Battle brews over monument where local soldiers fought
There is an ongoing dispute over plans to build a Union memorial at a state park in Olustee, Fla., where many Mohawk Valley soldiers died in the Civil War and where their regiment commander, Col. Simeon Sammons of Fonda, was wounded in the foot.
Recruited from Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery and Saratoga counties in fewer than 40 days, the 115th Regiment of the New York Volunteers trained at Camp Fonda, near the village. They left for the war by train Aug. 29, 1862, amid a glorious sendoff.
“Reader, do you know the suffering of a day’s march through the hot sun?” asked Lt. James H. Clark, who wrote a regimental history published in 1865. Clark was a native of Fonda who was a farmer in Clifton Park when he enlisted.
Mark Silo of Loudonville, author of “The 115th New York in the Civil War,” wrote that half of the 600-man regiment was killed or wounded in the Battle of Olustee on Feb. 20 1864, a Confederate victory in the North’s unsuccessful campaign to get Florida back in the Union.
The New York Times reports that the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War has requested permission to build a monument in a Florida state park at the Olustee battle site that already has three monuments to Confederate soldiers. The proposal has enraged many in the Sons of Confederate Veterans although some of them say a monument to Union soldiers could be built in the surrounding federal park, not in the smaller Florida state park.
“The level of resistance is remarkable, isn’t it?” wrote Silo. “It is a great site to visit, with only a couple of monuments right at the park entrance. I don’t recall seeing any others while hiking the grounds once occupied by the 115th New York. It seems to me a small monument to the Yanks would be a good addition to the entry area of the park, but then, of course, I am favorably biased toward those Yanks.”
“To descendants of the Confederates in North Florida, the move (to erect a Union obelisk) was perceived to be the latest salvo against this area’s values and traditions,” wrote Times reporter Lizette Alvarez. “The Civil War may have ended long ago, but in Florida, unlike much of the South, Yankees never stopped marching (or rolling) into the state, lured by milder weather and tax rates.”
Every February thousands attend a re-enactment of the battle of Olustee. The Times reported that both Confederate and Union re-enactors are hoping the re-enactment will not be marred this year, the 150th anniversary, by “a resurgence in hostilities.”
“They were really steadfast, especially toward the end,” said Gloversville author Marcia Buffett in 2005. A genealogist with ancestors who served in the Civil War, Buffett wrote “From the Mountains,” a historic novel about the men of the 115th New York and the families they left behind.
Buffett tells a fictionalized version of the experiences of her ancestor Dwella Groff, who was wounded, captured and sent to a Confederate prison at the battle of Deep Bottom, Virginia, in 1864. Groff survived prison and later worked in the family lumber business in Hope and Northville. He died in 1923 and is buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery in Northville.
Groff passed down the story of the blue ghost or man in blue — a Confederate spy who wore chain mail beneath a blue uniform. When shot by Union soldiers, the man in blue would fall but then his body would be gone when soldiers went to pick up his corpse. Eventually, the spy was captured and his body armor discovered.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.