Posts Tagged ‘Civil War’

Monday, May 20, 2013

Clayton History: Joseph Lonsway and the Civil War

Joseph Lonsway, B 1844-1925In “The Road Not Taken,” poet Robert Frost wrote of encountering two roads diverging in a wood: “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” That’s life in a nutshell: it’s all about decisions. When confronted with options, we make a choice. Sometimes even the first few moments that follow can change our lives forever. Such was the case with a North Country soldier, Private Joseph Lonsway of Clayton, New York (in Jefferson County, on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River).

Lonsway was a member of the Union Army’s 20th NY Cavalry which, in October 1864, was on a mission to assess the enemy’s strength and destroy army supplies near Murfree’s Station, Virginia. They soon found themselves in a standoff with rebel troops based on the opposite bank of the Blackwater River. Heavy fire was exchanged, but Union troops clearly had only one option to pursue the enemy: a ferry, operated by a rope connected to both shores. But there was a problem: the ferry in question was tied to the far bank, and was only about 10 yards from the rebel breastworks. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Civil War: The Four Tupper Brothers

Tupper family headline 1918Among the interesting stories to review during this sesquicentennial of the Civil War are those of North Country families who paid an unusually high price. In covering such tragic tales, the principal difficulty lies in getting it right―no small task when the main event occurred 150 years ago.

In many cases, we may never be sure exactly what happened, but the availability of digitized records (a subject addressed here last week in story comments) has changed the game. The truth sometimes emerges to replace embellishments that appeared in the long-accepted, oft-repeated version of a story. » Continue Reading.


Monday, February 25, 2013

The Civil War: Neighbor Against Neighbor

01 1862 Headline Fair OaksA plethora of Civil War stories has flooded the media during this lengthy sesquicentennial. Folks whose roots are in the North often take comfort and perhaps pride that their ancestors were on the right side of the conflict. “Rightness” is still an issue in several former members of the Confederacy, but even if some in the South claims the issue was states’ rights, it was the right of a state to deprive certain humans of their own humanity. And if you’re wrong, you’re wrong. No amount of arguing will change that fact.

However, northern descendants may be a bit hasty in taking credit for the presumed correctness of their ancestors. While the record shows the country was split between North and South, we pay much less attention to the divisive effect the war had on individual towns and villages, even in the North Country. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Emancipation Anniversary: A Local Grassroots Victory

What follows is a guest essay by Peter Slocum, a volunteer and board member with the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association, based in Ausable Chasm.

Almost lost in the recent “Fiscal Cliff” spectacle was the anniversary marking one of the major positive milestones of our history — President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

On January 1, 1863, some 3 million people held as slaves in the Confederate states were declared to be “forever free.” Of course, it wasn’t that simple. Most of those 3 million people were still subjugated until the Union Army swept away the final Confederate opposition more than two years later. And slavery was not abolished in the entire United States until after the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1865.
» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Emancipation Weekend in the Adirondacks

January 1, 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and students, educators, and general public across the North Country will have the opportunity to support a New Proclamation of Freedom for the 21st century.

On Friday 30 November and Saturday 1 December, modern-day abolitionists will gather with students, teachers and the general public concerned about human freedom and human trafficking at various venues in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. Activities will include an art exhibition, a screening of the popular Civil War film Glory, workshops, lectures, and a closing reception following historian David Blight’s keynote address on Saturday night. (Full schedule follows.)
» Continue Reading.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

John Brown Portrait Unveiling Set For History Event

John Brown Lives! and North Country Community College have announced that Maine artist Robert Shetterly will be present for the unveiling of his portrait of abolitionist John Brown during Freedom Now, Freedom Then: The Long History of Emancipation, a two-day program designed for students, educators and the general public on November 30-December 1, 2012. The events will take place in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, New York.

Brown is one of the newest additions to the Americans Who Tell the Truth project that Shetterly began 10 years ago using portraits of contemporary and historical figures and their own words to offer a “link between a community of people who struggled for justice in our past and a community of people who are doing it now.”

With this portrait, Brown joins Shetterly’s pantheon of more than 180 Truth Tellers that includes Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth and Mark Twain from the nation’s past, and Bill McKibben, James Baldwin, Michelle Alexander, and Jonathan Kozol who are addressing some of humanity’s gravest concerns today. » Continue Reading.


Monday, October 8, 2012

George Chahoon: Reconstruction Era ‘Carpetbagger’

George Chahoon, a man who lived in the North Country for 60 years, mostly in Ausable Forks, was the focus of two of the most remarkable incidents in the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War. When the South seceded, it had named Richmond, Virginia, as its capital city. During the post-war years, appointees chosen by the military were placed in power to guide the recovery, and in 1868, George Chahoon, a native of Chenango County, New York, but a Virginia resident for most of his 28 years, was installed as mayor of Richmond, replacing a popular leader who had served in the position for 15 years.

On January 26, 1870, President Grant signed the official act allowing Virginia’s readmission to the Union. Among the new laws passed by the Virginia legislature was one known as the “Enabling Act.” This law allowed the governor to appoint councilmen in any city (there were no town or city governments in place after defeat), and the councilmen were in turn tasked with appointing municipal officers, including mayors.
» Continue Reading.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Civil War: A Musical Journey

Four Seasons, Four Years is a new Old Songs production featuring eleven singers and musicians from the Adirondacks performing a selection of songs extant in America between 1850 and 1865. This performance takes place at View (the former Old Forge Arts Center) this Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 7:30pm. The show includes both popular songs of the period as well as songs composed in response to the Civil War itself and events leading up to it. The songs are interspersed with historical narrative specific to New York State and the New York Volunteer Regiments. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 16, 2012

The Adirondacks Go To War: 1861-1865

Adirondacks in the Civil WarOne hundred fifty years ago this country was torn apart by a great civil war. The Adirondack Museum will host a weekend dedicated to remembering the Civil War in the Adirondacks, the men who fought it and their loved ones at home, this Saturday, July 21 and Sunday, July 22.  Visitors will be able to meet the members of the 118th Volunteer Infantry (the “Adirondack” Regiment”) and President Lincoln at a Civil War Encampment and learn the fate of Adirondack Civil War soldiers of the 118th themselves at a specially produced  presentation by author Glenn Pearsall on Saturday (7:00 p.m.) entitled “The Adirondacks Go To War: 1861 – 1865.”

In the Adirondacks many young men, boys really, left their hard scrabble farms and small towns for the first time in their lives to enlist. Learn what their thoughts were as they marched off to war and how they reacted to the horrors of war. Hear what it was like for the wives, children, mothers and father that they left behind, as well as the lasting impact of the war on the small towns in the Adirondacks following the war. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Adirondack Family Activities: Juneteenth


John Brown Farm State Historic Site will once again commemorate Juneteenth with a family-friendly celebration of freedom. The free event will take place onsite in Lake Placid Saturday, June 16th from 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Brendan Mills, Site Manager and Curator at John Brown Farm Historic Site, says,“ The first Juneteenth took place on June 19, 1865 when Union soldiers told slaves in Galveston, Texas that they were free. It was a moment of triumph. The day and celebration eventually became known as Juneteenth. I wanted to have something to celebrate here.”

Mills organized the annual celebration that will include The Lake Champlain Mass Chorus, Sombabeats African Dance Tribe, Reason2Smile African Market Place, BBQ and ice cream. All the activities are free, though the food and ice cream are available for a $2 donation. » Continue Reading.


Monday, May 21, 2012

North Country Abolitionist James Rood Doolittle

Slavery nearly destroyed this country. We now mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which many consider to have been a battle over slavery. But in the big picture, the battle over slavery has been ongoing since this nation was formed. In our infancy, it was outlawed in some states but not in others. With great gall and to our utter embarrassment, we called ourselves the Land of the Free. In fact, when Francis Scott Key wrote those words in 1814, about half of the states allowed slavery.

There were still plenty of lynchings 150 years later when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. That time is now 50 years past, yet there’s still plenty of bigotry and racism to go around. Judging by where we stand today, it’s shameful to suggest that we’ve come far. More than two centuries, and this is the best we can do?

But many people have fought hard for equality, and they should be remembered. Among the stalwart anti-slavery activists of the mid-1800s was a North Country native, James Rood Doolittle. He was born on January 3, 1815, in Hampton, New York, on the shores of the Poultney River in the northeast corner of Washington County. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Adirondack Regiment in the Civil War:
“The Home Voices Speak Louder than the Drums”

What follows is a guest essay by Wanda Burch has spent 42 years in historic preservation. She recently retired as site manager of Johnson Hall State Historic Site and now serves as Vice-President of Friends of Johnson Hall. She is a regular contributor to the online news magazine New York History.

On August 7, 1862, Henry Graves, physically exhausted from walking, fighting, and from four days detail digging trenches under a Petersburg, Virginia, sun and not “a breath of air stirring,” sat down and wrote to his wife, describing the importance of the imagination to survival. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Books: Johnsburg History Echoes in these Mountains

Glenn L. Pearsall’s Echoes in these Mountains, is subtitled “Historic Sites and Stories Disappearing in Johnsburg, an Adirondack Community,” but thanks to Pearsall, a tireless advocate for local history, those historic sites and stories are being remembered.

The geography of Johnsburg, the largest township in New York State, is central to Echoes in these Mountains. The book is arranged in chapters highlighting various historic sites, all with handy maps to help locate them on the landscape. That approach – locating historical stories around town on the landscape – is part of what drives Pearsall’s personal exploration of his town’s history, and what led to the answer to an interesting historical question. » Continue Reading.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Civil War: North Country Volunteers, Bounties, and the Draft

While reviewing some Civil War materials, I encountered mention of the New York City Draft Riots, which reminded me of my own experience with the draft back in the late 1960s. Whether there was a war or not, I had no interest in joining the military, but it was out of my hands. Vietnam was getting worse instead of better, and more troops were being sent. When I became eligible to go, America switched to the draft lottery.

While I was still in high school, my number (based on birthdays) came up in the 200s, so I didn’t have to go unless I enlisted. That wasn’t the case for men aged 18–45 during the Civil War. They had options, and not being drafted was one of them.

Few people realize that a draft of sorts was used even in the 1700s, a century before the Civil War, and that it was very similar in nature. The call for troops emanated from a central authority, whether it was the Continental Congress, or later, the President (or the Secretary of War).

Across the land, the order was funneled down to the county and town levels, where volunteers were sought. If a town’s quota wasn’t filled by men joining of their own volition, bounties (bonuses) were introduced: the government, the local municipality, or private citizens offered money to entice recruits.

People learned quickly not to volunteer, but instead waited for bounties to become available (like today’s signing bonus). Why join for free when incentives would surely be offered? Thus, bonuses eventually became standard for enlistees.

In 1863, when President Lincoln called for 300,000 troops, every Congressional District in the North had to meet their quota. If you were healthy and were among those called, you had several options provided by federal law: pay a substitute to take your place; pay a commutation fee of $300, enabling you to avoid service; or join the fight.

During that particular call for troops, New York State citizens were offered financial enticements (bounties) that were hard to resist for the average struggling family. In all, bonuses from the county, state, and feds brought the ante to more than $700 per man (over $12,000 in 2012).

Substitutes received the same financial benefits as volunteers, and were also officially listed as “volunteers,” even though they were solicited, recruited, and paid to join the army.

Although the cause was noble, the great pride felt by many Northern states for providing volunteers to preserve the nation was not based entirely in honorable intentions. One reason that so many enlisted was because of the bonuses. It was better to take the financial incentives rather than risk being drafted, which carried with it no bonus pay at all.

Truth be told, the reaction to the draft in the 1860s was typical. A small minority of men (but still numbering in the thousands) opted for draft dodging: many went West, or paid an extended visit to Canada. For that reason, the President made it a crime for any draft-eligible man to leave his state (or the country), a remarkably deep incursion into personal liberty in a nation that so valued freedom for all (unless you were Black, of course). The travel restriction was lifted only after a region’s soldier quota was met.

The majority reacted typically as well, enlisting to take advantage of the financial incentives rather than risk being drafted. As Lincoln himself said, the intent of the draft was not to force men to join, but to increase the number of enlistees (“volunteers”). It mattered not if soldiers were substitutes paid to enlist by either the original draftee or the government.

Though individuals could avoid military service by hiring substitutes or paying a fee, entire counties (dozens of them) took action to avoid the draft for its citizens. Among them in New York was Rensselaer County, which put up $75,000 as bounty (bonus) money, and St. Lawrence County, which took it much further, appropriating more than a half million dollars.

Bonds were sold to finance the plan, backed by St. Lawrence County property valued at more than $15 million. An agent was hired, tasked with the job of recruiting through widespread advertising, and then paying the amounts promised to the “volunteers.”

The process also served another purpose: saving counties the embarrassment of failing to muster enough volunteers to battle for America’s existence. If an outright draft became necessary (forcing men to fight), it might cause others to question Northern citizens’ patriotism.

There were also many private draft agents who were unscrupulous, reaping small fortunes by charging high fees for recruitment of replacement soldiers. Those who weren’t poor willingly parted with substantial cash to avoid joining the battle.

Besides commutation fees and substitutes, there was one other avenue open to those seeking to avoid military service: medical exemption. The government issued an official list of 41 health concerns (complete with detailed levels of disease and disability) that would excuse men from the draft.

Prospective but unwilling warriors perused the list for any symptom, real or imagined, that might save them from service. Doctors reported a surge in self-mutilation (unexplained loss of fingers, toes, and teeth).

The list of exemptive health problems covered the obvious, including insanity, epilepsy, cancer, heart disease, missing limbs, severe skin problems, and more. Others were less common and perhaps surprising: stammering (if excessive, and if proven by evidence under oath); loss of a sufficient number of teeth to prevent mastication of food; a grossly protruding abdomen; and excessive obesity.

Another was cringe-worthy enough that I, for one, would have enlisted with enthusiasm: incontinence. Mild enough, sure, but talk about incentives: the only requirement for proof was “introduction of a metallic catheter.” That would have sent me sprinting to the recruiter’s office.

Another affliction qualifying for exemption was “retracted testicles,” but with the rejoinder, “voluntary retraction does not exempt.” Puzzling enough on its own, it also begs the question: “So this happened enough to merit an entry in the Surgeon General’s manual?”

Photos: Civil War recruiting posters included bounty incentives.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Local Civil War History: The One-Legged Jims

I guarantee you’re going to enjoy this. Continuing in the vein of last week’s piece related to the Civil War (a Plattsburgh woman who served as a man), here’s another unique North Country link to that conflict. Though a true story, it’s perhaps best characterized as one of those Ripley’s Believe It or Not! items, and begs the question: What the heck are the odds of that happening?

I can’t answer that, but I do recall that in my former employment, it was notable when three men all having the same first name worked in the same department. So what can you say about a group of three war veterans called “The One-Legged Jims”?

Among the many Union outfits filled by soldiers from upstate was Company A, 77th Regiment, New York State Volunteers. Enlistment sites, always plentiful, included Chatham, about twenty-five miles south of Albany, and Westport, on the shore of Lake Champlain.

The interest here focuses on three enlistees: James G. Allen, 39; James E. Barnes, 35; and James A. Lawrence, 19. Barnes and Lawrence mustered in at Westport on October 1, 1861, while Allen mustered in at Chatham on February 4, 1864.

All three served in Company A, 77th Regiment. Even though there’s more than a two-year span between their muster dates, they all ended up serving at the same time in 1864. Three Jims, same regiment, same company―no big deal.

In June of that year, the men of the 77th were joined in battle at Petersburg, Virginia. During a lull, the troops relaxed behind the breastworks (barriers to protect from ground attack). Many of them laid down to rest, talking and joking amongst themselves to ease the tensions of war. Within their midst, by mere coincidence lying side by side, were the three aforementioned Jims.

Hell erupted in an instant, courtesy of a Rebel shell that landed virtually in their laps. In describing the scene firsthand, Dr. George Stevens said, “Its explosion threw them in every direction. One went high in the air and fell twenty feet from the spot where he was lying when the shell exploded. Strange to tell, not a man was killed, yet three had each a leg crushed to jelly, and two others were seriously wounded.”

But for the quick work and dedication of medical personnel, the three Jims with mangled legs might have died on the spot. The surgeon gave each a glass of brandy, administered chloroform, and went to work.

Within thirty minutes, three limbs were amputated, the remaining stumps were treated and bandaged, and the men were in ambulances. Their destination was City Point, eleven miles away, where they arrived within three hours of being wounded. The speedy effort saved their lives. Later, all three were transferred to Stanton General Hospital in Washington.

One shell, three legs lost … three left legs … and three one-legged survivors, all named Jim. What are the chances? The coincidence wasn’t lost on anyone, and it earned the men plenty of extra attention during their recovery. In the years to come, they became known informally as The One-Legged Jims. Their story developed into a sort of military urban legend: men would tell it as an incredible army tale from their own outfit, perhaps not aware that it was, in fact, a true story taken from New York’s 77th.

After the war, Jim Lawrence eventually moved west, but Barnes remained in his hometown of Westport. At veterans’ GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) reunions across the state, he became known as the best of storytellers. The highlight, of course, was the retelling of how The One-Legged Jims, a very exclusive club, came into being. Many of the listeners had been present when the shell exploded.

“Well, boys, it was down in a rifle pit before Petersburg on the 21st of June, 1864 – lots of you remember the day – myself, Jim Lawrence, and Jim Allen, all of Company A … had finished our coffee and were lying down, smoking our pipes. My head was supported by my arm, which rested on my knapsack, and my right leg was curled up under me, my left one being stretched out. The other two Jims were lying near me in about the same position. That Rebel shell came, it did, and three Jims lost their left legs.”

He was always careful to describe the treatment and efficiency of the surgeon and others who worked so hard to keep them alive every step of the way.

Barnes made his mark outside the military as well. A pension (equal to $800 a month today) for the loss of his leg helped financially, but he also worked. Those who follow the history of Lake Champlain might recognize James Barnes as the first keeper of Barber’s Point Lighthouse when it opened in 1873.

For the remainder of his life, Barnes attended GAR gatherings. The best one of all, from his perspective, came in 1884, when the annual reunion of the 77th Regiment was held at Westport. Jim’s stories were a highlight of the affair. Over the years, from Saratoga to Plattsburgh, he entertained folks in like manner and made many friends at veterans’ events.

The 1890 reunion was remembered by many as both sweet and bittersweet. Jim Lawrence, the only other surviving member of The One-Legged Jims, came all the way from Nebraska, reconnecting with his friend and sharing stories from the past. It was fortunate that he did.

After the Gloversville reunion, Barnes headed for Westport, but stopped to visit a friend at Fort Ann in Washington County. While there, he was struck down by a stroke and never made it home alive.

As fate would have it, the reunion for 1891 was held in Westport. The unfortunate absence of Barnes was noted in a published summary of the event:

“The ‘boys in blue’ … adjourned to the lower rooms, where refreshments were served and old army stories (which no doubt grow tougher as they grow older) were told. James Barnes, the champion storyteller, was missed from the ranks, he having been summoned by the last roll since their last reunion.”

Photo: The crimson silk flank marker of New York’s 77th Regiment.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.