March 17: A Forgotten Civil War Hero, Statesman, and Patriot.

 

A Civil War general who served in the First Battle of Bull Run, the Siege of Petersburg, and other notable campaigns, Connecticut’s Joseph R. Hawley was, during his lifetime, one of Connecticut’s most distinguished and celebrated citizens.

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 in the years leading up to the Civil War. The politician and newspaperman was Hartford’s first Civil War volunteer, announcing his intent to join the army within days of the April 1861 attack on Fort Sumter. At 34, Hawley was also one of the state’s oldest enlistees. He remained in the field throughout the long conflict, serving with courage, distinction, and talent, rising to the rank of Major General. After the war, whenever he was called upon to speak at a public occasion, he would remind his audience of their duty to remember the “holy war” that abolished American slavery and kept the country together.

After returning home to Connecticut in 1865, he used his status as a war hero to advantage, leading a successful campaign to become the state’s 51st Governor. After serving a single one-year term, Hawley returned to the newspaper business, purchasing the Hartford Courant, combining it with the Hartford Evening Press, and transforming it into the state’s largest and most influential paper. Hawley remained active in politics, representing Connecticut in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate for a combined total of 30 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.

The Hawley Medallion, located on the north porch of the State Capitol in Hartford.

Today in 1905, two weeks after stepping down from the U.S. Senate and declining to run for re-election, Joseph Hawley died in Washington, D.C. The Connecticut state legislature passed a special act calling for a memorial in Hawley’s honor to be placed on the Capitol grounds. The bronze medallion, placed on the building’s north side, facing Bushnell Park below, was emblazoned with the words: “Patriot. Soldier. Statesman.” A fitting epitaph for one of Connecticut’s greatest leaders of the 19th century, who died after a long life of service, today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

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