Posted tagged ‘George B. Wiltsie’

History Through the Eyes of a Five Year Old

April 4, 2011

“Do you like being a historian?” asked a five-year old at the local elementary school.  “It’s the best job ever!” I replied with a smile. 

After being asked to speak to the Kindergarten class at a local elementary school about my profession, I became nervous.  How does one explain the job of an historian in language that a young child could understand?  I couldn’t tell them about Charles Tillotson being wounded in the head during his first battle, Antietam, or how Charles lingered three days before succumbing to the inevitable conclusion of his life.  I didn’t want to frighten the children by telling them how sharpshooter Nathan Cook and his brother, William, died within weeks of each other, killed by disease.  When I told them I researched soldiers, would they ask difficult questions that I wouldn’t want to answer for fear of overwhelming them?

“Hello, boys and girls.  I’m here to tell you about my job.  I am an historian.  Can you say historian?  When you say historian, do you hear another word in there?  HISTORY-an.”  I told them my job was to research people and places and tell their stories so the history would be kept alive forever, and that I especially loved researching the history where we lived. 

We talked about James Chamberlin, who was a trooper with the 3rd New York Cavalry.  Did they know the cavalry was composed of the soldiers who got to ride horses?  The Chamberlin Rubber Co. was started after the war by James Chamberlin, who saw many soldiers become sick after being in the wet and cold.  What would the Chamberlin Rubber Co. have made to keep the soldiers dry?  Raincoats!

Kingsley Brownell was a trooper with the 21st New York Cavalry.  He rode a horse, too.  Kingsley was so strong he could lift a bucket full of water over his head.  They were quite impressed with Kingsley’s accomplishment.

“Who goes to Ben & Jerry’s for ice cream?  If you look down the street when you are at Ben & Jerry’s, you can see the Wiltsie Building.”  After showing them a postcard of the Wiltsie Building, I produced a photo of George B. Wiltsie and his comrades.

John Buckley Bacon was called Buckley by his family.  He came here after the Civil War and started a family.  His son, Howard, was a soldier in two wars – World War I and World War II!  “Someday I’m going to be a soldier, and I’ll be in World War I,” said a determined little boy.  Another boy, not to be outdone, stated “My Grandpa was in the Civil War!”

“Who puts gasoline in their cars?”  The children were very excited to see the Vacuum Oil Co. truck, and I told them about Matthew Ewing the inventor and how years later his Vacuum Oil Company became Exxon Mobil.  “My mom works at Shell Oil,” volunteered one little person.  “Hey, that truck is a bank!  I have a bank,” another child piped up.  Then I showed them my 1911 Rochester G.A.R. Encampment souvenir medal, and we talked about it being 100 years old.  “My mom was born in 1972 and she’s still alive.”  I couldn’t help but snicker at that, as did the teacher.

At the end, I held up a painting of the Erie Canal done by my friend, talented artist Rusty Likly.  The kids immediately recognized the landscape, and a discussion ensued about the other buildings they knew along the canal.  The questions came fast and furious.  “Do you use your computer a lot to learn about history?”  “Do you work with someone else?” 

Not once did a child ask if anyone got killed, or ask any other difficult questions.  They were simply excited to hear about our local history and hometown heroes.  My favorite question, however, was asked by a young boy who had been relatively quiet during the entire session.  “Do you like being a historian?”  “It’s the best job ever!” I replied with a smile.

Illuminations

January 20, 2010

Thank you to everyone who attended my Illuminated History:  The Civil War Soldiers of Perinton presentation last night at the Fairport Library.  I was overwhelmed by the positive response, and the genuine interest in my Civil War boys and our Civil War nurse, Mary Jewett Telford.

Mary Jewett Telford, courtesy Floris A. Lent

Mary Jewett Telford, courtesy Floris A. Lent

It was a pleasure speaking with so many of you before and after the presentation:  Brian Burkhart, who is diligently tracking the men of the 108th New York Volunteer Infantry;  Herb Swingle, who created quite a stir with his connection of John Wilkes Booth to the Rochester area;  Gary Maybee, who shared with me the story of his own Civil War treasures; and Melissa Talma, who took the time to write me an eloquent email expressing her enthusiasm for my project and for learning more about our Civil War heroes.

The heroes illuminated last night included:

George B. Wiltsie, courtesy Jason Puckett

George B. Wiltsie (1837-1865), 4th New York Heavy Artillery.  Died of typhoid fever contracted as a result of starvation at Salisbury Prison.  Buried at Pittsford Cemetery.

Kingsley Brownell (1845-1924), 21st New York Cavalry.  Seriously wounded outside Martinsburg, WV and forced to ride 9 miles as a POW before being paroled 8 months later.  Buried at Pittsford Cemetery.

Major Harvey E. Light (1834-1921), 10th Michigan Cavalry.  Major Harvey survived the war and became a prominent citizen in the Pittsford community.  Buried at Pittsford Cemetery.

Mary Jewett Telford (1839-1906), Civil War nurse.  Served at Hospital No. 8 in Nashville, TN.  Nurse, author, suffragette, editor and charter member of the Woman’s Relief Corps.  Buried at South Perinton Cemetery.

Other Civil War soldiers mentioned during the presentation were:

William B. Lyke (1839-1904), 4th New York Heavy Artillery.  Captured, along with George B. Wiltsie, at Reams Station.  Died in 1904, age 65.

Kingsley Brownell, courtesy Mark A. Lannan

Kingsley Brownell, courtesy Mark A. Lannan

Albert E. Lyke (1841-1933), 4th New York Heavy Artillery.  Shot through the jaw at Spotsylvania.  Took his first plane ride in 1928, at age 87.  Died at age 92.

Edward H. Lyke (c 1843-1864), 4th New York Heavy Artillery.  Brother of William B. and Albert E. Lyke.  Mortally wounded at Petersburg.

Henry Root (c 1845-1899), 4th New York Heavy Artillery.  Drummer boy.  Drowned in 1899 after suffering a seizure and falling into the water while fishing.

Jerome Brownell (1843-1921), 108th New York Volunteer Infantry.  Brother of Kingsley Brownell.  Wounded at Gettysburg.

Jacob Telford (1833-1905), 15th Indiana Infantry.  Husband of Mary Jewett Telford.  Wounded at Murfreesboro, TN.

John H. Thurmon (1843-1919), 2nd Missouri Cavalry.  The only Confederate soldier buried at Pittsford Cemetery.

Harvey E. Light, courtesy Doug Light

Harvey E. Light, courtesy Doug Light

Special thanks to descendants Martha Jewett, Evan Marshall, Clay Feeter, Floris A. Lent, Jason Puckett, Mark A. Lannan and Doug Light for supplying me with photos and information about their heroic ancestors.  I very much appreciate the services of Laurie T. Hall who taped the presentation, Charles Profitt as tech guy, Margaret Pilaroscia of the Fairport Library and Alan Keukelaar of the Perinton Historical Society.

There are many more illuminations to come!  Please check my “Cemetery Tours and Presentations” page for information about upcoming events.

Hero Highlight – William H. Cook, Battery H, 4th NY Heavy Artillery

October 3, 2009
William H. Cook, Battery H, 4th NY Heavy Artillery

William H. Cook, Battery H, 4th NY Heavy Artillery

I stopped by his grave on this crisp, sunny October day.   Tears fell as I remembered him on the anniversary of his death, for it was on this day, 147 years ago, that William Cook died.

William Henry Cook, Jr., was the second child of William Henry and Phebe Rose Terbell Cook.  They must have been so proud the day he was born.  Already parents to a beautiful little girl, Phebe Elizabeth, William was another wonderful addition to their family.  Little did they know that nearly 24 years later William would be taken from them forever, a victim of typhoid fever contracted just a few months after his enlistment in the 4th New York Heavy Artillery.

After the birth of William in October 1838, another 7 children would be born to the Cook family within a 21 year span.  William was followed by brother Edward, then Nathan, Mary Augusta, Mary Star, Charles, Hannah and Ella.  Sadly, four of these children died in infancy.  Maps of the time show the Cook land south of today’s Monroe Avenue near the intersection of current-day Sutherland Street.  Father William worked as a nurseryman and by 1860, William and brother Nathan were working as farm laborers. 

The Civil War must have seemed exciting to two young men who had probably not traveled very far from Pittsford.  Did William discuss his decision to join the Union Army with anyone?  How long did it take him to enlist once his mind was set to go?  We will probably never know the answer to these questions.  What we do know is that William enlisted in Battery C of the 4th New York Heavy Artillery on August 14, 1862.  Brother Nathan, four years younger than William, was selected to join the 1st Battalion of Sharpshooters after his enlistment on August 21.  And with kisses and tears from their family, the boys set off on their journeys.

William is mentioned in George Wiltsie’s wartime diary.  William and George were both in Battery C, but were asked to transfer to Battery H just one month after enlistment.  This they did, but the transition was barely completed before both young men fell ill with typhoid fever soon after arriving at Fort Pennsylvania.  George B. Wiltsie recovered, but William Cook died of the disease at Fort Ethan Allen on October 3, 1862.  If he had lived just one more week, William would have celebrated his 24th birthday.

I stopped by his grave on this crisp, sunny October day.  A beautiful day to remember a soldier who is forever young.

Portals to Hell

July 14, 2009

I recently purchased a wonderful book entitled Portals to Hell:  Military Prisons of the Civil War by Lonnie R. Speer.  At first, I had borrowed the book from the Monroe County, New York library system.  Since it was such a comprehensive look at life as a Civil War POW, I decided I had to have it and proceeded to order it through Amazon.com.

As I have conducted my research on the Civil War soldiers of Monroe County, it has amazed me how many of these men spent time in military prisons as prisoners of war.  Besides Edward, Richard and Frederick Ambrose, other prison survivors include Charles Dwinnell, Alpheus Hodges and Kingsley Brownell.  We also remember George B. Wiltsie who became so weak at Salisbury Prison and ultimately died after his release from typhoid brought on by starvation.  Sadly, I’m sure the number of POWs I find will grow as I continue my Pittsford soldier research and begin the soldiers of Fairport and Perinton project.

Mr. Speer’s 410 page book gives so much detail about the various prisons.  Prior to reading this, I had slight knowledge of the Salisbury, Belle Isle and Libby Prisons.  This volume goes far beyond those, and discusses conditions at Point Lookout, Camp Morton and Alton Prison among many others.  Additional interesting topics such as prisoner exchanges and escapes are mentioned in detail.  The back of the book lists a handy reference guide to Union and Confederate prisons.

Having used Portals to Hell for much of my research into Richard Ambrose’s stint in the Dry Tortugas, as well as for information about prison conditions in general, I would highly recommend this title.  Additional information about this book is listed on my Great Resources page.

George Wiltsie’s Wartime World

June 11, 2009
George B. Wiltsie, 4th NY Heavy Artillery

George B. Wiltsie, 4th NY Heavy Artillery, standing second from left

In April I received an incredible gift in the mail, courtesy of Bill Keeler of the Perinton Historical Society and Fairport Museum.  Bill has spent much time transcribing the Civil War diary of George B. Wiltsie which came into the possession of the Fairport Museum last year.  The disk I received contained the transcription, and soon I was transported back in time, into George Wiltsie’s wartime world.

George B. Wiltsie was born on May 16, 1837, the seventh child of Thomas Wiltsie and his wife Rachel Brownell Wiltsie.  The Wiltsie family homestead was located in Duanesburg, New York until the spring of 1834, when the entire Wiltsie family traveled by packet boat on the Erie Canal toward their new home.  Maps of the time show that the Wiltsies settled on land west of the Erie Canal in Perinton, New York, right about where Route 31 passes over the canal between Mill and Kreag Roads.  It was here that George Wiltsie’s story began.

Little is known of George’s early life in Perinton.  We can imagine that life must have been hectic in a household that eventually grew to include 11 children.  Thomas Wiltsie was a farmer, and George followed in his father’s footsteps until August 12, 1862.  That was the day that George enlisted in the 4th NY Heavy Artillery.

George’s first journal entry is written one week later, and expresses his reasons for joining the fight:  “August 19, 1862 …I bid adieu to friends and old associates, feeling it a duty to [fight] for home and its comforts, to assist in the rescue of a Government in peril.”  The next few entries in the journal tell of traveling with the Army, and of the poor food and filthy conditions.  It occurred to me that through most of the diary, George was very optimistic and upbeat.  He mentioned having leave and seeing the Smithsonian and the Liberty Bell.  He commented on the beautiful architecture that he saw on his travels with the Army.  Soon after arriving at Fort Pennsylvania, George came down with typhoid fever.  He managed to pull through and rejoin his unit.  However William Cook, who was a comrade in the 4th NY Heavy Artillery and a fellow Monroe County resident, became sick at the same time as George and died within one week from the disease.  William Cook is another of my Pittsford boys who will be mentioned in upcoming posts. 

George’s happy frame of mind continued even through August of 1864 when, on the 25th, George matter-of-factly mentioned that “…the Rebels advanced on us and the battle commenced which ended with our defeat and capture of a large number of prisoners myself among the number.”  I can’t even imagine the terror I would feel at being captured by the enemy.  However, George took his imprisonment in stride and even managed to joke about his new surroundings, “Paid adieu to Libby [Prison] this morning and went to the famous resort of Uncle Sam’s boys for three days better known by them as Bell Island.”  Ultimately ending up in Salisbury Prison, George’s journal chronicles the boredom, crime and lack of proper shelter at Salisbury but still sounds optimistic.

As the days turned into months of imprisonment, George’s optimism began to fade.  The entry for November 8, 1864 noted that it was Election Day and George wished he could vote for Abraham Lincoln.  The last journal entry was made on December 9, 1864.  He may have already been ill with the typhoid fever that would take his life in Annapolis, Maryland on March 21, 1865.  His body was returned home and buried at Pittsford Cemetery beside his sisters Antoinette and Eliza and his brother Frank.  The man who remarked on the beauty of architecture and who took joy in historical monuments was dead at the young age of 28.

I have seen a photo of George B. Wiltsie.  It is in the personal collection of Jason Puckett, a Wiltsie family descendant.  Unbelievably, Jason bought the photo on eBay.  It was labeled with the names of the four soldiers pictured – William B. Lyke, George Wiltsie, Henry Root and Albert E. Lyke.  The Lyke boys are mentioned several times in George’s journal.  George is standing second from left sporting a bushy black beard.  Military service records provided by the New York State Archives show that George had brown eyes, dark hair and a dark complexion, and that he stood 5′ 4 1/2″ tall.

After sharing his photo of George Wiltsie, Jason shared something with me that meant even more.  In an email, Jason wrote to me, “You have taken it upon yourself to remember my ancestors and acknowledge their existence when others might just think of them as headstones in the cemetery. I honestly doubt that there is anyone that goes to visit George’s grave anymore out of remembrance of his life. You still do that, and I thank you for that respect for my family.  I really just want to say thank you because it is an honor to me and my family that someone cares enough to remember. Your passion for the Civil War and the men who chose to serve inspires me.  Thank you so much for taking your time to remember my family and the other men who were willing to give their lives to defend my family.”  Jason’s eloquence moved me to tears. 

The goal of my Civil War project, cemetery tours, speaking engagements and my Illuminated History blog is to remember these men who took time out of their lives to serve our country during a period of division and strife.  It honors the memories of our hometown heroes because their stories deserve to be told.   Every time I place a flag by a Civil War soldier’s grave, I speak their name and promise aloud that they will not be forgotten.

Pittsford Cemetery Civil War Tour

May 16, 2009
Sergeant John Buckley Bacon, 4th Wisconsin Cavalry

Sergeant John Buckley Bacon, 4th Wisconsin Cavalry

Thank you to everyone who attended our first Civil War Soldiers of Pittsford tour at Pittsford Cemetery this morning! It was an indescribable feeling for me to be able to illuminate the stories of these soldiers, many of which have never been told before.

We began the tour with LaFayette Congdon, then discussed Major Harvey E. Light and his brother-in-law  Theodore Shepard.  After moving down the hill, the Ambrose boys – Robert, Richard, Frederick and Edward – were next, the highlight being Richard’s stint in the Dry Tortugas.  Heading back up the incline, we stopped by the grave of Matthew P. Ewing, founder of the Vacuum Oil Company which many years later morphed into Exxon-Mobil.  James R. Chamberlin, owner of Chamberlin Rubber Company, was our next soldier, followed by John B. Bacon of the 4th Wisconsin Cavalry.  From JB Bacon, we headed east to Nathan and William Cook to discuss their heartbreaking stories.  George B. Wiltsie was mentioned after the Cook boys.  Charles Tillotson and his death at Antietam came next.  From there, we continued heading east, past the grave of Matthias L. Lord, assistant surgeon of the 140th NY, and on to Kingsley Brownell.  Our tour concluded with John H. Thurmon, the Confederate soldier from Missouri.  Sadly, we were not able to visit the graves of Frank D. Tibbitts or Jeffrey N. Birdsall, as planned, due to the rain.

I really appreciate the fact that so many of you stayed out in the rain to hear the stories of these men’s lives.  Your questions and comments made the experience fun for the entire group.  Your feedback is greatly appreciated!  Please feel free to leave a comment or email me directly at vprofitt@rochester.rr.com.

Check back here in the future for information about upcoming cemetery tours and presentations highlighting more of Pittsford’s hometown heroes!

During the tour we briefly discussed Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was sentenced to imprisonment at Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas for his alleged part in the Lincoln conspiracy.  The name of the movie starring Dennis Weaver is The Ordeal of Dr. Mudd, which was a TV movie from 1980.  The DVD is not available through Blockbuster or through the Monroe County library system, but it is listed for sale on Amazon.com.

Historical Societies – A Researcher’s Paradise

March 30, 2009

Today I visited the Perinton Historical Society and Fairport Museum for the first time.  I was astounded by the amount of research materials available there.  One frequently refers to public libraries for research, but the local historical society is an untapped reservoir of information.

Several months ago, I had come across the online edition of the Perinton Historical Society Historigram.  George B. Wiltsie, one of my Civil War boys, was mentioned in the newsletter.  Apparently, a man named Karl Jost had donated a box full of Wiltsie and Potter documents to the Perinton Historical Society.  Included in these treasures was a transcript of George B. Wiltsie’s Civil War diary!  During my visit today, I had the good fortune to meet Fairport Museum curator William Keeler.  After explaining my Civil War project to Bill, he headed off to parts unknown and returned with the very treasure box mentioned in the Historigram.  Unfortunately, Bill is in the process of transcribing the diary so I was unable to view that yet, but the rest of the items were also of interest.  There were several photos of homes belonging to various members of the Wiltsie and Potter families.  The photo that caught my attention was a black and white 8×10 of the Wiltsie family home in Duanesburg, New York.  Pasted to the back of the photo was a long letter written by Charles H. Wiltsie, nephew of George B. Wiltsie.  The letter described in detail the house where George’s parents and older siblings lived until their move to Perinton in the 1830s.  What a find!

While discussing my project with Bill, I offhandedly asked if he had any information about the local chapter of the G.A.R., which stands for Grand Army of the Republic.  This was a national organization that was formed after the Civil War.  It is comparable to today’s American Legion or VFW.  Bill strode off and returned with more treasures for me.  The folders he handed me contained meeting notes and many other interesting tidbits of information about the E.A. Slocum Post 211.  For me, the most exciting part was seeing the applications completed and signed in the late 1890s by some of my Civil War boys.  The applications listed birth places, service dates, occupations, and even reasons for discharge. 

I would invite anyone with an interest in history to visit their local historical society.  Their holdings are more precious than gold.  Special thanks to Bill Keeler for his assistance with and interest in my Civil War soldiers project.

The life and death of George B. Wiltsie will be discussed in greater depth during my Pittsford Cemetery tour on May 16th.  Please visit the following link for more information about my tour, which is featured on page 17.  http://townofpittsford.org/files/images/publications/2009_spring_rec_brochure.pdf


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