—Ralph Waldo Emerson
An artistic and historical jewel, one of the most significant hidden-in-plain-sight objects I’ve ever encountered has disappeared—but only temporarily. Over eight feet tall and stationed beside a heavily trafficked Hartford road near a busy I-91 off-ramp, the dilapidated Forlorn Soldier carved of brownstone was passed unnoticed by thousands each day for decades. Following insertion of metal rods and injections of epoxy, a recent hot July day found him braced with lumber, wrapped like hamburger in plastic and foam, and hoisted by crane onto a flatbed for transport to a statuary “field hospital” for cleaning and stabilization.
The bearded old infantryman, looking to the right and wearing a kepi, may have been the last of his kind still on duty, not yet revered as an icon nor placed on a high pedestal for veneration. No longer handsome, his face is gone, hands and rifle are missing, and the cracks in his body enable daylight to pass through. Well meaning repairs over the years have chipped away at his details and ill conceived restoration efforts, like a foot of tinted concrete, have left his once elegant form a bit awkward. After years of vandalism ranging from rifle practice to hammering, and ravages by the weather including decapitation in the 1936 flood, the stone sentry was about to disintegrate.
Unseen by most, ignored by others, the Forlorn Soldier was beloved by a small cadre who worked tirelessly to make the connections and raise the money to save him. They knew he was important not for his long faded artistry or as a landmark, but for the ongoing mystery of his origins and orphaning which has spawned intriguing questions and stories making him more consequential than many an admired and intact monument.
Though his tour of duty in Hartford approaches 150 years at two different sites, the exact date of his creation, the reason he was never installed in a place of honor, the tale of his deterioration and occasional repair, and his fabrication of more fragile brownstone at a time when durable granite was commonly employed and readily available remain unsolved conundrums. Even his moniker has not been consistent, and in the past he’s gone by Old Hayfoot, the Forgotten Sentinel, the Graven Soldier, and other names. Researcher Tony Roy has found plenty of conjecture, rumor, and anecdotes, but actual history is at a premium.
Sculpted not long after the Civil War by the renowned monument business of Travelers Insurance founder James G. Batterson, the Forlorn Soldier may be among the first if not the initial Civil War monument created in the form of a soldier. It was long surmised that he was a reject because of improper foot placement, but Roy’s meticulous research has revealed similar positions on other statues and no clear prohibition in army regulations against such a stance. He may have been a prototype, but no one is sure though he appears to have been the model for Batterson statues in Granby and New Haven, Connecticut, and for the towering twenty-one-and-half-foot-tall U.S. Soldier Monument affectionately called “Old Simon” standing guard at Antietam National Cemetery.
Before the old stone soldier departed on a much deserved leave, he was given an honor guard of Civil War re-enactors who fired a musket salute. Former state troubadour Tom Callinan, dressed in Union regalia and sitting on a stool of axe handle legs, serenaded him on guitar with an original song whose moving refrain succinctly summed the statute’s silent truths.
‘Tis said, you cannot get blood from a stone,
And a heart of stone can’t feel like our own;
But anguish cries out from those brownstone cheeks—
And though silent, this soldier speaks.
The monument’s anguished cries and deteriorated condition “speaks to where we are as a generation in remembering our Civil War past,” said Matthew Warshauer, a Central Connecticut State University history professor serving as master of ceremonies for the soldier’s departure. Fortunately, the generosity and dedication of a few can go far to arrest the erosion of our collective memory. Among them were the monument’s owners who donated the statue to the state, the family of Hartford lawyer Peter G. Kelly, whose forbears acquired the Batterson business many years ago.
On September 17, the anniversary of the 1862 battle of Antietam, still the bloodiest day in American history with close to 23,000 casualties, the monument will be installed in a place of honor at the State Capitol. Though stabilized, it will not be restored, remaining in its corroded condition, perhaps as the physical embodiment of what can happen to us as a people if we fail to remember and understand our past. More than a perfect image, this spalled and broken figure will invite curiosity about the direction and resilience of our culture. It will demonstrate that stories can be more powerful and longer lasting than even stone.