Bushnell, Cornelius S.  


Cornelius Scranton Bushnell, one of Connecticut's most distinguished men, was born in Madison, Connecticut. July 18, 1828, and died in New York city, May 6, 1896. He made for himself a place in the country's history by most valuable services rendered to both his state and to the nation. He was a descendant of a prominent old Connecticut family, being of the eighth generation of Francis Bushnell, who came from England and settled in Guilford, Connecticut, where he was the third signer of the Guilford Agreement in 1639. The line comes on down through Lieutenant William Bushnell, Samuel Bushnell, Jonathan Bushnell, Jonathan Bushnell II, Nathan Bushnell and Nathan Bushnell II, who was his father.

He spent his youthful days in his father's home and largely assisted in farm work and in the operation of his father's stone quarry. He made good use of the opportunities offered in the village school, which he attended during the winter months. When fifteen years of age he shipped on a coasting vessel, and before a year had passed was master of a sixty-ton schooner. He practiced close economy during the succeeding five years and saved the sum of twenty-seven hundred dollars, which he invested in a house in New Haven, making this city his home throughout his remaining days. On attaining his majority he formed a partnership with his brother, Nathan Townsend Bushnell, for the conduct of a wholesale and retail grocery business in New Haven, and developed the largest enterprise of the kind in the state. Readily discerning opportunities, he utilized these to the best possible advantage and thus his activities constantly broadened in scope and importance. In 1858 he became interested in the New Haven and New London Railroad Company, which was struggling to weather a financial crisis. It seemed that train service must be abandoned unless a larger earning capacity could be secured. This it was calculated could be done if the road was extended to Stonington, Connecticut. At a conference of the stockholders this course was adopted and Mr. Bushnell was chosen president of the road. He immediately set himself to the task of procuring funds with which to build the extension. He not only used his own credit freely but secured the cooperation of progressive financiers and executed the proposed plan, which included ferryboat transfers at New London. In 1860 trains began to run through from Stonington to New York. The road met great opposition on the part of the New York & New Haven Railroad Company, which refused to sell through tickets or to check baggage to the New Haven & New London road (as it was then called), owing to a previous contract with the Hartford & Springfield road. Mr. Bushnell appealed to the state legislature and, assisted by Hon. Charles R. Ingersoll, then representative from New Haven and afterward governor of the state, he secured the passage of a bill compelling the rival road to afford this Shore Line railroad equal facilities with those granted other lines. Even then the rival road would not comply until the supreme court issued mandatory orders after long litigation. It was also necessary to engage in a long and persistent effort before the postoffice authorities would recognize the road by sending mail over the line. In this contest Mr. Bushnell was obliged to spend much time at Washington and became well acquainted with the heads of various government departments. Writing of this period of his life, a contemporary biographer has said: "The Civil war was seen to be inevitable. Washington was full of disloyal conspirators and the city was practically without defense. When Fort Sumter was bombarded, on April 12 to 13, 1861, Mr. Bushnell was in the capital on business connected with the road, when he with others enlisted as a private soldier in the Clay Battalion for the purpose of guarding the public buildings and residences of officials until troops arrived. He performed service from April 13 to May 4, 1861, being 'mustered in' April 18 and honorably discharged May 4. His discharge paper bears the signature of President Lincoln and of Simon Cameron, the secretary of war, with an expression of the thanks of the government for his most valuable services rendered at that critical time. This service made Mr. Bushnell eligible to membership in the Grand Army of the Republic and he was duly 'mustered' as a member of Admiral Foote Post, No. 17, Department of Connecticut, June 5, 1886, and was buried with Grand Army honors. He was one of the active organizers of the Union Pacific Railroad Company and a potent factor in pushing this great enterprise to completion, and was the only one of the original organizers who remained with the road from its inception to the beginning of its operation. He was one of the largest subscribers to the underwriting of securities issued by the Union Pacific Railroad Company. In distributing these securities in Europe lie employed Andrew Carnegie as selling agent, whose commissions for disposing of these stocks and bonds in Europe amounted to several hundred thousand dollars. When Mr. Carnegie was asked by Mr. Bushnell what use he proposed to make of these funds, the answer was, 'I am going to put this money into the steel business in Pittsburgh.' This employment of young Carnegie really laid the foundation for the now great United States Steel Company and Mr. Carnegie's great wealth.

"Before the Civil war actually began, Mr. Bushnell had been impressed with the need of better naval forces. He seemed to have been providentially selected to give the country most timely and dramatic assistance in this respect. He foresaw the necessity of armored vessels and the requirements of the navy in the war of a stronger type of vessel than we then possessed. He established a shipyard at Fair Haven, Connecticut, and built many steam vessels and other craft for the Federal government under the supervision of Samuel H. Pook, a naval constructor, of Boston. With the assistance of Mr. Pook he developed the plans for the ironclad war vessel which he named the Galena, for the building of which he received a contract from the government, under the provisions of a law secured by Hon. James E. English, the representative at that time in congress from New Haven district, authorizing the secretary of the navy to appoint three naval experts to examine all plans for armored vessels and adopt whatever might be approved. But some naval officers and others doubted the stability of the Galena under the weight of armor proposed, and it was while Mr. Bushnell was consulting mechanical engineers as to the probable stability of the Galena that the most momentous incident in his life occurred, and this was his meeting with Captain John Ericsson, of New York, from whose drawings the Monitor was built. Not only was this meeting a most fortunate event for the United States, but it also marked the stop in the change from wooden to armored war vessels. Mr. Bushnell thus describes his historic interview with Ericsson: 'C. H. Delamater, of New York, advised me to consult with the engineer, Captain John Ericsson, on the question of the stability of the Galena, this I proceeded at once to do, and on supplying him with the data necessary for his calculations promptly gained the answer, "She will easily carry the load you propose and also stand a six-inch shot if fired from a respectable distance." At the close of the interview, Captain Ericsson asked if I had time just then to examine the plan of a floating battery absolutely impregnable to the heaviest shot or shell. I replied that this problem had been occupying me for the last three months, and that considering the time required for the construction, the Galena was the best result I had been able to obtain. He then placed before me the plan of this ironclad, shot-proof steam battery, subsequently called the Monitor. He explained how quickly she could be built, and exhibited with characteristic pride a medal and letter of thanks received from Napoleon III, for it appears that Ericsson had submitted his drawings of this peculiar craft when France and Russia were at war, and out of hostility to Russia had presented it to France, hoping thereby to aid the defeat of Sweden's hereditary foe. The plans, however, were submitted too late to be of service in that war.'

"Mr. Bushnell was entrusted with the Monitor model and plans by Captain Ericsson with which he was delighted and at once sought the secretary of the navy, Hon. Gideon Welles, who was then temporarily at his home in Hartford, where he explained the possibilities of this strange looking craft to Secretary Welles. The secretary advised Mr. Busbnell to present the plans immediately to the naval board, and accordingly he went to Washington, after securing the cooperation of Hon. John A. Griswold, of New York, and John F. Winslow, of the Troy Iron Works, of Troy, New York, both friends of Governor Seward, and also large manufacturers of iron plates. Governor Howard furnished them with a strong letter of introduction to President Lincoln, who was at once greatly pleased with the simplicity of the plans and agreed to accompany them to the navy department at eleven o'clock next day and advise earnest consideration of the plans of this entirely new design for a battleship. 'President Lincoln was on hand promptly,' writes Mr. Bushnell in his letter to Secretary Welles. 'Captain Fox was also present, with part of the naval board. All were surprised at the novelty of the plan. Some advised trying it; others ridiculed it. The conference was finally closed for that day by Mr. Lincoln's remarking: "All I have to say is what the girl said when she put her foot into the stocking, 'It strikes me there is something in it.'" The following day Admiral Smith convened the full board, when I presented the drawings and model as best I could, carefully noting the remarks of each member of the board. I then went to my hotel, quite sanguine of success, but only to be disappointed the following day, for during the hours following the last session I found that the air had been thick with croakings that the department was about to father another Ericsson failure. Never was I more active than now in the effort to prove that Ericsson had never made a failure, that on the contrary he had built for the government the first steam propelled war vessel ever made; that the bursting of the gun on the Princeton was no fault of his, but of the shell. * * * I succeeded at length in getting Admirals Smith and Paulding to promise to sign a report advising the building of one trial battery, provided Captain Davis would join them. On going to him I was informed that I might "take the little thing home and worship it, as it would not be idolatory because it was made in the image of nothing in the heaven above, or the earth below, or in the waters under the earth.'' One thing yet remained which it was possible to do. This was to get Ericsson to come to Washington and plead the case himself.' Mr. Bushnell returned to New York and had to use some clever diplomacy to induce Ericsson to go to Washington, for the reason that Ericsson believed himself so unjustly treated in the Prineeton affair that he had repeatedly declared that he would never set foot in Washington again. Mr. Bushnell told him that Admiral Smith said it was worthy of the genius of an Ericsson (how well history justified Mr. Bushnell's tact and power of persuasion), and that Paulding said it was just the thing to clear the 'Robs' out of Charleston, but that Captain Davis wanted two or three explanations in detail which Mr. Bushnell could not give, and so Secretary Welles proposed that he should get Ericsson to come to Washington to explain to the entire board in his room next day. Ericsson went. 'You remember,' wrote Mr. Bushnell to Secretary Welles, 'how he thrilled every person present in your room with his comprehensive description of what the little floating battery would be and what she could do; that in ninety days' time she could be built, although the Rebels had already been four months at work on the ironclad Merrimac at the Norfolk navy yard, with all the appliances of the yard to help them.' The board ultimately recommended the contract, and on the next day most of the material for construction was bought. After the work of construction had begun, at the Continental Iron Works at Greenpoint, Long Island, under verbal contract made at the time with Thomas F. Rowland, agent, formally executed October 25, 1861, and before the formal contract was signed by the Government, October 6, 1861, a surprising demand was made that the inventor and his associates should be compelled to give a bond to refund the money advanced by the Government during construction, in case of the vessel's failure to fullfill the conditions of the contract. As one of the sureties to the Government for the satisfactory contract performance of the Monitor, together with Hon. N. D. Sperry, of New Haven, and Daniel Drew, of New York, Mr. Bushnell risked all his property on his faith in the success of the undertaking. Secretary Welles wrote to Mr. Bushnell on March 19, 1877, that 'Next, after Ericsson himself, you are entitled to the credit of bringing his invention to the knowledge of the department.' What the Monitor that Mr. Bushnell and his associates built did for the Union is one of the most thrilling and important chapters of the Civil war, for it was the beginning of the final ending of that great history of our Union of States in the war of 1861-65."

Hon. J. Rice Winchell, of New Haven, in his memorial to Mr. Bushnell, wrote:  "Had it not been for Mr. Bushnell's intuitive and instant perception of the masterful completeness of Ericsson's drawings of the vessel; had he wavered a moment in doubt, or had he been for an instant influenced by the selfish and sordid thought that his interests in the Galena might be jeopardized by his advocacy of the merits of the Monitor, all would have been lost—there would have been no Monitor, there would have been no consummate flower of triumph at Hampton Roads—there would have been no Ericsson honored and sung by every civilized nation. Also there might have been no magnificent Union stretching from shore to shore under one starry flag over all, from the lakes to the gulf."

It should be borne in mind, too, that the Monitor was still the property of its builders to the extent of $68,750 when she defeated the Merrimac, and this was not paid until March 14, 1862, or five days after the Monitor and Merrimac's battle. A quarter interest each was owned by Mr. Bushnell, Captain Ericsson, Mr. Griswold and Mr. Winslow. Afterwards eight more Monitor batteries were constructed by Mr. Bushnell and associates, and operated largely at the siege of Charleston in 1865, and other historic battles. The Puritan and Dictator, improved and larger types of such vessels, were built, either of which at that time could have contended successfully with the navy of any other nation in the world.

Business in connection with the execution of his contracts for those vessels took Mr. Bushnell often to Washington. He gave the closest attention to the business of the Pacific Railroad  after Senator  Dixon, of Hartford, placed his name  in  the  original  Pacific Railroad bill, and in 1863, on attending the meeting for the organization  of the railroad at Chicago, he was appointed a member of the committee to secure subscriptions to the stock for the many millions of dollars required, while twenty per cent, must be paid in before business  could be  begun. Mr. Bushnell secured more than three-fourths of the required two millions and was the largest subscriber to the capital stock. He was also largely instrumental in securing the congressional amendment of 1864, which made it possible to complete the road. He was the only corporator who remained with the company until the road was completed and in successful operation. He then turned his attention to other railroad projects, unfortunately becoming interested  in the Atlantic end of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. Then came the widespread financial panic of 1873 with the repudiation by Louisiana of its state bonds, and the company from which Mr. Bushnell was to have received millions of dollars on contracts failed, and so embarrassed him financially that he was compelled to suspend, thus witnessing the destruction of a fortune which he had been twenty years in accumulating. Then followed a period in which he suffered greatly from ill health, largely caused from anxiety and disappointment, and yet his resolute spirit pressed on in the face of almost insurmountable difficulties.  In 1864 he purchased an extensive iron property called Iron Ridge, in Wisconsin, built a blast furnace, using charcoal for fuel, and manufactured pig iron at a lower price per ton than any other furnace in the country. He later sold the business at a large profit to the Byron Kilbirn Rolling Mill Company. Associated with others, he purchased the Winnemuck, a large lead and sil ver mine in Bingham, Utah, which was later sold at a profit of more than three hundred thousand dollars to English capitalists.   In 1871-3 Mr. Bushnell erected the Masonic Temple in New Haven at a cost of more than two hundred thousand dollars, and he also built the horse railroad bridge between Cincinnati and Covington, Kentucky, a great wire bridge extending for several miles into the latter city.

On July 19, 1849, Mr. Bushnell married Emilie Fowler Clark, who was born at New Haven in 1829 and died January 10, 1869. On March 15, 1870, he married Mrs. Caroline Mary (Paddock) Hughston, the widow of Hon. J. A. Hughston and a daughter of Hon. Joseph W. and Mary (Welles) Paddock, the former a New York lawyer and member of congress and also consul to China. Mrs. Bushnell was born in 1835 and died July 4, 1887. On June 25, 1889, Mr. Bushnell was married to Mrs. Ford, a widow, who survives him. His children were all born of his first marriage. Sereno Scranton, born August 12, 1850; Rev. Samuel Clark, born March 8, 1852; Charlotte Beecher, born August 25, 1853, was married April 9, 1884, to Gilbert L. Watson, residence, Parkersburg, West Virginia; Cornelius Judson, born September 20, 1855; Nathan, born July 22, 1857; Henry Northrop, born March 13, 1859, died in Baldwinsville, New York, in 1875; Ericsson Foote, born December 10, 1862; Winthrop Grant, born March 20, 1864, is mentioned elsewhere in this work; Edward William, born December 25, 1866, died in Lima, West Virginia, October 29, 1916; Levi Ives, born December 26, 1868, was drowned in Long Island sound August 8, 1890. 

His religious faith was that of the Congregational church and he was prominently identified with the Howe Street and later with the Dwight Place church of New Haven. In politics he was a republican. He was an extraordinary man, a typical example of American pertinacity and versatile ability. Larger in stature and physical development than ordinary men, he excelled them also in activity and the power of comprehending great things. His youth was such as to develop an inherited strong body, and the influence of his home life instilled into his mind the foundation of a sterling character. His fellow townsmen, appreciating the prominence of Mr. Bushnell and the important part which he had played in the life of his state and the nation, organized the Cornelius S. Bushnell National Memorial Association and with the aid of five thousand dollars, appropriated by the Connecticut general assembly, erected to his memory a fitting monument, which was unveiled May 30, 1906, in New Haven, in Monitor Park. It was designed by Herbert Adams; and Charles N. Pratt, landscape architect, designed the pedestal. The monument is an artistic and substantial granite structure, surmounted with a beautiful bronze American eagle on the defensive with wings uplifted, and an inscription to the honor and greatful remembrance of the services to the country of John Ericsson and Cornelius S. Bushnell. As historian of the Cornelius S. Bushnell National Memorial Association, William S. Wells, of New Haven, Second Assistant Engineer (Late), United States Navy, wrote "The Story of the Monitor," which he compiled for the first time in book form from original records. Mr. Wells also delivered an eloquent address at the unveiling of the memorial of Mr. Bushnell in New Haven, May 30, 1906. His address, together with a tribute to the memory of Cornelius S. Bushnell by the Hon. J. Rice Winchell, collector of the port of New Haven, was printed in a later edition of "The Story of the Monitor," and will be generally found in public libraries. At the time of Mr. Bushnell's demise editorials of the New Haven papers and others concerning him appeared laudatory of the beneficent services his untiring life gave to our country and to the world.

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Modern History of New Haven
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Volume II
New York – Chicago
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company 
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