Civil War the focus of recent Stafford Historical Society meeting

By Wally Robinson - ReminderNews
Stafford - posted Thu., Apr. 12, 2012
Author Bruce Dutton (left) and Civil War historian and reenactor Frank Niederwerfer look over a 1861 Springfield rifle with a Stafford Historical Society member. Photos by Wally Robinson.
Author Bruce Dutton (left) and Civil War historian and reenactor Frank Niederwerfer look over a 1861 Springfield rifle with a Stafford Historical Society member. Photos by Wally Robinson.

The Stafford Historical Society met at the Stafford Community Center on April 10 to hear about the town's involvement in the Civil War. Appearing were local historian Bruce Dutton, who has written a book on the subject, and Civil War historian Frank Niederwerfer, of South Windsor, who spoke extensively about the participation in the war of Stafford men, as well as those from Connecticut overall.

“I'm a member of the 14th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Reenacting Unit,” Niederwerfer told the group. “It's been a passion of mine since I was a little kid and I do it to honor the men who served, two of whom were my relatives.”

More than 50,000 men from Connecticut took up arms for the Union, 309 of whom hailed from Stafford, he said. Of those, six were killed in action, 32 died of disease or other causes, 47 were captured, 40 were disabled, and 35 deserted.

“Desertion and disease were major factors in the war,” Niederwerfer said. “Dysentery and yellow fever killed far more men than bullets and artillery shells.”

Dutton quoted the Provost Marshall General of the United States, who put the total desertion number at 268,530.

The 14th first saw action in the first battle of Bull Run at Manassas, Va., in the summer of 1861. “Those men were all volunteers and their motivation was to help preserve the Union,” Niederwerfer said. “The abolition of slavery was not at issue at that time. We did a reenactment of the battle involving some 9,000 men last year in 108-degree temperatures. After a short while, we did what the soldiers back then did: we went home!”

Dressed in a Union soldier's uniform, Niederwerfer brought along a number of artifacts including a soldier's kit and weapons. Demonstrating the loading of the Springfield rifle, he said there was one essential item a rifleman had to have: “Teeth,” he said. “He had to be able to bite off the end of the cartridge before ramming it and the minie ball into the weapon.”

This fall, the 150th anniversary of the battle of Antietam will be marked. Connecticut Day at Antietam is scheduled for April 21 and Niederwerfer and his fellow reenactors will be there to honor the 14th, who fought there valiantly.

"The 16th were there, too," he said, "The ‘unlucky 16th,’ as they came to be known. They had only arrived the day before the battle and had never even fired their rifles. They were placed in the line and were immediately set upon by the veteran Confederate forces of General A.P. Hill. They were slaughtered and they ran.”

Copies of Dutton's book are available at the Stafford Library, and more information on Connecticut's Civil War history can be found at the New England Civil War Museum in Rockville.


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