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).

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