Richard Gentile – Edward W. Hayden (1840-1879)
Descended from William Hayden, head of one of the original settler families of the town, Edward W. Hayden, born in 1840 was also a grandson of Reverend Eliphalet Williams, the prominent Revolutionary War minister of the Congregational Church, and also the subject of a podcast site in this cemetery.
Edward’s father, also named Edward, was a deacon of his father-in-law’s church.
Edward was well-brought up in a family of comfortable circumstances. While always of fragile health, he was a bright boy who had a fine quality boarding school education.
As a young man, he became a committed member of the Republican Party. What became the party of Abraham Lincoln was formed based upon its opposition to the possible spread of slavery into the Western Territories with the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. The new party quickly gained popularity and acquired majorities in every Northern state.
But then came the Civil War. Every town in the Union had a quota of enlistments to meet, which for East Hartford was 306 and which it actually exceeded by five.
The town voted to pay $200 to every male who enlisted or furnished a substitute. Many town men did by depositing $300 to procure, in the lexicon of the time, a “colored” substitute, from Tennessee.
Not Edward, however. An avid diarist, he sat down in front of his diary and compiled a list of pros and cons as to whether or not he should fight for the Union. With the pros outweighing the cons, he went to Albany in February of 1864 where he enlisted in Company H of the New York 65th Infantry Regiment.
He was among 465 volunteers shipped out to Alexandria on a filthy boat as if they were cattle. By the time he arrived at their destination, his already delicate health had deteriorated further.
He recovered enough to join his unit for its first skirmish in Chancellorsville. While at the battle, he took a diary off a Confederate soldier, turned the diary around and wrote his story on the back page onto of the confederate soldier his story on the back page. This diary was on him at the time he was shot by a sniper in both his leg and his hand. The diary, with blood stains still on it, telling his story on one side and the story of a confederate story on the other is available for viewing at the Connecticut Historical Society.
He was treated at Emory Hospital in Washington, then transferred to Philadelphia. There, upon recovery, he enrolled in the United States Military School for Applicants for the Command of Colored Troops, as these troops could only be commanded by white officers.
Now training with black volunteers, early entries in his diary were those of a young, patronizing white Yankee remarking, “the childishness of the black fellows is very noticeable.”
But he quickly matured in his thinking as indicated by later entries such as:
“Some pretty bright fellows in the company.” “I begin to feel almost attached to the dusky boys – old prejudices vanishing like smoke.”
Also while in Philadelphia, he was impressed by both the person and speech of Frederick Douglas making note in his diary of his “temperate and self-commanding” demeanor.” In appraisal of the audience, he further noted, “I was surprised by the appearance of the better class of Negros – much better than I expected.”
Following his exams for an officer’s commission, Hayden arrived in Richmond just as it fell on April 3, 1865, and the war ended.
He learned to his amazement he did so well on his exams it was recommended he be awarded the rank not of lieutenant, but of lieutenant colonel.
Moving back to Washington on April 15th, he learned to his sorrow and shock of Lincoln’s assassination the previous day and went to the Peterson House where the President’s dead body lay noting in his diary that he arrived just in time to see Lincoln’s body being removed for procession to the White House.
Hayden never saw more action or received his commission. He returned to his life in East Hartford to work at farming, teaching and serving in various elected town offices. Never gaining robust health, he died prematurely at an early age in 1879 – only 38 years old.