Remembering the 29th Connecticut
Battle flag of the 29th Connecticut, presented March 8, 1864
(Courtesy of Connecticut History)
Although history has dictated that white soldiers and generals were the sole heroes of the Civil War, that is far from the truth. Black soldiers and civilians contributed to the war effort in a way equal to their white counterparts. Unfortunately, following the Civil War, African-Americans’ experiences and heroic acts were kept hidden from public view. Over 180,000 African American men fought for the Union army in the Civil War, approximately 10% of the total number of Union soldiers. By the beginning of 1865, there were more Black soldiers in the Union army than the total number of Confederate soldiers. Among those 180,000 men were the over 1,200 men who served in the 29th Connecticut. Piecing together newspapers and war records shows that the courageous actions taken by Black soldiers throughout the war were not properly honored or remembered.
29th Connecticut Infantry Monument, New Haven, CT
Across the United States there are thousands of monuments dedicated to commemorating the soldiers who fought during the Civil War - there are more than 1,300 monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield alone. Fewer than thirty-five of the monuments nationwide honor Black soldiers, and only two honor the Black soldiers from Connecticut. One of these us in Danbury and the other in Criscuolo Park in New Haven; neither existed before 2007. Additionally, the tattered battle flag of the 29th Connecticut is displayed in the state capitol in Hartford. Beyond these sites, there are no locations in the state that commemorate the soldier’s work and sacrifices. Over the course of the war, around 47% of Connecticut’s eligible white men (between the ages of 15-50) enlisted in the war whereas 78% of eligible black men joined the war. Despite this extraordinary dedication to the war effort, Black soldiers were still seldom mentioned or remembered.
In the decades following the Civil War, close to 90,000 books about the war were published. Less than three thousand of these, however, record the deeds of Black Union soldiers. For the 29th Connecticut Infantry, only five publicly available books mention this unit. There is a brief regimental history, A Sketch of the 29th Regiment of Connecticut Colored Troops, by Isaac J. Hill, published in 1867. At forty-two pages, it is far briefer than most regimental histories. Alexander H. Newton, a veteran of the unit and prominent post-war minister, published his autobiography, Out of the Briars, in 1867. A section of the book deals with his experiences as a member of the 29th. In After The Glory by Donald R. Shaffer and The Won Cause by Barbara A. Gannon, the 29th Connecticut is discussed as an example of the larger story of Black soldiers in the war. Shaffer makes it clear that even immediately after the war, Black soldiers were treated, “with little respect, despite the manly fortitude they had shown during the war.” It did not take long for their efforts to be forgotten in the eyes of the public. The men in Connecticut’s 29th Infantry made the same sacrifices as white soldiers; unfortunately, the silence about their service suggests that they are less important.
The Hartford Courant, April 26, 1865
From the end of the Civil War until the early 1900’s, newspapers rarely took time, outside of obituaries, to remember the 29th Connecticut Regiment. The return of the 29th Connecticut was celebrated in the pages of The Hartford Courant; the speeches of the governor and the regiment’s colonel were reprinted, including the call for suffrage for Black veterans. Additionally, the paper recounted that the regiment, “composed of colored men, was the first regiment of infantry to enter the rebel capital when the leading traitor and his army were forced to evacuate.” Over time, however, their service disappeared from the papers. While the exploits of white soldiers were remembered through published reminiscences, it was common for Black veterans to be identified only when they had been arrested. Occasionally, in preparation for Memorial Day or entries about what had happened one hundred years ago, the regiment would be given a place in the paper. This was not common, however. Often, the only time the regiment was mentioned was when a former soldier died. These obituaries typically only provide the name of the regiment and give a brief summary of what the soldier did. For example, Simon De Witt was mentioned in the Connecticut Western News when he passed away. It stated that the reason for his death was due to paralyzation. There was a funeral service for him and the newspaper praised him for being a worthy man who was treated with respect. In contrast, there were instances when newspapers mentioned a lack of respect towards black soldiers. Regiments involving Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia, were “criticized by the Northern press for ‘their refusal to salute a negro soldier of a black regiment from Connecticut.’” This article written after the war, shows that other regiments were still reluctant to accept the role of black soldiers. The success of the Civil War did not change the mindset of other people, nor racism unfortunately. Otherwise, the only articles that were published were those that the white editors thought were worth mentioning were published.
In the last twenty years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the 29th Connecticut. A monument to the regiment was dedicated on the site of the training camp in New Haven. Several newspaper articles have been published about the 29th, and a reenacting group portrays the men of the unit. Hopefully these men who sacrificed so much for the cause of Union and freedom are slowly receiving the attention they deserve.