Local historian connects Putnam to Civil War

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Wed., May. 25, 2011
(L-r) Jim Cutler and Fred Hedenberg holding a model of the U.S.S. Monitor. Photos by Denise Coffey.
(L-r) Jim Cutler and Fred Hedenberg holding a model of the U.S.S. Monitor. Photos by Denise Coffey.

When Bill Pearsall donned a black raincoat and top hat for his Civil War presentation at the Putnam Public Library on May 21, it was as if Abe Lincoln had walked through the door. It's exactly what Pearsall wanted, as he tried to give his audience an inkling of what it was like to be a Putnam resident during the Civil War years.

Pearsall, Fred Hedenberg and Jim Cutler, members of the Aspinock Historical Society, brought their passion for Civil War history to one of the library's monthly programs.

By 1861, a railroad line and four cotton mills had come to Putnam. The dissension between those states favoring slavery and those opposed had been simmering for years. The boiling point came in April 1861 with the Battle of Fort Sumter, when Union forces surrendered to Confederate forces.

Two days later, when Lincoln asked for 75,000 volunteers to fight, five Putnam men responded to the call. At a town meeting, it was decided to send the men off with revolving pistols for a total cost of $40.

What Lincoln thought would be a short-lived war tuned into one of the bloodiest in U.S. history, with phenomenal casualties. Putnam sent 207 men off to the war. They fought in various regiments and were involved in 155 battles and skirmishes between the years 1861 and 1865.

One of the most famous of Putnam's Civil War survivor's was Thomas Taylor, who died in 1932. An African-American sailor, Taylor served with the Union's first ironclad ship, the U.S.S. Monitor, during the Civil War.

Taylor's service on the U.S.S. Monitor was short. The ship was lost at sea less than a year after it was commissioned. But his is one of 20 grave stones of Civil War soldiers and sailors that rest under a flagpole at the Grove Street Cemetery in Putnam. It is a link to the past when the United States found itself in turmoil, a reminder of the connection between Putnam and northeastern Connecticut and one of the country's bloodiest wars. On this Memorial Day weekend, it is also a reminder of the sacrifices of all the country's servicemen and women through the years.

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