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Greenwich and the Civil War

Looking back to the beginning 150 years ago

Library of Congress

It’s known to be our deadliest war. Roughly 620,000 men perished in the American Civil War, which is more than all our other wars combined from the Revolution through Vietnam. In this conflict, twice as many died of disease than in battle. It was a sorry time—brother against brother in combat over the issues of states rights and slavery—and Greenwich was in the thick of it. Our small farming town with its population of 6,500 sent 437 men off to fight, most of them serving in the 10th and 17th Connecticut Volunteers.

With the help of the Greenwich Historical Society and documentarian Grant Radulovackim, we introduce some of the Greenwich residents who took up arms for the Union cause—and their women who waited patiently at home for the news.

Silas Edward Mead

“We had three men dead and seven or eight wounded,” wrote Silas to his cousin William E. Mead in 1863. “It was hard to see a fellow fall by your side and not [be] allowed to help him. But soldiers want no feeling.” This was one of 218 letters he wrote home to his family. Silas was only eighteen when he enlisted and went on to serve in twenty-five battles with never a furlough or injury. In 1864 he was transferred to the first Ambulance Corps for the Army of the Potomac, as a driver or stretcher-bearer. “It was fortunate for me that I was detailed,” he wrote his sister Tillie, since his previous company had lost eighteen men. The newly patented ambulance wagons could carry medical supplies much more safely than transporting them in baskets on pack animals.

Norval Green

At the end of three years of service in Company 1 of the 10th Regiment, Norval Green re-enlisted and in January 1865, like Silas Mead, was also assigned to the Ambulance Corps. Many Army doctors had no experience in surgery but had to perform operations they had never seen before, including amputations that made up the vast majority of procedures. Chloroform was commonly used as an anesthetic by that time, administered by the surgeon himself; but if it ran out, then the patient was given a heavy dose of whiskey or simply “bit the bullet”.

William H. Ritch

Prison camps in both the North and South were notorious for their inhumane treatment of inmates. Lack of food and shelter inevitably led to disease and starvation and to the death of 50,000 men in these camps—five times the number killed at Gettysburg. In 1864 William Ritch, age twenty-two, was captured and sent to Libby Prison in a warehouse in Richmond, Virginia, that confined 1,300 prisoners of war in six stifling rooms. There he languished for four months, losing fifty-two pounds, until released by his captors who figured he was too weak to recover and rejoin the Union forces. But he lived to write a book about it in 1915.

Daniel Merritt Mead

“One after another, amid the sound of glorious victory all along our lines, the griefs of war will come home to us. … Your son fought bravely and unharmed,” wrote Capt. Daniel M. Mead in his condolence letter to the father of Henry H. Mead, “but he has fallen before the typhoid fever.”

Within a year of entering the fray, the same would happen to Daniel himself. The twenty-seven-year-old attorney and married man was among our first to enlist. He also helped raise the first company of Greenwich recruits. Elected captain of Company 1 of the 10th Regiment, he was presented with a sword by grateful town leaders when his company left town on September 25, 1861.

On a diet of wormy hardtack, salt pork and coffee, soldiers in the crowded unsanitary camps often came down with scurvy and diarrhea. Meanwhile, contagious diseases ran rampant and army medical personnel were hard pressed to care for the sick and wounded. To compound the situation, our Greenwich farm boys had grown up unexposed to many germs. Thus, stricken with typhus, Daniel soon landed in an army hospital where he was promoted to major; but by September of 1862, weak from illness and ulcerated bedsores, he came home to Greenwich to die.

Robert Peterson

Nineteen-year-old farm hand Robert Peterson from the Stanwich part of Greenwich enlisted in the Union Army in December 1863. He was one of twenty-four African- Americans in the 29th Regiment from Greenwich while another twelve served in the 31st, both regiments having been formed late in the war when the Union was desperate for recruits. The men were enticed by an enlisting bonus of $300 along with the promise of pay and uniforms equal to white soldiers. A fairly empty promise, as it turned out.

The 29th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry (colored) fought in major campaigns in the Petersburg-Richmond area, helping to end the war. Wounded in the back, Robert recovered and was sent to guard ammunition trains until he was mustered out of the army in October 1865.

Deacon Jonas Mead

Slavery in Greenwich ended in 1825 with the freeing of African-American Candice Bush, who was owned by the Bush family. When war broke out between the states, not everyone in New England was anti-slavery; many working men were afraid of competition from freed slaves. Someone even called Fairfield County “a hard county, the Georgia of Connecticut.” But Deacon Jonas Mead of the Second Congregational Church was a passionate abolitionist, vice-president of the Fairfield Anti-Slavery Society and a conductor for the Underground Railroad. He often entertained like-minded dignitaries at his farm on the Byram shore. He was seventy-seven at the start of the war but lived to see the end of slavery in our country.

Isaac L. Mead

Isaac Mead enlisted in the Union Army the same day his twenty-six-year-old wife, Esther, gave birth to their third son. He survived both the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg but came down with an illness that landed him in General Hospital in Washington in 1863 and later in a Union convalescent camp in Alexandria. His devoted wife traveled south to nurse him, a not uncommon practice among families of sick and wounded soldiers. He would return to Greenwich and take over his father’s furniture making and undertaking business in the landmark corner building at the top of the Avenue.

Esther Mead

With three little boys and a husband off to war, times were hard for Esther Mead, but she did her best to boost Isaac’s morale by sending him food and news from home. In a letter of December 14, 1862, she wrote:  “I stopped up the cellar door and covered up the potatoes as best I could, to try and keep them from freezing. Then I carried what wood we had cut into the storeroom for safekeeping.  I took one of your boots to Mr. Dayton, he said he would make you a pair as soon as he could. If I write too particular about things at home, please tell me.”

The families of the 148 married soldiers from Greenwich serving in the Union Army included 198 children, each of which, excluding infants, received $2 a month from the town while their mothers received $6. Since soldiers weren’t paid regularly and if they were killed or taken prisoner, their pay stopped, this financial assistance, however modest, was well received.

Lucretia Mead

Isaac’s little sister was fifteen when the hostilities started. Women played a major role in the war effort raising money, collecting medicine and supplies for the front lines and entering the work force to fill the jobs their men had vacated in factories, on farms and in other fields. But the youngest girls were expected to go on with life as usual, complete with schoolwork and music lessons.

Lucretia was, however, the daughter of an undertaker who had prepared the bodies of nineteen soldiers for burial, so she was well aware of the tragedy of war. On August 17, 1862, just before her brother went off to fight, she wrote in her diary: “In the evening walked home with Isaac. While coming home I thought this may be the last time I shall ever walk home with you. May it not be.” And Isaac did come home.

Meanwhile, since she lived next door to Esther, Lucretia could help out her sister-in-law while Isaac was away. Later, she would marry George Mills of Greenwich.

Mary Angeline Lockwood

Here is an example of the Northern women who worked so hard for the Union cause. At thirty-two when the war began, Mary Angeline was the wife of a farmer named George Lockwood, mother of one child, eldest daughter of Shubel Brush and, like her father, a diehard abolitionist. In 1842, long before the start of the conflict, Brush wrote: “I would say to you hold on against Slavery…You must expect to be persecuted if you oppose the sin of Slavery.” Mary Angeline and her sister Harriet co-founded the Stanwich Soldier’s Aid Society dedicated to soliciting donations to help sick and wounded soldiers.

Ophelia Mead Long

One out of every five enlisted men died in this tragic conflict,  and twenty-five-year-old Ophelia Mead Long would soon be left a widow. She and William Long were married on September 16, 1861, the day he marched off to war; and two years later he died of dysentery in South Carolina. It took the War Department fourteen months to approve her application for a widow’s pension.

Ophelia never remarried but spent the rest of her life grieving over the loss of her young husband and collecting material such as the following poem found among her papers. Entitled In Memoriam, it reads: “Blest be the ground where heroes sleep/And blest the flag that o’er them waves,/Its radiant stars their watch shall keep/And brightly beam on hallowed graves.”

Across from the Second Congregational Church at the corner of East Putnam and Maple stands a landmark monument inscribed with the names of twelve Civil War battles and, centered at its base, the words “Greenwich—to her loyal sons who fought for the Union, 1861-1865.”  Dedicated on October 22, 1890, it is there to remind us and our children’s children of those darkest of days 150 years ago.

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