Archive for July 2014

Illuminating Joseph S. Kelsey, Civil War Soldier

July 1, 2014

On June 17, 2014, Illuminated History held its third annual cemetery tour in which twelve actors portrayed residents of the burying ground.  The tour, which was sponsored by the Perinton Historical Society, took place at the Fairport Historical Museum due to inclement weather.  Greenvale Rural Cemetery in the village of Fairport, New York, was the focus of the tour.

In this Illuminated History series, each of the scripts of Greenvale’s featured eternal residents will be posted until all twelve have been illuminated.  Although the scripts are based on in depth historical research, some creative license may have been taken.

We begin with the life of Civil War soldier Joseph S. Kelsey, who was portrayed by Craig Caplan:

My name is Joseph S. Kelsey, and I’d like to share my story with you. My father, Asa Kelsey, was an early pioneer of my hometown in West Camden, New York. I was the third of Asa and Amanda Higbee Kelsey’s seven children, and the only son. Oddly enough, my first wife, Mary, and I had seven children – six sons and one daughter. I came of age just as the Civil War began.

Craig Caplan as Joseph S. Kelsey.  Photo courtesy of Kara Lee.

Craig Caplan as Joseph S. Kelsey. Photo courtesy of Kara Lee.

In 1862, I felt it my duty to enlist in the war effort, and so I mustered into the 146th New York Infantry. Nearly 3 years of my life was spent fighting the rebels before mustering out at the end of the war. We fought ferociously at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, at the battle of the Wilderness…and then there was Gettysburg. I witnessed that fool Confederate general George Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg. You see, I was an ambulance driver then, and stationed at the rear of our Rochester boys in the 108th New York Infantry. I could see the whole line from Little Round Top to Peach Orchard. The cannonading preceding the charge was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. It still gives me night terrors sometimes. I was one of the lucky ones and was only injured once during my service – when a horse kicked me and I broke a leg. Still, I was more fortunate than my brother-in-law, Oliver Clarke.

Oliver was with the 94th New York Infantry. He was captured in June 1864 and spent nearly a year at Andersonville Prison. He survived, though, and married my youngest sister, Josephine. Have you ever heard of Mount McGregor? It’s the cottage in Saratoga County where General Ulysses S. Grant wrote his memoirs. That great patriot died at Mount McGregor in 1885. After the General’s death, my sister and brother-in-law spent 53 years as caretakers at the cottage. Sometimes, I’d travel there and assist them with their duties. It was awe-inspiring to be in the same rooms where General Grant spent his last days on this earth. Word is Mount McGregor has been turned into a museum to honor that remarkable man.

In 1881, I became a charter member of the Grand Army of the Republic Fairport Post #211, along with my friend and comrade Chester

Joseph S. Kelsey

Joseph S. Kelsey

Hutchinson, from whom you’ll also hear this evening. The Grand Army was first formed after the Civil War to allow veterans to meet with each other and reminisce about their war efforts. Later, the organization became a powerful political group and advocate for veterans’ rights. Seven United States presidents were Civil War veterans, and many of them came to power due to the strength of the Grand Army. I’m proud to have been a part of that organization, and I served as Commander of the Fairport post for a number of years.

After the war, I spent time farming and working as a carpenter to support my large family. We had moved to Fairport in 1873, when I bought the house at 177 South Main Street in the village. Soon after, I decided I liked the newer house next door at 173 South Main Street, at the corner of Summit Street. Mary and I raised our children in that house and we lived there happily for many decades to come.

I’m very proud of my family. My six sons have made names for themselves. We lost my eldest, George, in 1898. He had enlisted for service in the Rochester Naval Reserve in July, 1898. After enlistment, George had passed examination as a bayman, a non-commissioned ship’s officer who is employed in the sick room. My wife and I received a letter from George telling us about his experiences and that he had been transferred to a naval hospital in Portsmouth. Soon after that, George was taken seriously ill with typhoid fever and news of his death quickly followed.

Marion, my third son, was master of the steam freight packet William B. Kirk and also ran excursion boats up and down the canal. The “William B. Kirk” was the last canal boat piloted on the Rochester section of the Erie Canal, and my son was at the helm. Marion was a canal boatman for over 50 years. In 1927, he rode the first Rochester & Eastern interurban railway through Rochester’s subway. My fifth son, Roy, was also a canaller.

My youngest son was born in 1884, just a year before General U.S. Grant passed on. We named our boy Grant in honor of the great general. Our Grant worked for the American Can Company here in Fairport and was President of the Fairport Automobile Club in 1922. Grant’s brother, Harlow, was also an automobile enthusiast and opened his own garage at 150 North Main Street in Fairport.

Mary, my beloved wife, died in 1913 at our home at 173 South Main Street. We’d been married nearly 49 years. The following year I married a widow, Esther Hare, who had seven children of her own. In 1926, I lost Esther after 13 years of marriage. Though I felt their losses keenly, I continued my work with the Grand Army of the Republic and dedicated my remaining days to keeping the history of our war efforts alive until going to my reward in 1929, just shy of my 93rd birthday.

Script by Vicki Masters Profitt

(c) 2014 Vicki Profitt’s Illuminated History

Resources:

Perinton Historical Society & Fairport Museum:  http://www.PerintonHistoricalSociety.org

Grant Cottage: http://www.GrantCottage.org

 


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