An epic 4 day drive with my daughter Rachel around NY State, decorating 65th NY grave sites with American flags

My daughter Rachel and I embarked last Memorial Day weekend on a 3 day upstate tour in search of 8 graves of members of the 65th NY Volunteers, who we were honoring with flags this Memorial Day weekend. On the way home we also visited the grave site of the 121st NY commander, who briefly served as the 65th NY’s brigade commander during the tumult of the Battle of Cedar Creek, on Oct. 19, 1864.

The trip started with a picnic lunch at Binghamton University, so Rachel could hang out where she is going to school next year. My nephew had clued us in on a sandwich shop in downtown Binghamton, Alexander’s Cafe, which serves wonderful paninis. They lived up to the hype. After filling up on a delicious chicken panini with spinach and feta cheese, washed down with a chocolate milkshake, we hit the road towards our first two grave sites, in the Bath National Cemetery.

2 members of the 65th NY Volunteers were buried at the Bath National Cemetery after their time living at the Soldiers’ Home located there. Privates Erastus Owen and Theron Lapham’s graves were easily found at the beautifully located cemetery, with its clearly ordered rows of graves. Private Owen mustered in at Auburn, NY as a 25 year old in March 1865, near war’s end. Private Lapham, on the other hand, enlisted at Yonkers, NY in July 1861, re-enlisted as a veteran, and served with the regiment all the way to the end of the war. Possessing the known sites of the graves before we went in, using information gathered by researchers at the NY State Military History museum, and knowing the cemetery layout from study beforehand made quick work of finding the two graves. We took some pictures of the graves, along with the impressive 1893 obelisk erected to honor the Civil War veterans buried there, and then we were on to Arkport.

It took a bit longer to find Private Charles Bartlett’s grave, as we had no location other then the cemetery itself. Rachel and I have gotten skilled from experience at figuring out which part of a cemetery is most likely to find the graves of Civil War veterans, but Bartlett’s grave eluded us despite the relatively small size of the Heritage Hill cemetery in Arkport, outside of Hornell. In time, though, I stumbled upon Bartlett’s uniquely lettered grave stone, and its reference to his service with the 65th NY Volunteers. Private Bartlett transferred into the 65th when the 67th NY merged into the regiment on Sept. 1, 1864. He would thus shortly see battle in the Shenandoah Valley under Sheridan, at 3rd Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek.

As we were traveling in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rachel and I knew that we needed to stay socially distanced. Visiting rural cemeteries of course helped make that possible. We stayed at AirBnB sites where we knew we would have our own space without other guests nearby. In Hornell, it was a small house which backed up on a lovely woods, with large picture windows revealing the lush nature, and birds twittering away all around us. The family which owned the house did some farming and maple sugaring, and we bought a quart of maple syrup. The owner also generously gifted us with a bag of organically grown shitake mushrooms. I brought them home and sauteed them with garlic and olive oil, like my father used to do when I was a kid.

The next day we drove to Cattaraugus, in the western part of New York’s Southern Tier area. Route 86 goes through some beautiful countryside there, and we were thrilled to see two bald eagles in a tree adjoining the highway. Some country roads north and west of the Seneca reservation at Salamanca brought us to the Liberty Park cemetery in Cattaraugus. This pretty little cemetery featured more nature spotting for us, with a deer in the woods just beyond the cemetery’s edge, and a bluebird flying onto a large grave stone right near us. Rachel had never seen this state bird of New York, and we were each excited to spot it. Shortly after, we found Private Albert Sherman’s grave, and decorated it with our little flag, adding it to the flag already placed there for the holiday. Sherman enlisted at Hornellsville, near where we stayed the previous night, in Oct. 1864 and was wounded at the Petersburg breakthrough on April 2, 1865.

We were happy to be four out of four so far in terms of our grave searches, and seeing that East Aurora was close to our path to the next two graves in Avon, New York, we decided we would stop there for lunch and a quick visit to President Millard Fillmore’s home. I like to collect Presidents’ houses, and it was not that far out of our way, so even considering Fillmore’s relative insignificance, it was worth a stop. And the pulled pork tacos with mango slaw dressing which we got from Mikey Dee’s cafe were excellent.

Then to Avon Cemetery and St. Agnes Cemetery in Avon, NY, for our last two graves of the day. Driving along scenic old Federal Highway 20A, and on country roads to Avon, we admired New York state’s rural beauty. At the Avon Rural Cemetery Rachel spotted Surgeon John W. Gray’s grave early on, which was a godsend as we lacked a grave location and it was a bigger cemetery than I had figured. Having a photo of the grave from Findagrave.com was a big help. Gray was appointed to the regiment in Dec. 1864 after serving as an assistant surgeon in another regiment. We took more photos, and planted our flag, then it was on to the other side of town and St. Agnes Cemetery. A photo from Findagrave.com helped again, and we found Private Thomas Kelly’s grave quickly. Kelly joined the regiment in Auburn, NY on March 31, 1865, only days before the April 2, 1865 Breakthrough attack at Petersburg, and Lee’s subsequent surrender to Grant on April 9, 1865.

It was a relatively short drive on small rural roads to our AirBnB stay on the first floor of a lovely circa 1860 farmhouse in Mendon, New York. We liked the chickens and the two goats, and I even took a walk among the graves in the old graveyard across the street, as if I had not been in cemeteries enough for the past two days.

Day three of our trip was harder. Partly, the reality was setting in that we had spent a ton of time driving, and even as beautiful as upstate New York is in late May, I think we were both wearing down a bit. Having found all six of the graves we were looking for in the first two days, perhaps we were due for a challenge. I had purposely planned the trip with a shorter drive for this third day, anticipating just such fatigue. We had only two more graves to find, and we had no picture of either. Private John Bain’s grave, in the Fairville rural cemetery north of Newark, New York, was only about forty-five minutes away from where we stayed in Mendon. We saw a turtle crossing the road on the way there, and upon arrival at the cemetery we divided up and started scanning the graves, focusing on the older section of the cemetery where the grave was most likely to be located. Bluebirds flew among the graves. After a while, however, it became clear that there were many unmarked graves, or graves laid flat in the ground which the grass had grown almost completely over. In short, we never found Bain’s grave site, but we did leave a flag at another civil war veteran’s grave, likely close to the site of Bain’s own grave.

We were now not that far from Lake Ontario, which Rachel had never seen and I was not sure of ever having seen. So, as the road to our next grave took us nearby, we decided to lunch in Oswego, New York, the scene of a key battle of the French and Indian War, and view the lake. The drive took us past countless apple orchards with the white flowers in full bloom. Upon arrival in Oswego, we found a nice spot with some historical signs overlooking the lake, and we picnicked on local submarine sandwiches near the mouth of the Oswego River.

Our last grave was located in Adams Center, northeast of Fairville, and east of Lake Ontario. Unfortunately the information I had was vague enough that we searched fruitlessly in the wrong cemetery in Adams, New York even though we had the grave site information. Rachel figured out before me that we must have been at the wrong place, and luckily it was a short seven minute drive to the correct cemetery. Rachel, skillful grave searcher that she is, found the exact site of the grave according to the New York Military History museum information we had. But another larger grave was clearly not William H. Corey. However, a nearby small pair of worn grave stones was in the right place. No writing was legible on the stones, which was disheartening given our earlier struggles to find John Bain, but we planted a flag there and hoped that we had the right place. A relatively short drive to a lodge near the Salmon River reservoir outside Redfield was our place to stay for the third night. The night sky there was amazing given the lack of ambient light in this part of New York state. And I saw many goldfinches flying about as I sat outside the room the next morning as Rachel slept, and I heard the distinctive call of a loon as well.

The probable grave stone of Private William H. Corey. Corey transferred into the regiment on September 1, 1864, when the 67th NY merged into the 65th NY

It would be a long drive home to Mamaroneck, where I live, from Redfield. But knowing that the grave of Colonel Egbert Olcott was on the way home, if off the New York State Thruway for a while, made me ask Rachel if she was willing to make one more stop before ending this crazy trip. She was up for it. I love my girl. Olcott was actually the commander of the 121st New York Volunteers, which was brigaded with the Chasseurs (as the 65th NY soldiers called themselves, as members of the First United States Chasseurs) in late 1864, but he had stepped up to command the brigade when General Joseph Hamblin, the regular brigade commander who had moved up to that post from command of the Chasseurs, was wounded at the Battle of Cedar Creek. With ninety Chasseurs killed, wounded, or captured at Cedar Creek, including their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Higgenbotham killed, and my great-great grandfather 1st Sergeant Timothy Carroll wounded, it was a day fraught with havoc and death, and honoring Colonel Olcott on Memorial Day itself seemed appropriate even given how ready we both were to be back home. And the fact that I had a photo of his grave in the Cherry Valley Cemetery meant that we could, I hoped, avoid the frustrations of the previous day’s cemetery searches and end this trip on a high note. Sure enough, we found Olcott’s grave within five minutes of arrival in the lovely Cherry Valley Cemetery, whose local citizens had decorated veterans’ graves carefully with flags. Rachel and I closed out our trip with a few more pictures, and the knowledge that we had honored at least seven veterans associated with the Chasseurs with flags at their grave sites, and we hoped eight. And we had honored Private John Bain’s resting place in Fairville as well, after much searching, even if less exactly as the others.

It took 4 days of driving, with 3 nights spent at beautiful places scattered all across New York state. We had honored the Chasseurs over this Memorial Day weekend, and had paid our respects to the already so-honored Colonel Egbert Olcott. We drove over 950 miles. Rachel and I both wanted a road trip to break up the monotony of the COVID-19 quarantine, and we got one. And we stayed safe as well. We saw Lake Ontario from Oswego, and President Fillmore’s house, and so much of New York State that there was not much left in the state unseen to us. It had been an epic trip, one I hoped Rachel would never forget.

Published by 65th NY Guy

I am a high school history teacher in my 31st year of teaching. I have been studying the 65th NY Infantry, my great-great grandfather's regiment, since 1993. After 8 years of writing, I recently finally published my history of the regiment, "No Flinching From Fire." I also coach cross country and track and field, and I have a wife and two daughters.

8 thoughts on “An epic 4 day drive with my daughter Rachel around NY State, decorating 65th NY grave sites with American flags

    1. Sorry I am still learning this blog thing and haven’t been seeing the responses to my posts. I think the article in Battles and Leaders by Gustavus SMith is good. So his book on Seven Pines. You may already have those. I also like Stephen Sears a lot. EP Alexander’s “Military Memoirs of a Confederate” gives a good account of Huger’s being scapegoated. Andrew Byrnes’ memoir, Joseph Hamblin’s letter on the battle (Deborah Hamblin edited his letters), and William Sleight’s reminisces (it is a manuscript held in the UMich library) were all good primary sources for me. Also a letter by Iban Tailof held in the NY Historical Society. And a June 20, 1862 letter ot the Tiffin Weekly Tribune by Sam Kisinger. And in the OR, there is Brady’s report (OR 1, XI, 904-05, and John Cochrane’s report (OR, 1, XI, 900). I hope some of this helps; sorry it took so long to get back. I will be interested in your book when it is done.

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      1. Thank you for your response – would you happen to have a copy of either/both of Iban Tailof’s letter or the June 20, 1862 letter ot the Tiffin Weekly Tribune by Sam Kisinger – if so I request that you please scan them to me.
        vigny4@hotmail.com
        I was able to access both the Hamblin & Sleight documents.
        Thanks again
        Vic Vignola

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      2. Position in line of Battle near
        “Fair Oak Station” June 7/62
        Saturday—

        Friend Seth—
        This day a week ago about noon, the rebels attacked our Corp de Armee with overwhelming forces. Casey’s Div. who was in advance suffered severely and fell back without great resistance, it seems that the attack was so sudden that the diff. Regt had not time to form in line. Gen. Abercrombie now in command of our Brigade has been ordered forward. The 23rd & 61 Pa Vol advanced and our Regt was ordered a little toward the right of the Railroad where the Rebels where [sic] approaching in immense force, “with the flower of their Army.” The attacks and resistance became terrific, we now formed in line of battle in an open field supporting a Battery to prevent the Rebels from flanking us. But on the left now, where our Camps where [sic] situated the scene was terrific as our forces had to fall back against greatly superior numbers, it now became evident that the Enemy drove our forces from this position, at this time we found ourselves flanked and would have assuredly been either cut up or now “prisoners of war,” had not the timely reinforcement been brought up by the brave and veteran “Gen Sumner.” Oh Seth! Not a minute too soon did he come to our relief as the moment was very critical to us—Three Regts and a Battery with Gen Couch apparently stood in great danger and nothing could have saved us, Sumner who now came up with his black columns of brave men in the distance gave us “hope” now about 5 O.C. Couch send word by an “aid” to Sumner to “hurry up” the day is lost. I think they now came double quick and soon where [sic] with us, our Regt, 10th Mass., & 31 Pa. where [sic] now ordered to fall back towards where S. were approaching, at a glance the “veteran” saw our critical position and ordered us forward again double quick in an open field to take position in line of battle against the Enemy who now were very near to us advancing in the woods. No sooner had we been in position when we saw the rebel flag in defiance facing us Col. Cochrane ordered us to kneel against the rail fence where we formed in line, as soon we dropped a terrible volley was poured into us—Seth I had no time to think and really could not for a moment imagine the danger we were really in, we now fired volley after volley and at “will” Our Boys did stood up nobly not a man shrinked from the danger every man did his duty to his country—the firing became terrific as the Rebels fought like madmen to brake our line. I have been told by their prisoners that a whole Brigade of the Tenn., S.C. & N.C. troops where [sic] facing us, our Regt were supported by the California Regt, on the right of us where [sic] about 200 men left of the 61 Pa. (who were terribly cut up in the first part of the fight) on the left of us where [sic] the 31 Pa & the Ricketts Reg. Battery—who poured into the ranks of the Rebels grape & canister and did fearful execution, it seems that Magruder ordered that Battery to be taken at all cost as whole Brigades came forward but were bravely repulsed several times. The Battery let them come within 25 yds and then gave them “jessy”—Night came and the firing ceased the Rebels retreating—our forces in possession of the late field of human slaughter but the day was not all ours, as the Rebels had possession of Casey’s and our Camps, we checked the Rebels from flanking us. but on the left our forces were drove back several miles—We had to remain in the field Saturday night oh Seth , what a night we spent as we had nothing with us and had nothing to eat since morning—Sunday morning at 3 O.C. AM we got on our feet, worn out and Gen S. assigned us a new position about 1000 yds in advance, in passing through the woods the Scene was awful oh! How thick the Enemy lay—3 & 4 in a group. every Tree showed traces of the previous day’s fight—at about 5 O.C. AM the Ball commenced on the left where our Camps where [sic]—we were in line of battle from Right to left—we could hear the terrible volleys of friend & foe—even the cheering when our brave men charged was distinctly heard & the results known at once, the enemy after a stubborn resistance “gave way” & were repulsed in all points. They fought well but can’t stand cold steel of our Boys—12 O.C. and the rebels retreating towards Richmond leaving all their dead & part their wounded in our hands—The weather was bad as it rained and our suffering was really intense we were now in the field 36 hours without any food wet to the skin. Oh it was rough—Well towards night we got “hard Tack” and “Salt horse” which gave us new endurance. Seth to be short with my story we have lost everything in Camp. All our Camps were the scene of terrible slaughter and the bullets riddled everything—on Monday each company send a squad back to take what they could pick up in our late Camps—Oh dear Seth! It was really heart sickening to see our brave fellows lay side by side with the Rebels as thick as Blackberries, our loss in Killed wounded & missing cannot be short of at least from 5 to 6000 men it was the severest battle fought yet our Regt has 7 killed & about 26 wounded. Thank God I escaped unhurt—we have been in line of battle ever since last Sunday—we are now under arms-as a strong Reconnaissance is being made this day which may bring on a general engagement. Seth our arms will triumph but whether God will spare my life to see our noble “Grand Army” enter the Rebel Capitol is to be seen. Still I have hopes—and am in good spirit—but fortunately [sic] my health has not been good for the past week—I had a severe attack of Cholera morbus—and did not feel well since. I just can keep up but feel very weak yet—half of our Officers are sick—Geo. Bernard was sent home Monday having the typhoid fever—our Regt is a mere Sceleton—plenty of vacancies—I suppose you have all the posted news in the papers but in a few days you will have the extent of the fights in the papers—Seth I must close as we got to be under arms—So Remember me Kindly to all your family and tell Minnie that I recd her kind letters & will answer as soon as I possibly can, write to me Seth and expect to hear soon of another terrible battle. So good bye old boy I am
        Your sincere friend
        Iban

        Dear Seth—The Trophies on the field of battle were plentyful but I have now no opportunity to forward anything & cannot carry with me much—but I will look out for you soon—We captured a Rebel flag white silk light blue crop and 12 stars in it—it is sent to Hdqtrs to be forwarded.

        ****I transcribed this from the original held in the NY Historical Society****

        —Chris Barry

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