Monthly Archives: July 2012

Who’s In Charge?

Anyone with more than a passing interest in the American Civil War knows of the never-ending changes in the officer corps, and thus the command structure of the army in the field. The changes in the command structure of the Fourteenth Connecticut were typical.

Col. Dwight Morris, from Bridgeport was the appointed the first commander of Fourteenth Connecticut on May 22, 1862. On September 7th, after the 14th arrived in Virginia, Col. Morris was elevated to command the newly formed Second Brigade of the Third Division of the Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac. The brigade consisted of the 14th CT, the 108th NY, and the 130th PA. Col. Morris commanded the brigade for only about three months. In early December, he became quite ill and left active duty before the Battle of Fredericksburg, never to return.

When Col. Morris took command of the Second Brigade, Lt. Col. Sanford Perkins was given command of the 14th CT. He led the regiment well through their first test at Antietam, and drilled them incessantly during the next two months, but he was wounded seriously at Fredericksburg, and would also never return to active duty.

Col. Theodore Ellis

Col. Theodore Ellis

For almost four months, Captains Davis and Bronson, and at least one other company captain, alternately held temporary command of the regiment. On April 14, 1863, a staff officer, Adjutant Theodore Ellis, was promoted to major and given command of the regiment. Ellis proved an excellent officer under fire, and would receive promotions to lieutenant colonel (Sept. 22, 1863), colonel (Oct. 11, 1863), and brevet brigadier-general (March 13, 1865).

Lt. Col. Samuel Moore assumed command of the regiment during the engagement at Morton’s Ford, VA, when Col. Ellis was absent from the regiment. Lt. Col. Moore took over full-time command during the siege at Petersburg until the end of the war.


Camp Foote

The new recruits of the Fourteenth Connecticut assembled during the late spring and early summer months of 1862 at newly established Camp Foote in the city of Hartford. The camp was  named for a Connecticut hero much in the news during that time, Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote, a native of New Haven, who commanded the Mississippi River Squadron of gunboats in attacks upon Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Island No. 10.

Details about Camp Foote are few and far between. It was located about two miles south of the city center, with the New Haven Turnpike forming its western boundary and the Connecticut River its eastern boundary.

Regardless of its exact location, Camp Foote seemed to be a place of dust, boredom, and lousy discipline. Endless hours were spent drilling the new recruits in arts of military marching and of how to coordinate and synchronize the movements of over a thousand men. These new skills would stand the men in good stead during their first test under fire at Antietam.

But while at Camp Foote, the green recruits of the Fourteenth never received and weapons training. Colt Firearms was little more than a stone”s throw from Camp Foote, Sharps Rifle Company less than two miles away, and Springfield Armory just upriver across the state line in Massachusetts, and yet the men were not issued weapons until they were actually on enemy soil in Arlington, VA. Lack of adequate training with their new weapons would also be demonstrated on the battlefield at Antietam.


Flags of the Fourteenth

“Rally on the colors, boys!” A battle cry heard countless times on every Civil War battlefield. Flags, also known as colors, were carried by every regiment, both Union and Confederate. The colors served to identify the unit. It was a high honor requiring great courage to hold them high and lead the regiment into battle, but the colors were also the regiment”s most prized possession and were defended at all cost. To lose them in battle was unthinkable, a disgrace not only to the regiment, but to the home state it represented. It was likewise a great and honorable achievement to capture the colors of the enemy, and numerous Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded during the Civil War for such valorous deeds.

14thCTFlag_US-277x300The men of the Fourteenth Connecticut carried two regimental flags into battle, both about four feet square in size. The first was based on the national flag, the familiar “Stars and Stripes,” bordered all around with a gold fringe. An embroidered eagle with wings spread stood atop a red, white, and blue shield, surrounded by gold stars representing each the states, Union as well as Confederate. “14th REGT CONN. VOLS.” was stitched in gold across the center red stripe. The photo at right is of a printed reproduction.

11thCT_Flag001The second flag was based on the state flag of Connecticut. The flag was dark blue, again fringed with gold all around.  In the center of the flag was a white shield bordered in gold with three grapevines embroidered upon it, two above center and one below.  Atop the shield was a beautifully embroidered eagle with its wings spread wide. Under the shield was an embroidered golden banner with stitched lettering which read “14th REGIMENT C.V.”

This flag in this photo is actually that the Eleventh Connecticut. The Fourteenth’s state colors would have been very similar.


Sgt. Benjamin Hirst

Sergeant Benjamin Hirst

      Sergeant Benjamin Hirst

Another chronicler of the Fourteenth Connecticut was Sgt. Benjamin Hirst of Company D. Hirst was born at Stockport, England, near the city of Manchester. His family worked in the textile industry, and when the Hirsts emigrated to the U.S. in 1847, they again found work in textile manufacturing, and lived in the area of Chester, PA. In 1852, Ben married Sarah Quinn, to whom he would write many of his Civil War letters.

Benjamin Hirst enlisted July 16, 1862 and was mustered as a sergeant. His service with the Fourteenth was cut short at Gettysburg, when he was wounded in the shoulder during the repulse of Pickett’s charge. He was transferred to the Veterans Reserve Corps (a.k.a. Invalid Corps) until his discharge on July 9, 1865 because of medical disability. Sergeant Hirst lived until 1909, and died in Springfield, MA at the age of 81.

Hirst”s letters comprise nearly a day by day journal of the history of the Fourteenth Connecticut as he saw it and lived it. He lets us in on life at war and far from home for the average infantryman. His language is engaging and his writing is quite good, but alas, his spelling? Not so much.

Fiction Connection: Benjamin Hirst’s English roots provided part of the inspiration for my character Sgt. Needham. Hirst”s letters gave me valuable insight into how a husband and wife communicated with each other during the war and the everyday issues they dealt with. It was particularly informative to learn what information Ben revealed to Sarah, and what he chose not to tell her.

Details provided above were drawn from The Boys from Rockville, edited with commentary by Robert L. Bee, University of Tennessee Press, 1998.