Connecticut is honoring the 150th anniversary of the Civil War over the next few years with special events and exhibits all over the state. It is a great time for our town to remember the important role that men from Trumbull played in the War. Last year we honored such men with a series of Civil War focused events between the Historical Society and the One Book One Town committee. Below is the story of one such young man, printed last year in an issue of the Gristmill, who was at the battle of Antietam. September 17th will mark the 150th anniversary of the battle.
Between July 24th and September 11th, 1862, eight men from Trumbull enlisted in the 14th Connecticut. One of these men was 22 year old Trumbull farmer William H. Norton. On August 4th he became part of Company A, enlisting for period of 3 years. The 14th began their journey from Camp Foote in Hartford to Baltimore under the command of Colonel Dwight Morris, a lawyer from Bridgeport. Norton and his fellow soldiers received a patriotic send off, with flags waving and whistles blowing from a cheering crowd. Wrote one member of Company A, “the daylight hours were characterized by the same outbursts of patriotic enthusiasm as that sent out from the shores of their own dear Connecticut.” These soldiers were green and full of spirit. The regiment encountered President Lincoln on their journey through Washington, who bowed and remarked that they were “a fine looking body of men.” Shortly after, the 14th joined the II corp of the Army of the Potomac, and began the long march towards Baltimore. Norton and his comrades were taunted by the Irish Brigade they marched alongside, who called them “blue-legged devils.” The Irish Brigade were hardened veterans of the Peninsula Campaign.
William Norton received 3 days rations of hardtack before marching toward Antietam. As he approached the South Mountain, he witnessed the brutal remains of the collision that had taken place there just a few days before. The war was becoming more and more real for the Trumbull farmer, who had yet to fire a gun.
Three weeks after leaving Connecticut, Norton arrived at Antietam Creek on September 17, where the battle had been raging since dawn. The 14th was ordered to form a line of battle, even though they had no fighting experience and little in the way of drills and military training. Union troops made their way into the cornfield, where Confederate troops bombard them with heavy fire. Colonel Morris and the 14th made it deep into the cornfield, but were forced to retreat as a result of the heavy Confederate fire. Colonel Morris and his troops were ordered to hold the wall at Roulette Lane. They were sent to provide support to Colonel Brooke’s brigade, which had made a successful advance towards the Sunken Road, later known as “Bloody Lane.” It is here that a shell explodes in Company D, startling the troops, who have only known battle for a few hours. The 14th recovered and pressed on, a sign of the bravery and perseverance for which the regiment would later become known. At this point in the battle, a shell struck and killed William H. Norton, one of the first casualties of the 14th Connecticut.
The battle of Antietam is known as the single bloodiest day in American history, lasting 12 hours. It was the culmination of the Maryland campaign and while there was no decisive victory for either side, it caused Lee’s army to retreat from the north. It was following this battle, in which Trumbull resident William H. Norton gave his life, that Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation.
The 14th Connecticut went on to fight in 34 battles and skirmishes, which included the battles at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Blackburn’s Ford, The Wilderness and Cold Harbor. For years following the war, the Regiment held their reunion on September 17th, the anniversary of the battle of Antietam, to honor men like William Norton. Col. Morris wrote two days after the battle, “The men in my brigade were all new troops, hastily raised, and without drill or experience, and although under fire for the first time, behaved with great gallantry.” Norton is buried in Antietam National Cemetery. He is one of the many brave Trumbull men who gave their life for their country.
Keep an eye out for more stories about Trumbull's Civil War soldiers this year!