As we prepare for the July 4th holiday and enjoy the fireworks celebrating American independence from Great Britain, it is hard to realize that our country faced a rather treacherous beginning. I thought about that when reading a series of militia brigade orders from the 1790s.
We have a very extensive and well known collection of Civil War-related diaries and correspondence, so we made the decision last year to collect selectively in this area. So, why did we recently add to the collection the correspondence of Joseph H. Cummings of Waterbury, Connecticut? What makes this particular set of letters exciting and worth acquiring is that it was accompanied by two photographic images. The first image is cased and shows Joseph in his Connecticut State Militia uniform, complete with epaulets and a busby (big furry hat). We assume that he wore this uniform even after he enlisted in the army. No wonder he wrote to his Uncle William about getting new United States uniforms! The second photograph was taken while Joseph was serving with the 1st Regiment, Connecticut Heavy Artillery and shows him in a much less dramatic uniform, with some pistols in his belt, and a knit cap that the men frequently wore in camp.
The value of photographs to research on the Civil War led to our current volunteer project to match portraits of Civil War soldiers in our photograph collections with manuscript materials in the library and keep that information in a database. Reading about someone’s exploits in the war becomes much more meaningful when one can put a face to a name. This will be an invaluable research tool for our visitors.
The rest of the story of Joseph H. Cummings is that when he joined the army, he had been working as a clerk in his uncle’s grocery store. He proudly stated that his regiment was called the Double Quick because of their stamina on long marches. Joseph rose through the ranks to Sargent, and also served as secretary and commissary for unit. Evidently he was well liked by his men, as evidenced in the letter written by his commander, informing Uncle William of Joseph’s death. He did not die from fighting, but from “malarial dysentery”. Such is the story of many young men who served during the Civil War.
You can access this collection at the CHS library by asking for Ms 100912.
Visit our web site at http://www.chs.org.
An obscure bit of New England and constitutional history recently came into our collections. Colonel David Humphreys of Connecticut was charged with raising a small army to suppress Shay’s Rebellion in Massachusetts. In a letter to Governor Samuel Huntington, dated December 18, 1786, Humphreys informed the governor “of all the resignations which have taken place, together with the names of such persons as might be proper to fill their vacancies.” Captains Clift and Robinson, Lieutenant Hart and Ensign Keeler “declined accepting their appointments. After making unsuccessful overtures to Captain Rogers, Mr. Benjamin and Mr. Mix,” Humphreys asked for Huntington’s permission to recruit Captain Moses Cleveland of Canterbury, Lieutenant Joseph Wilcox (then in service at West Point) to be a Captain, Mr. Russel Bissel of Windsor to be Lieutenant and Mr. John Thomson to be Ensign.
Humphreys further reported that “Tho’ no public money has been advanced, several officers have made considerable progress in enlisting men. About twenty recruits have arrived . . . [and] I made arrangements with Colo. Wadsworth to furnish them with all necessary supplies.”
Shay’s rebellion was an armed uprising in western Massachusetts from 1786-1787. The rebels, led by farmer and former soldier Daniel Shays, were mostly small farmers angered by crushing debt and high land taxes. Congress, operating under the Articles of Confederation, called for armed troops to suppress the uprising but had no power to recruit the men or pay them. Massachusetts managed to mobilize a privately financed army and eventually defeated the rebels on February 3, 1787. Connecticut was the only other state to respond, but obviously not without some effort and eventually without result. The small Connecticut force was never needed.
Many of our military records revolve around units that served during the Revolution and the Civil War. Like other states, Connecticut maintained a militia between those two conflicts, and the records of the First Mohican Rifle Corps, 1840-1844, provide a picture of the workings of the militia. The Mohican Rifle Corps was part of the 9th Regiment, 6th Brigade and was stationed in Norwalk, commanded by P.L. Cunningham. The return of members’ names to the Selectmen of Norwalk in 1844 includes 41 men with names such as Quintard, Selleck, Jarvis, Knapp, Peck and Parmelee. The records include an orderly book, secretary’s records and the constitution and by-laws of the corps.