Public History and Debate of Public Issues

How important is “public history?”

The essay on public history in the newly published second edition of the Encyclopedia of Local History, provides some fresh insights. The Encyclopedia, edited by Tompkins County Historian Carol Kammen, a long-time leader in the field, and Amy H. Wilson, an independent museum consultant and former director of the Chemung County Historical Society in Elmira, is  a rich source of fresh insights on all aspects of local history. Read more

Event Commemorating Ithaca African American Families Set

On the Fifth of July, there will be a ceremony in the Ithaca City Cemetery to remember and rededicate the grave sites of two African American families. The Tompkins County Civil War Commission and the Sons of Union Veterans collaborated to clean the grave of Daniel Jackson, who was called &#8220Faithful.&#8221

Jackson was slave in Maryland before fleeing to Ithaca, where he joined others he had known from the South. He was a reliable worker in E. S. Esty’s tannery and at the end of the Civil War he returned to his birthplace to bring his elderly mother North to live with him. The two died in 1889 five days apart: he was 75 and she was thought to be 103. A stone has been placed to mark her resting place and the plot has been landscaped.

The second family grave is that of the Brum family where there are five stones, the major monument located this past fall was in three pieces, the larger spire down the hill, its writing mostly obscured. The City of Ithaca Department of Public Works reassembled the monument which when cleaned revealed two sides with writing. One is for Titus Brum,  an African American born in N.Y. He was also a landowner and patriarch of the African American community in Ithaca.

Brum led efforts to gain political recognition for black men in the 1820s, he organized the 1827 Fifth of July celebration, and organized a committee against the Fugitive Slave Act. His home was often the site of social and political meetings. The second side of the plinth commemorates his son Ira T. Brum who fought during the Civil War in a NY white regiment enlisting from Cortlandville in 1864 and who died of disease the day after his company was mustered out of the war. Below that there is also a notice about Fred.k W. Brum, who also fought in the war. Nearby there is a small grave for an infant named Clarence, and one for their sister, Mary Brum Johnson who links the Brum family with the Johnsons who were involved with aiding Freedom Seekers fleeing through Ithaca. The final two modest stones are marked I.T.B. and F.W.B., stones set at the time of those men’s deaths. There is no notation for Eunice Woods Brum who most likely, with her son-in-law George Johnson, erected the large monument upon the death of Titus in 1881.

Why hold this ceremony on the Fifth of July? For the very reasons that Frederick Douglass gave in his 1852 oration &#8220What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?&#8221 In Tompkins County we hope to recognize these mostly forgotten families and the goal of equal access to our political, social and economic life for all, and to think about goals yet unmet. The Mayor of Ithaca Sevante Myrick will speak at the ceremony, as will The Reverend E. Alex Brower of the A.M.E. Zion Church- the co-chair of the Civil War Commission the Hon. Michael Lane, and the County Historian. The ceremony will be held at 6 pm, rain or shine but not in thunder or lightening. All are welcome.

Photo: Volunteers clean and landscape the Brum family plot.

Carol Kammen is Tompkins County Historian, a Senior Lecturer at Cornell University, and the author of several books, including On Doing Local History: Reflections on What Local Historians Do, Why, and What It Means and The Peopling of Tompkins County: A Social History.

African American Men in White NY Civil War Units

An obituary from 1865 led me to investigate the life of Ira T. Brum, who enlisted in the 185th New York Volunteers in June 1864. The regiment was full of young men from Onondaga and Cortland, and some few from elsewhere in the state. Company F contained mostly men from Cortland who enlisted together that spring. The 185th participated in the siege of Petersburg and was part of the Appomattox Campaign, fighting at Quaker Road, Gravelly Run, Five Forks and at Appomattox Court House. There, on April 9th, 1865 members of the 185th saw the &#8220white flag come out and was glad to see it.&#8221 First Lieutenant Hiram Clark of Marathon gathered his men and sang &#8220Hail Columbia.&#8221 As the men settled against a fence, a shell came over and killed Clark, the &#8220last man killed in the army of the Potomac.&#8221

The 185th camped outside of Washington and Company F was mustered out on May 30th. On June 1st, Ira Brum died. According to his obituary, he was the only &#8220colored man in his company, and possessed the confidence and good will of his officers and comrades.&#8221 He was reported to be a good soldier and &#8220had distinguished himself in many of the hard-fought battles which preceded the fall of Richmond and Lee’s surrender.&#8221 Brum was just thirty years old and left a wife and daughter in Cortland County and his mother, father and siblings in Ithaca. The Brum family monument is in the Ithaca City Cemetery.

New York State agreed to allow African Americans to enlist in United States Colored Infantry in the fall of 1863 and these men fought in federal units. The 20th USCT was recruited in New York City- the 26th USCT was filled with many men from the Southern Tier.

In the spring, the Tompkins County Civil War Sesquicentennial Commemoration Commission will repair the Brum grave, now in pieces in the Ithaca City Cemetery.

It would be interesting to know if other African American men fought in white New York regiments.

Photo: Above, reunion ribbons from the 185th New York Regiment- below, the 185th’s service during the war.

Carol Kammen: Upstate Women in the Civil War

Though war was &#8220no place for a woman,&#8221 many New York state women during the Civil War set off from their homes to nurse the sick and wounded. One of the projects sponsored by the Tompkins County Civil War Commission is to honor women from the county who went to war.

The Army set regulations for nurses. They were to be women between the ages of 35 and 50- they needed to be persons of experience, good conduct, superior education, serious disposition and good health. They were to be neat, orderly, sober, industrious and be willing to travel with a small amount of luggage. Their dress was to be plain, brown, gray or black, with no ornaments. They would be paid 40 cents a day or $12 a month in addition to food, housing, and transportation.

Not all women who nursed met these standards and most encountered mistrust from a number of quarters, including doctors and quartermasters and by the public who feared they might be more &#8220temptress than nurse.&#8221 The sick and wounded, however, appreciated their presence and one reportedly said to a nurse, You are the &#8220God-Blessedist Woman I ever saw.&#8221

Among the first to go to war was Susan Emily Hall who enlisted as a nurse in April 1861. Hall, born in 1826, moved with her family to a farm in the Town of Ulysses where she grew up, one of a number of children. She stayed at home and cared for her parents in their old age but when both had died, she set off to New York City to study medicine with Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. After the firing on Fort Sumter, Blackwell called for nurses and urged her students to enlist. Georgeanna Woolsey reported that two groups attended classes at New York Hospital where they learned &#8220how to make beds for the wounded, cook food properly for the sick, wash and dress wounds, and others things as they come along.&#8221

In July, Dorothea Dix called Hall and Dada, who came from Syracuse, to Washington. Dada has left a diary account of their experiences- both women served to the end of the conflict. Hall returned to New York state in the spring, her health strained- Dada remained in service until the fall of 1865.

Sarah Graham Palmer, a widow of 30 with two children, left in 1862 following the great enlistment of that summer to accompany her brothers who had enlisted in the NY 109th Volunteers. She commented that it was &#8220something to brave popular opinion, something to bear the sneers of those who loved their ease better than their country’s heroes, and who could sit down in peace and comfort at home, while a soldier’s rations, and a soldier’s ten for months and years made up the sum of our luxurious life.&#8221 [Aunt Becky’s Army Life (1867), page 2.] Palmer, who became known as &#8220Aunt Becky&#8221 by the troops, returned to Ithaca in 1865 where she married and emigrated to Iowa.

Sophronia Bucklin of Cayuga County also went to war in 1862 and served under the direction of Dix, working at a variety of military hospitals. She lived out the rest of her days in Ithaca. She too left a memoir of her experiences titled In Hospital and Camp: A Woman’s Record of Thrilling Incidents Among the Wounded in the Late War (1869).

Julia Cook heard of the need for nurses in the spring of 1864. Her husband had died in the war and her son had been wounded in battle but continued with his regiment. Cook went to Washington and began nursing but she soon fell ill and was sent home to Dryden.

Cook and Bucklin are buried in Tompkins County- Hall in California, Palmer in Iowa. These women were little honored in their lifetime- a flag pole was erected over Aunt Becky’s grave in DeMoines in 2009. It seems fitting that we remember them today as we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

By action of the Tompkins County Civil War Commission and the TC3 Foundation a fund was created to honor these women and provide aid to nursing students at Tompkins Cortland Community College in Dryden, New York. These will be named for Susan Emily Hall, Julia Cook, and Sarah Graham Palmer. A faculty enrichment grant will be named for Sophronia Bucklin. Donations to the Civil War Nurses Fund have come from all around the country.

Nurses came from all over the state. I have been collecting the names of women from New York who served and would be glad to post that list and add names of others to it.

Illustration: &#8220The Dying Soldier &#8211 The Last Letter From Home&#8221 by F. O. C. Darley, as it appeared in Mary A. Livermore’s My Story of the War (1888).

Carol Kammen is Tompkins County Historian, a Senior Lecturer at Cornell University, and the author of several books, including On Doing Local History: Reflections on What Local Historians Do, Why, and What It Means and The Peopling of Tompkins County: A Social History.

New York Historys New Contributor Carol Kammen

Please join us in welcoming Carol Kammen as our third new contributor here at New York History. Kammen is Tompkins County Historian, a Senior Lecturer at Cornell University, and the author of several books including On Doing Local History: Reflections on What Local Historians Do, Why, and What It Means and The Peopling of Tompkins County: A Social History.

Kammen has worked as a local historian for what she calls &#8220a great number of years,&#8221 teaching local history at Tompkins Cortland Community College and now at Cornell. She has researched and written about her area’s history in a weekly newspaper column, in Heritage, the magazine of the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA), and in several books.

She has lectured and written about the problems, joys, ethics, sources, and themes of local history, including a series of articles for NYSHA’s journal New York History (1980-1985) issued as Plain as Pipestem (Heart of the Lakes Press, Interlaken, NY). When the American Association for State and Local History asked her to write a book about the problems and possibilities of local history, the result was the now popular On Doing Local History.

Her first post, about upstate women in the Civil War, will appear later this morning.

Photo courtesy Jason Koski, Cornell University Photography.