“I’m Now in Rebeldom”: New Paltz Soldiers in the Civil War
In May 2005, the Huguenot Historical Society in New Paltz introduced the exhibit. Formally opened on May 28, during a symposium on the Civil War in New Paltz, the exhibit considers several aspects of the town’s experiences during the nation’s gravest crisis and reaches an emotional level that is characteristic of war-themed presentations.
Filling two rooms of the Howard Hasbrouck Grimm Gallery, the artifacts are drawn primarily from the Huguenot Historical Society’s own archival collections, which include hundreds of wartime letters. Excerpts from several of these are on prominent display. (The exhibition title—a quotation from New Paltz soldier Lindsay Howell—refers to his regiment’s assignment to occupation duty in Southern states during the latter years of the war.) A reading of these excerpts demonstrates that many soldiers were impressed with the landscapes around the Mississippi River, but the scenes only reminded them of another river: the Hudson. The homesickness of one soldier, Charles Ackert, is evident in his letter home, published in the New Paltz Times (and also excerpted in the exhibit): “Yet we long for the snows and frosts of our own dear Northern homes for the glad faces of those we love would lend its bleak scenes a beauty which no Southern clime can ever equal.” Other artifacts on display include a recruitment poster for the 175th New York Regiment (from Kingston), reproductions of military enrollment lists and casualty reports, and photographic reproductions of several paintings from the Library of Congress and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans.
Five months in the making, the exhibit focuses not just on soldiers, but also the families they left behind. Displayed text explains that most of the residents of New Paltz supported the Union cause during the Civil War, though as a heavily Democratic area (as was much of New York State), it was often critical of Republican President Abraham Lincoln. Residents filled the void of departed soldiers and contributed to the war effort as best they could. Among the homespun supplies they furnished for the troops were mittens, quilts, socks, pillows and pillowcases, medicine, jellies, and food. Maria DuBois, at age 83, was also willing to lend a hand making clothes, vowing in one excerpt to “keep her needle at work as long as her eyesight is spared and a soldier is in need.” (Drawings of instructions on how to sew these supplies surround the quotation.) Eliza Ackert took over the editorship of the New Paltz Times in her husband’s stead and published many of his letters for the community. Her picture, a photograph of her printing office, and an advertisement for the Times are all on exhibit. Unfortunately, grief was a constant companion of several residents’ families. On view is the Thanksgiving Day, 1864, diary entry of Jane LeFevre, who laments the loss of her brother Johannes, who had died at Winchester, Virginia, four days earlier.
Also shown are the instruments of war—a rifled musket, a musketoon (a smaller-length firearm), cavalry saber, an infantry sword, and a presentation sword given to officers in the Union Army. Camp life is also an important aspect of the exhibit. Remnants displayed from the field gear of Lieutenant Johannes LeFevre, who served with the 175th Regiment, include a cloth and paper chess set, a stencil, and a small Bible. In the many hours of stand-down time between battles, these were valuable possessions. Another wall section shows how those who went to serve the Union did not always do so in combat. Three New Paltz surgeons—Solomon Hasbrouck, Abraham Eltinge Crispell, and John Miller—were based in Washington, D.C., serving in hospitals for the wounded. Photographs of one of these hospitals are on display.
The exhibit was curated by Eric Roth, Huguenot Historical Society’s librarian and archivist, and Ian Stewart, head of Physical Maintenance. Additional assistance was provided by Leslie LeFevre Stratton, curator of Collections, and Laurence M. Hauptman, Distinguished Professor of History, State University of New York at New Paltz. Funding was made possible by the New York State Council for the Humanities. - Neil Bhatiya