June 20, 2011

Civil War group to gather information


PLATTSBURGH — Many people think the Civil War was a conflict that happened somewhere south of New York.

We read about names like Vicksburg, Antietam, Fort Sumter and Gettysburg in history books, but they seem far from our daily lives in the Champlain Valley. A closer look, however, proves these thoughts are wrong.

About two dozen history buffs and academic minds met recently at Clinton Community College to discuss the best way to chronicle the sacrifices, large and small, that affected the Champlain Valley, and the North Country, during and after the Civil War.

'That really struck me'

The conference, entitled "New York's Role in the American Civil War," was led by Jim Brangan, assistant director of the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership in Grand Isle, Vt., with an introduction by CVNHP Director Bill Howland.

"I was a Boy Scout in the sixth grade in Hartland, Vt., when I marched in a parade," said Howland. "I remember looking at the oldest people along the route and thinking they could remember family who had served in the Civil War. That really struck me."

Howland noted that the Civil War was about many things including the economy, secession and the Federal Supremacy Act, which have all brought about a different America. He said there have been many interpretations of the Civil War and its impact, where thousands of men died in a single day, yet many people have forgotten their service.

Important roles

Brangan pointed out that after the War of 1812 ended in the Champlain Valley, many factors, such as canal transportation, social revolutions, religious awakenings, women's rights, abolition of slavery (1827 in New York) and the Underground Railroad, drew northern New York into the Civil War.

"There are so many connections to the North Country that people don't realize unless it's pointed out and that's what we hope to accomplish," said Brangan, during a Power Point presentation. "For instance, Chaplain Francis B. Hall lived in the Kent-Delord House (in Plattsburgh). He was a good man who refused pay for his service. He went onto the battlefield and rescued the wounded even though he was only a chaplain."

He also pointed out that Adirondack iron provided the materials for horseshoe nails, railroad track and submarine construction, among other commodities. With so many important roles being played out in the North Country, Brangan's question to the attendees was "How do we commemorate New York's role in the Civil War?"

Breaking into three focus groups, discussion centered around commemorative events, visitor information and marketing the "home front," research, education and interpretation.

Coming back together after lunch, one group pointed out that wives and families had to step in and take over running the farm or business, pointing out that a soldier was often the only income earner. It was the general consensus of many that there are too many Civil War websites and other related information sites, that one clearinghouse website should be designated. It was also suggested that people living in the Champlain Valley may have Civil War memorabilia, pictures or family information that could be added to what's already known, expanding history locally.

'Passion to have power'

Lance Ingmire, chairman of the New York State Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee, a grass-roots organization, said the group is working hard to make sure New York state is included in the commemoration that will go on for the next four years.

"New York state contributed more money, more animals and more materials than any other state," said Ingmire. "Before we organized, there was no official commission to make sure that the sacrifices of these soldiers, from our own hometowns, was remembered. We are just a grass-roots effort, but you need passion to have power and passion is what we have."

Ingmire said the organization is all volunteers, consisting of about 150 members, but its goal is to become a clearinghouse for the Civil War commemoration. He encouraged residents with Civil War stories or family information to go to the website and share what they know, citing documentation as being very important.

Regarding the Sesquicentennial, Howland asked the group a question that seemed to sum up what the gathering was all about:

"How can we, as a nation, function if we don't know our history, who we are, what we stand for? The people in this room will carry on this history."