A Community Looks at the Role of Its African-American Soldiers during the Civil War

by Edie Brown and Tracy Tomaselli

Guilford and the Civil War

Like three other towns in Connecticut – Fairfield, Milford and Stratford – the Town of Guilford is celebrating the 375th year of its founding in 1639. Guilford’s celebration will include commemorating the national Civil War Sesquicentennial with a Guilford 375th Anniversary Signature Event that celebrates the lives of Guilford soldiers and other residents during the Civil War.

While preparing for the event, called Guilford and the Civil War, the planning committee became deeply involved in the impact the Civil War had on the town. Although there is a Civil War monument on the Guilford Green memorializing the lives of 56 soldiers who died representing the town in the Union Army, the committee found very little information on the men themselves.

However, they did find that four of the 56 were African Americans.  Intrigued by the role African Americans played in helping fulfill Guilford’s quota, the committee began extensive research and decided to devote a segment of “Guilford and the Civil War” to these men.

The 1860 census showed that Guilford had a population of 2,624, including 23 blacks and 26 mulattos. Twenty-one of the African Americans enlisted in the Civil War to help meet the town’s quota.  One of these, William Henry Wright, who was born in Guilford, traveled to Massachusetts to enlist in the 55th Regiment, Massachusetts Infantry (Colored).  Three other African Americans who served were married and had families in town.  Abraham Jackson and Jacob Thompson enlisted in the 29th Regiment, Connecticut Infantry (Colored), and William H. Porter, upon being drafted, served in the 11th Regiment, U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery.

The other 17 African Americans who helped fill Guilford’s quota enlisted at conscript camp, serving in the 29th Regiment, Connecticut Infantry (Colored) and the 30th Regiment, Connecticut Infantry (Colored).  The 30th Regiment failed to organize and was absorbed into the 31st  Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops.

Six of the 21 men died during the Civil War, including the four who are listed on the monument.  William Henry Wright died from tuberculosis and Abraham Jackson from dysentery.  Alexander Peterson and Toby Trout were both wounded at the Battle of the Crater (Petersburg, Va.) and died at L’Ouverture Hospital (Alexandria, Va.).  Alexander Cunningham, who accidentally shot himself at the conscript camp in New Haven, and Josiah Cozens, who died while on furlough, are not listed on the monument.

Prior to the Civil War, the town played an active role in the Connecticut Freedom trail, reportedly using two buildings as part of the Underground Railroad.  On the route from New Haven, one of the stations was the North Guilford Congregational Church.  The Reverend Zolva Whitmore helped direct the Underground Railroad movement from 1844 to 1845.  George Bartlett, a strong abolitionist, is reported to have housed runaway slaves in his cellar at 111 Goose Lane.

Because they were refused permission to hold meetings of the local Anti-Slavery Society, 123 members of the First Congregational Church were dismissed and went on to form their own church, the Third Congregational Church in Guilford, on November 23, 1843.

The African Americans who served for Guilford will be honored for their service and sacrifice on May 31st.  “Guilford and the Civil War” will take place on the Guilford Green from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

About the Authors: Edie Brown and Tracy Tomaselli are members of the Guilford and the Civil War Committee, a subcommittee of the Guilford 375th Anniversary Committee.


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