Over a hundred years ago this week, on a crisp October morning, hundreds of Civil War veterans descended upon Bushnell Park in Hartford for what was hailed by local papers as the ‘last great gathering’ of the capital city’s veterans. In the surrounding streets, the old comrades mingled with each other, reminiscing about their time of service, before being mustered into formation once more to march in a parade from the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch to the junction of Webster and Adelaide Streets. This significant destination in the city’s south end, now aptly renamed Campfield Avenue, had once served as the camping and training grounds for the Connecticut troops as they prepared for the seat of war. In a manner befitting the occasion, patriotic red, white, and blue bunting and ribbons adorned the fronts of shops and homes along the crowded route, as the soldiers made their way back to the familiar grounds.
As the parade came to an end, patriotic revelry filled the air as the crowd anticipated the day’s main event. A band played The Star Spangled Banner as Miss Mabel Johnson removed the American flag covering from atop a large monument, revealing a bronze likeness of her uncle, the deceased war hero General Griffin A. Stedman, who had been killed at the battle of Petersburg in 1864.
Griffin A. Stedman
Born in Hartford, Stedman had shown great promise, graduating from Trinity College in 1859 and moving to Philadelphia to begin a career in law shortly afterward. As reports of the attack on Fort Sumter gripped the nation’s headlines, countless young men rushed to the defense of the Union, including the young law clerk, who in the excitement of the times enlisted in the Washington Greys militia. Upon learning that Col. Samuel Colt was raising a regiment for the Fourteenth U.S. Infantry out of his native city, he transferred his service to this fledgling group.
The Fourteenth Infantry was soon disbanded, and replaced by the Fifth regiment of Connecticut Volunteers, called for by the governor. In recognition of his qualifications, Stedman was named a captain of the unit, shortly before they left for the theatre of war. During the course of the war, Stedman and his men saw action at some of the most intense battles, which included Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Cold Harbor.
The well-publicized story of Stedman’s selfless rush to arms at the start of the war, coupled with his reputation for gallantry during action were cited as the reasons for his selection as the memorial embodiment of the Hartford volunteers. As the inscription on the memorial notes, Stedman, as a ‘typical volunteer soldier’ of the city, was representative of the collective wartime values that the volunteers possessed. Governor Lounsbury, in his address at the unveiling, reflected upon Stedman’s embodiment of said ideals, noting, “General Stedman was an ideal soldier and his character and his life were summed up in the words, without fear and without reproach.”
The Monument Today
The monument, which is dedicated to seven of Hartford’s Civil War regiments, is located in a central location of the Barry Square neighborhood, where eight streets converge. The figure of Stedman, complete with frock coat, an officer’s sword belt and tasseled sash, and field glasses in hand, looks out upon the intersection from a grassy knoll high above street level. It is accessible to visitors by a series of granite steps. Regarding the significance of the monument, the Connecticut Historical Society notes, “It memorializes a highly regarded general, evokes the early scenes of enlistment and mustering in for seven regiments that Hartford sent to the war, and in its dedication ceremony brought together for the last time many of the men who participated in these events.” Civil War enthusiasts looking to trace Stedman’s story a bit further can continue on down Maple Avenue to Cedar Hill Cemetery, the General’s final resting place. His grave is marked by an impressive obelisk and ornately carved sarcophagus.