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Connecticut Yankees and the Civil War

Although most of my mother's ancestors were from the South, one quarter of them were from New England, primarily Connecticut, as can be seen from this circular family tree. 

The top left quadrant contains the Connecticut Yankees. They branch outward from my great grandfather James Edward Keeler, whose ancestors immigrated to America in the 1600s. Most were English Puritans. One branch was French Huguenots who settled in New Amsterdam (New York City) from where they made their way to Connecticut.

Keeler's maternal ancestors also include the Eliots and the Joys who came to Massachusetts in the 1600s. The former all descend from Andrew Eliot of East Coker, England. They eventually settled in Boston and became one of that city's elite families, which included university presidents, ministers and one Nobel laureate, T. S. Eliot.  

Henry Dutton, Governor of Connecticut from 1854-55. Courtesy of Connecticut State Library. 

Prominent among my Connecticut Yankee ancestors is Henry Dutton. A farmer's son, he graduated from Yale College in 1818 and subsequently practiced law. His long and distinguished career included professor of law at Yale, judge on the Connecticut Supreme Court and politician. The latter included five stints in the Connecticut House of Representatives, one in the State Senate, and one term as governor of Connecticut from 1854 to 1855.


His election as governor was fought over a proposed bill that would open up the Kansas-Nebraska territory to slavery, which he and his party, the Whigs, opposed. Although he viewed slavery as an abomination, he was not an abolitionist, and upheld the Southern states' constitutional right to own slaves. When the Whig  party disappeared in the mid-1850s he became a Republican, and was a strong supporter of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.

Henry Dutton's son Melzar, his nephew William Dutton and his son-in-law William F. Keeler all fought for the North in the Civil War. Two of them died in that war: Melzar was killed in action at the Battle of Cedar Mountain in northern Virginia in August 1862. William Dutton died at a friend's house in New York City from typhoid fever he contracted on the Virginia Peninsula in June 1862. Only William Keeler returned from the war, but he suffered the debilitating effects of a back injury from a Confederate artillery shell.    

Henry Melzar Dutton, lieutenant, 5th Connecticut Infantry. Killed August 9, 1862.

Henry Melzar Dutton was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut and moved to New Haven when he was a child. He graduated from Yale College in 1857 and from Yale Law School in 1859. At the outbreak of the Civil War he was practicing law in Litchfield, Connecticut.

In July 1861 Melzar enlisted in the 5th Connecticut Infantry. He served with his regiment in western Maryland from August 1861 to February 1862 and in the Shenandoah Valley from March to June 1862. He was killed in an infantry charge at the Battle of Cedar Mountain in Virginia on August 9, 1862. He was 23 and unmarried. 

In a memorial written at the end of the war a fellow officer described him as “a favorite at the camp fire at night, and at our halts upon the marches by day—none could tell more amusing stories; none could repeat more snatches of poetry from ancient or modern authors; none could sing a song better; none so good a physician amid discomfort, home sickness and blues as he."

William Dutton was the son of Henry Dutton’s older brother Daniel. He was born on the Dutton family farm near Watertown, Connecticut in 1823. At age 14 he moved to Mecklenburg, New York where he farmed in summer and taught school and studied in winter. In 1846 he graduated from West Point, 15th in a class of 59 which included George B. McClellan and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. He resigned immediately thereafter due to illness and moved to Wolcott, New York where he purchased a farm. In addition to farming he was also a drain tile and brick manufacturer, school principal, superintendent of schools, justice of peace, and a one-term member of House of Representatives of New York.

In February 1862 he raised the 98th New York Infantry and was elected its colonel. His regiment joined the Army of the Potomac on the Virginia Peninsula in April 1862, where they participated in the Siege of Yorktown. Dutton contracted typhoid fever in late May 1862. At the Battle of Fair Oaks he fell out of his saddle, delirious with fever, and was taken to the hospital at Fortress Monroe and then to New York City where he died at a friend’s house on July 4, leaving his wife and five children.

William Dutton, colonel, 98th New York Infantry. Died of typhoid fever July 4, 1862.