A distinctive New York monument
Few small towns have bumper to bumper traffic. Fewer still are places where people dressed in clothes from 150 years ago do not even get a second glance. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is a small town that has both.
It is the site of the well-known Civil War battle in 1863 with over 52,000 casualties. Later, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous “Gettysburg Address” here during the dedication of the soldiers’ cemetery. Because of these two events, the small town was indelibly earmarked as a destination to be visited by people forever more. In fact, Gettysburg National Park has thousands of visitors every year.
This year the Civil War fife and drum reenacting group to which I belong decided not to participate in the annual anniversary battle reenactment earlier in the month. Instead, last weekend, by special invitation and permit, it created a living history camp in the park itself. Camped behind the large Pennsylvania monument, the group’s goal was to educate tourists and to spend time together to practice and “fine tune” various musical elements.
I decided to also take advantage of this time in the park to look more closely at some of the New York monuments, particularly a unique one that features a Native American.
Gettysburg National Park covers over nine square miles and has over 1,300 monuments. Most are placed in the area where troops fought and died. New York State has nearly 90 monuments. Of all the states on either side of the war, New York had the highest losses during this three-day battle. Every monument, regardless of the state, is a solemn reminder of these great sacrifices.
The distinctive New York monument with the Native American honors the 42nd Infantry Regiment. It is located on Hancock Avenue near the “copse of trees,” otherwise known as “the angle” where Fredonia’s Alonzo Cushing died. The 42nd was known as the “Tammany Regiment,” and primarily recruited from New York City. Why the impressive Native man with the teepee? It seems in the early days of the American colonies, an Indian named Chief Tammany (or Tamanend) was befriended by the colonists.
Located east of the Iroquois tribes of western and central New York, his people were Delaware (Lenni-Lenape) from the Algonquian region which included parts of what is now lower New York. According to several sources, including a school named in his honor, this chief was instrumental in creating peace in the latter 1600s with William Penn (of future Pennsylvania).
Tammany is credited with saying, “We will live in peace as long as the creeks and rivers run, and while the sun, moon, and stars endure.” A Moravian Missionary described him as “endowed with every good and noble qualification.”
Chief Tammany’s legend somehow spread near and far resulting in “Tammany” festivals and societies. In 1777, the Continental Congress even designated a “King Tammany Day.” The societies became political with political goals and called their officers Grand Sachems. New York had one such society named Tammany Hall. As in many political organizations, there are plenty of stories of corruption to go around with its influence on New York City government and beyond from the late 1700s to the mid-1900s, but that story would require another column.
“New York at Gettysburg,” a book published in 1900, is a treasured text that tells the story of the great battle from first-hand accounts. Old photos of most New York monuments are featured with descriptions and records of dedication speeches.
The 42nd New York Infantry monument was dedicated in 1891 and was sponsored by none other than the Tammany Society of New York City. A bronze statue of Chief Tammany in front of a teepee is at the top of the 27-foot-tall monument. Bronze tablets on each side help to tell the story of this regiment, mustered into service in 1861. On the front along with the state seal of New York there is a trefoil, or three-leaf shamrock, a symbol used on many other monuments associated with the many Irish who fought in the war.
“There is a day and an hour in the annals of every nation when its life hangs on the issue of a battle; when it stands or falls by the sword. Such a battle was Gettysburg. You are now standing on the field where the destiny of this Republic was decided.” is just a small part of the oration given by Major General Daniel E. Sickles in 1891 during the statue’s dedication.
A leader and survivor of the Battle of Gettysburg, he continued with a history of the regiment. He recalled, in part, how after the firing of Fort Sumter, “The flag so long without meaning all at once took on a new charm; it filled our eyes and stirred our hearts. We counted its stars; it stood for the Union. It meant everything held dear; for the slave, it meant freedom.”
New York regiments and batteries took part in more than 1000 battles and of 250 regiments, 127 were recruited and organized in New York City according Sickles in New York’s effort to “advance the cause of the Union.”
Sickles said, “No nation can long survive the decline of its martial strength. When it ceases to honor its soldiers, it will have none.”
He concluded his speech with a reminder not to forget the brave and faithful who fell in the great conflict far away from home; words that are appropriate for all men and women in service at any time. Sickles hoped the monument would remind people of Tammany’s devotion to the country in time of war and to, “Let this memorial remind the coming generations, as long as bronze and granite lasts, of the debt they owe to the Tammany Braves of 1861.”
Make it a good week and consider a trip to Gettysburg.
Mark your calendars for August 16-17 to enjoy the “Second Annual Battle of Lighthouse Point” at the Historic Dunkirk Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum. The grounds will be transformed into a Civil War and 1860’s camp with many demonstrations and vendors.
Mary Burns Deas writes weekly for the OBSERVER. Comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org