Captain ROBERT H. GILLETTE
Capt. ROBERT H. GILLETTE was born in Bloomfield, Aug. 1st, 1842. His father, Hon. Francis Gillette, was an original Free Soiler and a man of distinction in his State which he represented one term in the United States Senate, where his fearless avowal of his principles made him a conspicuous man in those old pro-slavery days. The father still resides in Hartford, where he tenderly cherishes the memory of his darling boy who gave his life in defense of the principles he learned from his devoted father. “When Robert was fifteen years of age the family removed to Hartford, whence the lad tried a trip to China as sailor boy on a merchantman. Disgusted with this life, he abandoned it in China and sailed to California seeking an elder brother, who, however, died ere his arrival. Tarrying a year in the land of gold, the wanderer came home bringing with him the body of his lost brother—the most precious gift his parents could then desire. Robert then devoted himself awhile to study, but the war-cry of the nation in its peril aroused his ardor for freedom, and in July, 1862, he assisted in recruiting a company for the 16th regiment.
By an act of singular injustice on the part of the Adjutant General of the State, young Gillette was prevented from securing a commission in the 16th, and to his own surprise, as well as that of the regiment, commissioned as Captain of Co. K of the 14th, September 6, 1862. The regiment had left the State, and young Gillette at once started to join them. He found us the night of September 18th, lying upon the battle field of Antietam, and took command of his company at once. Both of his Lieutenants lay wounded, one mortally, the other dangerously in the regimental hospital, where he visited them. A day or two later, he marched with us in command of his company to Bolivar Heights at Harper’s Ferry. It was on this toilsome march over the mountains that the writer made his acquaintance, and was indebted to him for acts of courtesy and kindness that he has never forgotten. The impression he created was that of a man of pure character and honorable ambition, of culture and real refinement. Almost immediately after arriving at Harper’s Ferry, he was taken ill of fever caused by the unusual exposure, that so shattered his health as to compel his return home in a few weeks, where he remained for some time in a critical condition and finally resigned his commission in the 14th, December 20th, 1862.
From what I knew of Capt. Gillette I feel assured that in addition to his poor health, his resignation was inspired by a self-sacrificing spirit on his part which led him to give up a position that personally suited him, rather than stand in the way of the Lieutenants who had recruited and led the Company into battle ere he joined it. His future career proves his unabated patriotism, and we to-day rejoice to claim him as one who served with us. Recovering his health, he entered the U. S. Navy in 1863, as Acting Asst. Paymaster, and was assigned to the Nansemond, Lieut. Com. R. H. Lamson commanding. This vessel proved one of the most efficient of the blockading squadron off Wilmington, N. C. Among her captures was the fine steamer which we re-named the Gettysburg, and to her Gillette was transferred with Capt. Lamson, and on her did most excellent service.
Sunday, January 15th, 1865, his vessel took part in the bombardment of Fort Fisher, and some of her officers and crew were in the Sailors’ Brigade that assisted the army in charging and finally capturing the fort. Gillette volunteered for the same duty, but his services were felt to be more needed on this ship. During the charges Gillette stood upon the deck as signal-officer of the Gettysburg, and with tears rolling down his cheeks as he saw his men falling under the murderous fire from the Fort, exclaiming, “It is too bad—awful! We must go and help them! We must go and save them!” That night he wrote a happy letter to his parents, rejoicing in the victory and the promise it gave of the end being near. The end to him was nearer than he dreamed. The morning after the letter was written he went with another officer to look after the missing from his own ship and to inspect the captured fort. He ascended the parapet with other officers, and one last glimpse of him presents his tall manly figure erect and full of joy in the cool of the early morning, when the magazine explodes and he is instantly killed.
His remains were brought home and deposited in the family burial lot at Farmington, January 24th, 1865, Rev. Dr. Porter, of Farmington, officiating at the grave. On the 29th of the same month a beautiful and touching memorial address was delivered by Rev. N. J. Burton, at the Fourth Church in Hartford. In alluding to Capt. Gillette’s religious character Dr. Burton states that during his naval life his faith ripened into a triumphant belief. He adds that he “was unquestionably helped to be the man he earnestly and religiously longed and prayed to be by a new and precious affection which filled the last years of his life.” But as in many another instance during our war, the only earthly bride vouchsafed our hero, was the grave.