Chapter 28 - History of Wyoming County

CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE LETCHWORTH RIFLES - ACTION DURING THE RAILROAD RIOTS - VICTORIES IN SHOOTING MATCHES.

THIS organization was the outgrowth of the veteran element of the county, represented in the membership of Gibbs Post G. A. R., at Warsaw, and was organized on application to the governor of the State of New York by a majority of its subsequent members, who elected both commissioned officers and non-commissioned, mainly from the veterans of the war of 1861-65.

It was organized under orders from general headquarters July 17th, 1876. The commissions of the captain and lieutenant bore date May 18th, 1876. It was inspected and mustered in the presence of the brigade commander and staff July 29th, 1876, from which time the five years enrollment of the company dates; and on the 24th of August the membership numbered 3 commissioned officers and 100 noncommissioned officers and privates, that being the full number allowed under the State authority.

Of the men who compose this organization it is not too much to say that the best elements of society are represented among them, and that as a whole they will compare favorably with any similar organization in the State.

The company was designated the fourth separate company of infantry, 31st brigade, 8th division, N. G. S. N. Y., which name it bore until, in the reorganization of the State forces, December 8th, 1877, the designation was changed to the 19th separate company of infantry, 14th brigade, 8th division, N. G. S. N. Y. The company adopted its local name in honor of the distinguished philanthropist Hon. William P. Letchworth, of Genesee Falls. The part taken by him in the effort to make Warsaw a place of deposit for military stores and a rendezvous and point of training for the infantry of the national guard of the State, as also the interest shown by him in the .various public enterprises of the county, rendered the adoption of this name quite appropriate.

This command was among the first organized under the provision of the statute distributing the military equipment of the State in the rural districts, by the organization in counties of separate companies, to be attached to the various brigades and divisions, the boundaries of which are those of the judicial districts; thus locating the reserve force of the government among the intelligent citizens, who must, in a country like this, always be relied on for the maintenance of order and the repression of lawless outbreaks among the class of social parasites who have come to be known as tramps and communists. The history of the efficient services of this command in the suppression of the labor strikes of 1877 illustrates the wisdom of this policy.

When this command was organized the social features which the organization presented were strong attractions, and rendered the work of recruiting the company easy. A year of holiday soldiering followed, during which soldierly education and discipline and thorough tactical drilling were not neglected.

June 30th, 1877, a call was made on this portion of the reserve arm of the government for a guard at Portage. The prompt response to this call, and the valuable services of the company in the discharge of this duty, were recognized in official communication from general headquarters. These prompt and efficient services not only demonstrated the utility and economy of maintaining such an organization, which in this case probably saved the county an outlay far in excess of the expense incurred, but materially changed the views of the members of the command concerning the character and value of their services, and the utility and necessity of exact military discipline. It also demonstrated to lookers on who admire the beauty and precision of military evolutions, that the drill and discipline by which this precision is acquired have a purpose beyond the display which they admire.

The brief experiences at Portage were more emphatically repeated soon afterward. On the 22nd of July, 1877, orders were received for the entire command to be in readiness for emergent duty on the occasion of that outburst of lawlessness which has passed into history as the great strike. At noon of the next day, in response to orders of not more than three hours, nearly the whole of the command reported from their scattered homes, armed and equipped for duty, and at 5 P. M. the command took train for Buffalo, leaving a guard at Warsaw. At Attica twenty-two men, under orders from Major-General Howard, relieved about four times

their number of Buffalo troops in charge of and guarding public property, effectually suppressing riotous demonstrations at that point until July 27th, under command at first of Lieutenant C. T. Watkins, and subsequently of Lieutenant J. M. Smith.

The balance, fifty in number, under command of Captain A. B. Lawrence, proceeded to Buffalo, arriving at about 9 P. M., passed through the blockade of rioters, which a few hours later attacked and destroyed the car containing the Westfield company, similarly en route; remained constantly on duty till the 27th, when, the riotous demonstrations having ceased, the command returned, having received the compliments, congratulations and thanks of the citizens of Buffalo.

They took up the detail at Attica, and were welcomed at Warsaw by the citizens and ladies with a beautiful collation, which had been spread in the armory, in anticipation of their return.

For this service the command was again officially and specially commended from general headquarters. The result of this and similar service confirmed the policy of the distribution of the companies in the rural districts of the State. In his report for that year the adjutant- general said:

"The success which has attended the organization of separate companies of infantry has been greater than was anticipated when authority of law was obtained for that purpose, some three years since. All of those companies were on active duty during the recent campaign, and behaved well; and no difficulty was experienced in uniting several of them and forming a battalion under the command of the senior officer, although the companies came from different counties. * * * There should be at least one of these companies in every county in which there are no regiments or battalions, and then every sheriff in the State would have at his call an organized force to aid him in preserving the peace, which could be almost as readily summoned as the police in the cities. As an evidence of what can be done in this way, and how advantageously the national guard can be thus used, reference is made to the report of Captain A. B. Lawrence, of the action of his command - the fourth separate company of the thirty-first brigade - in aiding the sheriff in quelling a riotous disturbance which occurred in Wyoming county recently."

The services referred to in this report were the suppression of a riot on the State Line railroad in Gainesville, October 18th, 1877, on the requisition of the sheriff of Wyoming county, who, with the county, had been made responsible for the results of that riot by the demands of the railroad authorities upon him officially. The prompt and efficient action of the command ended the riot with a brief campaign, relieving the county from a heavy bill of damages.

Attached to and a part of this company is a band of more than average musical ability, under the leadership of H. D. Hurlburt, whose value as a citizen has been enhanced by his enlistment as a soldier and his ability as a leader, and to whose efficiency the more than local reputation of this band is largely due.

A principal feature in this command has been, and it still is, its record in military rifle practice. It is largely composed of men who have developed taste and skill in this important branch of military service. The first year of the company's existence three State badges were awarded to its members; the second, seventeen; and the third, fifty-two - the largest number awarded to any similar organization in the State.

The following extract is from the report of the general inspector of rifle practice, in the adjutant- general's report, 1878:

"I enclose also copies of the scores made by the several teams who contested for the State prize September 4th, at which time the prize was won by the team from the 4th separate company of infantry, 31st brigade, at Warsaw. The prize was presented to the company at Warsaw in the presence of a large number of citizens, on Wednesday, September 26th."

This prize was won in a competition with eleven teams. It is a massive silver water cooler, three feet in height, of elegant design, on which is engraved: "Presented by the State of New York as the first prize in the 8th division rifle match, shot at Buffalo September 3d, 1877; won by the team from Warsaw, N. Y."

The career of this company is a source of just pride to the county, whose reputation it so creditably maintains. Its efficiency and its excellent reputation are due not only to the excellent material of which the rank and file is composed, but to the veteran experience of its officers.

Captain A. B. Lawrence was a member of the 130th regiment of infantry - afterward the first dragoons. The qualities of a good officer - ability, ambition and strict discipline - are prominent in him.

First Lieutenant Jacob M. Smith was a most efficient member of the 9th N. Y. cavalry. He resigned, and was honorably discharged April 18th, 1878.

Second Lieutenant Charles T. Watkins was first sergeant of the first company that left Wyoming county - Company K, 17th N. Y. infantry. He was elected to the position of first lieutenant, made vacant by the resignation of Lieutenant Smith.

The position made vacant by the promotion of Lieutenant Watkins was filled by Jacob R. Smith, who was elected and commissioned with rank from May 30th, 1878. Lieutenant Smith was a veteran of the 3d Connecticut infantry. He met a tragic death on the 10th of April, 1879, while in the discharge of his professional duty, universally respected and lamented.

SOURCE:  History of Wyoming County, N.Y., with Illustrations, Biographical Sketches and Portraits of Some Pioneers and Prominent Residents; F. W. Beers & Co.; 1860