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Elias Howe, Jr. and the 17th

by 17thCVI on July 15, 2015 · 0 comments

A few months ago I received an email from Rob André Stevens with some material for the site related to Elias Howe, Jr. An excerpt of the emal follows:

“I also find it odd that your site doesn’t even show a picture of him on your ‘Rank and File’ page, as it would seem as a semi-historian of the Regiment, you’d be aware of this man’s accomplishments, as he was also instrumental in the original forming of the 17th, and used much of his wealth in its benefit at various times during his enlistment…”

To be sure, there hasn’t been an image of Howe on the site until today. Here is a little more about Howe and the 17th CVI:

Elias Howe, Jr.

Elias Howe, Jr.

The accomplishments of Elias Howe, Jr. are fairly well known to many folks and especially to those people who have lived in the Bridgeport, CT area for any length of time. Howe is generally recognized as the inventor of the modern sewing machine, certainly the first to patent a design for a truly workable machine. These patents made Howe a wealthy man in the years before the Civil War, although not without years of expensive legal battles to defend his patent.

From childhood Howe was afflicted with some sort of physical disability (described as a sort of “lameness” by most biographers of the period). Nevertheless, at the onset on the Civil War there was little question as to where his loyalties lay.

Howe, born in Spencer, MA, maintained an interest in the regiments formed in that area as well. In 1861, at Fort Massachusetts outside of Arlington, Virginia, Howe presented the Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel of the 5th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (3 months) a fully equipped stallion. The news reports of the time indicated that Howe did this for the regiments entire Field and Staff – not quite but generous nonetheless.

In August 1861 Howe was appointed president of a Union meeting called in response to a peace meeting that was held (and subsequently broken up rather violently) in Stepney (now a section of Monroe). This meeting, and its violent aftermath (including the sacking and burning of a “Copperhead” newspaper in Bridgeport), was reported on nationally. Howe reportedly said, in response to threats of gunfire by the peace protesters, allegedly told the attendees of the Union rally that if any gunshots were fired to burn down the whole town and that he (Howe) would pay for the damages.

Howe’s involvement with the 17th CVI began in earnest in the summer of 1862. That summer, following the call for 300,000 volunteers, saw Howe become on the first men in Bridgeport to volunteer in response. He is carried on the muster roll for Company D – to be known as the “Howe Rifles” – as Elias Howe, Jr., machinist. There is a statue of Howe in Seaside Park in Bridgeport located on the site where Howe was said to have slept on a bed of straw with the other recruits of the 17th CVI

Howe was far too infirm to see active service with the 17th CVI but still had a desire to assist the regiment in any way. As he did with the 5th Massachusetts the year before, Howe purchased and presented fully equipped horses to Colonel Noble and Lieutenant Colonel Walter. Howe clearly followed the regiment when it left Bridgeport, acting as postmaster for the regiment. He is mentioned in many soldier letters from that time period. For instance, from Sergeant James Bosworth of Company D (who also noted the difference between Private Howe and the average private in the regiment):

“Mr. Howe is unwell in Baltimore his son acting postmaster in his absence. He has brought him a wall tent like those used by our own officers and fitted it up in good shape and boards at the regimental officers dining tent at 3 1/2 dollars per week so that you can see how much he lives and fairs like a common soldier. He has got a horse and carriage from home, in fact he plays the gentleman as much as the highest ranked officer and id looked upon with as much respect. So much does the millionaire act the common soldier in the ranks of the Federal Army. But as this is no more than can be reasonably expected of one in his position all seem to be satisfied although by having such a man on our roll makes a little more duty for those who have to perform it. “

In some respects, Howe was no different than any other soldier of the regiment. Sergeant Augustus Bronson of Company C wrote back home that Howe was subject to curfew as much as the next soldier:

“E. Howe jr. got in the other night for in consequence of being out after 9 P.M. without the countersign, he carries the mail for the regt. and has a pass from the Col. to go and come when he pleases but the pass is not good from 9 P.M. untill the next A. M. so as he did not keep good hours that night he was cribbed.”

Perhaps the most notable example of Howe’s involvement with the 17th occurred in the winter of 1862. The last time the regiment had seen any pay occurred while they were still in Baltimore. As Colonel Noble wrote in his history of the regiment, “on one occasion, by permission of the Secretary of War, (Howe) advanced the pay of the regiment, about fourteen thousand dollars, on the march towards Fredericksburg.”

This act was noted by others as well – in a December 7, 1862 letter home Lt. Aldace Walker of the 11th Vermont wrote that his cousin, working in the Paymaster’s Office, was paid a visit some days earlier by a private in the 17th CVI asking to “buy the [muster] roll of the regiment.” Not sure what the private intent was, nothing came of it so the private went to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, where arrangements were made for the private, Elias Howe, Jr., to loan the government the money needed to pay the regiment.

However the event went down, the regiment was paid off on December 10th, as was noted by William Warren in his journal.

Souvenir flag of the Elias Howe, Jr. Post #3, G.A.R.

Souvenir flag of the Elias Howe, Jr. Post #3, G.A.R.

Howe remained on the rolls of the regiment as a private, even though he never fought in a single battle, until the regiment was discharged from the service in July 1862. His final act of generosity for his fellow soldiers during their time in the service was to charter a special train to bring the veterans back to Bridgeport from New Haven in early August, where they were greeted as returning heroes. As for Howe – he would not attend any of the annual reunions of the regiment he gave so much to. Howe, beset with illness, died at age 48 in 1867. In his honor, Bridgeport veterans named the Grand Army of the Republic, Post No. 3, the Elias Howe, Jr. Post.


A different look

by 17thCVI on May 5, 2015 · 3 comments

Not sure if I like this new look, but it is “mobile optimized” so that Google will find out for all of you who may come to this site on your smartphone or tablet.

Let me know what you think – if it works and is functional then perhaps I will keep it for a while.


The Gilmore Medal and the 17th CVI

by 17thCVI on November 16, 2014 · 1 comment

After spending a comfortable Sunday afternoon perusing the various auction sites for 17th CVI-related artifacts I came across a couple of letters written by Rufus Tilbe up for auction. Tilbe was a member of Company E, having enlisted at the age 22 from Westport, CT.  He was promoted to the rank of corporal just prior to Chancellorsville, and made it through both Chancellorsville and Gettysburg unscathed.

After the regiment was transferred to the Department of the South following Gettysburg, Tilbe fought in the various skirmishes in and around Charleston, SC. It was there that he received a wound to his right foot that was reported in the August 26, 1863 edition of the New York Times. Something went wrong with that wound, for sure, as he soon enough underwent an amputation of his right leg.

Tilbe would become one of 4 members of the regiment who would be awarded the Gilmore Medal. The Gilmore Medal?

Here’s a description of the medal, created and issued by Major General Quincy Gilmore, from the March 30, 1864 edition of the New York Times:

From the Palmetto Herald.

The Hilton Head and Beaufort papers of March 24, have the following items:


The front of a Gilmore Medal awarded to a soldier of the 6th CVI.

Obverse of a Gilmore Medal awarded to a soldier of the 6th CVI.

It will be remembered that after the reduction of Fort Wagner and the demolition of Fort Sumter, last Fall, Gen. GILLMORE announced that medals of honor would be presented to such enlisted men as had especially distinguished themselves by gallant conduct during the siege. They have been struck, and samples are already here, though the entire number will scarcely be ready for delivery sooner than two or three weeks. There are about five hundred candidates (500) for the honor, each of whom will have his name neatly engraved on the buckle to which the medal is attached. The medal itself is of bronze, about the size of the silver dollar of blessed memory, and bears

Reverse of a Gilmore Medal awarded to a soldier with the 6th CVI.

Reverse of a Gilmore Medal awarded to a soldier with the 6th CVI.

upon its obverse in bold relief, a very accurate representation of Fort Sumter at the termination of the first bombardment, taken from an original drawing by Mr. W.T. CRANE, with the legend “Fort Sumter, Aug. 23, 1863,” the whole encircled by a border of stars. Upon the reverse in this inscription, in raised letters: “For gallant and meritorious conduct. Presented by Q.A. GILLMORE, Major-General.” The name of Gen. GILLMORE is a fac simile of his autograph. The medals are beautiful in design, and are very neatly and carefully made. They come from the establishment of BALL, BLACK & Co., New-York City.

Besides Corporal Tilbe, the following soldiers from the 17th CVI were also awarded the Gilmore Medal:

Private Walter Jarmon – Company F

1st Sergeant Charles Smith, Jr. – Company G

Private Richard McGee, Jr. – Company K

As for Corporal Tilbe – he would transfer to the 128th Company, 2nd Battalion, Veteran Reserve Corps in December 1863, until his discharge in July 1864. He died at age 80 in May 1920.

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Email address has changed

by 17thCVI on November 11, 2014 · 1 comment

Thanks to AT&T, the email address for the site has needed to change. The good news is that the new address is easier to type. The bad news is that because I cannot access the old email at all means that all my contacts are gone with it. So – if you have emailed me and have NOT gotten a reply it is not because I am ignoring you. It is because I just can’t get back into the original email account I’ve used for a long, long time.

The new email address (don’t cut and paste it, you’ll need to remove ALL the spaces) is: 17th cvi @

So, unless you’ve left a comment with your email address I don’t have a way to recover my old list. There was something to be said about pre-computer days and a Rolodex!

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New material added

October 4, 2014

Another letter from Stephen Wilcox written prior to the Battle of Chancellorsville was added to the site today. Thanks once more to Paul Keroack from the Norwalk History Room at the Norwalk (CT) Public Library for finding this letter and transcribing it for addition to the site.

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Status update and new content

September 21, 2014

It’s been a long summer with a lot of different things happening – all of which show by the lack of content posted since June. Hopefully the fall season will allow for more frequent updates and additional content. By the end of the day I expect that there will be some new material (as in […]

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The 17th Connecticut and the National Weather Service

June 8, 2014

What do the 17th Connecticut and the National Weather Service have in common? Henry Eugene Williams. Who? Henry Williams was an 18-year-old teacher living in Bethel, CT when he enlisted as H. Eugene Williams in Company C of the 17th in July 1862 and mustered in as Corporal. Williams served throughout the war with the […]

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New additions

June 3, 2014

Added a nice article from the July 8, 1884 Gettysburg Star and Sentinel regarding the dedication of the 17th CVI monument on Barlow’s Knoll. It is a nice compliment to the official publication put out by the veterans.

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Words cannot describe…

June 2, 2014

…my initial reaction to this headline: “Skull of Civil War soldier found at Gettysburg to be auctioned” The short version of the story is that the skull was found near the “Benner’s Farm” in 1949 and it was expected to sell for $50,000 to $250,00o to a collector. Really? From Katie Lawhorn, the spokesperson for […]

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The 17th Connecticut at the 1907 Andersonville dedication

June 1, 2014

I recently came across the book published by the State of Connecticut to commemorate the dedication of the Connecticut monument at Andersonville, Georgia. The monument committee had originally planned on locating the monument on the grounds of the former prison camp itself, but, after visiting the National Cemetery, decided upon that place for the monument […]

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