The Civil War began in April 1861 with a quick succession of events. Union forces holding Fort Sumter in the Charleston, S.C., harbor entrance surrendered on Sunday, April 14, 1861. On Monday, April 15, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to suppress the rebellion of the then seven seceding states that called themselves the Confederacy. Lincoln’s call was followed by the secession of four more states.
Seneca County residents very quickly responded to Lincoln’s call for volunteers for the Union army. The 1876 history of Seneca County described the reaction as follows:
“Americans are proud of the Republic, and their valor on land and sea has attested their patriotic devotion. Conscious of their own loyalty, the yeomanry of New York looked calmly upon the secession of States and the cumulation [sic] of rebellious forces until, like a thunderbolt, fell the tidings of Fort Sumter bombarded and surrendered. Then the people forgot all but the peril of the land, and all over the North thousands rushed to arms. ... All over Seneca County the noble fervor spread, and from Seneca Falls, Waterloo and Ovid, companies of her choice young men went forth to battle.” (Everts p. 58).
By Thursday, April 18, Seneca Falls dentist James E. Ashcroft — who had been the commander of a well-drilled Zouave company — had secured 33 enlistees to serve in a company of the 19th New York Volunteer Infantry. By a day or two later he had secured the necessary 35 enlistees to organize a company. The company, which officially became Company C of the 19th NY Volunteers, was composed of young men from 18 to 25 years of age.
Among them were two sons of Henry B. and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Mrs. Stanton expressed her regret that her two younger sons were not old enough to enlist, also. On April 27, 1861, this company departed Seneca Falls “amid the plaudits of thousands” and arrived in Elmira by 11 p.m. They were assigned to quarters in the Old Barrel Factory and issued soldiers’ rations and straw and blankets for beds. On June 6, the various companies of the 19th NY Volunteers left for service in the area of Washington, D.C. (Everts, pp. 58-59).
On Saturday, April 20, 1861, the first war meeting was held at the Ovid Courthouse. The Ovid Bee reported that “all ages and classes were represented; political distinctions were entirely annihilated” in this massive gathering to organize a local company of volunteers. A resolution that was adopted contained a clause that said, “… in view of all the facts and circumstances that now surround us, no man having the blood of an American citizen running through his veins can remain passive or neutral but is most imperitively [sic] called upon to define his position and array himself with those who stand pledged to support the Constitution and the Laws, and maintain the dignity and honor of the American flag.”
The Ovid Bee reported on May 1 that:
“Public opinion has been so aroused and feelings enlisted with such just cause — that all men loin for the Union and enforcement of the laws. The stars and stripes float from numerous points — the movements of our gallant volunteers, the shrill fife and roll of the drum, and the earnest conversations indicate the spirit and intensity of the war feeling in our midst.”
The company consisted of 60 men, with Thaddeus Bodine as captain and David G. Caywood as lieutenant. On Saturday, May 11, 1861, these Ovid volunteers left for the rendezvous camp at Elmira. By mid-July they were on duty at Camp Granger in Washington, D.C. (Morrison Ovid History, p. 97).
Patriotic fervor was strong in Waterloo as well. What became known as Company C of the 33rd Regiment began as 86 men who were sworn into service at Waterloo on April 26, 1861. They were first known as the Wright Guards, organized by Captain John F. Aikens and named in honor of Joseph Wright, a prominent Waterloo businessman. When they left for Elmira on April 30, the soldiers were seen off with a festive parade and formal public leave-taking.
“Banners and flags were floating from windows, trees, porticos and house-tops. Captain Aikens was presented with a beautiful sword and sash. Waterloo ladies sewed a 9-by-12 foot silk flag and many sets of shirts and stockings, etc. for the soldiers. The parade of firemen, soldiers and people then proceeded toward the railroad depot. Arriving at the residence of Joseph Wright, Esq., ‘in whose honor the Guard was named and whose liberality and generous efforts eminently entitled him to the honor,’ a halt was made, and the volunteers were greeted with ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ sung by a group of ladies and gentlemen.” (Becker Waterloo history, pp. 171-72).
Clearly it can be said that Seneca County “answered the call” at the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861. By the end of 1861, a total of 237 men had joined the ranks of the Union forces. Patriotic fervor for the defense of the Union was intense. This fervor’s intensity would be severely tested as the Civil War dragged on for four years.
Gable is the Seneca County historian.