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.

Roberson Museum Commemorates the Civil War

150 years ago shots were fired on Fort Sumter off the coast of South Carolina signaling the beginning of the Civil War. A century and a half later, Roberson Museum and Science Center has assembled hundreds of objects and stories to tell the story of how that conflict affected this area in a new exhibition appropriately named The Civil War. Read more

SUNY Cortland Historian William Sharp Retiring

William Sharp, who served SUNY Cortland for 16 years as a senior administrator and teacher, will retire on Dec. 31, 2010. He has been designated professor emeritus of history.

Sharp joined the College in 1994 as a professor of history and provost and vice president for academic affairs. He was provost for seven years before returning to the classroom in the College’s History Department.

As provost, he oversaw all academic programs and faculty personnel matters. He played a key role as the College underwent its 10-year review by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. During his term as second-in-command, he was instrumental in capturing a $1.75 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education for the project aimed at strengthening the School of Arts and Sciences programs. He shepherded through to approval many new and revised degree programs.

Prior to his employment at SUNY Cortland, Sharp was dean of Temple University’s Japan Campus in Tokyo, with its 2,250 students and 160 faculty members from 1988-94. He opened the campus and served as its first director from 1982-85. Between those two appointments, he directed Temple’s Institute for Languages and International Studies in Philadelphia and also served as associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Sharp became part of Temple’s History Department faculty in 1969, teaching courses in Latin American history and helped develop curricula in Latin American Studies, Black History, and Asian Studies. Sharp also directed the Honors Program for the College of Arts and Sciences.

Before joining Temple, he was a visiting associate professor of history at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, and was an instructor of English as a Foreign Language at Centro Colombo/Americano in Bogota, Columbia.

A native of Minneapolis, Minn., Sharp earned a bachelor’s degree in American history from Stanford University and served two years in Colombia with the Peace Corps.

He received master’s and doctoral degrees in Latin American history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While studying for a doctorate, he minored in American history and political science.

A past president of the Northeast Region National Collegiate Honors Council, he was chair of the American Association of Colleges and Universities in Japan for many years, often representing American universities in Japan’s educational, business and governmental circles. He was a past president of the Temple University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

A past member of Rotary International, Sharp served on the boards of Cortland Repertory Theater and the Cortland Country Club as vice president and, until recently, as chair of the Cortland/Tompkins County Habitat for Humanity.

He and his wife, Elizabeth Sharp, live in Cortland and plan to remain actively involved in the local community, where Liz served as president of the YWCA Board of Directors and on the board of the Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture. They have three grown children, Michael Sharp, Christopher Sharp and Heather Sharp- and four grand-children.

Roundtable to Discuss Cortland County Railroad History

A panel of railroad scholars and buffs will give a presentation on “Railroads in Cortland County: Past, Present and Future” from 8-9:45 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 1, in SUNY Cortland’s Park Center Hall of Fame Room. Sponsored by the President’s Office and the College’s Center for Educational Exchange (CEE), the community roundtable is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served at 7:45 a.m.

All Community Roundtables are recorded and available as Webcasts on SUNY Cortland’s central Webcasting page at

This special, extended roundtable will explore the historical uses of rail service in this area as well as current and potential tourist destination opportunities. The speakers will include Sharon Todd, an associate professor of recreation, parks and leisure studies at SUNY Cortland, and Tom Trencansky, executive director of the Cayuga Nature Center.

Following the discussion, Vince Minnella, director emeritus of instructional resources at SUNY Cortland, will briefly introduce and then show the popular, 30-minute locally produced video, “That Lonesome Whistle: The Railroads of Cortland County,” to attendees who wish to stay beyond the usual ending time of 9 a.m.

The history of railroads in Central New York is rich and varied. Even decades after the railroad industry’s decline, a variety of small tourist train operations have continued intermittently in this region.

Todd will summarize results of a two-year study completed for the New York State Department of Economic Development by students in the Recreation, Parks and Leisure Studies Department at SUNY Cortland. The study explores the extent to which citizens would support and use a local tourist excursion train between Binghamton, N.Y., and Cortland. Todd will share results from a survey about ridership on the Central New York Maple Festival train, and ideas for other excursion trains and their psychological, economic, educational and community benefits.

Trencansky, a photographer of trains and railroads and the founder of the Cornell Railroad Historical Society, will share an entertaining musical presentation that highlights the scenes and long history of New York state and Cortland County railroads.

“That Lonesome Whistle” was produced by the Sperry Learning Resources Center in 1979 as a project supported by a SUNY Faculty Grant for the Improvement of Undergraduate Instruction.

A nostalgic look back at the rich history of railroads in Cortland County, the video highlights the vitality and economic impact of freight and passenger travel from the 1850s through the 1900s and on to its decline following World War II. Archival photographs take the viewer to the thriving passenger stations on Central Avenue and South Avenue. They will enjoy a virtual ride on the Cortland-Homer Horse Railway, which after becoming the Cortland and Homer Traction Company extended from South Avenue in the city to Little York in Preble.

Minnella, who produced and wrote the video script, was associate director of the Sperry Center when the video was taped. Marcia Carlson, SUNY Cortland professor emerita of recreation and leisure studies, directed the video with the help students in her Recreation Administration class. Morris Bogard, SUNY Cortland associate vice president emeritus for academic affairs, narrated the film.

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Four New Diaries By Upstate New York Teenagers

Four new books provide readers with first person narratives of rural Upstate New York teenage life in the 1860s through the 1890s. These accounts of young peoples’ lives on the farm, or in the home, offers a unique perspective and serves as an important primary resource in the study of American history.

The first is A Darned Good Time by 13-year old Lucy Potter of Taylor, New York (in Cortland County) in 1868. She writes of classes, teachers, friends, boys, a new stepmother, an invalid aunt, and complains about upstate New York weather.

Second in the series is My Centennial Diary &#8211 A Year in the Life of a Country Boy by 18-year old Earll Gurnee of Sennett, New York (near Skaneateles) in 1876. He writes of school, family life, social life, farm life, girlfriends, and hard work. His teacher gets arrested for being too brutal to children, he juggles two girlfriends, he plows, cuts hay, cleans out the horse barn&#8230-.then wonders why his back hurts!

Third in the series, My Story – A Year in the Life of a Country Girl, is by 15-year old Ida Burnett of Logan, New York (in Schuyler County) in 1880. Ida churned butter, milked cows, sewed her own underwear, canned fruit, but also had time for boys and parties. She lived in the country in Upstate New York and in the whole year did not venture any farther than twenty miles from home. The book will be released soon.

The fourth (forthcoming) will be Home in the Hills by 14–year old Edna Kendall of Altay, New York (in Schuyler County) in 1891. It will be available in early 2010.

You can check out these and more publications from the New York History Review Press at

History of Slavery in New York Discussion Today

Historian Alan Singer, a professor of education at Hofstra University, will address &#8220Time to Teach the Truth: The History of Slavery in New York State,&#8221 during a daylong series of talks and workshops at SUNY Cortland and at Cortland Junior-Senior High School on Wednesday, March 4.

&#8220Most Americans are aware of the more than two century-long history of slavery in our country,&#8221 explained Keith Smith, director of the Educational Opportunity Program and one of the event organizers. &#8220Most, however, consider slavery to have been limited to the South. Dr. Singer is an expert on the many facets of slavery in the Empire State, and how to teach about them. He is eager to discuss his work with colleagues and students.&#8221

A drop-in discussion session will be held between 9:30-11:30 a.m. in Old Main, Room 127, for any educators, would-be educators, and others interested in conversing with Singer and viewing his teaching materials. Singer will speak on the history of slavery in New York state during a sandwich seminar, which is free and open to the public, at 12:30 p.m. in Brockway Hall Jacobus Lounge.

He will conduct a workshop on teaching about slavery from 3-4 p.m. at Cortland Junior-Senior High School. For information about attending that event, please contact Karen Hempson, coordinator of the Professional Development School, a SUNY Cortland-Cortland Public Schools initiative, at (607) 753-4209 or by e-mail at: [email protected].

At the Hofstra University School of Education and Allied Human Services, Singer is a professor of secondary education and the director of social studies education. A former New York City high school social studies teacher, he is editor of Social Science Docket, a joint publication of the New York State and New Jersey Councils for the Social Studies. His books include New York and Slavery, Time to Teach the Truth and Social Studies for Secondary Schools (Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates, 2nd edition, 2003).

Singer, who earned a Ph.D. in U.S. history from Rutgers University, is the author and editor of New York and Slavery: Complicity and Resistance, a 268-page secondary school curriculum guide.

The daylong events are being sponsored by a combination of College and community groups. The College sponsors are: Africana Studies Department- Center for Gender and Multicultural Studies- Dean of Arts and Sciences Office- Dean of Education Office- Education Club- Educational Opportunity Program- History Department- President’s Office and the Provost’s Office. The community sponsors include the Cortland Junior-Senior High School Department of Social Studies, the Professional Development School, and the Wilkins Foundation.