"Sharp, quirky, and occasionally nettlesome", Walking the Berkshires is my personal blog, an eclectic weaving of human narrative, natural history, and other personal passions with the Berkshire and Litchfield Hills as both its backdrop and point of departure. I am interested in how land and people, past and present manifest in the broader landscape and social fabric of our communities. The opinions I express here are mine alone. Never had ads, never will.
This summer, our family homestead overlooking the sparkling waters of Buzzards Bay just off Cape Cod in Wareham, MA has a number of prime rental weeks still available. You can rent the 2 bedroom "Little House" for $1,800/week, or the grand old "Big House" for $3K. Lots of July and August weeks available. For a great vacation contact info here.
Our family archives, rich in material for some branches of the tree as they are, contain very little first hand testimony as to why my ancestors enlisted in various Union regiments (and one Confederate) during the Civil War. Their pension records provide some clues, along with a rare surviving letter or two, but there is nothing definitive about their motivations for doing so. Still, one can draw a few inferences.
Brothers Theodore and Nathaniel Abbott were 19 and 17 years old respectively according to the 1860 census and lived in New York City. Theodore was a mechanic who enlisted in May, 1861 in the 9th New York (Hawkin's Zouaves) and served for a two year enlistment. Nathaniel joined the 133rd NY (2nd Metropolitans), a unit that recruited heavily from the metropolitan police force in which his father was then a policeman and in which the son would also serve after the war.
There were a number of younger Abbott siblings as well as their maternal grandmother living in their apartment, so one of their motives may have been the 13 dollars a month (and in Nathaniel's case, an enlistment bounty) to provide support for the family. Theodore''s early enlistment in a flamboyant Zouave unit may also indicate a sense of adventure. Nathaniel fell sick soon after arriving at Fort Monroe and was left behind when his regiment sailed for Louisiana, but the following year he enrolled in the 10th Regiment Veteran Reserve Corps and served until late 1865. Whether money or patriotism prompted his reenlistment can only be speculated but he was certainly under no legal obligation to do so.
Private William Taylor was mustered into Company A, 1st
NY "Lincoln" Cavalry on July 27th, 1861 in New York City. A first generation immigrant from England, a weaver by trade with a wife and young family, he chose a branch of service for which he may not have been suited, for he was discharged disabled that October after been thrown from a horse at Camp Meigs in Washington, D.C. Again, gainful employment may have motivated his service, but perhaps also a feeling of duty to his new country. He died from complications from his injuries in 1864.
Young Samuel Barker, Jr. lied about his age to enlist in the 37th Wisconsin Infantry in March, 1865. He and his unhappily married mother and young sister were living in poverty when he enrolled. He served less than 90 days and was sick in camp as well when the war ended. The enlistment bounty was a prime motivator for him, according to a surviving family letter.
William Nisbet Olmsted was a member of the elite 7th NYSM, a bandbox regiment which claimed members from the best of New York City Society. He served for one month at the outset of the war, marching to the Capitol and purloining Congressional Stationery before heading back to New York and a career in the China Trade. For him, he met his obligation as a gentleman to show courage and do his duty but appears had no stronger attachment to fighting in the cause of the Union.
The Confederate Brigadier from New Jersey, Archibald Gracie, Jr. fought for the honor of his wife and mother's people who were from the South, initially as captain of a militia company in Mobile where he had managed his family's business interests since resigning from the US Infantry in 1856.
Charles G. Johnson of New York was a wagoner,
Company B, 5th New York Volunteer Inf. (Duryea's Zouaves) 1861-1863 and then for a third year in Company G., 146th New York Volunteer Inf. He was a deeply religious man and this may well have helped him withstand the stress of long service, as McPherson notes in For Cause and Comrades, but I do not know whether he held abolitionist sentiments. Nor do I know what motivated Jesse M. Jones to enlist as Hospital Steward on the U.S.S. Monitor, but he fortuitously resigned before the ironclad foundered off Cape Hatteras.
Patriotism, a better life, belonging to something bigger than themselves. Bonds of family, class and friendship. Honor and courage and the ideals of manhood. I sense that these may have been behind some of their decisions to fight. The fact of their service does not mean that they were at all times heroic, nor that they held to the highest of purposes. They were, after all, human beings with human frailties. But they did enlist, and in some cases reenlist, and whether they stepped off at the very outset or in the very last moments of the war, all of them volunteered and for whatever personal reasons felt it was the right choice.
My ancestor William Currie, Anglican minister at St. Davids in Radnor, Pennsylvania for many years prior to the Revolution, was unable to reconcile continuing his ministry while the colonies were in armed rebellion against the king and head of his church. His original letter of resignation hangs on a wall in an antechamber of the church, along with a typed transcription which I reproduce here:
"To the Wardens and Vestrymen of St. David's Church
May ye 18th, 1776
Age & infirmity have rendered me unable to officiate any longer, I take this method to inform you that I shall decline attending your church any more, but though providence has so ordered that I Serve you no more in public, yet God forbid that I should cease to pray for you in private; No: as I have taken the best care I was able under an infirm State of health to Shew you the good and right way, So while I breath(e); I will not cease to pray that God may give you his grace and enable you to walk in it - - - And as I Shall not cease to pray for you,, I beseech you neglect not to pray for your Selves. Prayer is at all times your duty, but more especially in troublesome times. When deprived of the Church, make use of the Closet, and there pour out your Complaints to him who Seeth in secret, & will in his own good time reward you oppenly (sic).. A Devout man 'tho he has but
his Chamber to retire to, and his doors be shut upon him, yet he lives as it were in Goshen. When flashed of Judgement burst upon other persons, tis calm in the prayer room. When the destroying Angel has overrun every house in Egypt with death, when there was nothing but Carcasses & Crying in each dwelling, There was not one Shriek in all the land of Goshen. When a thick darkness fell upon the nation, the praying Israelites had light in all their dwellings. And when a Sad Dark Cloud Sits as it were on God's countenance and pours down Innundations (sic) of Tempests upon a careless lukewarm & Backslideing (sic) people, yet even then, his face Shines in the Closets of Devotion, there he breaks in & reveals his comforts, as is So there as his Angel was, at that time a Pillar of Light to the one, & of a Cloud to the other. Let the devotion Chamber be your Sanctuary till these troublesome times be overpassed, flee for refuge to the horns of the altar, the Throne of grace, there offer up the Incense of your prayers, & let the lifting up of your hands be as the evening Sacrifice. Thus my dear little flock I bid you heartily farewell. & and am with great love and affection your faithful pastor till death.
Clearly there was much more behind this resignation than failing health. Scots born Reverend Currie was in his 66th year of life and 40th of his Pennsylvania ministry when he stepped away from the pulpit. He was unable to violate his ordination vows by omitting the Anglican prayer for the King, and with Congress now debating Independence the mood of the rebellion had gone farther than he was prepared to go. Three of his sons were either then inn the service or about to march to war, but of these Ross Currie had been captured during the failed Canada expedition and would later join the Pennsylvania Loyalists as an officer, Dr. Alexander Currie would soon resign as Surgeon of Atlee's musketry Battalion (again citing ill health but subsequently settling in the West Indies), and my ancestor Richard Currie would die of disease that September contracted in service with the 1st Pennsylvania (Chester Valley) Militia in the Flying Camp. Richard's orphaned children undoubtedly lived with their grandfather Reverend Currie, as indeed the old minister did after the war with his grand daughter, my ancestor Margaret (Currie) Walker.
Reverend Currie returned to his flock after the war, reinstalled as pastor in 1783. He is buried by the old St. David's church wall, next to the graves of his son Richard and daughter-in-law Hannah (Potts) Currie, which I visited last week when I was in the neighborhood. .Richard's colonial era Stars and Stripes flutters near the upper right corner of Reverend Currie's tomb.
I swear, that is what I had to conclude from a very enlightening call I received this evening from someone at 703-656-9940 which is listed as an NRA number who very much wanted me to listen to a prepared tape by the Vice President of the NRA about how representatives of the UN from Canada, Australia and some European countries were conspiring with the Obama administration to take away my guns. It turns out that Secretary Condoleeza Rice and John Bolton were engaged in just this sort of activity back in the 2nd Bush administration, at least to hear the person on the other end of the line tell it, and yet at an NRA Freedom rally somewhere in South Carolina, Nancy Pelosi attended and defended my right to bear arms.
All I can say is, Hallelujah! I told them that the day they sent me their magazine standing arm in arm with Nancy Pelosi and exposing the Bush era UN conspiracy to take away my guns lead by Rice and Bolton would be the day I would join the NRA. I asked why they had not taken this incredible information to Fox News or Rush Limbaugh instead of calling me about it, and the fellow on the other end of the line said that Rush was being careful and I said that sure didn't sound like him. Ol' Rush isn't afraid to call out Republican traitors, especially on such an important issue as our constitutional rights.
We talked for about 15 minutes, which I am sure is much longer than the NRA propaganda tape this poor telemarketer really wanted me to listen to instead of him. I hope, for his sake, that the call was not monitored for quality. We both agred that Charlton Heston must be spinning in his grave, but I suspect for different reasons.
Back in 1989, the normally pacifist campus of Haverford College witnessed a no holds barred grudge match between its two all male a-cappella singing groups: Skip Doo Wop and the Humtones and the Ford S-Chords. The Humtones were the older of the two groups, and viewed the S-chords as a bunch of scrappy upstarts, which indeed they were, having been founded just a few years before by a couple of singers upset that the Humtones had not scheduled auditions.
I joined the S-chords in the spring of 1987 when the founding members were still part of the group, so naturally I am fiercely partisan. Individual S-chords and Humtones were occasionally able to connect in bipartisan relationships - I was in a production of Godspell with a couple of Humtones and was friendly with one or two others - but this was like the friendships between Justices Scalia and Ginsberg, or Senators Kennedy and Hatch. Business was business and whatever we thought of each other off the stage, we were rivals in earnest when it was time to get our games on.
Back in my day, a-cappella groups were to our college what athletes are in Division One schools. We were like John Stewart blended with Rod Stewart, kings of the hill and cocks of the rock, and what we may have lacked in polish we made up for in attitude. With all that testosterone and 4 part harmony, things were bound to get ugly.
It was customary to do clever intros for some of our numbers, and these provided ample opportunities to poke fun at our rivals. The Humtones had some very funny guys, including Mark Hudis who is now a Hollywood screenwriter, and on one particular evening when the Humtones performed, they let us have it with full, relentless broadsides.
All may be fair in love and war, but rather than throwing down the gauntlet this was more like a barrage of mailed fists to the jaw. The part we remember as the cheapest shot was a top ten list why they were not S-chords that includes something to the effect that the spending allowance of one of our founding members, Clipper Robinson, was more than the net worth of the Humtones.
Clipper came from money but you would never know it from the way he acted and it was the very last thing he wanted you to know about him. He drove a beat up Chevy station wagon and none of us made anything at all out of the net worth of his parents. We considered this crack well below the belt and planned our revenge.
The S-chords had a concert several weeks later in newly renovated Founders Hall. For reasons now lost in the sands of time, but attributable to John Capen, another of our Founding members, the S-chords traditionally open their shows by dashing on stage with a raucous cheer of "Boola Boola Boola, Ha ha ha!" Not this time.
We started up the aisle in a slow procession whose leaders intoned the chant of the flagellate monks from Monty Python's Holy Grail - "Pie Jesu Domine dona eis requiem." - pausing at proper intervals to bash themselves in the forehead. We bore Clipper at shoulder height reclining on a litter, wearing an ascot and dinner jacket and smoking a huge cigar. Two of us knelt so he could step onto our backs when alighting to the stage. Clipper snapped his fingers and another S-chord ran up and grovelled with palm outstretched for him to extinguish his cigar. He paused, looked smugly out at the audience, and in his best, stiff jawed impression of Thurston Howell III, announced;
" The Top Reason why I'm an S-chord....because I bought them!"
The house erupted and we launched into "Violent Love" by Dr. Feelgood. Game, Set and Match to the S-chords.
It is amazing what you can drive by most of your life without noticing. I was heading over to the Taconic Parkway on Rte 44 out of Amenia, New York, and there at the top of the stretch I noticed an old mile marker on the side of the road. I made a mental note to stop on my way back, and then was astounded to pass two more such stones between there and Washington Hollow a dozen miles away.
I took the school bus every day on this road for years - this was the main transportation artery where I grew up - and somehow never saw these before.
True to my intent, I stopped at the marker shown in the photograph at left on my return trip. It is on the North side of the road just before Washington Hollow between Copperfields and S Road. It declares that passers-by are 12 miles from P. C. House, meaning the seat of county government in Poughkeepsie on the Hudson River.
I blew by the mile marker I spotted to the east in Lithgow, but back on the ridge before Rte 44 plunges south over
Delaverne Hill,I stopped for the other stone, shown here at right. It has been encased in masonry, and the face of the brownstone is badly eroded, but I could just make out words to the effect that it was 23 miles from Poughkeepsie.
These are very old stones. I guessed they probably dated from the very late 1700s or early 1800s, and in fact it turns out that they were erected in 1804. What is now Rte 44 became the Dutchess Turnpike in 1806 [though it predates that designation] and near where I grew up was the Shunpike which locals erected to avoid the tolls.
Apparently there are other historic mile markers scattered about Dutchess County. I will now make a point of trying to locate them.
Every now and again, less frequently perhaps than a blue moon, a perfect night coalesces around an extraordinary dining experience.
There was the time in Swakopmund, Namibia, when our host called over to the Hansa Hotel to see whether they had Mozambique prawns and learned that they had just received a batch of langoustines with tails the size of chicken lobsters. They were not yet on the menu, but the chef came out to our table and asked how we would like them prepared. Three of them covered a dinner plate.
There was the tiny, four table Mexican restaurant in Worcester, Massachusetts where our friend from El Paso, Jesus Mendoza, took us for an unforgettable authentic meal like his mother used to make.
And there was the meal we had last week at Naji's Mediterranean Restaurant in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on the recommendation of our friends at Domaney's Liquor Store who said that if we were looking for outstanding Lebanese food, particularly Baba Ganoush, Naji's was the real deal.
Baba ganoush from the grocery store is to the exquisite version served at Naji's what Taco Bell is to that little Mexican restaurant in Worcester. The eggplant was roasted, the garlic and lemon notes accented the tahini, and the flat bread was warm and fresh. We ordered it as an appetizer and bought more to take home.
We also ate pressed spanakopita that used a moderate amount of filo and let the spinach and feta shine through, and steamed mussels in a tomato oil broth that were indescribably wonderful. The service was attentive, and when my companion said she was allergic to bell peppers, the chef owner came to our table to determine whether the lamb shish kebab she had ordered would be a problem. When it was clear that the juice of the pepper was the source of the allergy, he cut four or five medallions of lamb and grilled them with tomato, pine nuts, garlic and coriander and served it with rice pilaf and broccoli and eggplant fritters. It was so good, and we were so clearly enjoying it, that he made one for himself.
As this was a birthday night out, they gave me some homemade baklava. The most expensive entree was $18.99 and there was a decent wine list with several unusual selections from Lebanon that I will try the next time I go.
What these meals have in common is food lovingly prepared with a personal touch. Whether in the dining room of a three star hotel or a small patio with a handful of other diners, the effect was as attentive and intimate as a gourmet meal cooked for friends.
This is not a mangrove. These buttressing root flairs do not perch above some inundated morass. This woebegone maple grows by the roadside between Kent and New Milford, CT and is either the worst example of arboreal malpractice or evidence of biological tenacity in the face of overwhelming bad luck.
I believe it is most likely that a maple seed pinwheeled to rest on a big pile of leaves or wood chips that decomposed out from under its thirsty roots. This may have taken a while, for an extensive root network now extends out from the tree from at least a yard above ground level. When I stopped to take these pictures, I could see the face of a white tailed deer in the underbrush beyond the tree looking back at me through the aerial roots.
The other side of the tree is a horror show of a different sort.
Damage like that was probably caused by a front end loader pushing piles of debris around (perhaps the vanished pile of wood chips. While evidence of appalling indifference and neglect, the fact that this tree has grown to this size, and continues to grow despite such insults, is truly astonishing. It makes me wonder whether it is a sugar maple or a Norway (an invasive species known for its ability to take root in sidewalk cracks). I will have to check next time I am in the neighborhood.
The Olde Town "Titicus" Cemetery in Ridgefield Connecticut holds the mortal remains of several of my ancestors, including my 6th Great Grandparents: the Reverend Jonathan Ingersoll and Dorcas (Moss) Ingersoll. Yesterday I had occasion to stop and visit their graves, which I had found several years before and relocated without much difficulty.
His older marker has endured the elements far better than her later one, on which her name is no longer legible. At one time, like many of the older stones in this burial ground, The headstone of Dorcas Moss broke in two, but unlike many others it was later repaired. You can still read many of her vital statistics under the streaked and crumbling marble, while his are finely etched in stronger stone.
Reverend Jonathan Ingersoll (1713-1778) was the son of Jonathan and Sarah Ingersoll of Milford, CT. The Ingersolls were early settlers of Hartford who later removed to Westfield, Massachusetts. A great uncle of Reverend Jonathan Ingersoll's was killed in the French and Indian raid on Deerfield in 1704.
Reverend Jonathan Ingersoll graduated from Yale in 1736. In 1740 he married Dorcas Moss (1760-1811), the daughter of Reverend
Joseph Moss of Derby, CT. He came to Ridgefield as the 2nd minister in its Congregational Church in 1739 He held this post for nearly 40 years until his death in 1778 from "an apoplectic fit".
During the French and Indian War. Reverend Ingersoll served as Chaplain for Connecticut Troops operating around Lake George and Fort Ticonderoga (then called Carillon). In 1758 he was chaplain for Colonel David Wooster's 4th Regiment in Abercrombey's ill-fated expedition against the French at Carrillon. Wooster's men were caught up in the attack, and Chaplain Ingersoll wrote to a fellow church colleague that God showed "distinguishing mercy to the Connecticut Troops" who suffered few deaths in that dreadful slaughter.
During Lord Amherst's campaign the following year he was chaplain of the 3rd Regiment, again under Colonel David Wooster. They traveled from captured Fort Carillon to Oswego and then down the St. Lawrence.