July 9, 2013

Museum brings Civil War soldiers to life


---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — North Country soldiers fought at Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, Drewy’s Bluff.

“O that I was home,” Civil War soldier James Penfield of Crown Point wrote in a letter that is part of a new exhibit at the Adirondack History Center Museum.

“The Human Face of the Adirondacks in the Civil War,” with images, love letters and intimate diaries, is displayed at the Elizabethtown museum until Oct. 7.

“On these walls are our guys, people from the area,” said museum/Essex County Historical Society Director Margaret Gibbs. 

“We were able to get pictures and excerpts that make you feel like you know them.”  


A major component of “Human Face” is part of an extensive collection belonging to Stuart Burnett of Tupper Lake, who started amassing Civil War artifacts during boyhood.

He loaned the items to the museum for the exhibit. 

Burnett, a Vietnam Veteran, continues to collect memorabilia with his wife, Rose. He wishes the objects could talk, and he never stops thinking, “I wonder who had that.”

The museum had not yet had an exhibit on the Civil War, said museum Board of Directors President Carol Blakeslee-Collin, who curated “Human Faces.” 

“I had a background in history and journalism and became passionate about (the project),” she said. “That’s all I read about the past six months. 

“So it came together as a collaboration of people’s interest, and with people like Greg Furness of the Penfield Homestead Museum (in Crown Point), we had a lot of help.”


The exhibit focuses, in part, on the 118th Infantry Regiment, (Adirondack Regiment), which recruited 1,040 men from Clinton, Essex and Warren counties in 1862. 

Sent to Fort Ethan Allen, located about 6 miles from Washington, D.C., the regiment was employed at the Siege of Suffolk in Virginia, performed reconnaissance and fought in skirmishes around Portsmouth, Va., then battled in Dix’s Peninsula Campaign and South Anna Bridge. 

Its fiercest battle was at Drewy’s Bluff. 

The 118th manned the trenches around Richmond during the winter of 1864-65, and it was the first unit to enter the abandoned Confederate capital that spring. Over the course of its existence, 99 soldiers of the regiment were killed in action, 238 were wounded, 188 died of disease or other causes and 142 were reported missing.


Another unit documented in “Human Face” was the 5th NY Cavalry’s Company H, of Crown Point, in which 106 men enlisted with 108 horses. 

The 5th faced Stonewall Jackson in Virginia, scouted along Blue Ridge and fought in the Second Bull Run and Chantilly, among many other skirmishes.  

Later, as part of the 3rd Division, they took part in the Gettysburg campaign and in the Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, as well as other battles. Before the men were mustered out in 1965, they fought in 119 skirmishes and 52 battles. 

The entire regiment, with about 2,100 troops, lost 103 in action, saw 18 killed by accident, another 258 wounded, 536 captured, 114 who died in prisons, 94 who succumbed to disease and 18 who were missing in action. 

Of a total 167 horses, only seven survived.


Vibrant and heartrending words from the past come to life in “Human Face.”

“Oh my God, they have shot me,” soldier Oakley Smith exclaimed in a letter.

“What could have possessed me?” wondered John Hammond.

Faith played an important part in the lives of soldiers, among them James Estus.

“(It is) thanks to the kind providence of God that I am still alive,” he wrote. 

Juliette Baker of Minerva penned letters to many friends fighting in the Civil War, including Albert Shattuck of the 5th NY, who requested a photo of her in a reply. 

Shattuck was wounded and captured in 1862, exchanged, captured again and died in Richmond in 1864.

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The Adirondack History Museum is located at the intersection of Court Street (routes 9 and 9N) and Hand Avenue in Elizabethtown. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through mid October.

Admission is $5 for adults; $4 for seniors; $2 for students; and free for ages 6 and younger.

For more information, call 873-6466, go to or email

Events coming up include Elizabethtown Day at 3 p.m. July 21, historian, author and Elizabethtown Town Supervisor Margaret Bartley will present "A View of Essex County at the Time of the Civil War," with historic photos and a lecture.

Donations benefit the restoration of the stained-glass windows at the Town Hall. Admission to the museum is free to Elizabethtown residents on that day.

The museum's Elizabeth HW Lawrence Summer Lecture Series is ongoing, with presentations at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays (the museum is open at 6 p.m. prior to the talks).

Here's the schedule:

July 16: "An Overview of the Civil War," by Andy Buchanan, a North Country resident and lecturer in global and military history at the University of Vermont.

July 23: "On the Trail of the USS Monitor," by Morris Glenn, author and historian, who will present the history of the Crown Point iron mining industry and its role in the Civil War.

July 30: "Between This World and the Next: The Adirondack Regiment/118th New York Volunteers," by Sharp Swan, author and historian.

Aug. 6: "Company H and the New York 5th Calvary Regiment," by Brent Vosburg, a writer from Elizabethtown. His great- grandfather served in the 5th New York Cavalry at Hanover.

Aug. 13: "Vignettes of the Home Front in the Civil War," by Carol Blakeslee-Collin, journalist.

Aug. 20: "Roundtable Discussion with Civil War Historians and Researchers." The public is invited to share Civil War family stories, artifacts and letters with Civil War enthusiasts and researchers.

Aug. 27: "Voices of the Civil War," based on readings from Civil War letters and diaries. Wine and cheese reception and Civil War music.