150 years ago, America was embroiled in a horrible war with itself that cost the lives of at least 700,000 troops on both sides. Though battles never reached New York State, thousands of young men were thrown into the war and the miseries of 19th century military life, and their families were deeply affected as well.
On August 25 and 26, 148th Regiment NYVI (New York Volunteer Infantry) representatives, many Civil War veteran descendants, came to Ithaca, NY to set up a “living history” military camp for the public to visit and learn about this part of our history from the perspective of central New York soldiers and families.
I visited the encampment yesterday, and I found the experience profound, as I was able to learn more about my own Civil War ancestor, Lt. Col. Gilbert A. Draper, from the 159th Regiment from the Hudson Valley, who died in the Battle of Irish Bend near New Orleans in April 1863. My middle name is Draper. My brother has a portrait of him in uniform, while my cousin has his pistol and sword.
Sketch by William Hall of the Battle of Irish Bend, Louisiana on April 14, 1863, that appeared in Harper's Weekly
I have made a short video (3 min. 49 sec.) of the encampment centering on an interview with Caren Cleaveland and showing musket and canon fire, among other things demonstrated at the camp. The encampment continues for the rest of this afternoon (August 26).
One side of a stereograph of Pluto Falls in Watkins Glen. Image from Bill Hecht.
The 19th century was another whole world and virtually no one from then is alive today to tell us about it. But it was when photography was born and much of what we know and associate from that time comes from the photographs.
Watkins Glen State Park wasn’t created until 1906, but it was a famous and thriving scenic resort since the Civil War. Photos of the structures along the Gorge Trail rarely looked the same as the bridges and rails were flimsy and easily swept away by floods and rockslides. Consider the picture above of Pluto Falls in the section then called Glen Arcadia (as well as many other names). Notice the staircases climbing the rims of the gorge in the rear of the photograph.
A different photograph of the same spot taken at a different time. Notice the rustic trail structures on the left. Image provided by Bill Hecht.
Many thanks to Bill Hecht for finding and scanning these old photographs. These two images were cropped from one side of stereographs that were looked at with a binocular stereo viewer that made them look 3D.
Look for more historic photographs in our previous posts about Watkins Glen State Park.