By: Captain (Retired) William Rodriguez
“We want America to remember us forever,” said Bill Toledo, an original Navajo Code Talker. Mr. Toledo expressed concern that our country might one day forget the sacrifices of those who fought in World War II. But, what about those forgotten heroes who fought, let’s say, back to the middle of the nineteenth century during the American Civil War? There we found, after long hours and months of investigation, the first veteran born in Puerto Rico, that we know of, and it happens to be Lieutenant Augusto Rodriguez. Lieutenant Rodriguez made history as the very first Puerto Rican veteran. I’m talking about the period between 1861 through 1865, date on which he was discharged as an officer of the Union Army at the end of the American Civil War.
Lieutenant Augusto Rodríguez was born in 1861 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He served as an officer in the Union Army during the American Civil War in the defenses of Washington, D.C. and led his men in the Battles of Fredericksburg and Wyse Fork.
When the island was still a Spanish possession he emigrated with his family to the United States in the 1850s. The 1860 census of New Haven, Connecticut, shows there were 10 Puerto Ricans living there, amongst them Augusto Rodríguez. Many other Puerto Ricans settled in places such as New York and Massachusetts. Upon the outbreak of the American Civil War, many Puerto Ricans joined the ranks of the military armed forces. However, since Puerto Ricans were still Spanish subjects, they were inscribed as Spaniards. This could have been a reason why it was difficult to find his remains since we were looking for a Puerto Rican soldier.
People to become a part of the Union Army were recruited by means of public announcements. It was an all volunteer army. In 1862, Rodríguez volunteered and joined I Company 15th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. For reasons I can’t recall his name was misspelled and listed as “Augustus Rodereques”. His unit was organized on August 25, 1862 in New Haven. It was also known as the “Lyon Regiment” in honor of Nathaniel Lyon, the first General Officer killed in the U.S. Civil War. The Regiment left Connecticut for Washington, D.C. on August 28, and was attached to Casey’s Provisional Brigade, Military District of Washington, serving in the defenses of Washington until September 17, 1862.
In December 1 through 6, the 15th Connecticut Infantry marched to Fredericksburg, Virginia and was assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, IX Corps, Army of the Potomac commanded by Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside. Lieutenant Rodríguez led his men in the Battle of Fredericksburg which was fought against General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia from December 12–15. The battle resulted in a disastrous defeat for General Burnside and the Union Army. Burnside attempted to make an offensive movement on January 20, 1863, in which Lt. Rodríguez and the men of the 15th Connecticut Regiment were involved. However the offensive, which became known as the Mud March, was aborted because of constant rain.
On March 1865, Lt. Rodríguez and the 15th Connecticut were assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, District of Beaufort, North Carolina, Department of North Carolina. From March 8–10, Rodríguez once more led his men in combat in the Battle of Wyse Fork, a confrontation against a Confederate army being gathered under Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and Union troops under the command of Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield. The final outcome of the battle resulted in a Union great victory.
Upon the occupation of Kinston, North Carolina by Union forces, the 15th Connecticut Infantry was assigned to provost duty as part of the garrison. They performed this duty until June 6, when it was ordered to New Bern, North Carolina, to prepare for muster-out.
The regiment was mustered out on June 27, 1865 and Lt. Rodríguez was discharged in New Haven on July 12, 1865. For his heroic performance he was awarded the Army Civil War Campaign Medal.
After the war Rodríguez became a businessman but, wearing a uniform and routinely discipline was in his blood stream and soon became also the first Puerto Ricanfirefighter in New Haven. Rodríguez was married to Eliza Rodregues with whom he had a daughter, Clara A. Rodregues. On March 22, 1880, he died in his home in New Haven and was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery of his hometown were his remains were found in the Firefighter Lot, another reason why it was difficult to find his grave since it was expected to be buried in a military cemetery and under the name of Augusto Rodriguez.
It is important to mention that the honorable military career of Lieutenant Augusto Rodriguez has been brought to us thanks to the painstaking of Mr. Rafael Cruz Miller, owner and chairperson of Radio Esfuerzo Estadista, the first spanish spoken web radio dedicated to fight for the civil and human rights of Puerto Rico’s voters who demand to add another star to the Flag of the United States as the 51st State of the union, a mission not too many politicians have had the valor and interest to pursuit. This writing is not complete if we don’t recognize also the interest and the precious time spent by Ms. Deborah Couture. Without her effort this piece of our history would have remained untold and buried with the remains of our hero, Lieutenant Augusto Rodrigues aka: “Augustus Rodereques”
But, this is not the end of this story. Who are Lt. Rodriguez’s descendent still living? Is he a part of my ancestry? My father, born in 1898 was a combatant during the 1st. World War. Who knows, the world is very small and technology will help me discover maybe another story. 
 For those interested read: “The history of the Fifteenth Connecticut volunteers in the war for the defense of the Union, 1861-1865″; By Sheldon B. Thorpe; Page 154; Publisher” Kessinger Publishing, LLC; Library of Congress E499.5 15th; Open Library OL13493623M; LC Control Number 02012831; OCLC/WorldCat 3521760.
-US;mso-bidi-language:AR-SA’> For those interested read: “The history of the Fifteenth Connecticut volunteers in the war for the defense of the Union, 1861-1865″; By Sheldon B. Thorpe; Page 154; Publisher” Kessinger Publishing, LLC; Library of Congress E499.5 15th; Open Library OL13493623M; LC Control Number 02012831; OCLC/WorldCat 3521760.