Chapter 15 - History of Wyoming County



THE limits and scope of this work will not permit even an enumeration of all the events that led to the civil war. It is quite proper, however, that a brief mention should be made of some of the more important and immediate antecedents of the contest, in which many of the citizens of this county bore a conspicuous and honorable part, and in which many laid down their lives.

The doctrine which has by some been termed a grand political heresy - that of State sovereignty, or, as it was improperly termed at the South, State rights, was what led to the civil war. By this is meant the right of a State to set aside any act of Congress which may be deemed unconstitutional by the State authorities. This doctrine was distinctly set forth in the famous Kentucky resolutions of 1798, and was for a long time accepted by many, perhaps by a majority, in all parts of the country. This doctrine involves not the right of nullification alone, but that of secession. South Carolina in 1832 was dissatisfied with the protective tariff which Congress established, and adopted an ordinance of nullification and secession. A compromise was effected, some concessions to the prejudices were made, and she repealed her ordinances.

The question of the introduction of slavery into Kansas arose, and the people of the Northern States evinced a determination to prevent it, in which they were successful. In 1856 threats of secession were freely uttered in case of the success of the Republican party, which in 1855 had been formed on the issue of slavery extension. In 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected President, and this was regarded by southern statesmen as the finishing stroke to the extension of their institution, and they proceeded to execute their threats. South Carolina took the lead in this, followed by Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, Florida and Louisiana, all of which before the end of November issued calls for State conventions to consider the question of secession. In this they were followed after a time by Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas and North Carolina, all of which adopted ordinances of secession.

South Carolina adopted the ordinance of secession on the first day of December, 1860. Three days later Governor Pickens issued his proclamation, declaring it to be a "separate, sovereign, true and independent State, having a right to levy war, conclude peace, negotiate treaties," etc.

John B. Floyd, of Virginia, was at that time Secretary of War. He had caused 70,000 stands of arms to be placed in the arsenal at Charleston, and had put that arsenal in the care of the governor of South Carolina; and thus when the State decided it was able to possess itself of these arms, it was also found that the northern arsenals generally had been depleted and the arms sent south. Many of the ships of the navy had been sent to distant seas, and the government was left without efficient resources with which to repress a sudden uprising.

The senators from South Carolina were first to resign their seats, followed by others and by members of the Cabinet, and of the House of Representatives. Texas, the last of the seven States which united in forming the "Southern Confederacy," adopted the ordinance of secession February 1st, 1861. On the 4th of the same month the delegates who had been appointed by the conventions for that purpose met at Montgomery, Ala., .to form a government. They adopted the constitution of the United States, with some additions and alterations, as the constitution of the confederate States, and chose for provisional President and Vice President Jefferson Davis and Alexander H. Stevens.

When South Carolina passed the ordinance of secession in December, 1860. Fort Moultrie, in Charleston harbor, was garrisoned by sixty effective men in command of Major Anderson. The fort was not secure against attack, and Major Anderson was denied reinforcements. Accordingly on the night of December 20th he removed his force to Fort Sumter, which had been quietly prepared for his occupation. It had been instructed by the President "not to take up without necessity any position which could be construed into a hostile attitude, but to hold possession of the forts, and if attacked, defend himself." This evacuation of Fort Moultrie therefore surprised the President and aroused the indignation of the South Carolinians, who thought they had a pledge from the President to prevent such removal. He was induced to take this step because he entertained just apprehensions of the occupation of Fort Sumter by the South Carolina troops, and an attack on his small force in the nearly defenseless fort which he was, in which case it would have been impossible for him to hold out a day.

Three commissioners that had been appointed by the South Carolina convention "to treat with the United States" repaired to Washington, and in obedience to their instructions demanded that Major Anderson should be ordered back to Fort Moultrie, and in case of refusal that the forts in Charleston harbor should be unconditionally evacuated. About this time the government offices, forts, etc., were possessed by the State troops, who were supplied with arms and ammunition from the arsenal.

An attempt was made by the government to revictual and reinforce Fort Sumter, and for that purpose the steamer "Star of the West" was sent in January, 186 1, with two hundred men, provisions, ammunition, etc. She was fired on from Morris Island, was struck by several shot and compelled to return without landing her troops and cargo.

April 12th, 1861, at 4 A. M., the bombardment of Fort Sumter was commenced from the batteries of Fort Moultrie, Sullivan's Island and elsewhere. The rebel forces were under command of General Beauregard, who demanded the surrender of the fort. Major Anderson replied that he would only surrender when his supplies were exhausted. The cannonading was kept up with spirit on both sides. The result was the surrender of the fort on the 13th, and on the 14th Major Anderson and his command left on the steamer "Isabel" for New York.

After the attack on Fort Sumter it was feared that the confederate troops would march at once on Washington, and all the available forces were so disposed so as to afford the best protection to the capital possible with the meagre number of troops available. Measures were at once taken to raise troops in several States, and thousands of volunteers at once offered their services. President Lincoln promptly issued his proclamation and call for 75,000 troops for three months, and stated that they would first be used to "repossess the forts, places and property which had been seized from the Union." The proclamation also called a special session of Congress for the next 4th of July, to do whatever might be deemed necessary for the public safety. Another proclamation, declaring a blockade, was soon issued.

To this call for volunteers the people of the loyal States responded with the utmost alacrity. Only two days after Governor Andrew, of Massachusetts, issued orders calling for troops, two regiments were on their way to Washington. In every city and almost every village in the loyal North meetings were held, large sums of money were pledged for the support of the families of volunteer companies, and regiments were raised and sent forward, and a degree of patriotic feeling was aroused the existence of which had by some been doubted.

On the 29th of April the President called for 40,000 volunteers to serve three years, and 25,000 regulars for five years' service. In his message to Congress, which convened in special session in July, he recommended the passage of a law authorizing the raising of 400,000 men and placing $400,000,000 at the disposal of the government, in order to make this contest a short and decisive one. During the nine days of the session acts were passed to legalize the past action of the President, to authorize the calling out of 500,000 volunteers, to appropriate some $266,000,000 for the prosecution of the war, and to confiscate property used for insurrectionary purposes.

At the breaking out of the war hardly any one anticipated a struggle of beyond two or three months; but instead of the short, decisive war that was at first anticipated the contest was prolonged through four years, with an expenditure of life and treasure unparalleled in the history of similar wars. During this' time the Union forces experienced alternate successes and reverses till the decisive triumphs of Grant and Sheridan, the resistless march of Sherman to the sea, and the complete exhaustion of the enemy's resources, brought the consummation for which the friends of the Union had so long labored and prayed. The tension at which the feelings of the friends of humanity had been held during four years was relaxed, and the world breathed free again.

On Tuesday evening, April 23d, 1861, the first war meeting was held at Warsaw. The Western New Yorker of the 25th headed its account of the meeting with


"Raising the Stars and Stripes - Rousing Union Demonstration - Volunteers Forming - Liberal Subscriptions by our Citizens- Wyoming Sound!

"Tuesday's proceedings show that the people of Warsaw cherish the same Union sentiment that summons so many brave arms and dauntless spirits to the conflict now upon us. Our citizens are in earnest. There is patriotic work to be done, and they will do their share. Wyoming county believes the government should be sustained in its attempt at self-assertion, and her sons are preparing if need be to strike brave blows against the traitors who are striving to prove this last attempt at self-government by the people a miserable failure.

"The loyal men were out on Tuesday. A fine flag-staff was raised at the junction of Main and Buffalo streets, and the national colors are floating from its summit."

A meeting was held at the court-house in the evening, over which General L. W. Thayer was called to preside, and a vice-president was chosen from each town in the county. The court-house did not afford standing room for the crowd, and the meeting adjourned to the lawn in front. There speeches were made by the Hon. Martin Grover, of Angelica, Hon. John B. Skinner, of Buffalo, and Hon. Seth Wakeman, of Batavia.

After the close of the meeting, which broke up reluctantly, the people reassembled in the court-house, where they were addressed by Hon. H. L. Comstock, of Warsaw, C. A. Macomber, of Buffalo, and others. For the raising of funds for the families of volunteers a committee, consisting of Messrs. Buxton, Ferris, Farman, Miller, Blake, Morris and Darling, was appointed. At the close of the meeting this committee reported the following contributions: J. H. Darling, $500; Augustus Frank, $250; C. and T. Buxton, $200; Artemas Blake, $150; James H. Loom is, Amos Otis, Selden C. Allis, F. and E. B. Miller, J. A. McElwain, L. W. Thayer, H. L. Comstock, B. B. Conable, Henry Garretsee, and Morris & Lewis, each $100; C. W. Bailey, George W. Frank, A. B. Lawrence, E. E. Farman, George Durfee, William Bingham, Uriah Johnson, R. H. Miller, Robert R. Munger and Truman Lewis, each $50; C. C. Gates, A. Y. Breck, J. Watts, L. W. Smith, Esek Cook, R. W. Hewett, Walter R. Keith, Alonzo Cleveland, Miles H. Morris and Bryon Healy, each $25; R. A. Crippen, B. F. Homer, E. C. Shattuck and Manlius Gay, each $20; M. L. Rice, $15; and B. F. Fargo, Hiram Stearns, O. A. Shaw, James A. Webster, Edmund Buck, Godfrey Gates, Benjamin Bisby and Simeon Holton, each $10; a total of $3,000. Thirty men were enrolled as volunteers at this meeting.

On Wednesday, the 24th, a similar meeting was held at Pearl Creek, in the town of Covington, and upwards of $2,000 was subscribed for the benefit of the families of volunteers in that town. On the list of subscribers to this fund appeared the names of Selden Allen for $200; J. H. Burroughs, E. Durfee, Major Corey, Rev. D. Morey, M. Weed, C. Burroughs, M. and J. Everes and C. L. Hayden, each $100; and D. Keith, Rev. Dr. Dean, D. Barrett, Walter Keith, Rev. J. Jones and R. Whiteside, each $50. Were the records of similar meetings that were held in other parts of the county accessible, it would be seen that there was nowhere a lack of patriotism. Had the subscriptions of smaller amounts been reported, it would have appeared in many a case, as in that of the widow who gave her mite, that when measured by the ability of the giver the contribution was greater than many which were expressed by larger figures. The poor as well as the rich recognized the danger which menaced the free institutions of the country, and in proportion to their ability they were even more ready to make sacrifices for the preservation of those institutions.

On Friday, the 26th, the thirty who were enrolled at Warsaw on the 23d held a meeting, at which there were patriotic speeches and music, and about forty names were added to the roll. On Monday, the 29th, the enrollment list, including the full complement of names, was forwarded to Albany. The officers named were G. H. Jenkins, captain; H. A. Dudley, first lieutenant; and A. M. Whaley, second lieutenant. The alacrity with which the call for troops had been answered throughout the country was such that some delay was necessarily experienced in sending forward the companies that were so promptly raised, and organizing them in regiments. In many localities, and in Wyoming county among them, impatience began to be felt at this delay.

On the 20th of May, nearly a month after the company was filled, orders to move forward were received. A collation was served to the men by some kind hearted citizens, a Bible presented to each one by Rev. Dr. Nassau in behalf of the Wyoming County Bible Society, farewells and tearful leave takings were exchanged, and the volunteers moved to the railroad station, whence, in the presence of the thousands who had assembled to witness their departure, they were borne away. After a halt of two days in Albany they were ordered to New York, where they were assigned to the 17th regiment New York volunteers, under command of Colonel Lansing, of Albany.

In this county, as in all parts of the country, the departure of the first company of volunteers was an occasion of peculiar interest. It was the first time in the history of the country that the national existence had been threatened, and the patriotic feelings of every loyal citizen were roused into intense activity. It was the first general call which had been made upon the present generation for volunteers to serve in the field, and of course the first occasion on which the people had been called to bid adieu to fathers, sons or brothers, who took their lives in their hands for the defense of their country. They experienced a higher pride in the patriotism of their kindred and friends, and a more poignant grief at parting, than they felt on similar occasions afterwards; for the acuteness of these feelings was to some extent worn away by frequent exercise, and after the first departure less of idle curiosity was felt,

The brave volunteers of Wyoming county who left the comforts of their homes, their social and domestic pleasures, and who severed for the time the ties which linked them to their families and friends, to rally for the defense of the institutions under which they had been permitted to enjoy these comforts, pleasures, and affections; to face the stern realities of grim visaged war. to endure the hardships and privations of the field, to inhale the pestilential emanations from southern swamps, to languish in sickness and pain on pallets, " with no hand of kindred to smooth their lone pillows," and, too often, to find solitary graves where neither mother nor sister, wife nor children could come to "drop affection's tear," deserve a more minute history than the merits of this work will permit. They constituted parts of organizations the balance of which came from other regions, and their histories are inseparably connected with those of these organizations.

SOURCE:  History of Wyoming County, N.Y., with Illustrations, Biographical Sketches and Portraits of Some Pioneers and Prominent Residents; F. W. Beers & Co.; 1880