We shall lay his body in the grave; but his memory shall ever be kept green among us.
The lives and service records of the Civil War veterans buried in Hartford’s cemeteries illustrate not only Hartford’s chapter in the “War of the Rebellion” but Connecticut’s story as well.
They served with ranks ranging from the Union’s Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles down to Philip Judd who, at the age of 11, traveled south with his father as the drummer boy of the 106th New York Regiment. They were the proud veterans of not only all the Connecticut volunteer regiments but of regiments from most of the other states as well as the United State Volunteers, Regular Army, Navy and Colored Infantries. Three gravesites of Confederate veterans have been identified to date.
They fought in battles still infamous after 150 years: Antietam, Gettysburg, the siege of Atlanta, the Bermuda Hundred, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg and Irish Bend. They entered the services as farmers, shop clerks, armorers, laborers, students and the heirs apparent to Hartford’s most prosperous businessmen. Some could trace their family histories back to the Mayflower; some had arrived in this country only a few years previous.
Some left as mere boys – those that returned, returned as changed men. Some bore the outward scars of battle, like Theodore Gelbart who lost his left arm at Antietam. Others bore interior scars like George Landgdon who was committed by his family in 1866 to the Hartford Retreat for the Insane (now known as The Institute for Living) where he remained for over 30 years until his death in 1909.
Our veterans and their families were also witnesses to the healing of the nation. The final resting place of Confederate Captain Alexander Hamilton Polk was never one of the over 1,500 that were visited by members of the Grand Army of the Republic on Decoration Day but the family of General Robert Ogden Tyler decorated his gravesite after laying flowers at the grave of their departed warrior. And when Dr. Thomas Mulligan, the last surviving Civil War Veteran from New Britain was laid to rest in Cedar Hill Cemetery in 1936, the minister for his funeral service was the son of a Confederate soldier.
Those who returned formed the first veterans group in the nation with the Grand Army of the Republic. And in 1868 they honored their comrades – those fallen in battle and those who had died since – at the first Decoration Day. They built enduring monuments to their regiments; they lobbied for benefits for the disabled; they saw to it that every veteran’s grave received a permanent monument no matter what their rank in war, no matter their social status in civilian life. And we continue to this day to honor them – and those who served in subsequent wars – each and every Memorial Day.
Each veteran gravesite represents the life of one who fought for our freedom; each one has a story to tell.