Category Archives: Recruitment & Training

Fort Ethan Allen

We left the boys of the Fourteenth Connecticut late in the day on August 30, 1862, when they arrived at Fort Ethan Allen. A quick search on Google Earth (Fort Ethan Allen Park, Arlington, VA) will show you the precise location of the fort, several miles northwest of Washington near the Potomac River.

The 14th Connecticut was joined with two other brand new regiments, the 108th New York and the 130th Pennsylvania, to form a new brigade, under the command of Col. Dwight Morris of the 14th Connecticut, who was the senior ranking officer in the brigade. The brigade became the Second Brigade of the Third Division (Brig. Gen. William H. French commanding), of the Second Corps (Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner commanding), of the Army of the Potomac (Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan commanding).

The Fourteenth spent eight days at Fort Ethan Allen, departing on Sunday, September 7. Some manual of arms drill must have occurred during that time, but I have not found solid evidence of it. The writings of Hirst and Fiske, and other sources quoted in Page’s history, make no mention of training with the new rifles. A prevalent attitude during the early part of the war was that individual marksmanship mattered little, it was the volume of fire that counted most. This was standard strategy during the age of smoothbore muskets.

As these men would prove just ten days after leaving Fort Ethan Allen at Antietam’s sunken lane, they would maintain their formations, and maneuver and march under fire. But would they be able to shoot straight?


Perhaps you noted the date on which the untried men of the Fourteenth Connecticut first set foot in Virginia, August 29, 1862, the same day the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) raged just thirty miles away.

So, what happened to our boys from the Nutmeg State? The men crossed the Potomac on Long Bridge, which stood where the current Amtrak bridge is just north of Reagan International Airport. It was originally designed as a railroad bridge, but it was not strong enough to bear heavy locomotives. It was also narrow, and traffic could only move in one direction at a time. A long mule train had just started to cross from Alexandria when the men of the Fourteenth arrived at the eastern end of the bridge. There was nothing for them to do but wait for each of the wagons to pass.

Wagons of their own loaded with crates of brand new rifles awaited the men when they stepped off Long Bridge, but only A and B Companies were issued their Sharps rifles. Then the regiment marched southeast about a mile and camped for the night on Arlington Heights near what was then Fort Richardson.

A long, loud drum roll awoke the men before dawn on Saturday, August 30. It spoke of imminent danger. News of the fighting at Bull Run filtered down through the ranks. They might be attacked at any time. The crates from the Springfield Armory were hastily pried open and the rest of the men finally received their weapons. Every man was issued forty rounds of ammunition, but no training in loading and firing the rifles was given. There was no time.

The men were ordered to leave their knapsacks, warm woolen blankets, shelter tents and overcoats to ward off the cold and rain with the quartermaster, with the assurance that their possessions would be returned when they had need of them. Then, with only two hardtack crackers and a few swallows of tepid water for a day’s rations, the regiment set out on their first forced march to Fort Ethan Allen, a distance of about ten miles. And when they stumbled into the fort later that afternoon, they were immediately caught up in the swirling tempest caused by the Union disaster at Bull Run.

Their army was in full retreat. What could a few untrained new recruits from Connecticut do?

Arms of the Fourteenth

Wooden crates filled with brand new Sharps and Springfield rifles arrived at Camp Foote, but the arms would remain in their crates until the regiment arrived in Virginia. Eight companies would receive the new Model 1861 Springfield muzzle-loading rifles (photo below), which a trained soldier could load and fire two to three times per minute.

Model 1861 Springfield Rifled Musket

  • Springfield Model 1861 Rifled Musket (Muzzle-loaded)
  • Manufacturer: Springfield Armory, Springfield, MA (or subcontractor)
  • Weight: 9.25 Pounds
  • Length: 56 inches
  • Cartridge:  .58″ minie ball
  • Muzzle Velocity: 950 feet per second
  • Rate of fire:  2-3 rounds/minute
  • Effective range:  100-400 yards

The other two companies, A and B, were issued the Sharps breech-loading rifles, which a trained soldier could load and fire up to ten times per minutes. These were the same type of rifles that were made famous by Berdan’s Sharp Shooters, although without the special Berdan’s modifications, as far as I was able to determine. The extra firepower of the Sharps men could be used either to protect the flanks of the regiment or support the center. They sported green stripes on their trousers instead of the usual dark blue for easy identification.Sharps_rifle_1859

  • Sharps Rifle Model 1859 Rifled Musket (Breech-loaded)
  • Manufacturer: Sharps Rifle Co., Hartford, CT
  • Weight: 9.5 pounds
  • Length: 47 inches
  • Cartridge:  .52″ (475-grain projectile with 50-grain cartridge)
  • Muzzle Velocity: 1200 feet per second
  • Rate of fire:  8-10 rounds/minute
  • Effective range:  500 yards

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.


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.


a.k.a. Dunn Browne

Captain Samuel W. Fiske

     Captain Samuel W. Fiske

In early August, 1862, Samuel W. Fiske, 34, enlisted as a private in the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers. Fiske left his wife, Lizzie, who was eight months pregnant, and his one year old son, George.

What makes Fiske memorable to me and to history is that this man was the full-time minister of the Congregational Church in Madison, CT. He was granted a one year leave by the congregation, which Fiske termed a “vacation,” and he could have enlisted as a chaplain, but he wanted to fight with the infantry. He also wished to write accounts of his experiences for the public at home, and the editor of the Springfield (MA) Republican newspaper was more than happy to have his own dedicated war correspondent. On September 8, 1862, the first of Fiske’s accounts appeared in the Republican under the pen name Dunn Browne.

While with the Fourteenth, Fiske experienced all the hardship, humor, frustration, friendship, terror and tragedy that was the American Civil War, and he was never reluctant to take pen in hand and write about it. Before the regiment left Hartford, Private Fiske was made a 2nd Lieutenant, and in January, 1863, he was promoted to the rank of captain and placed in command of Company G.

Captain Fiske was taken prisoner at Chancellorsville (May, 1863) and had the unique privilege of reading his own obituary in the Republican. Paroled within a few weeks, he was back with his regiment in time to take part in its heroic stand at Gettysburg. During the battle at the Wilderness, just a few miles from where he was captured the year before, he was shot in the chest on May 6, 1864 and died on May 22 at Fredericks-burg. The last words he wrote to his readers were, “for God and freedom throughout the world.”

Details provided above were drawn from Mr. Dunn Browne”s Experiences in the Army: The Civil War Letters of Samuel W. Fiske, edited by Stephen W. Sears, Fordham University Press, 1998. (This book is truly excellent and a worthy addition to any Civil War library.)


Who Were These Men?

In his history of the Fourteenth, Charles Page wrote: “No Connecticut regiment ever took to the front a more noble representation of the best elements of the state than did the Fourteenth. Many of the men had already become moving forces in the social, religious, commercial and industrial activities of the state. It was indeed a regiment from the state at large, a regiment of the people.”

While it is true that men from 87 of the state’s 163 towns were mustered into the regiment before it left Hartford, nine of those cities and towns supplied over two-thirds of the enlistments. Middletown sent 126 men with 93 in Company B. Waterbury sent 112 with 88 of them in Company C. Vernon sent 84 with 75 of them in Company D. Rounding out the top nine towns represented were New Britain (68), Madison (65), New London (62), Bridgeport (61), Hartford (52), and Norwich (46).

One soldier in Company A, David H. Farrar, hailed from Harrisville, Rhode Island, which is in the northwest corner of that state. Another soldier came a bit further – from China. Joseph Pierce has the distinction of being the only Chinese man to serve in the Army of the Potomac. There are several variations on the story of how he came to be in Connecticut and how he got his American name, and rather than recounting them here, you may find out more about this unique citizen soldier here (text article) or here (article with photos).

Nearly four of every five of these original members of the Fighting Fourteenth would never return home. It was a common thing during the Civil War for companies of infantry to be raised by a town or a county, and while this brought a degree of comradeship and local pride to their company, it is easy to imagine the profound sorrow of a single town if its company suffered greatly on the field of battle.

Fiction Connection: Only four men from the town of Naugatuck enlisted in the 14th before it left Hartford, three in Company C, and one in Company I. In An Eye for Glory, I placed four men from Naugatuck in Company C, and all four are fictional characters.