Tales from a bloody battle: "Connecticut Yankees at Antietam"
HARTFORD, Conn. — In the years after the Civil War battle of Antietam, John Burnham of Hartford descended into madness.
Alonzo Maynard of Ellington, who was shot four times in the struggle for Burnside Bridge, spent the rest of his years in physical agony, sometimes praying for death.
In Enfield, Peter Mann's widow gave birth to a daughter four months after her husband succumbed to an awful wound he suffered on the western Maryland battlefield. The baby girl was named Antietam Burnside Mann.
Author John Banks tells these stories and others in his recently published book, "Connecticut Yankees at Antietam" (The History Press, Charleston, S.C.)
Much has been written about the pivotal battle of Sept. 17, 1862, still the bloodiest single day in American history. Banks, an ESPN coverage supervisor who lives in Avon, sets his focus not on the well-mined ground of troop movements and commanders' strategy, but rather on the Yankee farmers, machinists, cigar-makers and blacksmiths who fought in the battle at Sharpsburg.
"Who were they?" Banks writes in the book's preface. "Who were these people from Connecticut who survived, were maimed or died at Antietam?"
His descriptions, many with accompanying photographs, encompass the soldiers' lives before the war, their battlefield experiences and the veterans' often painful years back home.
Burnham, for example, was described by a friend as "a jovial, cheerful fellow" before the war. But he could never escape the carnage that September day when 44 of his comrades in the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment were killed. As the officer in charge, Burnham supervised a mass burial on the battlefield.
After Antietam, Burnham was wounded and spent months as a prisoner of war. He married after the war and worked for a time as Hartford's postmaster.
"But Burnham's mental state began to crater in the summer of 1880," Banks wrote. "Suffering from insomnia — 'he said that he dreaded to see the night come,' according to a newspaper report…"
Burnham died in a state hospital in Middletown in 1883 at age 47.
Banks developed his book from his blog on Connecticut soldiers at Antietam, http://john-banks.blogspot.com. He delved into soldiers' diaries and letters, pension records and photographic albums and also spoke with living relatives of the long-dead veterans.
As Banks notes in his introduction, the battle was unforgettable not only to individual soldiers, but to all of Connecticut.
"In the years after the Civil War, Antietam remained entrenched in the collective consciousness of the state," Banks wrote.
Most of the book is centered on citizen-soldiers and their stories of courage and cowardice, pain and endurance and the single, horror-filled day that was branded on their minds.
"When veterans of the Connecticut regiments that fought at Antietam met for major reunions, the events were usually held on the anniversary of the battle," Banks wrote. "Connecticut Antietam veterans from Hartford held an anniversary dinner on September 17 every year until 1932, when only five were still alive."