Monday, June 30, 2014

Exhibit Opening Reception

Our latest exhibit, Cornwall and the Civil War, opened with an evening reception on June 27. We had just over a hundred people join us for food, drink, and conversation. Our thanks to everyone who helped make it a success!

We started with a bang--from this cannon, set up for the exhibit opening by Bill Blass
with some help from Bill Dineen. Photo by Martha Loutfi.

Waiting for the cannon to go off.

"Cannon balls" on the refreshments table.

Photo by Martha Loutfi.

Photo by Martha Loutfi.

Photo by Martha Loutfi.

Exhibit Curator Raechel Guest discussing the impact of the Civil War on Cornwall with Rep-Am journalist Ruth Epstein and CHS Board member Ella Clark. Photo by Martha Loutfi.

Visitors learning about the Sedgwick Memorial. Photo by Martha Loutfi.

Photo by Martha Loutfi.

Photo by Martha Loutfi.

Photo by Martha Loutfi.

Photo by Martha Loutfi.

The refreshments! Photo by Martha Loutfi.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sedgwick's Statue at Hartford

Major General John Sedgwick (1813-1864), who grew up in Cornwall Hollow, has been called Connecticut's most illustrious Civil War soldier. The state commissioned an equestrian statue of Sedgwick at Gettysburg which was unveiled in 1913. A decade later, the state requisitioned funds for another Sedgwick statue, to be placed on the south facade of the Capitol building at Hartford.

Connecticut commissioned Berthold Nebel, a sculptor based in New York City, to create the statue for the Capitol. A plaster cast was positioned in the niche on the side of the building for final design approval in August, 1928. The final marble statue was installed in March, 1929 (as reported in the Hartford Courant).

Sedgwick statue, south facade of the Capitol building, Hartford.

Nebel's design shows a significant amount of artistic license: rather than being a literal depiction of how Sedgwick appeared in life, the artist chose to create a heroic interpretation of how he thought a Civil War General ought to look.

For comparison, take a look at this 1864 depiction of Sedgwick in a Johnson, Fry & Co. engraving based on a painting by Thomas Nast:

Major General John Sedgwick (detail), 1864.
Collection of Cornwall Historical Society.

The 1864 engraving show Sedgwick as he typically appeared in photographs. The most obvious differences between this image and the statue at Hartford include the way Sedgwick wore his pants over his boots, the absence of gloves, the thickness of his coat (which seems cotton-thin on the statue), and the dishevelment of his hair and beard.

Cornwall and the Civil War

Our 2014 exhibit, Cornwall and the Civil War, opens on June 28. The exhibit will be open through October 26 on Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays and holiday Mondays, 1 to 4 p.m.

The exhibit explores the impact of the Civil War on Cornwall’s residents, from the men who served in the military, to the women who organized fundraisers to help support the troops. Conflicts within the town are revealed by the exhibit—not everyone in Cornwall supported the war, and at least one person even tried, briefly, to fly the Confederate flag at the start of the war.

Cornwall’s best known soldier was Major General John Sedgwick, the highest ranking Union soldier to be killed during the Civil War. Many of Sedgwick’s personal and military memorabilia will be on view in the exhibit, including his uniform, tactical manuals, battlefield maps, calling cards, and a gold-tipped cane presented by Sedgwick to his cousin, Samuel W. Gold. An opulent, jeweled dress sword, presented to Sedgwick by the officers of the 2d Division, II Corps, will be paired with the field sword Sedgwick wore into battle. This is the first time in history that the two swords have been displayed together. The field sword is on loan from The Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford, where it has rested ever since it was donated to the State of Connecticut by Sedgwick’s sister after his death.

Sedgwick's presentation sword (detail). Collection of Cornwall Historical Society.

About 182 men from Cornwall, nearly ten percent of the town’s population, served during the Civil War. Fifty-two of those men died. Four of Cornwall’s soldiers were prisoners of war: only two survived. The stories of many of these soldiers are profiled in the exhibit, pairing photographs and other historic images with first-hand accounts of some of their experiences. Rare artifacts belonging to Cornwall’s Civil War soldiers will be on view; these include letters they wrote to family, tintype photographs they sent home as mementos, a pair of scissors and a thimble carried through the war by a Cornwall soldier, and a cane used by a veteran whose wartime injuries left him with a limp. Also included is a fragment of a wood beam salvaged from a flour mill destroyed by Union troops during General Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign in October 1864; the burned beam was sent back to Cornwall as tangible evidence of the war’s devastation.

A particularly poignant letter included in the exhibit was sent by Quarter Master Sergeant Joseph B. Payne, killed at the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864, to his sister Charlotte in Cornwall. Payne arranged to have the letter sent in the event of his death and wrote “Do not be at your wits end wondering who this comes from, but receive it as the words of your now Sainted brother Joseph. From one who loves thee with thoughts too dear to tell, let us recognize each other in heaven.”

Joseph B. Payne carte-de-visite. Collection of Cornwall Historical Society.

The exhibit has been generously funded by Connecticut Humanities, Mohawk Mountain Ski Area, National Iron Bank, and Torrington Savings Bank.

The Cornwall Historical Society is located at 7 Pine Street in Cornwall, CT. The exhibit runs from June 28 through October 26, 2014 and will be open Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free, although donations are welcome. For more information, visit or call (860) 672-0505.