It may be a surprise to many in Connecticut: this state was split during the American Civil War, with nearly half of its residents opposing the war to abolish slavery. Speaking to 43 Y’s Men of Meriden (36 in-person, seven by Zoom) on Jan. 3, a charismatic Christina Volpe, Curator of the Barnes Museum in Southington, presented a unique view of life as a Union soldier in the 1860s.
The Barnes Museum is the repository of about 250 handwritten letters mailed from the battlefield by Captain Andrew Upson to his wife, family and friends in Southington CT. Upson was born in that town in 1825, graduated from Yale College in 1849, worked as an educator and enlisted as a 1st Lieutenant in Company E. of the 20th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry in 1862. He was a fervent Unionist and expressed shame that so many Connecticut citizens were pro-slavery and wanted the state to secede from the Union.
A frequent topic of his letters was to request food be sent, especially salted cod as well as money (which was often stolen en route). In 1863, he was captured in Virginia during the Battle of Chancellorsville (considered Lee’s “perfect battle,” with the Confederates defeating a larger Union force) and sent to the harsh Libby Prison. He was released two weeks later and soon was stationed in Tracy City, Tennessee; while there during 1864, Upson was shot twice by a detachment of rebel cavalry and died from his wounds a month later. A parade in his honor was subsequently carried out in Southington.
Volpe also described many of Upson’s family members, including his granddaughter Leila Barnes who gathered the letters written by her grandfather, finding she got to know him through this endeavor. Volpe also described many of the attractions at the 17-room museum, including artifacts from the 19th century Southington Cutlery Company which was a major piece in the founding of the International Silver Company. And also featured at the museum is a significant collection of antique glass, mostly pressed glass, the third largest collection in the country.
For further information about the Y’s Men of Meriden, go to ysmenofmeriden.com or call 203-238-7784.