July 4, 2022

Chester Honors Connecticut Soldiers of the Civil War

Soldiers from the 14th Regiment of Connecticut

Even though some of their uniforms did not quite fit, and their skills in short order drill left something to be desired, the dozen of uniformed “reenactors” that mustered on the Chester Town Green for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War last Saturday brought home at least some of that war’s terrible reality.

The troops on hand carried the name and the colors of the 14th Regiment of Connecticut Volunteers, and they consisted of both privates and non-commissioned officers.

The squad leader of Company G was Sergeant Tad Sattler of East Hampton, and he was well informed about his unit’s role in the Civil War. He pointed out that Connecticut’s 14th Regiment was right in the thick of the fighting at the decisive battle at Gettysburg.

Sergeant Tad Sattle of East Hampton

In fact, the regiment met head on the brunt of the Pickett’s charge, and played a crucial role in defeating the Confederates at Gettysburg. Members of the 14th were positioned in what historians call “the “angle” of the attack.

What contributed greatly to the regiment’s success in the fight was the newly acquired breech loading rifle. These Sharpe’s rifles, as they were called, were made in Connecticut and could fire far more rapidly than the traditional muzzle loading riffles.

In fact, according to Sergeant Sattler, the new breech loading rifles could fire more than twice as fast as the old muzzle loaders. Soldiers firing the Sharpe’s rifles worked in teams of two. While one was firing his rifle, a second was loadings his, loading and firing repeatedly. The effect was a constant stream of fire.

After the Confederate soldiers surrendered, they told the Connecticut volunteers that they thought they were vastly outnumbered, so intense had been the Union fire. But that was not the case. At battle’s end 125 Connecticut soldiers took as prisoners 350 Confederate soldiers and collected five rebel battle flags.

Up in Chester after the soldiers had paraded around on the Green, fired off some loud rounds of blanks and capably answered questions about the war from onlookers, the next event was a lecture at the Chester Meeting House, featuring a talk by Dr. Matthew Warshauer about his new book, “Connecticut in the American Civil War: Slavery, Sacrifice and Survival.”

Short order drill of Company G

According to the author, 55,000 men from Connecticut enlisted in the Union army during the Civil War. That was close to 12% of the state’s total population, and 47% of the men in Connecticut who were of military age.

Dr. Warshauer stressed that the primary motivation of Connecticut troops going to war was not about slavery but rather to save and maintain the Union. “Freeing the slaves was not the Connecticut soldiers’ cause,” the author said. 

One of the primary characteristics of the Civil War was “the massive number of men,” the author said. To win the war General Grant abandoned set pieces of battle, which had a beginning and end, and adopted instead a constant war of moving forward with his numerically superior number of men.

Civil War encampment on Chester Town Green

Even more than important than providing soldiers for the war, was Connecticut’s role an arsenal for the Union in the manufacture of weapons, such as Colt guns, cannons, cannon balls and artillery. 

The author also made the point that more soldiers died in the Civil War from dysentery and decease than from battlefield injuries. In total 600,000 soldiers died in the Civil War. 

There was also a discussion of the role of black soldiers fighting for the Union. The author described shocking instances when Confederate soldiers, carrying out the orders of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, shot and killed black soldiers who had surrendered their arms.

One interesting coda to the Civil War events, sponsored by the Chester Historical Society, is the fact that there is one Union Soldier buried in the Old Burying Ground off the Chester Green. He was an African-American, whose name was Chester Brooks, according to a local historian in attendance.

One Union soldier lies in Old Burying Grounds