They had a few things in common. Though they ranged in age from their 20s to their 40s, the men from the Sodus area who enlisted in the 65th NY Volunteer regiment, joining Companies I or K, all joined in Auburn in mid-March 1865. Hence, they all served at the very end of the war. Whether they made it for the April 2nd, 1865 Breakthrough at Petersburg, or only for the regiment’s last battle, at Saylers Creek on April 6th, 1865, none of the men served in the regiment for more than four months. So they shared a short service together. Whether they were induced to enlist by a local or state bounty, or both, needs to be researched. However, what is clear from visiting their grave sites in Wayne and Cayuga Counties is that the men took pride in their service with the 65th. Many of their gravestones reference the 65th NY Volunteers.
In a four day period of early April 2020, my daughter Rachel and I managed to visit sixteen cemeteries in the beautiful area around Sodus, locating eighteen members of the regiment. Rachel’s research cross referencing the regimental roster with Findagrave.com, had located these soldiers. Having now taken several previous trips together in search of 65th NY soldier graves, Rachel and I have gotten very good at not only locating on line the sites of the men’s graves, but also at finding the graves themselves once inside the cemeteries. Though in this case we couldn’t find two of the men we looked for, to find eighteen of them and place flags at the grave to honor them, was fulfilling. Moreover, we enjoyed the beauty and history of these rural cemeteries, as well as driving through this scenic county filled with apple orchards and scenic views of Lake Ontario. The deep blue color of the lake, even when a stiff Canadian wind blew up huge whitecaps and made wearing several layers a requirement for our work, was breathtaking for one like me who had rarely seen it.
Day one of our journey north featured snow squalls on the highway from Cortland to Syracuse, and we visited the two cemeteries in Wollcott, New York while it snowed sideways amidst a stiff wind. We managed to find four of the five graves we sought, with Private George Johnson remaining elusive, even though we found a number of Johnson graves in the Glenside cemetery. Disturbingly, we also found many stones had been tipped over, vandalized in the previous summer by unknown persons, who damaged 65 graves, including the grave of one 65th NY veteran, Private William Brockway.
Day two of the trip started out encouragingly clear and blue, though still cold and windy. This was our busy day, with nine graves on our list, in eight cemeteries. Though all were in Wayne County and not so far from each other, we had a lot of driving to do along the lovely rural roads. All but one cemetery were small, and though a couple of the graves had no pictures on Findagrave.com, we wanted to try to find them given that the searches in these relatively small cemeteries might bear fruit even without a photo. And the peaceful, tranquil beauty of these places made it worth the trip even if we didn’t find our soldiers.
Day three of this trip was easier, and we took our time getting going, Rachel sleeping in and me reading the biography of William Seward I was working on. With only four graveyards to visit today, three of whose graves had photos on Findagrave, we had perhaps half the work to do as we did yesterday. All of today’s graves were east of Sodus Bay, and knowing that Chimney Bluffs State Park was nearby and featured scenic lake views, we put that on our day’s itinerary as well. Our first grave of the day, Private Jabez Carter, had no picture, but Rachel has figured out that sometimes one can find a photograph of a spouse or other relative, and sure enough in this case his wife Elizabeth Carter’s grave had a picture. Moreover, the Livingston Cemetery was tiny, located in one of the most rural settings of all we visited on this trip, and even if our search for Jabez’ grave proved fruitless, it needn’t take long. After a few minutes we found Elizabeth Carter’s stone, and happily as we rubbed off lichens from the stone we found Jabez’ name on it as well. A good start to our day. And the other three graves, located at three other nearby cemeteries, were each easily found. Most of the Wayne County veterans’ graves feature Grand Army of the Republic flag holders. These distinctive metal GAR stars help one to navigate through a cemetery and home in on veteran graves as one searches. They also are ready-made to hold the flags we brought to honor the members of the 65th NY regiment.
As it was nearing the end of the day, and we had been busy this afternoon and were a bit tired from our hike, we decided to head back to our cottage in Sodus Bay and get dinner rather than visit our last grave, at Palmyra Cemetery, today. We made plans to visit Private Loami Ford’s grave on our way home the next day. The Palmyra Cemetery was by far the biggest of all those we visited on this trip, but happily the picture of Ford’s grave on Findagrave.com had a reddish fence and a gray building in the background which we hoped would help us find it. Wanting to take one more drive along the shore of Lake Ontario amidst the seemingly endless orchards, and feeling emboldened by our luck in finding graves with no photos to help us, I decided we would visit Pultneyville on our way out, and visit the large Lakeview Cemetery to try and locate Private John DuBurck’s grave before we went to Palmyra. The day was warmer and sunny, and indeed the view of the lake from the cemetery was stunning. Seeing that much of the cemetery featured recent graves, we homed in on the center sections, where the old graves were, and Rachel and I fanned out in opposite directions. After perhaps twenty minutes of wandering, seeing that many of the graves had been worn down to the point that any names on these stones were illegible or gone, I was ready to leave and head to Palmyra and then home. Rachel approached as I neared the last row of graves I hadn’t seen yet, and as Rachel joined me, she saw the next grave was Private DuBurk’s! It was one of the most satisfying finds of the trip, and a beautiful stone to boot, with a GAR flagholder ready to do its job. Abutting an apple orchard, and overlooking the lake, DuBurck’s grave was in a lovely place. A short drive south featured a stop at a farm stand with incredible tomatoes and strawberries for sale on the honor system, where one just leaves payment in a slot at the stand. Upon finding and entering the Palmyra Cemetery, we saw the red fence and gray building immediately, which was a good thing as the cemetery was vast, and finding Loami Ford’s small stone with no location could have been a significant challenge.
One last impulsive stop in Palmyra at the Moroni Monument, a gold statue on a high hill denoting the contact supposedly made between Moroni, a messenger from God, and a young Joseph Smith which began the founding of Mormonism, and we were on our long drive home. It was a fulfilling trip, and we enjoyed the lovely small town of Sodus Bay as well. And by honoring eighteen more 65th NY soldiers we were continuing the attachment we had made to the regiment, which started many years ago when I began my research which culminated in the regimental history I finally wrote, No Flinching From Fire: The 65th New York Volunteers in the Civil War. Having visited the bloody places where they fought in the Civil War, our current trips to visit and honor the men’s grave sites continue to bring satisfaction and connection to me. And I hope all these trips will be lifetime memories for Rachel, even if unusual ones.