Local Civil War cavalryman featured in new book

“Tough & Hearty, Kimball Pearsons, Civil War Cavalryman,” a recent (2012) Heritage Books release, relates the day-to-day experiences of a town of Collins farmer who enlisted in the 10th Regiment of Cavalry, New York State Volunteers, on Aug. 28, 1862. The book chronicles, through his letters and diary entries, Kimball Pearsons’ life and the activities of the 10th Regiment of Cavalry over a period of approximately two years, including Pearsons’ presence at the important battles of Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, and his participation in numerous raids and skirmishes. Although he was a Quaker, Pearsons avidly supported the war as necessary to preserve and restore the Union.

Pearsons was killed in Virginia on June 11, 1864, at the Battle of Trevilian Station, the largest all-cavalry battle of the Civil War. Two letters from fellow soldiers provide details of his death. One of these was written by Hurburt Farnsworth, also from the Gowanda area, who received the Medal of Honor for his valor at Trevilian Station.

The approximately 100 letters which comprise the heart of the book were handed down through Pearsons’ family, and his great-great-great-nephew David Russell, formerly of Gowanda, is the editor. Pearsons maintained an active correspondence not only with his sister Harriett and her husband William Press, but also with numerous friends, neighbors and other relatives, and some of his letters may still be in the hands of Gowanda area residents.

Pearsons’ ancestors were among the early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Rhode Island and Collins, and the book includes two genealogical charts, as well as vintage photographs of some of his Pearsons, Bartlett and Press relatives, and some of the men with whom he served, including John Vail of Collins who was killed about two weeks before Pearsons. Footnotes provide identifying details for some of the individuals mentioned in the letters, and an index contains the names of everyone mentioned in them. Recent photographs include the 10th NY Cavalry monument at Gettysburg, Pearsons’ burial site at Culpeper National Cemetery in Virginia, and the Quaker Meeting House in North Collins where he and his sister heard abolitionists (Frederick Douglass), spiritualists (Lyman C. Howe; Andrew Jackson Davis) and others (Elizabeth Stanton; Susan B. Anthony) speak in the 1850s. A picture of a gravestone erected in his memory, which stands alongside that of his parents and his deceased wife Betsey Harris Pearsons, in Pine Grove (Rosenberg) Cemetery in Collins is particularly poignant.

The words “Tough & Hearty” were used in the title to the book because Pearsons frequently used this phrase to describe himself: “I am all right yet tough and hearty. And those that prophesied that I could not stand a Soldier’s life have proved to be false prophets.” A majority of those who died in the war, as well as many in Pearsons’ regiment, died from non-combat illnesses and injuries, but Pearsons remained remarkably healthy throughout his service even though he was older than most in his regiment. His close friend, Joseph Matthews, also from Collins, was frequently ill and ultimately served in a non-combat role for that reason.

Of particular interest to local readers may be descriptions of activities on Pearsons’ farm on South Quaker Street in Collins, which was being managed in his absence by his sister and her husband. Interactions between Pearsons and his friends and family were surprisingly easy as rail service was available to the Gowanda area through Salamanca, Dayton and Buffalo. Kimball and others frequently sent and received mail, newspapers, packages and money. Surprisingly, they got odd jobs in Elmira, where they spent weeks prior to their transfer to Alexandria, Va,, to earn extra money: “B. Dexter, N. Washburn, D. Brown and myself husked corn at 2 cts per bush.” Details about encampments, the Virginia countryside and the minutiae of cavalry life should be of particular interest to military historians and cavalry re-enactors.

The book is dedicated to the memory of two of David Russell’s aunts who sparked his interest in family and history. Louise Gleason (nee Russell) lived in Perrysburg and made the original transcriptions of Pearsons’ letters. Ruth Smith (nee Russell), most recently of Cassadaga, lived as a young child with her great grandmother, Harriett Pearsons Press, Pearsons’ sister, and preserved some of the “family lore” about Pearsons and his relatives.

Russell grew up in Gowanda, and graduated from Gowanda Central School, Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., and the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor. He currently resides with his wife Victoria Luine, also from Gowanda, in Brooklyn. A limited number of copies of “Tough & Hearty” are available for purchase at reduced price at the Gowanda Area Historical Society, and copies can also be purchased on line at Amazon.com and the Heritage Press and other websites. Copies are being donated to the Gowanda Free Library, the Collins Public Library, the North Collins Public Library and the Concord Public Library in Springville.