Archive for January 2012

Hero Highlight – Harvey E. Light, Co. E, 10th Michigan Cavalry

January 7, 2012

A visit to Major Harvey E. Light’s grave always draws a captive audience when Audrey Johnson and I give our annual Pittsford Cemetery tour in May.  However, this year we managed to elicit gasps from the crowd when it was announced that a descendant of Major Light was in our midst.  Doug Light, Harvey’s great-great grandson, had traveled from his home in Texas to attend the tour.  This was Doug’s first trip to Pittsford, where he had come to pay tribute to the man so many admired.

Harvey E. Light’s story began in 1834, when he was born at Fishkill-on-the-Hudson, the first child of blacksmith James Light and his wife, Maria Devine.  The family moved to Fairport when Harvey was an infant.  At a young age, Harvey left school to help support the family by working on the farm of Jesse Whitney, currently the location of the Fairport Baptist Home.  He also worked on the Webster farm in Pittsford.    Harvey may have met his future wife, Mary Helen Shepard, during this time.  Mary Helen’s father, Sylvester Shepard, was an early settler to Pittsford with his brother, William Shepard.

In 1852, James sold his land in Fairport to Daniel B. DeLand and moved the family, now consisting of nine children, to Greenville, Michigan.  Harvey followed the family to Michigan in the mid-1850s where he worked as a nurseryman.  Eventually, he bought his own farm and expanded his nursery business to include 300 acres of pine trees.  Harvey returned to New York in 1861 to wed Mary Helen Shepard at the First Presbyterian Church in Pittsford.  Together, they traveled to Michigan where Harvey was elected Sheriff of Montcalm County.

Soon after the birth of his first child in July 1863, Harvey was given permission to raise a company to join in the war effort.  He hired a bugler, a snare drummer and a bass drummer to help “drum up” interest in the war enlistment meetings which were held throughout the area.  Company E, 10th Michigan Cavalry went off to war with the newly commissioned Captain Harvey E. Light at its helm.

Major Harvey E. Light, 10th Michigan Cavalry

Much of Harvey’s time with the 10th Michigan Cavalry was spent in the Knoxville, Tennessee, area.  After a time, Harvey was sent back to Michigan to recruit more men.  He must have been quite persuasive, for he managed to enlist his brother Dewitt to join Co. E.  Younger brothers Edward and George served in the 8th Michigan Infantry.  Amazingly, all four Light boys survived the war.  Harvey E. Light was promoted to Major before mustering out on November 11, 1865.

Four more sons and a daughter were born to the Lights in the years following the Civil War.  The family moved to Massachusetts in 1873, where Harvey had purchased a foundry, but returned to Pittsford several years later.  They lived on the Shepard family homestead on East Avenue, which has since been razed.  Harvey was very active in the community, serving throughout the years as an active member of the First Presbyterian church, a census taker, Grange member and Commander of the G.A.R. EJ Tyler Post #288, an organization composed of Civil War veterans.

Harvey continued to live on his farm after the death of his wife in 1902.  It was there that Major Harvey E. Light died on September 17, 1921.  He was buried at Pittsford Cemetery on his 87th birthday.  A newspaper article announcing Major Harvey E. Light’s death stated that “…in his character were to be found, in a large degree, the attributes of the gentlemen of the old school – courtesy, politeness, thoughtfulness for the welfare and successfulness of others, combined with sterling integrity…the example to be found in his life is one that might well be emulated by the young men of this generation.”

This article was originally published in the Fall 2011 issue of the Historic Pittsford newsletter.

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Marching On

January 1, 2012

The year 2011 marked the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War.  In such a momentous year, I was given the opportunity to discuss the lives of our local Civil War soldiers to audiences in schools, churches, historical societies and cemeteries.

The first ever serial, in which I told the tale of A Wicked Affair:  The Lives of John Jay White and Edward F. Clum, ran in July and August on Illuminated History.  The saga lent itself well to the serial format, and it is something I would like to explore again in the future.  Through the other months of this busy year, Illuminated History highlighted the secretive – and controversial – uses of Civil War quilts, spotlighted Civil War soldier James Austen and even heralded a visit to the Perinton Historical Society by President Ulysses S. Grant, as portrayed by historian Steve Trimm of Grant Cottage.

The joy I receive from researching these local heroes is expanded tenfold every time I hear from one of their descendants.  In 2011, I was fortunate to be in contact with no less than four descendants of Major Harvey E. Light – Doug, Crystal, Mary & Glenn.  Each descendant had different information about the Light family to share with me.  On May 21, 2011, I received a wonderful gift.  Major Harvey Light’s great-great grandson, Doug, flew from Texas to attend my Pittsford Cemetery tour.  This was Doug’s first trip to Pittsford, where he had come to pay tribute to the man so many admired.  A visit to Major Light’s grave during our tour always draws a captive audience, since he is the highest-ranking Civil War soldier buried at the cemetery and he lived an extraordinary life.  At the gravesite, I gave my usual talk about Major Light and his family.  However, I managed to elicit gasps from the crowd after the talk when I said that, for the first time ever, we had a descendant of the Major in our midst.  I then introduced Doug to the group.  One of the most touching moments of my career as a historian was watching Doug place the flag at his great-great grandfather’s grave.

My hope for 2012 is to find time to post more articles on Illuminated History, to continue to contribute updates to Illuminated History Facebook, to persevere in my quest to locate more information about these Civil War heroes and to share that research with anyone who will listen.  Thank you for your continued interest in the lives of the men whose sacrifices may have occurred one hundred and fifty years ago, but whose spirits march on.


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