A Little Civil War History Almost in My Own Backyard

As we're in the second year of the American Civil War Sesquicentennial, I thought it might be a good idea to add in a post or two about the Civil War. As much as I'd like to be writing a post following a recent trip down to Gettysburg or Antietam, for now I'm sticking close to home and a couple places practically in my own backyard beginning with the Buckingham Memorial also known as Segdwick Post #1 of the G.A.R.

Buckingham Memorial Sedgwick G.A.R. Post No. 1

The G.A.R., or Grand Army of the Republic, was a fraternal organization established in 1866 that was comprised of veterans of the Union Army who served in the Civil War. They not only wielded great political clout (no Republican was nominated to the Presidency between 1868 and 1908 without first receiving an endorsement from the G.A.R.) but they were also very active in pension legislation, supporting voting rights for black veterans, establishing retirement homes for soldiers, and many other areas which concerned Union veterans including the establishment of Civil War monuments dedicated to those brave men who served honorably in our country's most horrific war in which brother fought against brother.

Memorial cannon at the Buckingham Memorial

It was through legislation proposed by the G.A.R. that a day of memorial was designated for Union veterans which was originally called "Decoration Day." This day, May 30th, later evolved into our current Memorial Day, a day on which veterans from all wars are remembered and honored. It was also the influence of the Grand Army of the Republic that led to the creation of the Old Soldiers Homes of the late 19th century which later evolved into the current United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to that soldiers of wars were pretty much left to their own devices.

Buckingham Memorial also known as Segdwick Post #1 of the G.A.R.The Grand Army of the Republic was founded in Decatur, Illinois on April 6th, 1866, on the principles of "Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty" by Dr. Benjamin F. Stephenson, a former surgeon with the 14th Illinois Infantry.  The organization reached its largest enrollment in 1890 with 490,000 members and was formally dissolved in 1956 upon the death of its last member, Albert Henry Woolson, who died at the age of 109 on August 2nd of that year. Woolson was also the last surviving Civil War veteran on either side whose status is undisputed. At least three men who followed him in death claimed to be Confederate veterans but their status as Civil War veterans is currently in dispute and has yet to be proven.

The Southern equivalent of the G.A.R., the United Confederate Veterans Association, was formed in New Orleans in 1889 and was active well into the 1940s before its final reunion was held in Norfolk, Virginia in 1951. It was very common for both organizations to work together and between 1881 and 1887, Federal and Confederate veterans held 24 major reunions together. The fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913 attracted 8,000 Confederate and 44,000 Union veterans and I can only imagine how they all felt meeting on that greatest of battlefields.

The first post in the Connecticut Department of the G.A.R., of which there was eventually a total of 87, was activated on February 15th, 1867 here in Norwich and named for Major General John Sedgwick who was born in the town of Cornwall, Connecticut which lies about 82 miles from here.

"Uncle John", as he was affectionately referred to by his soldiers, was killed in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House on May 9th, 1864 as his men, the VI Corps of the Army of the Potomac, were probing skirmish lines ahead of the left flank of the Confederate defenses and he was directing artillery placements. There were Confederate sharpshooters in the area and Sedgwick's men were a bit edgy as they kept ducking for cover.

In an effort to rally his men, Major General Sedgwick strode around in the open and was quoted as saying, "What? Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you. They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." Although his men were ashamed, they continued to flinch away and he repeated, "I'm ashamed of you, dodging that way. They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." Just seconds later he fell forward with a bullet hole below his left eye. Obviously this went down in the annals of history as irony - very sad irony.

Major General Sedgwick was the highest ranking Union casualty of the Civil War and upon hearing of his death, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant repeatedly asked, "Is he really dead?" as he told his staff that the loss for him was worse than that of an entire division. A solid, dependable, but relatively non-aggressive general, Sedgwick's death was met with universal sorrow as even Confederate General Robert E. Lee expressed sadness over the death of an old friend while Union General George G. Meade wept at the news.

The G.A.R. post in downtown Norwich, which was named in honor of Major General Sedgwick, is the former home of Connecticut's "War Governor" William A. Buckingham who served as the Mayor of Norwich from 1849 to 1850 and again from 1856 to 1857. Following his time as Mayor, he was elected Governor of Connecticut in 1858 where Buckingham served for seven terms and was invaluable to President Lincoln in raising troops for the war effort. In 1869 former Governor Buckingham was elected to the Senate where he served as the chairman for several committees including the Committee on Indian Affairs until his death in 1875.

Buckingham Memorial Plaque

Governor Buckingham lived in the house currently known as the Buckingham Memorial Building for the second part of his life. The 2-1/2 story brick residence was built in the Italiante-style in 1847 in the center of Norwich and during their campaign visits to the city, Buckingham entertained both future President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant within its walls. After Buckingham's death in 1875, the house changed owners and in 1898 members of the Sedgwick Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, who had been renting their accommodations in a Norwich office building, hoped to buy the building when they learned that the current owner was looking to sell.

A concerted effort to raise the funds for the purchase of the former Governor's home was made and after achieving success, the Sedgwick Post took over the title to the property which they then dedicated "to the memory of the Governor and the troops he raised so zealously." In 1909 at a celebration for the 250th anniversary of the founding of Norwich, then President Taft was entertained at a reception at the G.A.R.'s Post No. 1.

Upon the dissolution of the G.A.R. in 1956, the house became the property of the United War Veterans who allowed the City of Norwich to rehabilitate it for use as a Senior Citizens Center. When the Senior Citizens Center moved to a new location, the city continued to make use of the building which currently houses the Norwich Public Parking Commission, the Connecticut Pardon Team, the John R. Morse, Chapter 10 Division of the Disabled American Veterans, and the Norwich Historical Society It is the hope of the Norwich Historical Society that the city will buy the property and turn it over to them so that they can then restore the building  before converting it to include a Civil War artifacts museum highlighting Governor Buckingham and President Lincoln along with their own offices but so far that plan hasn't seemed to get too far.

Following his death in 1875 while he was still serving in the Senate, the former Mayor of Norwich and Governor of Connecticut, was buried in Norwich in a family plot at the Yantic Cemetery.

Gravesite of former Connecticut Governor William Buckingham
Engraving on Buckingham's gravemarker
The inscription reads: " His courage was dauntless, His will inflexible, 
His devotion to duty supreme, His faith in God absolute."

Though Norwich has several Civil War monuments dedicated to its sons who perished in the war, it seems only fitting that within site of Governor Buckingham's family plot is a special place for those native sons of Norwich who perished at the notorious Andersonville Prison Camp in Georgia. At the Andersonville Memorial Gun one can find concentric circles of soldiers’ graves with a 30-pounder Parrot rifle mounted on an iron carriage at the center next to an American flag that flies both day and night.

Of the 30 men from Norwich who were captured and interred at Andersonville, 15 died from starvation, exposure, disease, or execution. In early 1866 Norwich became the first Northern city to retrieve the bodies of its soldiers who had perished there when they brought back the remains of 9 of the 15 soldiers who could be identified. A public service for their re-interment was held on February 1st, 1866 which was preceded by the closing of local businesses and a parade then followed by an 8-course dinner at the Chelsea Hotel.

Over the years, in addition to the original nine Civil War veterans from Andersonville whose gravestones carry the name of the prison where they died, 62 other soldiers have been buried at the veterans plot with the last burial occurring as late as 1925. Of those 62, seven gravestones mark the final resting places of veterans of the Spanish-American War.

In closing, I guess it goes without saying that sometimes in order to find history and interesting places, you don't have to wander too far!

*Side note: I took the pictures of the former Sedgwick Post No. 1 today but as it was rather overcast and blah, I decided that I liked the pictures that I took last May better for the segment on the Andersonville Gun Memorial - hence the seasonal changes in the photos. Additional photos can be found in my SmugMug gallery.


  1. This is a fantastic post! What interesting information and gorgeous photos. This site has to become part of the New England Civil War Heritage Byway!

    It is great that you are selling these photos. I'd live to link them to my website to showcase!

  2. All beautiful shots, as always, but I particularly love the cemetery shot with the grave marker of Henry F. Champlain in the foreground.

  3. Great historical post and great photos as well. We all need to know and respect our history as a nation. It durn sure was not free.

    Big hugs, my friend...

  4. Fabulous post! I stumbled upon this memorial today on my way to the Otis Library in Norwich. So happy to have found your excellent blog, too. I look forward to reading around in it.

  5. The building contained a decent size Civil War collection which belonged to Sedgwick Post. It has been moved to the New England Civil War Museum for safe keeping. Some of the items are currently on display at the museum (September 2017). The Sons of Union Veterans, a group dedicated to carryig on the principles of the GAR, have also reactivated Sedgwick Camp #4 and they meet monthly in the building.

    1. Thank you for the information, Matt. It’s good to know that the history is alive and well!


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