The Wide-Awakes of Connecticut: A Most Remarkable Scene

“Republicans of Connecticut… have at last awoke to a perfect realization of the fact that, if they desire to see their banner in the van of a victorious host in November next, they must work early and late, and not leave a stone unturned or a point unassailed, the removal of the one or the carrying of the other of which can have the least bearing upon the all important end.

Probably in no State, certainly in no Eastern State, are the details of the campaign so well arranged as here. In every school district, in every village, town and city, associations are organized, meetings are held, documents are distributed, and voters canvassed. A list is in preparation which will show the political proclivities of every voter in the State, which indicates his past and present positions, and give data which will enable the ‘workies’ of the party to comprehend exactly their status. This energetic working-power has produced its legitimate effect. Already the camp-fires of the Republican host are brightly burning throughout the commonwealth, and the enthusiastic shouts for freedom and for victory are heard in every street. This feeling is not confined to politicians; old and young seem animated by a common desire of ridding the country of the ‘old man of the sea’ who has so long strode its neck and so outrageously abused its confidence. The young men are especially active, and have formed themselves into Republican Associations, Lincoln Battalions, Rail Columns, and Freedom Clubs…

There is no doubt about it. The campaign has opened in Connecticut. From this time on, until the polls shall be closed at sundown on the 7th of November next, the fight will wage fiercer and the contest grow more desperate, terminating, doubtless, in the triumphant success of the Republican ticket…

In brief, the Wide-Awakes are a body of young men, of Republican principles, ready at a moment’s warning for duty. Each man has a uniform, consisting of cap and cape, and owns a torch which is constantly filled, trimmed, and ready for burning. The ease and readiness with which an impromptu torch-light procession is gotten up can be imagined. The word being given, each man dons his cap and cape, seizes his torch, and at the appointed rendezvous meets his fellows all equipped like himself; the line is formed, torches are lighted and the torch-light procession moves on in twenty minutes or less after the first notification. Heretofore the New-Haven Wide-Awakes have been the best drilled and most active in their operations, but from present appearances, we think they can no longer claim precedence of their Hartford brethren. A very honorable rivalry exists among the several organizations, as to neatness of equipment, proficiency in drill, and above all, as to good service rendered their common cause…

At 7 o’clock on Thursday evening, we proceeded to the Park, where the Wide-Awakes were to drill. As we drove along, we passed hundreds and thousands of men, women and children, all hurrying as fast as their legs would carry them to the parade-ground. The cheerful strains from the band welcomed us, and amidst ‘three times three and a tigah,’ we rode on to the ground, our carriage being stopped midway in front of the resting company. Each man wore a glazed army cap, on the front of which was a gilded eagle; a glazed silk cape, on which was painted ‘Hartford Wide-Awakes,’ and a pair of dark colored pants. In his hand he carried a torch, the lamp of which contained kerosene oil, and which was ready for ignition at the word of command. The officers were dressed in the same way, carrying lanterns of different colored glass, instead of torches. By the colors the different ranks are denoted; for instance, the Captain carries a red lantern; his lieutenants, according to their rank, blue, green and so on. Here they were drilled in the Wide-Awake manual and exhibited a degree of proficiency that is rarely attained in military companies of the same magnitude. Having gone through these various exercises to our entire satisfaction, and greatly to our entertainment, they gave us the newly-adopted Wide-Awake cheer, which is modeled after the Chicago Zouave yell. At the word, they say one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine — hurrah! One, two, three — hip, hip, hip; one, two, three — hip, hip, hip; one, two, three — hurrah! hurrah! hurrah! They then adjourned to their head-quarters, where they remained until 9 o’clock, when they marched to Chapin’s Dock, at which point their visitors were to land.

At 9 1/2 o’clock we (myself and three other reporters) drove to the dock, and met our astonished and delighted eyes. Drawn up in double line, were five hundred Wide-Awakes bearing lighted torches, whose lurid flames shed a beautiful and powerful light upon the faces and forms of at least five thousand spectators. It had been showery during the afternoon, and even now the thunder rumbled a deep base to the music from the band, while the frequent flashes of lightning lit up the dark, watery background, giving such a picture as no mortal could imagine, much less execute. While we were listening to the music, and waiting for the coming excursionists, the President of the Wide-Awakes, Mr. G.S. GILMAN, called out Capt. D.E. GAVITT commander of the Twentieth Ward Wide-Awake Battalion, and presented him, in behalf of the Hartford Wide-Awakes, with a lantern, beautifully colored, and bearing suitable inscriptions.

Scarcely had the cheers which greeted the speeches on the occasion died away, when the report of a cannon was heard, and the fact announced that the Josephine was on hand with the long expected guests, and that they would soon be with us. Instantly and quickly the command was given by the Captain, and repeated down the lines of Lieutenants: ‘Dress,’ ‘Every torch ready,’ and ‘Fire salute.’ As the boat drew near, the small brass cannon on the deck was frequently discharged, and the salute given by the cannon on the hill, back of the line of Wide-Awakes. From numerous points rockets were sent up Roman candles and other fire-works set off, and a general jubilee ensued. The crowd on the dock became wonderfully excited, and cheer after cheer was given.

“Parade of men wearing caps and capes and carrying torches or lanterns. Spectators look on from the street and from a nearby building. A carriage drawn by two horses and a steamboat on the Connecticut River are in the background. Fireworks are exploding in the night sky.” -Image courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society, Connecticut Images Collection, “Reception of the Newark Wide-Awake Club at Hartford by the Wide-Awake Club of Hartford, Conn. -a sketch by our special artist,” July 26, 1860

As the reflection of the light from the torches was so great on the water that it interfered with the fastening of the boat, it was deemed advisable for the procession to move off from the dock. This was done, the Company marching in double line, with the Reporters’ carriage between, guarded by an escort of honor. The line formed on State-street, and waited for the appearance of their guests. The street was lined with spectators, and the doorways and windows were filled with bright-eyed ladies who enthusiastically waved their handkerchiefs, eloquently signalizing their lovers, brothers, or what-not, who were standing ankle-deep in the miry clay, all for the love of country. The band gave forth inspiring music, so that even we began to feel that it must be a pleasant thing to stand in the mud wearing a heavy cape and carrying a vile-smelling torch on a hot, sultry night. At one time we were tempted to get out and ‘try it on,’ but a sense of decorum, not to say comfort, interposed, and we semi-reluctantly continued in our distinguished position.

“Grand Torchlight Procession of the Wide Awakes, at Hartford, Con.., on the Evening of Thursday, July 27.” -Image courtesy of the Connecticut Digital Archive, New York Illustrated News, 1860, by way of, “Lincoln in Connecticut,” by J. Doyle, DeWitt, 1960

‘Here they come, Bill,’ yelled a little black boy, who was sitting on an elevated (lamp) post of observation — ‘here they come,’ shouted the host of Bills who heard him; ‘Here they come, Sir,’ reported the sentry to the Captain of the Wide-Awakes, and again the little cannons burst forth with their thunder-toned congratulations. Standing in the carriage, we looked far down the street; we could not see the end of the line, but presently the strains from an unfamiliar band caught our ear, and the enthusiastic cheering from the Hartford boys told us that their friends from Newark had entered the line. On they came, dressed like the Wide-Awakes of Hartford, with lighted torches fitfully gleaming, with banners waving and flags flying. On they came, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah shouted the crowd — three times three responded the Wide-Awakes — while the bands played, the guns fired, the bonfires burned more brightly, and the whole street seemed beside itself for very excitement.

The long procession keeping time to the lively music of the band, moved on. The sight was a magnificent one. For half a mile up and down the broad street could be seen the outstretched line of torch-bearers, their lights burning brilliantly and making the city as light as day. The brilliancy of the scene was none the less, but on the contrary greatly heightened by the darkness of the night and the black density of storm-clouds which hung heavily around the heavens.

 The line of march lay through the principal streets of the city, and was at least two miles in extent. Wherever the procession went we found the streets lined with spectators and the windows filled with ladies. Guns were constantly fired, fireworks displayed, and cheering given with a will. The guests, who were naturally fatigued after their tedious trip from Newark, expressed themselves delighted at their reception, and as their enthusiasm waxed greater their weariness disappeared, and with a quick, firm step, they marched manfully along the route. As we passed the Courant office, which was brilliantly illuminated and handsomely decorated, a salute was fired and nine hearty cheers from eight hundred pairs of stentorian lungs were given. Flags and banners were hung all along the line, and on many of them were appropriate and patriotic inscriptions. As we passed the Young Ladies’ Seminary we noticed an ingenious and tasty work of the young damsels — an illuminated transparency, with the inscription in parti-colored letters:




Three cheers were given for the ladies, which was appropriately acknowledged by the customary bowing of ye caput and the waving of ye rag. From the window of a house in Church-street, which was fairly crammed with ladies, was thrown a most exquisite bouquet. It came with great force and precision against the happy visage, not to say nose, of your representative, who immediately and frantically, with an humble bow, placed the same against and as near to his heart as time and circumstance would allow, and there it yet remains.

These little incidents will indicate the feelings of the citizens of Hartford, who certainly have entered into this affair con amore, and who have exhibited the greatest possible interest in this branch of the Republican movement.

“Grand Banquet held the ‘Wide Awakes’ of the New England States and New Jersey, at the City Hall of Hartford, Conn., on the Evening of Thursday, July 27. Sketched by a staff artist of the New York Illustrated News.” -Image courtesy of the Connecticut Digital Archive, New York Illustrated News, 1860, by way of, “Lincoln in Connecticut,” by J. Doyle, DeWitt, 1960

After marching and countermarching for about an hour, the procession moved on to the City Hall, where a bountiful collation had been prepared for the participants in the demonstration. From ‘the Press table’ we had a fine view of the Hall and its adornments, of which we will write briefly. The Hall is capable of seating about six hundred people at table. Rows of tables were placed up, down and across the room, all of which were covered with provisions the most substantial, and delicacies the most tempting. The walls were hung with flags and banners beating inscriptions and devices such as ‘Lincoln and Hamlin,’ ‘Free Speech, Free Men and Free Territory.’ ‘Newark and Hartford wide awake for the Union,’ ‘Welcome Wide-Awakes of Newark,’ ‘Pennington presides and disunion subsides,’ Lincoln will (large red beet) Douglas,’ ‘Lincoln will (large yellow turnip) Buchanan,’ and ‘Freedom national — Slavery sectional.’ In the gallery, at the rear, were many ladies, whose kind thoughtfulness had spread the groaning tables with food, whose loving nature had graciously given us bouquets or beautiful flowers, and to whose taste we were indebted for the appropriate decorations and festoonings of the walls and tables.

When the vast company had all gathered within the time honored walls and quiet had been attained, the Captain with a voice shrill as the fifiest fife, I ever heard, cried out at the top thereof, ‘Wide-Awakes of Hartford, our guests are with us. Let us welcome the Wide-awakes of Newark, with twenty-one rip-roaring echers.’ Up jumped the fun loving multitude, and oh how they did shout, I should think all the children in the country for miles around, would be wide-awake for months to come.

Of course, the Newark boys had to cheer the Hartford boys, and the Hartford boys were obliged to re-cheer the Newark boys and vice versa, like an old time cotillion, first couple forward and back, second couple do the same, first couple repeat and go it ad libitum through the rest of the evening till the fiddle breaks down or the fiddler gets dry. They tired after a while, and the President, Judge GILMAN, in a few brief but singularly interesting remarks, welcomed the strangers and invited them without further ceremony to ‘fall in,’ and gratify their hosts by a sudden and appreciative dispatch of the edibles and drinkables before them. No second hint was necessary. Having come all the way from Newark on lemonade, two crackers and a red herring, the Wide-Awakes were fully prepared to enjoy the hearty meal, and to follow the instructions of the President to the letter. The Reporters of the local Press seemed hungry, and evidently enjoyed the goodies… The outside Reporters did not eat or drink; they couldn’t eat and they never drink. The scene was too exciting, the enthusiasm too exhilarating to permit of any such vulgar operation, we sat and meditated on the probable results which this harmonious, well-disciplined and thoroughly Republican host would probably accomplish, and we made up our minds that as tall oaks from little acorns grow, so, many votes these Wide-Awakes will show, — and their doings will undoubtedly go a great way towards placing ABRAHAM LINCOLN in the Presidential chair.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the New York Times, Times Machine, “The Campaign in Connecticut; The Great Demonstration of the Wide-Awakes at Hartford, Speeches, Music and Processions; The Wide-Awakes of Connecticut, A Most Remarkable Scene; A Bountiful Collation; Distinguished Gentlemen,” Howard, July 28, 1860. (top) Image courtesy of Connecticut Historical Society, Connecticut Images Collection, “Procession of the Wide-Awake Club of Hartford on Tuesday, July 26, 1860,” wood engraving from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1860

-Image courtesy of, the Hartford Courant, August 31, 1860

The Glorious Wide Awakes! Lincoln and Hamlin! The Great Meeting Last Night, and the Wild Enthusiasm!

“The Wide Awakes of this city, after doing arduous and efficient services in the State Campaign last spring, deemed it best to re-organize the company and amend their constitution…

In pursuance of this, the Wide Awakes held a meeting at the City Hall last night. The number present was something over 500; Republicans came in to see the new organization effected, so that the Hall was crowded. Through all the proceedings of the meeting the great enthusiasm which ensures success, and nothing less than that, prevailed.

The meeting was called to order by E. N. Kellogg, Esq. Geo. S. Gilman was appointed Chairman, and H. T. Sperry, Secretary. The committee appointed at a previous meeting to revise the constitution reported as follows:


‘We the undersigned young men of the City of Hartford, desirous of securing the ascendancy and perpetuity of the principles of the Republican party, and the election of its candidates for offices to all places of honor and trust in the Government, do hereby explicitly declare our entire devotion to the Constitution and the Union, our opposition to interference with slavery in the States where it now legally exists, and our unqualified and unalterable determination to resist by all constitutional means its further extension, and pledge ourselves to use all honorable means for the success and triumph of the Republican party and of the election of its candidates to office.


‘Art. 1. The name of this Association shall be ‘The Republican Wide Awakes of Hartford.’
Art. 2. The Association shall, by meetings held under its direction, by its general influence, and the personal influence of its members, seek to attain the object set forth in preamble.
Art. 3. The officers of this Association shall consist of a President, six Vice Presidents, a Corresponding Secretary, a Recording Secretary and Assistant, a Treasurer, an Executive Committee of five, and an Auditor of Accounts.
Art. 4. On occasion of public parade this Association shall be under the command of a Captain, who shall have power to appoint such subordinate officers as he may deem proper.
Art. 5. The officers of this Association shall be elected by a major vote of the members present, at a meeting called for that purpose, and vote shall be by ballot.
Art. 6. It shall be the duty of the President to preside at all meetings of the Association, and to call meetings at any time under the direction of the Executive Committee.
Art. 7. It shall be the duty of the Treasurer to receive and hold the funds of the association, and disburse the same only upon an order from the Executive Committee.
Art. 8. It shall be the duty of the Executive Committee to superintend and control the financial affairs of the association, to arrange for and collect funds for the use of the same, and pay the moneys so collected over to the Treasurer, and they alone shall have power to order public parades, and to make contracts, and they shall exercise a general supervision over the affairs of the association.
Art. 9. It shall be the duty of the Captain to call meetings for the drill, to conduct the same, and to take command of the association on occasions of public parade.
Art. 10. Each member shall provide for himself, at his own expense, a glazed cap and cape, and shall pay into the treasury the sum of seventy-five cents, which shall entitle him to the use of a torch for parade.
Art. 11. It shall be the duty of each member to appear in each torch-light procession and in all public parades of the association.
Art. 12. Sec. 1. No boisterous or disorderly conduct or unnecessary demonstration of any kind shall be allowed. Sec. 2. Any member who refuses or neglects to obey the commands of the officers, or whose conduct is not in accordance with this requirement, shall be liable to be expelled from the association.
Art. 13. Any person 18 years of age who will maintain and will be governed by this constitution, may enroll his name upon the list and be considered a member.
Art. 14. This Constitution may be altered or amended by a two-thirds vote of the members present at a regularly notified meeting, at which meeting 100 shall be a quorum.’

“Founders and Officers of the ‘Wide Awakes’ as shown on the front pages of the New York Illustrated News.” -Image courtesy of the Connecticut Digital Archive, New York Illustrated News, 1860, “Lincoln in Connecticut,” by J. Doyle, DeWitt, 1960

The following officers for the campaign were nominated by the committee, and, after a ballot, declared unanimously elected:
President – Geo. S. Gilman.
Vice Presidents – C. G. Day, C. C. Waite, Leander Jaycox, Herman Maerklein. Edw. P. Allen, L. A. Dickenson.
Cor. Secretary – H. T. Sperry.
Rec. Secretary – C. V. R. Pond.
Asst. Rec. Secretary – Chas. A. Stillman.
Treasurer – Sidney A. White.
Executive Committee – E. N. Kellogg, Horatio E. Day, George P. Bissell, H. B. Hitchcock, B. C. English.
Auditor – E. T. Lobdell.
Captain – James. S. Chalker.

It being voted that the Captain has power to appoint his own officers, Capt. Chalker presented the name of the following, which were ratified by the meeting:
AID, 1st Division, H. T. Sperry.
1st Lieut. Charles A. Stillman.
2d ” L. E. Hunt.
3d ” H. G. Kilbourn.
4th ” H. P. Hitchcock.
5th ” H. E. Valentine.
6th ” W. P. Fuller.
7th ” Leander Jaycocks.
Standard Bearer, E. P. Allen.
AID, 2d Division, C. V. R. Pond.
1st Lieut. John F. Fenn.
2d ” E. H. Chipman.
3d ” S. P. Conner.
4th ” L. A. Dickinson.
5th ” A. B. Downs.
6th ” Isaac Wallach.
7th ” James Francis.
Transparency Bearer, F. H. Kunze.

The President being loudly called for, Mr. Gilman responded in a speech, eloquent and inspiring. He thanked the company for the honor of his position at the head of the Hartford Wide Awakes, an organization which, starting in Hartford, has spread with the rapidity of fire throughout the country. To this club come daily, from distant cities of the Union, request for direction and advice regarding the necessary steps to be taken to properly follow the glorious lead of the Hartford Wide Awake club.

During this and the other speeches of the evening; and particularly when the ‘Abe Lincoln Quickstep,’ composed by J. P. King, the leader of the Hartford Cornet Band, was played by them; or when the names of Lincoln and Hamlin were uttered, the enthusiasm broke forth into cheers which shook the rafters.”
-Excerpt courtesy of, the Hartford Courant, “The Glorious Wide Awakes,” June 2, 1860

-Image courtesy of, the Hartford Courant, “Rally To-Night Wide Awakes,” November 5, 1860
“Tintype picturing Lincoln ‘Wide Awake’ marcher wearing oilcloth cape and cap, holding pole and torch, 1860.” -Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, “Tintype of a Parade Marcher,” 1860

“The successful presidential campaign of Republican Abraham Lincoln perfected the nighttime torchlight parade as an entertainment of unprecedented scale that attracted the attention of men, women, and children. The concept originated in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1858, and was revived for Lincoln’s campaign by the city’s young Republicans. Tailored oil-resistant enameled cloth capes distinguished the marchers, some of whom were too young to vote. Their example spread from Hartford to cities in the northeastern United States, which contributed traveling companies totaling some ten thousand uniformed men with torches to a Grand Procession in New York City on October 3, 1860. The martial spectacle—including fireworks, Lincoln ‘Wide Awake’ transparencies, and floats—created envy among the city’s Democrats, and panic among southern sympathizers who regarded the torch-lit parade as a provocation.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, “Tintype of a Parade Marcher,” 1860

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