Dave Pelland says his interest in history has always led him to visit historical monuments to see what is inscribed on them.
Several years ago, the Milford resident began collecting photographs and notes on monuments all over Connecticut, which he displayed on his CT Monuments blog. There, he has written on several of Middletown's military resting places and monuments: the State Veterans Cemetery, Soldier's Monument on the South Green, Gen. Mansfield and GAR monuments in Indian Hill Cemetery and Veteran's Memorial Green.
That ultimately led to the publication in November of his new book, "Civil War Monuments of Connecticut."
The book features 135 Civil War monuments with pictures of each, descriptions of the information and names that appear on them, information about the artist that designed them and a discussion of the broader historical context they fit into.
Pelland says it took him more than two years to compile the book and have it published. He notes it might benefit from the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which is now being observed.
As Pelland sees it, what the monuments show is the local connection to battlefields hundreds of miles away.
"In general, people think of the Civil War as something that happened far away from Connecticut, but there were many people from Connecticut who died in the Civil War," he says.
Twenty-eight men from Milford are among the war’s dead, including six who died in combat. The rest died from sickness or wounds.
Pelland says he has seen names on battlefield monuments to Connecticut regiments, and then came home to find those same names listed on Civil War monuments on town greens.
Not all of Connecticut’s historical markers and monuments are for the Civil War, however. Pelland says some are for the American Revolution and other conflicts, and others recognize historical figures and noteworthy historical events.
One interesting case is the monument in Windsor to the town’s founder, John Mason. Pelland says the monument originally stood in Groton at the site of the Mystic Massacre, an incident in 1637 when a militia of English settlers and rival Indians attacked and massacred about 600 Pequot Indians, mostly women, children and old men.
In the 1990s, after the Pequot tribe objected to the monument, it was moved to Windsor and fitted with new plaques changing its historical context.
"That was interesting, because historical events don’t change, but the way we think about them can evolve," Pelland says.
Evolution in Design
Also interesting to Pelland is how the design of monuments evolved. He says Civil War monuments built in the 1860s and 1870s tended to have simple designs, often just a plain obelisk with an inscription. They were often built and designed by cemetery gravestone makers, which accounts for their simplicity.
That changed in the 1880s, when the designs became more heroic, including figures of infantrymen or flag bearers.
Pelland says they evolved further in the 1890s when they include allegorical figures, such as classical Greek and Roman goddesses that represent peace or unity. A monument in Salisbury depicts a goddess figure holding a shield. Another in Stafford Springs is a classical female figure in mourning.
He says these design changes show the shifts in artistic tastes, but also the desire to have a monument that is different from the one in the next town.
Second Book in the Making
Pelland, 46, grew up in Stratford. He works as a self-employed business-to-business copywriter developing print and Internet content for local businesses.
He says he has started work on a new book to focus on Connecticut infantry regiment monuments at the Gettysburg and Antietam battlefields.