Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Memorial for Litchfield's Soldiers of the Revolutionary War

Americans did not erect statues of Continental soldiers in their town squares in the decades following the American Revolution, nor list the names of their war dead on pedestals.  Such commemorations belong to a later time and reflect the sensibilities and mourning customs of the 19th and 20th centuries.  The revolutionary generation had other priorities after the war.

It is true that Congress authorized a memorial in January, 1776 to the fallen Brigadier General Montgomery, and had Benjamin Franklin oversee the contract with a French sculptor, but it honored one individual and was installed in 1788 within New York’s St. Paul’s chapel rather than the public square.  The Prison Ship Martyrs monument began in 1808 as a modest effort to collect and inter the bones of those who had died on prison ships in Wallout Bay, but the crypt and memorial were relocated and redesigned on an increasingly grand scale in 1867, 1873 and 1908. 

Like many New England communities, Litchfield Connecticut has a number of war memorials on its Town Green, as well as a monument to the 2nd CT Heavy Artillery near the field where the regiment mustered in 1862. Aside from a tree planted in 1902 on Arbor Day by the Mary Floyd Tallmage Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, there is nothing on the Green dedicated to the memory of the men of Litchfield who served in the Revolution.   There is now an effort in the community to erect such a monument, anticipating Litchfield’s tercentenary in 2019, and I have been invited to assist.

There are a number of challenges to overcome, in addition to the financial cost of commissioning a new memorial and the intricacies of the various stakeholder interests involved in its design and approval.  There is also the question of which names should be included on the monument.  It becomes a problem of geography, of documentation, and above all of accuracy, for what we write in stone has authority.

The D.A.R. compiled a list in 1912 of 507 names associated with Litchfield on its Honor Roll of Revolutionary War soldiers, including reference citations for each name.  Among these are men like Ethan Allen who were born here but moved away and whose service is associated with other places.  It also includes prominent veterans like Benjamin Tallmage who moved to Litchfield after the war and whose notable service gave luster to the community.  Some of the men on the list served with distinction, while others deserted.  Some died in service.  Some served from Morris that was once part of Litchfield but was later incorporated with the name of one of its illustrious veterans.   Some men, though perhaps not very many, should have been included on the Honor Roll as veterans from Litchfield but were not.  This will all have to be sorted out.

Names on a plaque do not tell the story.   30 men from Litchfield in a company of 36 either died during the capture of Fort Washington in November, 1776, or of disease and neglect in captivity over the next few months.  Several more were missing in action at Germantown with no record of subsequent captivity.  One, a man of 78 years, responded to the Danbury Alarm and was shot in the head after helping pursue the Crown forces back to Long Island Sound.  One died in the taking of Stony Point.  One served in the Carolinas and fought at Guildford Court House and the Siege of Ninety Six.  One transferred from the 5th Connecticut to the Georgia battalion in 1777 and may have previously been a British deserter.  One was a bombardier with Lamb’s Artillery.  One was carried half a mile by his brother before being captured after Germantown.  Three were African Americans.  Ten received supplies for their families as part of an enlistment incentive in 1777.

In subsequent posts, I will share some of their stories.

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