Guilford and the Civil War

by Tracy Tomaselli

Guilford & the Civil War

Between the years 1861 and 1865, the United States was engaged in the Civil War, the deadliest war in American history. Guilford did its duty, providing men, supplies and support.

The Town sent hundreds of its men off to the war; sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins and neighbors. Many of these loved ones did not return and their sacrifices have been memorialized on the Civil War monument that stands proudly in the center of the Guilford Green, an homage to those brave souls who fought and suffered.

During the war, Guilford held special town meetings to defend and maintain the national government “at every hazard and to the last extremity.”[1]  Support and care for the soldiers and their families were appropriated in town resolutions.  Liberty poles were erected in Guilford and North Guilford.  Citizens worked to provide what they could, sending linens, blankets, mittens, jellies, fruits, pickles and turkeys to their soldiers.  Guilford soldier Samuel E. Grosvenor exclaimed in his diary, “God bless the ladies of Old Conn.”[2]

Newspaper subscriptions were sent to the men by members of the Third Congregational Church, and a chapel tent was sent to the soldiers in the 1st Connecticut Light Artillery Battery who had formed a religious society in their camp.[3]  Some of Guilford’s women traveled south to the camps and battles to tend the wounded and dying and bring about changes in sanitary conditions.

Even though the majority of citizens supported the war, Guilford had its share of Copperheads and those who opposed it and wanted a peace settlement with the Confederates.  On August 18, 1861, a Confederate flag was raised in North Guilford, in exultation over the federal defeat at Bull Run.[4]  Rebel sympathizers also organized a plan to tar and feather their enemy, Capt. Joseph Hawley, when he visited his wife’s family in Guilford. [5]

In 1860, Guilford had a population of 2,101, occupying 421 households.  These included 23 blacks and 26 mulattos.  North Guilford had a total white population of 523, occupying 111 households.[6] Guilford furnished more than 300 men during the war, including some in the infantry, cavalry, artillery, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and Colored Troops.  More than sixty of these soldiers died during the war.

The names of 56 who sacrificed their lives for the Union are listed on the Civil War monument.  They were teenagers to men in their 40s, about half of whom died in battle or from wounds received in battle, the others from disease or other causes.  Listed are men who were from Guilford and served for Guilford, those who lived in Guilford at some point in their lives but served for other towns, and others who never lived in Guilford but served as substitutes. The locations listed on the monument give a glimpse where some fought and died.  However, Kinston, N.C., where the highest number of casualties from Guilford took place on March 8, 1865, is not listed.

The record of service for younger boys was not always documented because of their age.  Two 14-year-old Guilford boys served and died, but are not listed on the monument.  Emerson S. Fowler, an officer’s waiter in the 27th CVI, died at Falmouth, Va., on December 25, 1862, and Ellis Dexter Bradley, a drummer boy, died May 15, 1863, both from Typhoid Fever.

Twenty-one African Americans served for and from Guilford, most of them as substitutes.  One Guilford native, William Henry Wright, traveled to Readville, Mass., to enlist in the 55th MA Infantry (colored) since enlistment had not yet opened up in Connecticut.  Guilford also had one American Indian serve.  Lyman Lawrence, half Pequot, half Narragansett Indian, served in the 29th CT Infantry (colored) and was wounded at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm.  Elijah Saunders, who stole a team of horses from Guilford, took the offer to enlist for Guilford rather than go to prison.  However, he deserted shortly thereafter.

Many of Guilford’s soldiers were wounded and left disabled.  Some who were captured suffered horribly in Andersonville (Ga.) and Florence (S.C.) prison camps, before dying due to starvation and exposure.

The Civil War Era was an important period in Guilford’s history.  On May 31, 2014, the Guilford 375th Anniversary Committee will present “Guilford and The Civil War: A Day of Tribute” as a way of remembering and honoring these citizens.  And, as in the words inscribed upon the monument, “That their example may speak to coming generations.”

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About the Author: Tracy Tomaselli is a member of the Guilford and the Civil War Committee, a subcommittee of the Guilford 375th Anniversary Committee.


[1] Guilford Town Record Book (F:218-219)
[2] Diary of Samuel E. Grosvenor
[3] History of the 1st CT Light Artillery (1:313)
[4] Crisis (Columbus, OH). 22 Aug 1861. 7.
[5] Hartford Courant (Hartford, CT) 23 Aug 1861. 2.
[6] U.S. Census. 1860.

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