Local History: Voices from Mystic’s past bring the meaning of Memorial Day to life
The following is the third in a series of stories that will run occasionally this year to honor the 50th anniversary of the Mystic River Historical Society.
Over the past five decades, the Mystic River Historical Society has accumulated an extensive collection of items that document Mystic’s history. In the publicly searchable archive are various first-person accounts of events that impacted Mystic, including diaries, letters, autobiographies and oral histories.
Here are a few excerpts to commemorate Memorial Day (originally known as Decoration Day and begun in 1868 to honor those who died in the Civil War).
Horatio N. Fish Jr., who lived on High Street, fought in the Civil War. He enlisted in the 21st Connecticut Regiment, Company C at 19 years old in July 1862. He was eight days short of his 21st birthday when he died in August 1864 from wounds inflicted at the 2nd Battle of Petersburg. Here is a portion of a letter he sent in July 1863 to William H. Potter, who had been his teacher at Portersville Academy, Mystic’s first school.
I received your kind letter last Wednesday and right glad was I to hear from you. I have thought of you hundreds of times, thoughts and the many hours that I have passed with you in the school room, how inattentive and mischievous I use to be of the many corrections I have received, all of my own good.
Would to God I could devote every moment of my time to studying. Sometimes I think all that ever I knew had been forgotten and never, til I left school did I know how to value my education. And if I get home in a year from now I shall devote sometime to my study. I must bid you adieu til next time which I trust will be soon. Remember me in the Sunday School and in your prayers. - Horatio N. Fish
Charles Henry Mallory was a successful shipbuilder, born and died in Mystic (1818-1890). Here are two excerpts from his 1865 diary written during the closing days of the war.
Wednesday, February 22nd Washington’s birthday. This day has become what is called a close holiday, and as the age of the nation increases more reverence will be paid to the illustrious Washington. In future generations the birthday of Abraham Lincoln will be celebrated with almost equal reverence.
Saturday, April 15th A fine pleasant morning. Mr. Woodward came to the door and asked to see me – I went to the door and asked him to come in. He refused, but said “have you heard the terrible news? I said no. He replied they have killed our good President, at the same time the tears streaming down his cheeks. I was thunder struck and felt like weeping with him. It appears that last night President Lincoln with his wife went to Fords Theatre at 8:30… and at about 9:30 was shot through the head with a pistol.
President Lincoln died this morning at 7:30… We cannot believe that God in his Providence has kept the President in safety through 4 years of responsibility and anxiety, such as few men in the world are called on to suffer, has permitted him to be taken at this time for some wise purpose. The nation mourns his loss. I as an individual had set him up as an idol almost in my heart.
Alla Lynne Perkins Allyn was born and died in Mystic (1892-1986). Carol Kimball, the historical society’s historian, visited with her several times. Her recollection below is of Decoration Day celebrations in Mystic.
It was a great day in Mystic as there were still many Civil War Veterans alive in the 1900s. Everyone who had flowers arose early and picked them and took them to the G.A.R (Grand Army of the Republic) Hall on Pearl Street. All the Women’s Relief Corps members and their daughters and even granddaughters made lovely bouquets for the graves of soldiers. A few veterans rode horseback but most of them marched all that long way to Elm Grove. Those that were too feeble to walk were taken in a horse and carriage.
The parade stopped on the bridge and they threw flowers into the water and had a prayer for sailors who were lost in the war. Then they stopped at the Soldier’s monument. A big wreath was placed there and another prayer was said for the ones who were never found after the battles. Then on to Elm Grove. Some leader of the G.A.R always made a speech and a different minister said a prayer each year.
Then the parade marched all the way to the G.A.R. Hall where the ladies had a big pot of clam chowder, coffee and doughnuts waiting for them.
Lynn Schroder is a member of the board of directors of the Mystic River Historical Society
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