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What you need to know for 08/17/2017

Focus on History: Civil War battles remembered

Focus on History: Civil War battles remembered

Montgomery County has been remembering the Civil War at several events this week.

Montgomery County has been remembering the Civil War at several events this week. Today is Camp Mohawk Day at the old courthouse in Fonda from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Men from Montgomery, Fulton and Saratoga counties responded to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for 300,000 volunteers 150 years ago in the summer of 1862. The local area met its quota in one month.

The men gathered for training in a field north of Fonda called Camp Mohawk. The 115th and 153rd New York regiments trained there. There is a Camp Mohawk historic marker on Route 30A.

Historian Mark Silo of Loudonville will give a lecture today on what happened to one of the regiments, and he will sign copies of his book, “The 115th New York in the Civil War.”

Within two weeks of leaving Fonda, the 115th took part in the battle of Harper’s Ferry in Virginia, now West Virginia. They were among 11,000 soldiers surrendered by a Union general as the battle began. Ironically, the general who ordered the surrender died in the rebel bombardment before the Confederates saw the Union white flags.

“In those days they used an honor system for prisoners of war,” Silo said. “They pledged not to fight against the Confederacy until they were officially exchanged, which happened a few months later.”

The 115th was held in Union custody in Chicago. As they boarded their train for Washington to join the war, their Chicago barracks caught fire. A trial was held in their absence and the 115th was found guilty of arson, although Silo said records at the National Archives do not confirm their guilt. The Mohawk Valley soldiers were banished to perform manual labor for a year in Hilton Head, S.C.

When the 115th finally got into combat, it was brutal. Half of the 600-man regiment was killed or wounded in the battle of Olustee in Florida. In all, 400 members of the 115th died during the war, many from disease.

Their first commander, Col. Simeon Sammons, was wounded in the foot at Olustee. Sammons recovered but was wounded again when the regiment fought at the Crater in Petersburg, Va. Sammons returned to Fonda and later was elected to the state Legislature.

Silo said the Florida campaign of 1864 was political in origin. Supporters of the idea convinced President Lincoln that they could get Florida back into the Union. The Union managed to occupy the Jacksonville area for the rest of the war, but Silo said the Florida campaign didn’t amount to much strategically. Silo’s book has attracted interest from other historians because it deals with these lesser-known battles.

In addition to Silo’s talk, today’s event in and around the old courthouse will feature period music, re-enactors, a bake sale, chicken barbecue and activities for children. There will be a special postal cancellation.

Funeral train

The Civil War and assassination of President Lincoln helped shape the funeral customs we follow today. Embalming became popular as a way to preserve the war dead who had to be transported hundreds of miles home. When Lincoln died, his body was embalmed and went on its long final journey back to Illinois by train, including a stop in Amsterdam at 5:25 p.m. on April 26, 1865.

The funeral train was tremendous publicity for embalming. Amsterdam woodworker Isaac S. Shuler had started making coffins in 1862 and after the Civil War began offering undertaking services.

When Shuler died, his business was taken over by W. Max Reid. Reid is known as a historian for his 1901 book, “The Mohawk Valley.” Awards from the Historic Amsterdam League are called “Maxies” in Reid’s honor.

Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact Bob Cudmore at 346-6657 or bobcudmore@yahoo.com.

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