Thursday, May 11, 2017

John Sedgwick and Cornwall Hollow

This week marked the 153rd anniversary of the death of Major General John Sedgwick, the highest-ranking Union general to be killed during the Civil War. Sedgwick is still remembered in Cornwall, Connecticut, a tiny town in the Northwest Hills of the state. Sedgwick loved Cornwall, which consists of five little Cornwalls—including Cornwall Hollow, the place where Sedgwick was born and was buried.

Sedgwick, who served in the pre-war army in Mexico, Florida, and in the Indian Wars, often said that Cornwall was the most beautiful place he had ever seen and that he looked forward to retiring there. He was not to enjoy retirement.

Sedgwick died May 9, 1864, on the second day of the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. He was a determined and respected corps commander and died urging his staff and the soldiers of his VI Corps to persevere in the face of sniper fire. Among his last words was what turned out to be an ironic phrase: "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance."  Seconds later he was shot through the head and died instantly.

U.S. Grant considered the loss of Sedgwick to be a terrible blow, as did President Lincoln. Sedgwick has been well remembered with monuments. There are statues at Spotsylvania, Gettysburg, and West Point. There are also two in Cornwall Hollow—both huge. One features a cannon from 1839 and an array of cannon balls (now made of cement, since the originals were melted down during World War II.

The other his his grave marker, a tall obelisk in the cemetery across the street from the monument.

The town of Cornwall itself has less than 1500 people, and Cornwall Hollow accounts for only a fraction of that. The two monuments dominate the center of the town and ensure that John Sedgwick won't be forgotten in his beloved hometown.

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