Saturday, February 27, 2010

Other Accounts of the First Connecticut Volunteers in 1861

Horace Purdy was only one of thousands of volunteers that answered Abraham Lincoln's call for volunteers in April of 1861 and only one of hundreds who enlisted in the First Connecticut Regiment. However, finding the accounts of these volunteers is very difficult because although almost certainly letters of other recruits exist, only a handful have surfaced. Probably the best known account of the three month regiments from Connecticut are found in the 1872 book "Wooden Nutmegs" at Bull Run by Elnathan B. Tyler (writing as Frinkle Fry) of the 3rd Connecticut Regiment. This is a well written and humorous account of the Connecticut regiments from April through July of 1861 and highly recommended to anyone interested in these regiments or even in events leading up to the first battle of Bull Run.

Another existing but little known account was published in the Lincoln Herald in 1965. Titled "Bully for the 1st Connecticut" (written by Lester L. Swift) it recounts experiences of Gustavus Sullivan Dana of Company A of the First Connecticut Regiment and includes entries from his enlistment to a good detailed description of the unit's role at First Bull Run, the best that is known.

Dana was a 22 year old machinist from Hartford Connecticut and was a member of the Aetna Hose Company and the Hartford Light Guards. Many of these early volunteers were firefighters and/or members of local militia units. He offered his services on April 19th and formally was mustered in on April 22nd in New Haven. Dana later reinlisted in the 6th Connecticut Volunteer Regiment and rose to the rank of second lieutenant. After the war he was president of the Lincoln Guard of Honor, which was organized to prevent the theft of the casket containing Lincoln's body (Swift, 1965).

Like others who enlisted at this time Dana believed that the war would be over quickly, "the general opinion was that the trouble would be ended and that we would be home at the end of the three months for which the first troops were enlisted" (Swift, 1965:73). In this expectation Dana left his tools in the charge of the shop superintendent and was told his job would be available when he returned; however, as stated earlier Dana served for the entire duration of the war and the fate of his tools and career as a machinist is unknown. He died in 1916 (Swift, 1965).

The accounts of Dana, Tyler, and Purdy are currently all we have telling the detailed story of the three month men from Connecticut. I have some leads on other possibly surviving letter collections, but nothing else for certain at this time. Thus, the details on this units as somewhat vague, and because the three regiments were dissolved in July of 1861, these units do not have the long histories or reputations as many of the later Connecticut regiments. Still their story is an important one that should be told, providing us with a glimpse of the early months of the war, and a unique one as at one point these units were at the forward position of the Union advance in northern Virginia. It is my hope that more accounts of these regiments will surface at some point for they must surely exist.


Swift, L. L. (ed.). 1965. "Bully for the First Connecticut": The recollections of a three month volunteer. Lincoln Herald 67(2):72-82.

Tyler, E. B. 1872. "Wooden Nutmegs" at Bull Run. George L. Colburn Steam Print, Hartford. (reprinted by Gale Archival Editions on Demand).

Monday, February 1, 2010

Excerpts from the Journal of Horace Purdy (1st Connecticut Volunteers) April 13th - 18th 1861 - the Fall of Fort Sumter and the Call for Volunteers

These entries reflect the attack on Fort Sumter and President Abraham Lincoln's subsequent call for 75,000 volunteer troops. Purdy's response was typical for many of the young men of the time. He enlisted without hesitation despite his job, obligations to his church, and the fact that his wife was pregnant with their first child.

Saturday April 13th 1861 Danbury, Connecticut

“It is reported in the papers today that the rebel batteries together with Fort Moultry [sic] have opened fire on Major Anderson in Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor S. Carolina and the Major has returned fire. I went into the street in the eve to get the news if there was any. The news by telegraph states that Fort Sumter is on fire with the flag at half mast and the Harriet Lane is on fire. It may be correct and perhaps not”.

[The attack began on April 12th and Anderson surrendered at 2:30 PM on the 13th. The garrison was evacuated the following day. The rumor that the USRC Harriet Lane was on fire was incorrect].

Sunday April 14th 1861 Danbury, Connecticut

“The telegraph has been at work all day receiving the war news. It says that Fort Sumter is on fire and Major Anderson has surrendered to the rebel forces under Gen. Beauregard. I don’t believe it myself, neither shall I until I hear something more tomorrow”.

Monday April 15th 1861 Danbury, Connecticut

“The surrender of Major Anderson at Fort Sumter is confirmed. The fire from the rebel batteries was too hot for him, burning the inside of the fort until all the wood work the officers’ quarters was consumed by the red hot shot and shell. The President has issued a call for 75,000 troops from the militia of the adhering states”.

Tuesday April 16th 1861 Danbury, Connecticut

“Our Co[mpany] assembled at the drill room in the eve. We are expecting to be called into the service of the government immediately as the President has issued a call for 75,000 men from the states adhering to the Union. We are hourly expecting an order from our Governor”.

Wednesday April 17th 1861 Danbury, Connecticut

“I worked in the shop all day. Attended a special meeting of the [Wooster Light] Guards at our hall in the eve at which we volunteered our services to the Governor (Buckingham) as volunteers in the NE states service in answer to the President's call for 75,000 troops. There were a large number of spectators at the room and when we with our voice offered our services a long loud shout went up from the people”.

Thursday April 18th 1861 Danbury, Connecticut

“Today has been spent mostly in parading the streets and hoisting the Stars and Stripes. I received my pay from Mr. Crofut preparatory to going away. The bells began to ring in the P.M. on account of a dispatch from the Governor accepting our services for the Government. Supposing that we are to leave this afternoon I went home, immediately packed what clothes I intended to carry, bid goodbye to wife and friends and started for our hall, but we did not go so I returned home again”.