A long overdue effort to remember and commemorate the men who served in the 29th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment (colored) during the Civil War made the papers last week. The Litchfield County Times ran a lengthy piece, describing the service and sacrifice of more than 80 free men of color in this regiment who enlisted from northwest Connecticut towns, which then as now had a very small population of non-white residents.
"Some of the Litchfield County towns and families of black soldiers were hard-hit by the war, suffering the deaths of more than one soldier. Canaan, for instance, sent four men to the 29th and only one returned alive. Of those, Lynn Royce died before he ever left the New Haven encampment, succumbing on Jan. 1, 1864, while James Royce, died eight months later in Beaufort, S.C. In Colebrook, six black men marched off to war and four failed to return. Elias and Samuel Hickok died five months apart while serving in the South."
Just beyond my office in Cornwall bridge is the rural Calhoun Cemetery, with stones dating from before the Revolution. Yesterday I walked through the graveyard and found a marker for at least one man who had served in the 29th CT. Josiah Starr enlisted as a private in Company C. and mustered out with a sergeant's stripes. His stone is beside another from the Starr family that also bears a flag, but i could not find a record of service for what looks to be Abel C Starr in the Civil War soldiers and sailors database maintained by the National Park Service. Four men with the surname "Starr" served in the 29th.
These men were not the only black veterans from Cornwall whose markers I found, however. Connecticut initially set out to raise 2 colored regiments, but by June, 1864 the four companies of the 30th Connecticut C.V.I. were dispatched to Virginia and combined with other companies to form the 31st U.S. Colored infantry. David Hector enlisted in Company D. According to his gravestone he died in 1881 at the age of 76, making him an old man (for the time) during his term of service. The 31st U.S.C. Infantry served with distinction and were part of the terrible assault on the Crater in the trenches at Petersburg. At the Crater, CT members of the 31st lost 17 k, 44 w, 14 missing and 4 captured. During its term of service, the regiment lost 3 officers and 48 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 1 officer and 123 enlisted men by disease.
In another part of the Calhoun Cemetery is the stone of Charles S Western, who served with the 11th Regiment U.S. Heavy Artillery (colored) in the garrison of New Orleans. It was organized from the 14th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery (colored), and somewhere along the line Charles Western enlisted.
In all there are 12 veterans of the Civil War whose stones I was able to find in the Calhoun Cemetery, and 1/3 of them were those of colored veterans. Of the rest, one had toppled face forward but was in the Sawyer plot and had a foot stone with the initials L.S., leading me to believe it marks the resting place of Lewis Sawyer. Like many other white Cornwellians (and 6 veterans altogether whose remains lie in this cemetery), Sawyer served in the 19th Connecticut Infantry - "The Litchfield Regiment" - which was later designated the 2nd CT Heavy Artillery. Elsewhere in the graveyard I found other members of his company who did not survive the war, including Herman E Bonney who died in Philadelphia on June 28th, 1864 and another who died in Washington on July 19th, 1864. A third, George W Page, was killed at Ceder Creek on October 19th, 1864 and Sgt. Albert E Robinson died in Baltimore on March 26, 1865.
The impact of these losses on rural Connecticut communities was deeply felt, but what of the small African American communities within them? How did it affect the few black families in Colebrook when 2/3 of the men who served in the 29th CT from that town failed to return?
The four veterans of colored regiments buried in the Calhoun cemetery lie in scattered graves that form a line about halfway across the middle of the graveyard. In the 1800s, this marked the back line of the cemetery. Set apart even in death, their comrades rest in the corners of dozens of burying grounds across the Litchfield Hills.