Posted tagged ‘Riverside Cemetery’

I Feel Dead People

December 7, 2009

“I see dead people,” I exclaimed to my husband.  I could immediately see the concern on his face as his eyebrows drew up and his eyes crinkled in slight disbelief.  After assuring him I was speaking metaphorically and that I probably wasn’t crazy at this particular time, he relaxed a little.  What I probably should have said was that I feel and appreciate the history of the cemetery and its inhabitants.  To me, a cemetery is an outdoor museum and not just a park containing headstones.

I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been fascinated with cemeteries.  When I was young, my Gram and I would go to Riverside Cemetery and to Holy Sepulchre to visit her mother and her sister, Nellie, who had died as a child.  As a pre-teen I’d ride my bike to the little cemetery near my home, buy a Coke from the pop machine at the fire hall across the street and spend time reading the headstones.  And every summer during my teen years, I’d head to the St. Lawrence River where my friend Laurie and I would walk through the Morristown cemetery looking for unusual monuments and monikers.  Now that I am an adult, my interest in these outdoor museums has grown and sharpened.

The conversation occurred as we discussed my upcoming Civil War soldiers presentation for the Perinton Historical Society.  What was my theme?  What did I hope to accomplish?  Why did I choose these specific soldiers to discuss?  My husband hit upon the theme first.  My goal, not only for the presentation but for my entire Civil War project, is to illuminate the lives of the Civil War soldiers who lived in our neighborhoods.  Everyone has heard the stories about General Ulysses S. Grant and General Robert E. Lee.  Multiple books and movies tell their stories.  But who tells the stories of the regular citizens who helped in the war effort?  The men who left their families behind.  The women who tended the children, balanced the books and ran the farm while their husbands fought many miles from home.

The cemeteries hold the keys to many mysteries.  I find comfort in the fact that so many soldiers are buried beside their loved ones.  It serves as a reminder that they were loved and remembered in death, as in life.  I feel sorrow for the soldiers who are buried in single graves.  Where were their families?  Did they marry?  Were they fathers?  The first time I walked through Pittsford Cemetery photographing the graves of these men, those thoughts occurred to me.  I felt a force drawing me to them.  “Our stories must be told.  We were important, too.  Bring us to light.”

I suppose I should have said, “I feel dead people”.  That would have been the truth.  So, while the soldiers I decided to discuss at my presentation were chosen because they were Perinton residents who had interesting stories to tell, they aren’t the only ones.  I will continue on the path that was chosen for me by the soldiers of yesterday.  I will tell all their stories, one by one.

Hero Highlight – Ezra A. Patterson, Co. C, 108th NY Volunteer Infantry

October 26, 2009

Antietam.  What came to be known as the bloodiest day of battle in American history also happened to be the first engagement in which the 108th New York Volunteer Infantry participated.  This was to be the only battle for Ezra A. Patterson of Pittsford, New York, for Ezra did not survive to fight another day.

Ezra A. Patterson, Co. C, 108th NY Volunteer Infantry

Ezra A. Patterson, Co. C, 108th NY Volunteer Infantry

Ezra A. Patterson was born in July, 1841 to Aaron B. and Jane Ann Hecox Patterson.  While Aaron farmed their land in Pittsford, Jane Ann cared for Ezra and his brother, Mortimer, who was born in 1847.  A daughter, Alice, would be born in 1852.  However, Jane Ann did not live long enough to see her children to adulthood.  She died in 1853 at age 35 and was laid to rest at the Pioneer Burying Ground in Pittsford.  After Jane’s death, Aaron Patterson married her sister, Harriet Hecox.

By 1860, Ezra could be found in Marion, New York working for Marvin Rich as a merchant’s clerk.  Once the War Between the States began, Ezra wasn’t content to work in an office while others went off to fight.  He enlisted in Co. C of the 108th New York Volunteer Infantry on July 21, 1862, and was mustered in on August 18th.  Ezra A. Patterson had just celebrated his 21st birthday.  At 5′ 7 1/2″ tall, Ezra was of average stature for those times.  However, he must have been a striking figure with his light complexion, black hair and grey eyes.

Quickly promoted to First Sergeant, Ezra and the 108th traveled first to New York, then on to Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and Virginia before arriving in Maryland.  They had only mustered in one month earlier.  How much training had they received in the 30 days prior to the bloody battle of Antietam?  They were about to get a trial by fire. 

On the morning of September 17, 1862, the men of the 108th were awakened at 4:00 and told to get breakfast and be prepared to march.  The battle commenced and, at some point, Ezra was wounded in action.  He would have been carried to the field hospital much like his comrade, Franklin R. Garlock, who was shot in the head and the hand.  After over a week at the field hospital, a train of ambulances transported the wounded to Washington.  Ezra was among those in the ambulances. 

Carver Hospital in Washington D.C. was to be Ezra’s last stop.  It was at Carver that Ezra began to recover from his wounds.  In fact, he was well enough to receive a Surgeon’s Certificate of Disability on October 14th and be discharged.  His comrade, Franklin Garlock, gave a first-hand account of what happened next in George H. Washburn’s A Complete Military History and Record of the 108th Regiment N.Y. Vols.:  “Here our comrade Patterson formerly of Pittsford, N.Y., was also discharged and was to go home with me, but who was detained, by reason of his papers not arriving from the war-office in time.  He was apparently doing well when I left the hospital, but soon a fatal hemorrhage set in, which resulted in his death, soon after.  He never got home alive.”

Had Aaron Patterson been aware that his son was given his discharge and was coming home?  If so, it must have been a terrible blow to the Patterson family when subsequent word reached them of Ezra’s death on October 26th.  Mortimer, Ezra’s young brother, would be the next Patterson to join the war effort.  He enlisted in June, 1863 in Co. F of the 14th Heavy Artillery.  The official paperwork lists his age at enlistment as 18, but Mortimer was discharged just one month later for “being under 18 years of age”.  In actuality, Mortimer was just 16. 

After 1863, Mortimer disappears from the records.  I am still looking for clues as to his whereabouts.  Aaron Patterson couldn’t bear to live in Pittsford after having lost his son, Ezra.  By 1870, Aaron, Harriet and Alice had moved to Marshalltown, Iowa.   Aaron died in 1878.  Ezra’s aunt/stepmother, Harriet, passed on in 1907.  Alice, Ezra’s only sister, lived to age 83 before dying unmarried in 1935.  They are buried at Riverside Cemetery in Marshalltown, Iowa.

Despite his disfiguring wounds which caused him to lose his eye and a finger, Ezra’s friend from the 108th, Franklin R. Garlock, recovered from his wounds sufficiently enough to attend medical school.  He practiced medicine at Lyndonville, NY before moving to Racine, WI.

Ezra’s body was returned to Pittsford and he was buried at the Pioneer Burying Ground beside his mother, Jane Ann Hecox Patterson.


%d bloggers like this: