“An Awesometalk With” CHARLENE HENDERSON: The 17th Regiment CVI Gravesite Location Project

UPDATE: March 02, 2010: Barry Cauchon

The format of this An Awesometalk With is more of a traditional article rather than interview. However I feel that Charlene’s story contains the same wonderful content that my live interviews offer. Therefore, I’ve designated this as “An Awesometalk With” feature article. Enjoy.

November 02, 2009: Barry Cauchon

Paynton, W. Wallace grave

The gravestone of W. Wallace Paynton of the 17th Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry.

My good friend Ed Isaacs recently told me about a woman who has made it her personal project to find the Civil War gravesites of the men of the 17th Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. I remember saying “Wow, what a great project. I’d like to talk to this person”. And so I did. I wrote to Mrs. Charlene Henderson and she graciously responded.

Charlene’s project certainly interested me from the start. But the story about how it all started, along with some of the eerie things that occurred during her search for these men’s final resting places, is to say the least…COOL! She describes these unexplainable occurrences as coming “directly from the twilight zone”. After you read her story you may agree with this assessment. As I have been witness to similarly strange ‘occurrences’ over the years, I believe that she may have been assisted in her search for the graves by, perhaps, the spirits of some of the very men whom she has been seeking out. One never knows.

If you are a believer in paranormal phenomena, this story will certainly add to your reading enjoyment. If not, it will at least serve to expose you to some of the things that Charlene has experience while searching for the graves of the 17th regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry.

Charlene’s project has been quite the undertaking. To date it has resulted in her locating, or getting leads to, over 71% of the graves of the 17th. An incredible feat!

Enjoy her story.

Barry

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CHARLENE HENDERSON AND HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Charlene Henderson

Charlene Henderson

Charlene Henderson currently lives in New Milford, Connecticut. In 1988, Charlene found a letter written by a Civil War soldier from the 17th regiment CVI. Now, almost twenty-two years later, she has tracked down more 71% of the gravesites of the men of the 17th, and will be writing a book containing their bios and gravesite information. 

In Charlene’s own words, this is how the story began.

“My ex-husband and a friend had a part-time business in 1988 preparing homes for resale or rent. This would include painting, carpet cleaning, windows, etc. They took a contract from a local realtor: a condo that was trashed by a tenant who had been evicted…and I do mean trashed! Visualize a car driving through a single story building  then put back the entrance and exit walls. That is what the interior of the place looked like. 

After a few days of removing debris, I made headway to a bedroom closet. A small handmade wooden blue box was on the floor. I don’t know why but I opened it, instead of throwing it out with all the other junk. A small green piece of felt lined the bottom of the box and a letter was the only object inside. I removed the letter from the envelope. It was dated Feb. ’65 and the author, James Hurlbutt, wrote about being with three other men, Hoyt, Paynton and Hagar. They were stationed in Florida. I was pretty tired and the date seemed odd. I couldn’t understand what was going on in FL. in 1965. Then the light bulb went on. They made “a chimney”, a fire. It wasn’t 1965. It was 1865 and this letter is from a civil war soldier!

I did a little research in 1988 and found that they were soldiers from the 17th CVI. Years went by, I divorced, remarried, changed jobs. I became interested in genealogy. My maiden name is Hager fro Dutchess Co., N.Y. One day, I came across a document held by the Latter Day Saints. The document listed all of my great-grandfathers’ brothers and sisters. One name kept going through my mind. Abijah. Why do I know this name?

Again, the light bulb…Abijah HAGER. Could this be the same Abijah HAGAR, the civil war soldier that was named in the letter? I sent for Abijah Hagar’s pension information and they were one in the same. He was my great-grandfather’s brother.

Again years go by, it’s 2004 and I’ve become bored with family genealogy. My husband suggests doing some research on the other soldiers in Hurlbutt’s letter. W. Wallace Paynton lived at Fitch’s Soldiers Home in Darien, CT. for twenty years and wrote his memoirs which are in Bridgeport Library in Bridgeport, CT. One story is about returning to New Haven, CT after being mustered out in Hilton Head, S.C. The paymaster wasn’t there and the soldiers would have to return to New Haven next week to receive their pay. For those who didn’t return to New Haven, those men filed an application for back pay. Not long after reading this story I was on eBay. I found Abijah Hagar’s application for back pay.

Warren, William H. military (2)

The gravestone of Wm. H. Warren.

Finally, they got my undivided attention (Note: Charlene uses the word ‘they’ referring to her soldier friends whom she is searching for). Bridgeport Library has a collection known as the Warren Collection. William H. Warren was a private from Co. C. He spent most of his post-war life corresponding with his comrades relating to the war stories. I transcribed the stories relating to Chancellorsville. I had nothing more than a high school education about the Civil War. I didn’t even know what state Chancellorsville was in. I educated myself about the battle. The 17th, being only one regiment, was out of context, with relationship to the rest of the 11 Corps and Stonewall Jackson’s flack attack. I learned of a book written by Hamlin, the 11th Corps historian. Again, eBay, I found the book and bought it. The first blank page, in pencil, which someone had tried to erase, “Wm. H. Warren -43 Beers St – no town – 1896. This book was once owned by the private from Co. C., who lived at 43 Beers St., New Haven, CT.

This is why I say, THEY FOUND ME. They sparked an interest with Abijah, twice. Finally, after eighteen years from the onset, I felt that Warren was saying to me, ‘These are not coincidences. Wake up! Do the math! The odds of winning the lottery are better!’. 

That’s how I started looking for the final resting places of ‘my soldier friends’.”

THE PROJECT

To find the gravesites of the 1153 or 1158 men (final numbers vary) who were members of the 17th regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry during the American Civil War.

THE 17th REGIMENT CONNECTICUT VOLUNTEER INFANTRY

The regiment assembled and was accepted into Federal service on August 28, 1862. 1006 or 1008 men mustered into service that day with an additional 150 or so joining later during recruiting drives throughout the war.

THE BEGINNING – HOW CHARLENE GATHERED HER RESEARCH

The first thing that Charlene did was to get the roster from the 17th regiment. She picks up the story about her process from here:

“The roster is listed by company, the town where the person enlisted from and military history. I took the roster and arranged the soldiers by town where they enlisted; so I could use the Hale Cemetery Inscription Collection.

The Hale Collection was compiled by the WPA in 1934. Every gravestone in every cemetery was recorded by town and published with an index. Also, notations were made if the person had a flag, G.A.R. flag holder, and the company and regiment they served. The entire collection is at Connecticut State Library. One page at a time, for each town in Fairfield Co., I wrote the names of everyone who had a flag or G.A.R. marker and compared those names against the roster. Then, using the index, looked up anyone buried in a town whose name matched the soldier name (verifying the I.D. later). Any gravestone with the 17th CVI was self-evident. A typical example of a listing (without military notation) might read as follows: John Doe 1840 – 1906 flag Civil War.

Now the fun begins. The Hale Collection has a map for each town with a dot for each cemetery, the name of the street or its location referenced from another cemetery. The map doesn’t have all street names, only long streets and watercourses. Trying to find some of these cemeteries is an adventure in itself. The vast majority of these cemeteries have no office or section markers. It’s park and let the walking begin. Doing this town by town, I got smarter and wrote down the page number from the Hale Collection. If someone was listed on page 20 and someone on page 22, they would be about 80 graves from each other.  A clue was military gravestones. If the information read: John Doe, Co. A, 17th Conn. Vols., died Jan. 1, 1900, age 68, it’s a good chance the stone was military. Find him and it’s a starting point for finding the rest. So many times I would drive into a cemetery and someone’s gravesite would be right in front of me.

Story: A twisty country road, perched on a hillside, accessible to mountain goats only by traversing several unstable stone stairs, open the iron gate, one little cemetery where very few stones remain. In the back corner, the gravestone I was searching is there, completely legible.

I’ve found 575 gravesites in CT. and N.Y. 36 are buried in National Cemeteries. 38 are missing headstones or I haven’t found them yet. 21 I still have to go find. 36 are buried out-of-state. For a total of 706.

Out of state leads 77. Most likely buried in CT. 40 (burial info may be found at CT Health Dept). New info 2. For a total of 119.

Combined total 825 out of 1153 or 1158.”

stratton, charles before

BEFORE: This is how the gravestone of Charles Stratton was found.

Stratton, Charles S. military

AFTER: The completely exposed gravestone of Charles S. Stratton.

 ONE OF THE ‘EERIE’ STORIES

As mentioned earlier, Charlene has had some interesting occurrences take place while doing her project. Unexplainable by scientific methods, but real nonetheless. Here is one such event that I’d like to share with you.

“I was in a cemetery looking for ‘the guys’, having spent about three hours. One was left on my list and I just couldn’t find him.  I apologized to him, called his name, asked collectively of the 17th buried in the cemetery, to help me. A rabbit came out of a bush. I walked over, pushed the branches back, and there was his gravestone”.

CURRENTLY

Currently, Charlene is continuing to work on her project to locate the remaining graves of the men of the 17th. Recently, she enlisted the assistance of Ed Isaacs (of Dixon diary fame). Ed says this is a perfect project for him to keep busy while in his retirement.

Charlene, thank you for sharing your story with us (and keeping Ed busy). With the help of Ed and ‘your friends’, I’m sure the discovery of the remaining grave stones are not too far in the distant future.

Continued success with your project.

If anyone would like to contact Charlene, please email me and I’ll be happy to pass along your comments to her.

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

HURRICANE IKE RUINS A PERFECTLY GOOD WEEKEND

September 13, 2008. Barry Cauchon

Well, here I am, writing this report to tell you that I never did make it down to Springfield, Illinois for the “Blaze Your Own Trail in Illinois-Bloggers Meet Up” event (see posting from Sept 12, 2008 entitled “Blaze Your Own Trail in Springfield, Illinois”). Despite my best efforts, Hurricane IKE was an unexpected factor in my travel itinerary, and I never even got off the ground.

The organizers of this event had gone way out of their way to make me feel special. They had set me up for two nights free accommodation at the State House Inn in Springfield. As well, a reporter from the local newspaper, The State Journal Register (http://www.sj-r.com/) (Illinois’ oldest newspaper), was writing a story about the event and asked to interview me (why, I’m not sure but it would have been nice to find out). All I had to do was show up…and that, ladies and gentlemen, is where the plan fell apart.

My strategy was to drive from Toronto, Ontario, Canada to Buffalo, New York and then fly from there to Chicago. I had a rental car set up at that end which I would use to drive the additional 3-1/2 hours south to Springfield. This would all have been done yesterday so I could be fresh to spend the day at the event on Saturday.

“Oh my, how these things can go astray”! LOL.

To start with, my drive from Toronto to Buffalo, which is normally about 1-1/4 hours took almost 2 hours due to the weather (rain, rain, rain), road construction, rush hour and Friday evening traffic. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that I also followed the ‘wrong’ airport signs that are posted just beyond the Canadian border. I was headed for the Buffalo Niagara Falls International Airport. However, these signs (symbols only) directed me to the Niagara Falls International Airport. Sorry folks from Niagara, but I can’t figure out why your tiny commuter airport is called an International one? It was not only very small, but the doors were locked and no one was there (except for cars in the parking lot). What’s all that about?

So it was now 5:00pm, with no map in hand, and being lost somewhere on the backroads of Tonawanda in Erie County. My flight was scheduled for 7:07pm. So much for checking in two hours prior to my flight!

I placed a call to a good friend that I knew was still at work. She looked up my location and the real Buffalo Niagara Falls International Airport. It turned out that I was only about 15 miles away. I still had to fight standstill traffic and rainy conditions for the next hour but eventually I arrived at the airport just after 6:00pm (1 hour before my flight). At check in, I was invited up to the counter by some very tired looking United Airline reps. It seems that air traffic all across North America had been affected by IKE and their airport was no different. They had been run off their feet since 11:00 that morning. Then they gave me the news that my 7:07pm flight was delayed until at least 8:45pm. So, all my rushing and panicking to get there on time meant …. SQUAT!

I passed through security easily with no waiting (go figure!) and then proceeded to wait it out. The flight was listed as delayed (and that never changed). By 10:00pm, I checked on it one more time and was told that the flight would not be happening tonight. Hurricane IKE had personally cancelled my flight. Bastard!

The airline did offer to fly me out first thing in the morning. However, if I took that one I would never make it to the event in time and would have ended up missing at least half of it. At this point, I pulled the plug on the trip, tipped my hat and bowed in defeat to the Mighty IKE! He had won the battle for now. However, it was comforting to know that in just one-weeks time, Hurricane IKE would be but a sprinkle of its former self and end up dying a slow death somewhere out over the North Atlantic. So with patience, let’s see who gets the last laugh! Ha ha….ha ha haaaaaaa! Bastard!

I’d like to mention one nice act of kindness that happened for me this morning. I had informed everyone that I would not be attending and I received an email back from Mr. Thomas F. Schwartz, the Illinois State Historian who was scheduled to give the opening remarks today at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. I had particularly wanted to meet this man and enjoy a good chat. He told me that his wife’s travel plans had also been affected by the storm. She was stuck at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport most of last night and didn’t get home to Springfield until after 2:00am. Thank you Tom for the note. It was very much appreciated and made me feel a little less isolated by the circumstances.

To sum up, I am sorry that I missed this event. Everyone that was involved made to feel very welcomed and I would have loved to have met the organizers, fellow bloggers and of course, Thomas Schwartz.

Despite my disappointment, my story is of little consequence compared to those who have actually been affected by the storm itself. Thousands of people have had their lives turned upside down by IKE, and other storms like this. My problems are miniscule compared to theirs. So don’t forget them! Many of these people need our help so do what you can. Mostly, please keep them in your thoughts and prayers. They need to be our priority right now.

Stay safe!

Best

Barry

outreach@awesometalks.com

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If you are interested in Abraham Lincoln, you should read these interviews by two Lincoln experts:

 

“An Awesometalk With” Harold Holzer, Lincoln Scholar

(posted on November 10, 2008) 

 

  “An Awesometalk With” Dr. Thomas Schwartz, Illinois State Historian 

(posted on December 08, 2008) 

 

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