circle of influential friends and associates at Nook Farm." (from the abstract)

In addition to writing excellent social commentary in his mid-nineteenth-century novels, John W. Deforest also served as a military and civil officer in wartime and the Reconstruction South. He wrote two very informative works. A Volunteer's Adventures: A Union Captain's Record of the Civil War (New Haven, 1946), edited by James H. Croushore, is a collection of letters written while on duty in Virginia and Louisiana, 1862-1864, to his wife in New Haven. A Union Officer in the Reconstruction, edited by Croushore and David Potter (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948), is a collection of magazine articles published between 1864 and 1868 in which Deforest analyzes Southern society. Croushore's dissertation on Deforest is described in the "Biographies" section, below.

Connecticut's part in the Navy is suggested in Andrew Hull Foote: Gunboat Commodore, 1806-1863, by Allan Keller, another little pamphlet in the Connecticut Civil War Centennial Commission's series (Hartford, 1964).

An interesting aspect of Connecticut society is hinted at in a very brief article, "Connecticut's Colored Volunteers," in Lure of the Litchfield Hills 21 (Summer, 1962) 3. In this article W. J. Finan outlines the organization and service of the 29th and 30th Connecticut Volunteers, 1864-65, who suffered extraordinarily high casualties at Petersburg. The author says these two regiments included 1,664 Negroes. There is a photograph of some of them.

Biographical entries to be consulted below include Simeon E. Baldwin, Henry Barnard, P. T. Barnum, Catherine Beecher, William A. Buckingham, Horace Bushnell, John Deforest, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Gideon Welles. See also entries below under "Industry," "Military," "Trade and Commerce,” and “Transportation.”


©2003 CT Heritage. Designed and Hosted by The Computer Company Inc