As evening fell, the last light of the day illuminated the yellow leaves covering the ground like a shroud. It was particularly fitting, as I had stopped by Pittsford Cemetery to pay my respects to Nathan Mulford Cook on the 147th anniversary of his death.
Nathan was born in April of 1842. He was the fourth child, and third boy, in the Cook family. It seems his parents, Wiliam Henry and Phebe Rose Terbell Cook, came to Pittsford, New York from Suffolk County, New York sometime before 1840. The 1840 census shows William working as a carpenter in Pittsford, but by 1850 he was a nurseryman.
The Cooks had lost four children between the years of 1845 and 1859. How concerned William and Phebe must have been when two of their three surviving sons, William Jr. and Nathan, came to them with the news that they wished to join the Union forces. William Jr. decided to enlist in the 4th New York Heavy Artillery. Nathan would have been happy with that, until the Sharpshooter scouts came to call. Nathan was one of only a handful of men who qualified for the Sharpshooters. He had the skill to shoot ten consecutive shots into a ten inch circle from 200 hundred yards away. Only two Pittsford men had that ability. The other, George P. Walters, was mustered into the Sharpshooters on the same day as Nathan. William and Nathan enlisted within days of each other in August, 1862. Sadly, they would die within weeks of each other in October of the same year.
I always picture Nathan as a good-natured, gangly boy who loved animals and the outdoors. His military service record states that he stood 5′ 9″ tall, with a light complexion, dark hair and black eyes. Unfortunately, the record gives little more information than that. We know that Nathan died in Pittsford. Did he even leave home before becoming ill? Did William, who had shipped out with the 4th NY Heavy Artillery, know that Nathan was sick before he himself became ill with and died from typhoid fever on October 3, 1862?
Upon Nathan’s death on October 28, 1862, he was laid to rest in Pittsford Cemetery at his brother William’s side. Their four young siblings – Mary Augusta (1844-1845), Charles Terbell (1849-1858), Hannah Terbell (1851-1852) and Ella Frances (1859-1859) – lie beside them. An older sister, named Phebe Elizabeth but known to the family as “Libby”, married Julian Way Geare and bore him two children, William and Minnie. Phebe died in 1872 at age 35, followed several months later by her infant daughter Minnie. Her son, William, passed away just four years later. Mary Star Cook, younger sister to Nathan and William, lived a long life. She went on to marry Don Quincy Alvord of Perinton, NY. They moved to Camden, NY where they raised four sons. Mary passed away at age 85, living well into the 20th century. She and her husband are buried at Pittsford Cemetery, as are Phebe and her children.
Brother Edward P. Cook is a mystery to me. Born in 1840, he was two years older than Nathan, and two years younger than William. The 1860 census lists Edward’s occupation as a teacher. Subsequent census records do not give me enough information to undeniably confirm Edward’s identity. I will continue to gather clues in the hopes that someday I will be able to track Edward.
The fates of Nathan and William Cook haunt me. Two young men, who should have been enjoying the beginnings of their adult lives, were instead lying in the ground. Illness took them before they could prove themselves on the battlefield. The Cook family suffered more than their fair share of early deaths.