Under a shower of cannon fire, the soldiers of the 29th held the line. They spent 23 hours in late October 1864, outside
Petersburg, Virginia, coming under fire for the first time since organized nearly a year earlier.
When the Battle of Kell House was over, 80 men were lost, but the 29th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry was heralded.
"The men behaved admirably," Captain Henry G. Marshall later wrote of his unit. "They displayed great coolness and bravery."
Though Confederate rebels took the battle, the 29th claimed a victory, for they were not just soldiers, but black men.
One of 166 black regiments formed during the Civil War, the 29th drew 1,000 free black men and Native Americans from across the state, and included former slaves recruited from the south.
Two dozen members of the 29th listed their hometown as
They were porters, laborers, farmers, and seaman. Organized in the fall of 1863, the unit saw action in Maryland and Virginia and battled
Texas rebels, who ignored Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender, before coming home in October 1865.
When they arrived in Maryland, the people there were surprised to see that the regiment from
New Haven was made up of black men. The 29th was one of only five black regiments to use its state name.
Other troops, including several hundred more from the state who were not enough for a regiment, were known as the United States Colored Troops.
A laborer born in Darien, Thomas Carpenter, left a wife and two children in
Greenwich when he joined the 29th in December 1863. He earned the rank of corporal and served through the war's end, dying in 1903 at the age of 70.
Joseph Sills of Woodbridge, Connecticut, met his future father-in-law in the 29th, marrying the daughter of fellow soldier Samuel Franklin of
Norwich, Connecticut after the war. Because of the marriage, Al Mero now traces his great-grandfather to that Civil War link.
Lloyd Eugene Seymour of Colchester, Connecticut, petitioned state Governor William Buckingham after his tour of duty to form a peacetime militia so blacks and other veterans could use the skills they acquired during the war, his great-great-grandson, Alan Green of
Bloomfield, said. At the time, a law forbade blacks from carrying arms during peacetime, but years later the militia
Seymour envisioned became the Connecticut National Guard and he enlisted.
The 29th lost hundreds during the war, some wounded or killed in action at Kell House or the fall of Richmond; others succumbing to disease that killed two-thirds of all the soldiers, black and white, who fought in the Civil War.
Many are buried in Greenwich's
Cemetery in Darien, and
It is a story seldom told in history books. Even people with ancestors in the 29th often uncovered those links with surprise. "I told my children and they were flabbergasted," said Al Mero, who only as an adult learned of his relatives in papers discovered when his great-uncle died.
Alan Green found records, letters and mementos of his great-great-grandfather when cleaning his mother's home. "No stories were told to me about it," he said. "I was ecstatic to find such a positive story about this man... When he returned he was still trying to think constructively."
The black soldiers who made up 10 percent of the Union army, faced the rebels of the Confederacy but many found a tougher enemy, the racism that pervaded even the ranks of the Northern forces.
Until 1864 blacks were paid less than their white counterparts and seldom was a black officer commissioned to lead troops into battle. For a time blacks were kept at the back of the corps,restricted to manual labor. There was segregation in the North, and even the question of whether blacks could fight. "They volunteered to fight in a war that is still being fought to this day," said Vinnie Drake of
Derby, whose great-great-grandfather, James Drake, served in the 29th. "It took guts to enlist in an army that, at the time didn't even see you as a human being." A laborer who worked with horses, 32 year old James Drake left his
Ansonia home to enlist in 1863. After seeing action in the Battle of Kell House, Drake died in 1899 of an apparent heart attack.
Vinnie Drake has a picture of his War musket which remains in the family.This picture was donated by another relative, James Cole, of Queens, New York. Our special thanks for sharing this memento.
Orrin Benjamin Hawley, His Story
Orrin Benjamin Hawley was born in
Redding, Connecticut on October 2, 1826, the son of Harry Hawley. The birth certificate does not list his mother. We know that he had at least one brother, Aaron Hawley. Orrin married Lucy Sands on November of 1847 in
Woodbury, Connecticut. Orrin was to marry again, this time to Mary Ann Jackson (the daughter of
Lot and Julia Jackson). They were married on December 23, 1852 in
Woodbury, Connecticut. Orrin and Mary had 15 children. Orrin enlisted in the 29th Connecticut Infantry Regiment (Colored) on December 14, 1863. Records of the 29th list several Hawley's and Freeman’s as member of that organization. We mention this because we assumed that the Hawley's and Freeman's were related. Company A lists Alanson, Henry, Henry H., John H., Joseph H., Philo, and Sylvester Freeman. Also listed in Company A are Augustus and William F. Hawley. A search of the pension records on these two Hawley’s does not reveal any information. We subsequently discovered that William F. Hawley died and is buried in
New Orleans, Louisiana. Company B lists James L. and Wilson W. Freeman. Company C lists Aaron and Orrin Hawley and Lot Jackson (Orrin's Father-In-Law). Company K lists a James Summers Hawley who died on Feb 24, 1864 prior to mustering in. Pension records indicate that James was married to Eliza Treadwell.