April 24, 2018

The 79th Pennsylvania's 1st Reunion in 1877

Location: 12 N Prince St, Lancaster, PA 17603, USA

On the morning of October 8, 1877 -- the fifteenth anniversary of the Battle of Perryville -- the veterans of the 79th Pennsylvania assembled for the first time since the war's end. Colonel Hambright led a parade through the streets of Lancaster that culminated in a meeting at Fulton Hall that featured singing, a history of the regiment by Sigmund Wisner, and an oration by E. K. Martin.

The Daily New Era reported, "Long will live in memory the recollection of the 8th day of October, 1877, for it was a gala day in Lancaster -- a day when the survivors of as brave a regiment as ever fired a gun met in fraternal good fellowship for the first time since the close of the bloody war which called them into existence."

A full report of the day's proceedings and speeches appeared in the New Era. See the following link for a scan of these newspaper articles: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1R_iwUQ48iwORhy832tYRUhhEWMgwSasc/view?usp=sharing

Recently, I acquired some ephemera related to this event on eBay. Appearing here are scans of the envelope, ticket, and program that were presumably saved by one of the veterans attending the event.

Hopefully a future post could go further in depth on the content of the speeches and the people present.

79th Pennsylvania Reunion Program, 1877 

April 17, 2018

Genoa (NY) at War: Researching my new hometown

Location: Genoa, NY 13071, USA
Almost two years ago my career took me to the Finger Lakes region of New York, and I moved to a beautiful house from the 1850s in the small hamlet of Genoa, New York. While I maintain a deep interest in the Civil War history of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the demands of career and family have limited my ability to post on this blog. However, I'm naturally curious about the Civil War history of my new hometown and recently took part in a roundtable discussion hosted by the Genoa Historical Association. Here's my account of the discussion that summarizes some of the things that I learned preparing for that discussion.

Title page of list of Civil War soldiers compiled by the clerk of the Town of Genoa at the war's end
When the Civil War ended in 1865, the state of New York required all town clerks to compile a list of all soldiers and sailors from each town who fought in what was then more commonly known as the “War of the Rebellion.” The clerk for the Town of Genoa dutifully completed this task, documenting the basic service details for 156 men.  This list and the details it provided became the basis for a roundtable discussion on Genoa’s contribution to the Civil War at the Genoa Historical Association on Sunday, February 25. The discussion aimed to start discovering the fascinating stories of courage and conflict behind the names, dates, and places on the town clerk’s list.  I presented information on Civil War soldiers from Genoa, and Joe Jadhon gave an interesting overview of the uniform and equipment of the average Civil War soldier from New York.

The enlistments of soldiers from Genoa were spread out over the years 1861 through 1864 with most enlisting in 1861 or 1862 and serving a three-year term.  Some who enlisted in 1861 – including George W. Crocker, who was wounded in battle in 1863 – even chose to reenlist when their term of service expired before the war ended. Out of the 156 soldiers, 115 were listed as single and 41 were listed as married.

Civil War soldiers usually served in regiments of up to 1,000 soldiers from the same state, and ten companies recruited in individual towns made up a regiment. Serving with soldiers from one’s hometown produced social cohesion and fostered connections between the home front and battlefield.  However, it also meant that a regiment being in a tough spot in a battle could result in a devastating casualty list for a town, as was the case for Genoa and the Battle of Gettysburg.
The most common Civil War regiments in which soldiers from Genoa served were the 75th New York and the 111th New York.  The 75th New York fought in many lesser-known campaigns in Florida and Louisiana before finishing the war in Virginia and Georgia.  The 111th New York fought in many of the more famous battles in the Eastern Theater of the war, and suffered heavily while playing a critical role in the Battle of Gettysburg.

Gen. George D. Robinson
(Source: Captaining the Corps D'Afrique)
Soldiers from Genoa served in many other regiments, as well.  George Dorgue Robinson, the highest-ranking of all of Genoa’s soldiers, enlisted in the 75th New York as a 2nd Lieutenant. His parents, Joseph and Maria (Sill), immigrated to the United States from England and owned a farm just to the west of the Genoa Rural Cemetery by 1855. Against the advice of his professors, George left the University of Michigan after the war’s outbreak to become an officer.  In 1863, he presumably volunteered to take a position as a major in the 1st Louisiana Colored Engineers – a recently established regiment of freed slaves – and later as the colonel leading the 3rd Louisiana Colored Engineers (later the 97th Infantry Regiment, United States Colored Troops).  He died in Florida in 1873 after receiving the rank of brevet brigadier general and completing his studies at the University of Michigan.

George Robinson and the 3rd Louisiana Colored Engineers’ biggest contribution to the war came in May 1864 during the ill-fated Red River Campaign in Louisiana. The Union army had suffered many setbacks, but the Union navy was on the verge of a complete disaster when a drop in the Red River’s water level meant that a flotilla of gunboats was stuck upriver and in danger of capture by the Confederates. Robinson and his soldiers spent two weeks helping to construct a partial dam with an opening in the middle to allow the valuable Union gunboats to escape downriver.

Karen Spiero, great-granddaughter of George Robinson’s sister, attended the presentation and provided more information about the family. George’s brother, Charles, served in the 111th New York and was mortally wounded in the Battle of Gettysburg.  Karen also brought a sword likely used by Col. Robinson while he completed this task and a beautiful sword presented to him as a testimony of respect form the officers of the 3rd Louisiana Colored Engineers.

Bailey's Dam, Harper's Weekly 6/18/1864
Two African-American residents from Genoa served in the Union army, according to the town clerk’s list. Aaron Prime – who is listed as a farmer born in Auburn and appears in the 1850 census as living with father Simon and mother Sophia – went to Rhode Island to join the 11th Regiment, US Colored Heavy Artillery, in 1863.  Henry Green was born in Virginia, presumably as a slave, and joined the 26th Regiment, US Colored Infantry. Research indicates that both men survived the war and that Prime is buried in Owego while Green is buried in Ithaca.

The town clerk’s list also indicates the fate of those who served in the war – whether they survived and where they resided upon coming home.  Ten of the 156 soldiers were killed in battle or died of wounds received in battle. All but one of the ten were casualties from the Battle of Gettysburg; Henry C. Crocker died in the opening battle of the Siege of Petersburg. All but one of the ten belonged to the 111th New York; Henry Hallet was killed defending Culp’s Hill with the 137th New York in the Battle of Gettysburg. Twenty more of the 156 soldiers from Genoa lost their lives from other causes.  Four died in captivity – one at Andersonville prison and three at Salisbury prison in North Carolina. Sixteen others died of disease in hospitals at places such as Petersburg, Hilton Head, and Fort Pickens, and at home.

The Genoa Historical Association intends to continue these roundtable discussions to discover and share the stories of Genoa and the Civil War. Anyone with information (especially letters and photographs) about soldiers from Genoa, their families, or life in Genoa in the mid-1800s is welcome to contact the Genoa Historical Association at GenoaHistorical@gmail.com or (315) 364-8202. Future roundtable discussions will be organized by regiments in which soldiers served and will focus on the soldiers’ battle experience and biographies. The next event will take place on April 22, 2018, with a topic of the battles and campaigns of the 111th New York and the soldiers from Genoa in that regiment.