William H. Warren – A Connecticut Civil War Soldier
by Carolyn Ivanoff
William H. Warren
Birth: March 28, 1842 – Death: June 5, 1918
Buried in Wooster Cemetery, Danbury, CT
William H. Warren was born on March 28, 1842. Warren was listed in the 1860 census as a railroad hand living in Danbury, Connecticut. In August 1862, as the Civil War raged, Warren patriotically enlisted in the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry as an 18 year old private. He enrolled in Company C along with other young men from Danbury Connecticut. The 17th Connecticut Regiment was known as the Fairfield County Regiment, almost all of the volunteers for the regiment enlisted from different towns in Fairfield County. This typical Union Civil War regiment was approximately one thousand men and led by a Colonel William H. Noble, a Bridgeport lawyer and business man, who was appointed Colonel of the 17th Connecticut. A regiment was divided into ten companies of 100 men led by a captain. When Warren enlisted in Company C, most of that company was recruited from Danbury. The 17th Connecticut was enlisted as a three year regiment. Before being sent off to the war the regiment gathered at Camp Aiken in what is now Seaside Park in Bridgeport. The regiment would be assigned to the 11th Army Corps, Second Brigade, First Division. The regiment’s first combat was at Chancellorsville, where the 11th Corps was routed by Stonewall Jackson’s surprise flank attack on May 2, 1863. Companies G and I of the 17th Connecticut were the first Union troops to be caught and crushed in Jackson’s attack which rolled up the Union flank and resulted in a costly Union defeat in the three day battle. The Gettysburg Campaign began in early June and the 17th Connecticut reached the battlefield at the height of the fighting on the first day of battle on July 1, 1863. Overwhelmed by a superior Confederate onslaught on Barlow’s Knoll, the Eleventh Corps folded and the survivors, including the survivors of the 17th Connecticut re-formed on East Cemetery Hill and held that ground for the next two days. Gettysburg would be the 17th Connecticut’s costliest combat and the regiment would suffer its greatest loss of the war the first day of that three day battle. Many of the regiments were killed, missing, or wounded on the first day. Many of the men listed as missing were captured, including Private William Warren. Warren was sent with other prisoners to Belle Isle prison camp in Richmond. Most of the POWs of the 17th Connecticut, including Warren, would be exchanged in late August 1863 and would rejoin their regiment. After Gettysburg, the surviving members of the regiment were sent to South Carolina and then Florida where they were engaged in various actions until the survivors were mustered out at Hilton Head in July 1865.
For William Warren, like many of the soldiers of the Civil War, their Civil War service would remain the defining adventure of their lives. Their service in saving the Union was a source of immense pride. These men went home to become active in veterans groups that commemorated their service, honored their comrades who sacrificed their lives, and created monuments throughout the nation and on Civil War Battlefields where they fought and the towns and cities where they lived. Warren like other veterans, returned home to resume civilian life. In 1866 he married Delia Campbell Keeler and they had seven children. The 1880 census shows the family living in New Haven, Connecticut and Warren’s profession listed as a painter.
William Warren’s lifelong ambition was to write and publish a regimental history of the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. He was never successful, but devoted himself obsessively to this task until the very end of his life. Warren was unceasing in his efforts to compile and collect accounts of the regiment’s service and experiences. He corresponded widely with the officers and men of the 17th Connecticut, soliciting their accounts of their experiences. He compiled photographs, letters, first-hand accounts and numerous sources. The Bridgeport History Center holds the thirteen bound volumes of Warren’s collected research. Several of the volumes are typed and devoted to specific events such as Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. Several of the volumes are hand written. One handwritten volume is entitled “Gleanings.” The most compelling volume contains a handwritten annotated index and almost two hundred photographs of members of the regiment that Warren reproduced from older tintypes, ambrotypes and cartes de visites (small paper photographs on cardstock which were popular during the Civil War). All of the volumes have been edited and reworked numerous times by Warren to the point where several volumes have two different sets of handwritten page numbers. The majority of the volumes are labeled as the eighth edition of the work. They are a vast and precious resource for study of the 17th Connecticut. However, these volumes are also a tremendous challenge to the researcher. Many of the accounts are post-war, although they are first hand, from various members of the regiment. The written letters which were sent to, or collected by Warren, were twenty or thirty years after the war and need to be evaluated in the light of years passing and the writers’ perhaps, faulty memories or reinterpretation of events. Warren used much primary material in compiling the volumes, including his own and several other diaries kept during the war. However because of the numerous revisions, in both handwritten and typed volumes, it is impossible to tell how many edits and rewrites of the original material was made.
The tragedy of the material is it was never published. William Warren’s dream of a regimental history never came to pass. There were probably many, many reasons for this. The shear overwhelming volume of material he compiled and collected may have simply paralyzed his efforts to downsize into a viable publication. Warren’s failure to come to any publishing agreement with the post war 17th Connecticut Survivors Association regarding financial arrangements and control of the material probably played a major role in preventing publication. Warren may have guarded his work possessively and he may have been unable and unwilling to cut it down to a manageable volume.
These precious but dilapidated volumes reside in the Bridgeport History Center. In addition to the volumes there are four manuscript boxes with the Papers of William Warren. The library has no provenance on any of the Warren holdings. When the volumes came to the library, who deposited them at the library and why, where original materials are (except for material in the four manuscript boxes), including the original diaries, letters, correspondence, and original photographs that Warren used to create the manuscript remain a mystery.
Warren apparently worked on the manuscript diligently until the end of his life. He passed away on June 5, 1918 and was interred in Wooster Cemetery in Danbury. Inscribed on his tombstone: Father, William H. Warren, Co C 17th Inf. Conn Vols, Died June 5, 1918, AE 76. Warren’s life work was left unfinished, but remains alive in its sprawling volumes. These volumes contain treasures to be discovered on the lives and sacrifices of the men of the 17th Connecticut Regiment.
17thcvi.org – An Online History of the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry during the U.S. Civil War, https://seventeenthcvi.org/blog/
Ancestry.com – information on William Henry Warren, Birth:1842 – Death: 1918,
Cauchon, Barry, “An Awesome Talk With” CHARLENE HENDERSON: The 17th Regiment CVI Gravesite Location Project, UPDATE: March 02, 2010, https://awesometalks.wordpress.com/tag/william-h-warren/
Hines, Blaikie, Civil War Volunteer Sons of Connecticut, American Patriot Press, 2002
House, Art, Lt. Col. Retired, Fragile Volumes Reveal the 17th’s Regimental History, 17thcvi.org
Warren, William H., Eleven Volume Manuscript History of the 17th Connecticut Regiment, Bridgeport Public Library History Center
Warren, William H., Papers of William Warren (BHC-MSS 0035), Bridgeport History Center