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Henry Melzar Dutton 

Henry Melzar Dutton (1838-1862) – Yale graduate, lawyer and First Lieutenant in the Fifth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the Civil War. He was killed at the Battle of Cedar Mountain in Virginia on August 9, 1862. 

Melzar was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut on September 9, 1838. He was the youngest of four children of Henry and Eliza (Joy) Dutton. He spent his first nine years in Bridgeport and moved to New Haven in 1847 when his father was appointed professor of law at Yale College. 

From 1849 to 1853 Melzar attended the Hopkins Grammar School in New Haven. In the fall of 1853 he entered Yale College. He was also an active member of the Brothers in Unity debating society, and an avid writer of songs and poems.

After graduating in 1857 he entered Yale law school, teaching at the Bacon Academy in Colchester, Connecticut during summer vacations. He received his L.L.B. in 1859 and moved to Middletown, Connecticut where he was admitted to the bar. In the summer of 1860 he moved to Litchfield, Connecticut, practicing law there with his brother-in-law until the eve of the Civil War. 

One month after the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, Melzar enlisted as a private in Colt’s Revolving Rifles, a Hartford regiment organized by Samuel Colt, the inventor of the Colt revolver. The regiment was disbanded one month later and reorganized as the Fifth Connecticut Regiment Volunteer Infantry. Melzar was mustered in as Second Lieutenant of Company C and was promoted to First Lieutenant in September.

From August 1861 to February 1862 the Fifth performed guard and outpost duty on the Maryland side of the upper Potomac River as part of George Thomas’ brigade in Nathaniel Banks’ division in the Army of the Potomac. In October they were involved in operations near Edward’s Ferry, Maryland where they were sent to assist troops engaged in a minor battle at Ball’s Bluff, Virginia, but did not cross the Potomac to join in the fighting.  In December they were active at Dam Number 5, which Stonewall Jackson’s troops tried to destroy in an attempt to divert water from the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. 

Finally, on March 3, 1862 Banks’ army crossed the Potomac into Virginia in pursuit of Stonewall Jackson’s army in the Shenandoah Valley. Two days later they advanced on Winchester, occupying it one week later without a fight. For the next month Banks’ army followed Jackson’s army as it retreated southward and out of the Valley, with the Fifth marching as far south as Harrisonburg in pursuit.

 

In mid-May Banks army pulled back and took up a defensive position near Strasburg, twenty miles south of Winchester. By this time Jackson had been reinforced and was advancing down the adjacent Luray Valley to attack the unsuspecting Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley. On May 23 Jackson’s troops defeated the federal garrison at Front Royal. Realizing that his position was untenable, Banks retreated to Winchester and awaited Jackson’s assault.

The First Battle of Winchester on May 25, 1862 was the Fifth’s baptism of fire. They had arrived on the field of battle the night before and were camped just south of town immediately to the east of the Front Royal Pike. At 5 am as they were preparing breakfast the Confederate artillery opened fire. The men grabbed their rifles and ran to a hollow in an adjacent wheat field where they remained out of sight, awaiting the Confederate infantry. 

When the Twenty-first North Carolina advanced far enough down the pike, the Fifth rose from the hollow and delivered a heavy volley at close range. The North Carolinians rallied and continued to advance, but were driven back by further volleys in a fight that lasted three hours. In his report of the battle the regimental commander singled Melzar out for gallant conduct.

Shortly after the Fifth’s encounter with the North Carolinians, on the Valley Pike to the west of town the Confederates had turned Banks’ right flank, which broke and ran. Orders for the Fifth to fall back were given as they too were being surrounded. As they retreated through the north part of town, Confederate troops poured in through the cross streets. 

To avoid capture they took to the fields and headed for the Potomac. The enemy was three miles in advance of them, but a guide led them through to Dam Number 4 where they crossed at night. Fellow officer Edwin Marvin said of Melzar that “the excitement of the engagement lasted him all the day, and amid general despondency and fatigue, the buoyancy of his spirits, as I walked by his side, shortened many a weary mile, and burst forth all the day long in gleeful laughter and winning story.” 

In late June the Fifth Connecticut was assigned to Samuel Crawford’s brigade in Nathaniel Banks’ 2nd army corps in Major General John Pope’s newly formed Army of Virginia, and in mid-July ordered to Culpeper Court House, a march of sixty miles across the Blue Ridge Mountains via Warrenton. 

The Battle of Cedar Mountain was fought between Banks’ force of 8,000 men and a Confederate army under Stonewall Jackson of about twice the size on the brutally hot day of August 9, 1862. Crawford’s brigade, which was in the advance of Banks’ corps, had bivouacked the night before along Cedar Run, just to the north of Cedar Mountain, about six miles south of Culpeper Court House. 

Early the next day Pope advanced the remainder of Banks’ corps to Cedar Run, instructing Banks to take up a defensive position until he was reinforced by Franz Sigel’s corps. Banks, however, ignored Pope’s instructions and ordered an infantry assault on the Confederate position before Sigel’s troops were on the field, hoping that he could defeat Jackson before the latter was reinforced by A. P. Hill’s division, which was approaching from the south. 

To lead the charge were three of Crawford’s regiments: the Fifth Connecticut, the Twenty-eighth New York and the Forty-sixth Pennsylvania, which were gathered in a woods facing onto a stubble wheat field. At 5 pm the order came to fix bayonets and charge, and the three regiments stepped out onto the open field. 

They came at once under heavy fire from the Confederates concealed in the opposing woods and on their flank. The heaviest fire occurred when they reached the far side of the wheat field and had to climb over a high log fence, with dozens falling, killed and wounded, in the space of several minutes. Hand-to-hand combat ensued upon entering the woods on the other side of the fence. The Confederate infantry positioned in the woods broke and ran, but soon rallied when Hill’s division arrived. 

Never reinforced, Crawford’s brigade was forced to retreat, and fell back across the wheat field under heavy fire. By 7 pm (only two hours after the initial charge), Banks’ infantry was in full retreat and the battle lost. Crawford’s brigade experienced the heaviest Union losses, losing half of its strength. 

The Fifth suffered their greatest losses of the war at Cedar Mountain, with every field officer, all but two of the line officers and 224 enlisted men killed, wounded or captured, a little over half of those engaged.

 

Melzar was reported to have been killed when his regiment entered the woods, “pierced by a volley of rebel musketry.” He had taken command of Company C after the captain had fallen half way across the wheat field in the initial charge. Melzar was said to have more than once “seized the colors from some fallen hero, and to have borne it along from a fallen color bearer, carrying it along to another.”

By daybreak the following morning the Confederates had fallen back several miles, giving the Union troops possession of the battlefield and the opportunity to bury the dead. Bodies (both Union and Confederate) were found mingled together in great masses over the ground, and owing to the excessive heat most were unrecognizable. 

One week later Henry Dutton arrived from New Haven to recover his son's remains but was unable to find them. Melzar’s body was never found and lies in an unmarked grave on or near the battlefield. He was 23 years old.

Notes on sources:

  1. Henry Dutton Family Papers, MS 2094, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut (henceforth referred to as HDFP). 

  2. Obituaries in the New York Times (August 25, 1862, New York, New York); The Constitution (August 20, 1862, Middletown, Connecticut); Obituary record of graduates of Yale College (1863, New Haven, Connecticut). 

  3. Edwin E. Marvin’s memorial to Lieut. Henry M. Dutton in the Connecticut War Record, April 1865, New Haven, Connecticut (henceforth referred to as “Memorial”). 

  4. The Fifth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers: a history compiled from diaries and official reports, Edwin E. Marvin, Hartford, Connecticut, 1889. 

  5. Catalogue of the trustees, rectors, instructors and alumni of the Hopkins Grammar School of New Haven, Connecticut, 1660-1902, New Haven, Connecticut, 1902.

  6. Songs of Yale, 1860, New Haven, Connecticut; The Yale Literary Magazine, Volume 20, Number 7, June 1855; Volume 21, Number 6, April 1856; Memoir: verses, etc. composed by Mary E. (Dutton) Graves and Henry Melzar Dutton, undated, 20 pp., Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut.

  7. “In his report”: Lt-Col. George D. Chapman’s report on the First Battle of Winchester in The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies, Series 1, Volume 12, Part 2, p. 608.

  8. “the excitement of”: Memorial.

  9. “pierced by a volley”: Memorial.

  10. “seized the colors”: Memorial.

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