John Henry Burnham (1836 – 1883)

John Henry Burnham

John Henry Burnham was born November 30, 1836 in Tolland, Connecticut. He enlisted in the Hartford City Guard July 18, 1861 and served as secretary of the company in 1861 and 1862. In July of 1862, President Lincoln requested 300,000 volunteers. Hartford and surrounding towns responded forming the 16th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. Lt. Col. John Burnham joined the 16th Connecticut when it was formed and stayed with the regiment throughout the war. His dedication to his men made him an extremely well liked leader.

In May 1863, Burnham was wounded in battle in Suffolk, Virginia. Having healed from his wound, he returned to war only to be taken captive by the Confederates following the surrender at the Battle of Plymouth. He was first taken to Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia then to Camp Ogelthorpe in Macon, Georgia and finally to Charleston, South Carolina. He was eventually released in exchange for another prisoner but, as luck would have it, while he was en route to his regiment, he was captured again and taken to Wilmington, North Carolina. One evening, the Confederate captors were fired upon and Col. Burnham was once again free to join his regiment.

Col. Burnham continued to fight until the close of the war. Upon returning to Hartford, he addressed his fellow soldiers commenting that while he was glad they had returned home he was sad that the regiment would now have to part ways. He continued his career in business and married Helena Estelle Ferre in 1866. President Grant appointed Burnham Deputy Postmaster of Hartford in October 1871 and then Postmaster in 1872. In 1875, he was reappointed Postmaster. Having no children, his wife died in 1876 and Burnham left his job due to failing health in 1880.

In 1880, Burnham’s physical and mental health began to deteriorate to the extent that he needed to be admitted into the Retreat for the Insane in Hartford that September. With his health continuing to fail, he was moved to the State Hospital in Middletown at the end of 1881. Burnham died on April 10, 1883 from a general breaking down of his body both mentally and physically. He was 46 years old.

Blakeslee, Bernard F. History of the Sixteenth Connecticut Volunteers. Hartford: Case, Lockwood and Brainard Co., 1875.

Photo Credit: John Henry Burnham, Public Domain