Perhaps best known as a Civil War general who served in the First Battle of Bull Run, the Siege of Petersburg, and other notable engagements, Connecticut’s Joseph R. Hawley proved to be an equally accomplished leader off the battlefield, as one of Connecticut’s foremost statesmen of the late 19th century.
A graduate of Hamilton College in New York, Hawley had a gift for both writing and public speaking, talents which helped him rise through the ranks of Connecticut’s Free-Soil and Republican political parties and flourish as the editor of the Hartford Evening Times newspaper in the years leading up to the Civil War. The politician and newspaperman was credited with being Hartford’s first Civil War volunteer, announcing his intent to join the army only days after Fort Sumner was attacked in April 1861. Hawley, who at age 34 was one of the state’s oldest enlistees, went on to become an accomplished officer, reaching the rank of Major General by the war’s end. For the rest of his life, whenever he was called upon to speak at a public occasion, he would remind his audience of the importance of remembering the “holy war” that abolished American slavery and kept the country together.
After returning home to Connecticut in 1865, he used his newfound reputation as a war hero to his advantage, leading a successful campaign to become the 51st Governor of Connecticut. After serving a single one-year term as governor, Hawley returned to the newspaper business, purchasing the Hartford Courant and turned it into the state’s largest and most influential paper after combining it with the Hartford Evening Press. Hawley remained especially active in politics, representing Connecticut in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate for a combined total of thirty years as a staunch Republican. In the early 1870s, he was chosen by President Ulysses S. Grant, a fellow Civil War general and Republican, to head the commission responsible for organizing the massive, World’s Fair-style 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
On this day in 1905, only two weeks after stepping down from the U.S. Senate after declining to run for re-election, Joseph Hawley died in Washington, D.C. Not even four months after Hawley’s death, the Connecticut state legislature passed a special act calling for a memorial in his honor to be placed somewhere on the Capitol grounds. The bronze medallion, eventually placed on the building’s north side, was emblazoned with the words: “Patriot. Soldier. Statesman.” A fitting epitaph for one of Connecticut’s greatest leaders of the 19th century, who passed away after a long life of service to both his state and country, today in Connecticut history.
Evelyn Hudyma, “A Memorial to General Hawley at the State Capitol,” connecticuthistory.org
Todd Jones, “General Joseph R. Hawley Helps Commemorate Connecticut’s Civil War Soldiers,” connecticuthistory.org
“Joseph Roswell Hawley (1826 – 1905),” Cedar Hill Cemetery Foundation