Black soldier answered Lincoln’s Civil War invite
Updated: Jul 7, 2022
Honoring a Civil War Hero from Connecticut's 29th Regiment
• Terri Wilson and Today Magazine won a first-place SPJ award for this story in 2022 — Awards Story
By Terri Wilson — President • Avon Historical Society
Allow me to introduce you to an Avon resident who, as a common man, took an uncommon role in our American Civil War.
Pvt. Leverett Holden was one of over 900 African-American men in Connecticut who answered the call of President Abraham Lincoln and joined the Connecticut 29th Regiment Volunteer Infantry (Colored). He was a resident of Avon at the time of his enlistment and returned to live out his life here.
The Civil War ran from April 1861 to April 1865. Fresh Union troops were always needed, but most in Congress were reluctant to enlist African-American soldiers. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. Congress finally approved it in 1864. By then, Connecticut had about 40,000 white men serving in 28 regiments.
The Connecticut 29th and a smaller 30th Black regiment formed in December 1863 and departed from New Haven in January 1864 after hearing a rousing speech by famed abolitionist (and escaped slave) Frederick Douglass, who encouraged them by saying, “You are the pioneers of the liberty of your race.”
The 29th took an active role in many Civil War battles, mostly in the South. They mustered out in October 1865 from Brownsville, Texas, and were honorably discharged in New Haven in November 1865. Holden was paid $78.40 for his clothing allowance and $6 for his arms, and his signing bounty was $100.
Who was Avon’s Leverett Holden?
His enlistment papers of December 1864 state that he was born in Vernon, Conn., in 1825, but mention no definitive birthdate. Along with many of his comrades, he was illiterate, so he gave his personal details verbally.
“You are pioneers of the liberty of your race” — Frederick Douglass
The U.S. census of 1850 lists Holden as living in the Wadsworth household on Prospect Hill in Hartford. Built in 1828 on the corner of Albany Avenue, it is the oldest house in the West End today. It operated as an inn until 1862.
At some point, Holden left the Wadsworth employ and traveled west over Talcott Mountain, settling in Avon. He does not appear in the census of 1860. While in the Connecticut 29th, he was injured at the Battle of Petersburg (Virginia) in 1864 and treated at an X Corp Flying Hospital, which treated only African-American troops.
The census of 1870 lists Holden as living with Martha Williams in Avon in a small house on West Avon Road. In November 1869, the ledger of the Avon Congregational Church states he was paid $1.75 for cleaning the church chimney. Rev. Henry G. Marshall, the church’s pastor from 1869-71, served with Holden in the Connecticut 29th — Marshall as a captain, Holden as a private. We also know he cut wood for a woman (listed only as Mrs. Hadsell) who owned a home and store on East Main Street (Route 44).
Holden died on Oct. 10, 1877 at age 56.
He is buried in the East Avon Cemetery in a grave segregated from the others. The Avon Historical Society rededicated his grave in February 2014, using the Grand Army of the Republic ceremony of 1919 — a veterans group, the GAR was the precursor of the American Legion. Descendants of the Connecticut 29th brought their replica regimental flag and participated in the rededication. Holden has no known or recorded descendants today.
In honor of Holden’s service in the 29th regiment, I place a U.S. flag and GAR medallion on his grave each May.
A dramatic monument at New Haven’s Criscuolo Park is dedicated to the 29th, on the corner of James and Chapel Streets, near where the men left to go to war. Erected in 2008, it is Connecticut’s newest Civil War monument and includes a center stone with a list of the regiment’s battles.
The memorial contains the engraved names of all 900-plus Black soldiers, by their town of enlistment, on dark granite stones. Two others enlisted in Avon, but were not residents.
The Connecticut 29th and Massachusetts 54th are the only African-American regiments that retained their identity upon returning from the war. All others were incorporated into other federal military units.
The story of the Massachusetts 54th is told in the award-winning movie Glory.
The descendants of the 29th actively participate in parades and give talks in schools and public gatherings about their ancestors’ service. The remnants of the original Connecticut 29th regimental flag have been removed from storage in the State Capitol’s cellar and hold a place of honor encased in the underground walkway to the adjacent Legislative Office Building. +
• This story is an abridged version of an article that first appeared in Today Magazine’s February 2020 edition
• Sources — Avon Free Public Library’s Local History Room • “Avon, Connecticut: An Historical Story” by M. Francis MacKie • Hartford Preservation Alliance Magazine, 2/2009 • CT State Library • U.S. census data online • National Archives
• Other Farmington Valley residents were in the 29th — the research beckons for anyone who wants to learn more