Honoring the memory of all of our town’s soldiers

Greenwich-Voices-GoldrickMost visitors to Greenwich Town Hall don’t even know it’s there, and those who do notice it probably give it little thought.

It’s the wall featuring a series of plaques listing the names of Greenwich men killed in our country’s wars. One plaque contains the names of 69 men who lost their lives in the Civil War fighting to preserve the Union and eradicate slavery. Only World War II claimed more lives of Greenwich men than did the Civil War and then the town’s population was five times larger. Four hundred thirty-seven Greenwich men fought for the Union and one out of six died in the conflict.

Half of the men from Greenwich who fought in the Civil War served in two companies: Company I of the 10th Connecticut Infantry and Company I of the 17th Connecticut. This July marks the 150th anniversary of two important battles in which those men fought and sacrificed.

On the early afternoon of July 1, 1863, the men of Company I rushed into battle just north of the town of Gettysburg, Pa., forming a northern salient of the Union Army at Barlow’s Knoll. The men were soon forced back through the town, helping to cover the headlong retreat of other Union soldiers overwhelmed by the Confederate onslaught.

The regiment stopped at the foot of Cemetery Ridge, and fought near that position through the end of the battle. Many Greenwich men were killed, wounded, or captured on the first day alone.

Following the battle, the men of the 17th were transported to South Carolina, where they joined other Greenwich men of the 10th Connecticut Infantry besieging the Confederate forts outside Charleston. On July 18, the soldiers of the 10th participated in a diversionary attack on Fort Wagner, while the main assault was led by the 54th Massachusetts Infantry.

The 54th, which was a “colored” regiment, gained wide fame for their courage that day, proving to the nation that African-American troops could fight bravely. Their exploits prompted President Lincoln to recruit many more blacks for combat, resulting in more than 100,000 black troops under arms by the end of the war.

The attack on Fort Wagner was popularized again by Edward Zwick’s 1989 movie Glory which starred Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman. A monument to the 54th stands on Boston Common, directly across from the Massachusetts State House.

Three dozen African-American men from Greenwich enlisted in the Union army and fought after Fort Wagner, most in the 29th Connecticut Colored Infantry. Those soldiers displayed a special courage, since they knew that the Confederate government had declared that any black troops captured would be sold into slavery and soldiers who were former slaves would be executed immediately.

Before they went into combat for the first time in August 1864, they knew that Confederates had massacred hundreds of black troops at Fort Pillow, Tenn., after they had surrendered. The African-American troops of the 29th Connecticut fought in many battles, including on the front lines of the siege of Petersburg, Va. Soldiers from the 29th were the first Union troops to enter the rebel capital of Richmond in April 1865.

While the 29th was entering Richmond and occupying that city, the Greenwich men in the 17th Connecticut played a key role in ending the war, cutting off the escape route for Lee’s army west of Richmond, and forcing his surrender at Appomattox Court House.

On the sesquicentennial of the battles of Gettysburg and Fort Wagner, we should all reflect on the sacrifices made by those men and their families, and honor them by remaining dedicated to the unfinished goal of achieving racial equality in our society.

 

Sean Goldrick is a Democratic member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, though the opinions expressed in this column are his own. He may be reached at [email protected] 

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