With his Mother’s Likeness in His Bosom Pin

As we contemplate the meaning of Memorial Day in 2024, I’m drawn back to the reality of the origins of Memorial Day 160 summers ago during the Civil War.

          The letter I quote below is hardly unique nor extraordinary; it is a simple statement from a soldier’s commanding officer to his homefolk explaining the sad fate of their soldier boy. This particular soldier, Corporal Warren H. Connell, served in Co. H of the 29th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and lost his life during the regiment’s attack on Dug Gap, Georgia on May 8, 1864, in one of the opening efforts of the Atlanta campaign.

Warren was not quite 30 years old when he was killed in action; the one haunting detail being that when his body was recovered Lieutenant Thomas Nash wrote that Warren’s mother’s photo was in a bosom pin that he wore upon the battlefield. As Warren marched into the maelstrom of battle, he carried this reminder of his mother’s love closest to his heart. And perhaps it reminded him of what he was fighting for.

          So, as we commemorate Memorial Day so often marked by families gathering, picnics, cookouts and the like, I’d ask that we take a moment to recall the sacrifices of soldiers like Warren Connell who shouldered their muskets and laid down their lives to give the nation, as President Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “a new birth of freedom.”

 

Chattanooga National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 12,000 Civil War veterans. Founded in 1863 by General George H. Thomas in the aftermath of the battles for Chattanooga, the cemetery also contains more than 1,500 dead from the nearby battle of Chickamauga. When asked whether the graves were to be organized by state, Thomas famously said "No, mix them up. I'm tired of state's rights." The subject of today's post Corporal Warren H. Connell of the 29th Ohio is buried here. 

Headquarters, 29th Ohio Vols., in the field near Allatoona, Georgia

June 9, 1864

Mr. Metcalf Bell,

          I trust you will excuse me for my seeming tardiness in furnishing you with a summary statements of effects, etc. of our slain friend and comrade in warms Warren H. Connell. My time has been very occupied since the battle of May 8th and I also knew that the Sharon boys would inform you. A report of the casualties of that day was prepared and forward to both the Beacon and Herald, but of course the minute particulars in each case could not be furnished.

          That was a terrible day for the 29th Ohio and one that will never be forgotten. We well knew that many of our brave boys were falling but did not realize the frightful extent of our loss until after we withdrew from the scene of action and rallied around our dear old flag. Oh, how many dear and familiar faces were missed!

          I knew not that Warren was among the fallen until we had fallen back. I was ordered to take a squad of men and move to the extreme left of our line as fear was entertained that the enemy was flanking us. Warren was among the foremost in the fight and fell nobly doing his duty. We all miss him much.

          All efforts to procure his body by flag of truce or otherwise failed and consequently our dead were left on the field and fell into the hands of the enemy. I have Warren’s watch, gold ring, and several other things among them is his mother’s likeness set in a bosom pin, and one or two other pictures in my trunk; all of which I will send you as soon as I have an opportunity.

          We have had some severe fighting since May 8th and our loss in killed and wounded exceeds 130, the loss in the 29th being heavier than any other regiment in the army I believe. We are now near Allatoona 30 miles from Atlanta with the Rebel force in our front strongly fortified.

With respect,

T.W. Nash, Lt., 29th Ohio Vols.

 Note: Corporal Connell’s body was buried at Chattanooga National Cemetery. Metcalf Bell was Warren Connell’s brother-in-law, having married Warren’s sister Ellen in 1858.

 To learn more about the 29th Ohio’s fight at Dug Gap, please check out "The 29th Fights While There is a Man left: The Bloody Demonstration on Dug Gap."

Source:

Letter from Second Lieutenant Thomas W. Nash, Co. H, 29th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry, Medina County Gazette (Ohio), July 16, 1864, pg. 2

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