Posted tagged ‘Ulysses S. Grant’

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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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.

President Ulysses S. Grant to Visit Fairport, NY on March 15, 2011

March 13, 2011

Please join the Perinton Historical Society on Tuesday, March 15, 2011, for a once in a lifetime opportunity as we proudly welcome President Ulysses S. Grant to Fairport. President Grant, as portrayed by Steve Trimm of Grant Cottage in Wilton, New York, will speak of his time as General during the Civil War. He will also discuss the eight years he served as the 18th President of the United States. The President will take questions following his speech.

Steve Trimm has been involved with Grant Cottage for the last four years, as a tour guide and through educational outreach programs. He recently had an article about Grant Cottage caretaker and Civil War veteran Oliver P. Clarke published in New York Archives magazine. Besides portraying President Grant, Oliver P. Clarke and several other notable historical figures, Mr. Trimm has broadcast a Listener Essay on WAMC and was involved with the making of a CD entitled, “Grant and Lincoln: A Conversation”.  Information about Grant Cottage can be found at http://www.grantcottage.org.

This event is free and open to the public. It will be held at the Fairport Museum, located at 18 Perrin Street in Fairport, New York, at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 15, 2011.

The Gray Ghost Meets His Match

September 22, 2010

James Simpson was an unlikely hero.  The fresh-faced native of Lexington, Michigan, looked much younger than his 24 years.  That’s why it was such a surprise when James not only escaped capture, but made off with a prized horse belonging to John Singleton Mosby, a rebel partisan leader known as the Gray Ghost.

 James had enlisted in the 21st New York Cavalry on September 12, 1863.  By this time, the War Between the States had been raging for over two years.   Several of James’ brothers had also enlisted in the Union forces, leaving their mother, Elizabeth, to worry about the welfare of her sons.  As it turned out, Elizabeth Simpson Burke was right to be concerned.

 The beginning weeks of James’ service with the 21st New York would include training, riding instruction and saber drill.  The routine included rising early every morning to feed and groom his horse, followed by breakfast and more drilling.  James seems to have been a quick learner, for these were the skills he would use to outsmart the Gray Ghost himself at their meeting in 1864. 

The Gray Ghost - John Singleton Mosby. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 The day of March 25th dawned cold and gloomy, with snow and heavy rain pervading the area of Berryville, Virginia.  Corporal James Simpson was one of a hundred twenty five men assigned to scout the areas of Winchester and Berryville, Virginia.  As evening approached, the scouts made camp for the night.  James and three of his fellow soldiers decided to strike out into the countryside in search of a home-cooked meal from one of the many Union sympathizers who lived in the Millwood area.

 The troopers of the 21st found such a home, and sat down to eat. But before they could lift forks to their mouths, they were startled by the clicks of several revolvers as three men entered the room.  James immediately recognized Colonel John S. Mosby, leader of the 43rd Battalion, 1st Virginia Cavalry.  The Gray Ghost ordered his prisoners to retreat to the barn and saddle up.  They were going for a ride.  On the way to the barn, one of the New York troopers managed to escape into the darkness.  Mosby departed with the remaining three troopers in tow and headed toward his headquarters in Paris, Virginia.

 During their ride in the night, Mosby taunted the men of the 21st New York.  “Were you with Colonel Cole when I thrashed him at Upperville?” “What do you think of my gray nag – I took him from a Yankee Lieutenant.”  “How do you like my style of fighting?”  Along the way, Mosby stopped at various farmhouses to pick up his men.  It was evident to James Simpson that the Gray Ghost intended to attack the remaining scouts of the 21st New York who were camped for the night back near Millwood.  Finally, after enduring hours of Mosby’s taunts, the men arrived in Paris, Virginia.

As Mosby rode up to the house he called his headquarters, he dismounted leaving his pistols in their saddle holsters.  James Simpson saw his chance.  As he leaned over and pretended to tie up his horse, James actually untied Mosby’s horse, all within the not-so-watchful gaze of the lieutenant who had been left in charge.  Quickly placing his foot into the stirrup of Mosby’s saddle, James pulled himself onto the gray horse and grabbed the revolver in one swift movement.  The lieutenant fired at Simpson, but missed.  In the melee, Mosby himself came out to see what the commotion was all about.  He was just in time to hear James Simpson’s parting words.  “How do you like our style of fighting, Colonel Mosby?  Come and see us, boys.  We’re of the New York Twenty-first.”

 James Simpson and one of his comrades rode back to camp to inform Captain Eugene Gere of all that had occurred.  Besides Mosby’s gray horse and pistols, James came away with a saddlebag containing documents important to the war effort, as well as Mosby’s captain’s commission.  The story also made its way to Harper’s Weekly and to the New York Daily Tribune.  James Simpson had his fifteen minutes of fame, and all because he was looking for a warm dinner on a cold night. 

 Sadly, the story of James Simpson ended just seven months after his grand escape from the Gray Ghost.  On October 14, 1864, James Simpson died at the Rochester City Hospital of consumption.  His body was placed in the vault at Mount Hope Cemetery and, presumably, returned to Michigan for burial.  In a letter dated October 20, 1864, and printed in the Hospital Review his mother, Elizabeth Simpson Burke, mentioned that she had now lost three of her sons “to this cruel war”. 

 After the end of the Civil War, John Singleton Mosby became a lawyer.  He even supported his former enemy, General Ulysses S. Grant, in the presidential elections of 1868 and 1872.  Mosby made an indelible impression on Virginia for U.S. Route 50, which runs through Paris, Virginia, is now called John S. Mosby Highway.  The Gray Ghost died in 1916 at age 82.  Without a doubt, John S. Mosby never forgot the plucky young corporal who stole his horse and a little bit of his dignity.

Greenvale Cemetery Tour – June 8, 2010

June 8, 2010

Nathan C. Jeffrey, 54th Massachusetts Infantry

What a beautiful evening for a walking tour of Greenvale Cemetery in Fairport, New York!  Thank you to everyone who came out to enjoy the perfect weather while hearing the incredible stories of the Civil War soldiers who permanently reside there.

We began our tour with Samuel Larwood of the 33rd New York Infantry before moving over to meet Nathan C. Jeffrey, the young soldier who served under Colonel Robert Gould Shaw in the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry.  Chester Hutchinson of the 108th New York Infantry amazed everyone with his own description of the wound he received at the Battle of the Wilderness.  The sad story of Charles E. Moore, musician in the 108th New York, followed.  He was just 17 years old when he died of disease.  Charles will not be forgotten.

The “white bronze” Hitchcock monument was next.  It has truly stood the test of time.  The 6th Michigan Cavalry was represented at Greenvale by Doctor Daniel G. Weare, who “looked like a preacher though he could swear like a pirate.”  John D. Kohler of the 140th New York Infantry preceded Joseph S. Kelsey.  Joseph assisted his sister and brother-in-law, Josephine Martha Clarke and Oliver P. Clarke, as caretakers for Mount McGregor, the cottage where President Ulysses S. Grant spent his last months and ultimately died.

Frederick Prouse and the strong military influence in his family were discussed next.  Two of Frederick’s grandsons, Lyle Prouse and Dean Shaw, both served during WWI.  A great-grandson, another Lyle Prouse, was a radio operator on a B-29 bomber during WWII and died when his plane crashed on Iwo Jima.  We then discussed Andrew Abrams, who lost his leg at the Battle of Petersburg, and his brother-in-law George C. Taylor who established the Fairport Herald in 1872.

Everyone was so patient as we overran our time to discuss George S. Filkins, Alanson W. Pepper, William H. Jerrells and Simeon Pepper Howard before ending with Shadrick Benson of the 3rd New York Cavalry.  Special thanks to Alan Keukelaar, Vice-President of the Perinton Historical Society, for setting up the tour, and to Laurie T. Hall and Katie Profitt for their assistance.


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