150 years later, Ridgefield remembers the Civil War

Involved in planning the Civil War programs are (front row) Kay Ables, Lesley Lambton, Elise Haas, and Mary Rindfleisch; (rear) Chairman Hilary Micalizzi, Nancy Selander, and Charlie Pankenier. Not pictured: Dr. Charles Hambrick-Stowe (Congregational Church), Sue Law (Graveyard Committee), Di Masters (Community Center), and Marion Roth (Chamber of Commerce). —Jay Haas photo

Involved in planning the Civil War programs are (front row) Kay Ables, Lesley Lambton, Elise Haas, and Mary Rindfleisch; (rear) Chairman Hilary Micalizzi, Nancy Selander, and Charlie Pankenier. Not pictured: Dr. Charles Hambrick-Stowe (Congregational Church), Sue Law (Graveyard Committee), Di Masters (Community Center), and Marion Roth (Chamber of Commerce). —Jay Haas photo

Celebrating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War will happen only once and Ridgefield wants to ensure it pays a fair tribute to those who fought in the conflict that came to redefine our country.

Members of the Ridgefield Civil War Commemoration Committee are planning a Soldiers Fair, the culminating event in a six-month community-wide series of commemorative events entitled “Ridgefield Remembers the Civil War.”

“A lot of people recognize Ridgefield’s significance during the American Revolution, but few people have an appreciation for the sacrifices our citizens made during the Civil War — this is the first time we are bringing it to the forefront,” said Hilary Micalizzi, the program director at the Keeler Tavern Museum.

The Soldiers Fair will take place in Ballard Park on Saturday, June, 8 from 1 to 4:30 with a rain date of June 9.

The fair will feature a battle reenactment as well as music from the era.

“We want to remember all the soldiers who fought so we can never forget the huge sacrifice they made for this country,” said Ms. Micalizzi. “Many soldiers from Connecticut thought the war was going to last only three to six months and we wanted to capture their perspective and tell about their lives and how the war impacted them.”

In addition, she said the fair will depict how Ridgefield participated in the war at home, away from the battle fields.

Ms. Micalizzi said the Soldier’s Fair will be modeled after historic Sanitary Fairs, which were events that were held throughout the United States during that era to raise money and support for injured war veterans as well as the Union Army.

The community wide series has been no small undertaking for those groups involved in the planning process.

“We’ve been meeting for over a year and a half, bringing committees from all over town together and making sure everyone had a voice in the process,” Ms. Micalazzi said. “There’s been growing support and cooperation from all the organizations involved and we want to continue to build on the participation we’ve seen at recent events and keep it going into the Soldier’s Fair.”

The goal of the fair is to entertain and educate the general public.

So what was Ridgefield’s wartime role?

The town contributed 170 to 200 of its natives  to fight for the Union army.

 Ridgefield Remembers the Civil War will continue June 8 with a modern-day Soldiers Fair featuring Civil War re-enactors from Company A of the 11th Connecticut Volunteers. Members of the group, who are from Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts, will recreate the camp life and experience shared by Union soldiers 150 years ago. The fair at Ballard Park from 1 to 4:30 p.m. will include music and other activities of the period; admission is free.

Ridgefield Remembers the Civil War will continue June 8 with a modern-day Soldiers Fair featuring Civil War re-enactors from Company A of the 11th Connecticut Volunteers. Members of the group, who are from Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts, will recreate the camp life and experience shared by Union soldiers 150 years ago. The fair at Ballard Park from 1 to 4:30 p.m. will include music and other activities of the period; admission is free.

“Civil War record keeping was very bad so the number of people from Ridgefield who served varies,” said Charlie Pankenier, a member of the commemoration committee. “One reason the number seems to change is that someone from Ridgefield may have enlisted in Waterbury, but if he died during battle he was shown as someone from Waterbury, although he was buried here and lived here.”

The number of dead soldiers varies as well.

Mr. Pankenier estimates that six died in combat, while the number who died from disease or other unknown causes is approximately 16.

“There’s a difficulty in knowing the true number of causalities because some soldiers abandoned their posts and decided to leave the East and went West during the war or after it was done,” he said.

He added that Ridgefield had approximately 70 soldiers in the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, the town’s most served unit, which suffered many causalities at Chancellorsville in May 1863 and at Gettysburg in July 1863.

Back at home, Ridgefielders suffered from loss and months of uncertainty about the fate of their loved ones.

“Ridgefield had its fair share of heroes and heartbreak,” Mr. Pankenier said.

The fate of the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry is why the town is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in 2013, because Ridgefield’s greatest sacrifice came in a two-month period in the spring and summer of 1863. Approximately 11 men were killed, wounded and captured on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg — July 1, 1863, more than any other day of the war.

“The reasoning of many soldiers who joined was wanting to keep the union together and prevent secession,” Ms. Miccalazi said. “There are really so many heroes from Ridgefield who participated in the war.”

Eddie Pickett was one of the Ridgefielders who lost their lives at Gettysburg. He is claimed to be “the town’s greatest Civil War hero.”

Henry Keeler was the first person from town to die on the battlefield, when he was killed at the Battle of Antietam on Sept.17, 1862.

There will be enactors for these two men as well as Edward Knox, John Jarvis, Phineas Lounsbury, Jacob Dauchy and Hiram Davis. Col. Knox won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism under fire.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to educate and to bring awareness to these men and what they did for our country,” Ms. Micalizzi said.

In addition to Ridgefield soldiers, there will be actors impersonating Abraham Lincoln and Clara Barton.

The free event is open to people of all ages and will include a proclamation read by First Selectman Rudy Marconi honoring Ridgefield’s Civil War veterans.

Several other events will take place during the fair.

For a lover of historical music, the Western Connecticut Youth Orchestra’s wind ensemble will perform along with the Ridgefield Chorale with songs of the North and the South. The Serendipity Chorale   will perform Negro spirituals.

“We would love the townspeople to participate and to show interest in the reenactment and the music from the era,” Ms. Micalizzi said. “We hope people really engage with what we’re offering them.”

There will be hands-on activities and games for children as well as an opportunity for them to meet Abraham Lincoln and to learn about what he accomplished during the conflict.

A small number of the re-enactors are from Ridgefield, while a large majority of them will come from a group based in New Fairfield and southern Litchfield County.

The Gettysburg Address will be recited and  Civil War artifacts will be on displayed.

The event will also encourage those in attendance to write letters to active soldiers and to learn about opportunities to support veterans across the country.

“We wanted to make this fair relevant for today, so there’s going to be a connection to our modern time period and the soldier’s who fight for our freedom now,” said Ms. Micalizzi.

More than a dozen groups have partnered together to present Ridgefield Remembers the Civil War, including the Ridgefield Library, the Keeler Tavern Museum, Ridgefield Historical Society, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, the Ridgefield Playhouse, the Ridgefield Graveyard Committee, First Congregational Church of Ridgefield, Western Connecticut Youth Orchestra, Ridgefield Chorale, Ridgefield Community Center, League of Women’s Voters, Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association, Ridgefield Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Ridgefield.

Ms. Micalizzi added the committee is still looking for sponsors and anyone who is willing to contribute.

“We are in great need of financial support,” she said. “This event’s success is dependent upon the generosity of our local businesses, individuals and organizations. We look forward to the opportunity to include you as a partner in this effort.”

The total expenses for the event are approximately $3,000.

Donations can be made payable to Keeler Tavern Museum.

For more information, visit the Ridgefield Library and Keeler Tavern websites at www.ridgefieldlibrary.com and www.keelertavernmuseum.org.

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  • David

    I’m not sure the Civil War ever really ended.

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