Camp Wickham, Civil War mustering ground, gets historic marker

| 30 Sep 2011 | 09:45

Goshen — It was 1862, a year into the Civil War. Things were not going well for the Grand Army of the Republic, and recruits were hard to find. A committee formed in Orange County to answer President Lincoln’s call for an additional 300,000 volunteers. The citizen-soldiers who came forward mustered on a hill in Goshen before getting on a train that would take them to New York and from there to faraway battlefields. “On Thursday, August 26th, the ladies of Orange County presented the colors (flag) they had sewn to the regiment,” wrote local historian Charles LaRocca. “A great crowd gathered that day at Camp Wickham in Goshen to bid farewell to the recruits, and stuff their knapsacks with extra provisions and keepsakes. After a brief wait, the regiment departed on Sept. 6 — still without arms, which had just arrived for them in New York.” The commanding officer, Charles H. Weygant, related his memories of that day in his “History of the 124th Regiment NYSV.”: “We moved through throngs of weeping ones to the depot...and at 2 PM the heavily laden train, with wild shrieks to warn away the clinging multitudes, moved off, and we were on our way to the seat of war...At every depot crowds with loyal hearts sent after us shouts of approbation, and ever and anon as our train shot along, we would catch from the sweet voices familiar notes of patriotic songs.” (For more information, visit the Albert Wisner Library’s local history pages at On Flag Day this year, June 14, another group of enthusiastic supporters gathered at Camp Wickham to witness the unveiling of an historical marker for the camp of the regiment. The 124th regiment was made up of volunteers from surrounding towns and a core of veterans from the 71st New York State Militia Regiment of Union soldiers. Originally known as the American Guard, they would come to be known as the Orange Blossoms. Camp Wickham was located on Bridget McDonell Wickham’s farm, and named for her late husband, General George Wickham. The camp extended from the present-day county government center on Main Street to the top of the hill on Murray Avenue, where the C.J. Hooker Middle School is now. The volunteers were mustered into service under Col. Augustus van Horne Ellis on Sept. 5, and left the next day from the steps of the 1841 Courthouse. A model on display in the courthouse marks their departure. In it, a photographer-figurine captures the moment. Several local people, including historians, remember seeing an actual photo of the event, but no one seems to know its location. County Executive Ed Diana and County Historian Cornelia Wendell Bush addressed the group. Jeffrey Albanese, commander of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, read the words on the plaque honoring the Orange County men. Albanese remarked that “these were the greatest generation [of their time]....They were the ones that expanded the country west. They were the ones that industrialized our country.” Jim Meaney and Chris Gjersvik, reenactors from the 124th, explained how the Orange Blossoms got their name. Before the battle of Chancellorsville, their commanding officer, Col. Augustus Van Horne Ellis, gave each of the men an orange-colored ribbon to put on their uniform so they could be immediately identified as part of the 124th in case of injury, disfigurement, or death. Most men also sewed their names inside their clothing for identification. Bush is assembling a Civil War room that includes a Union uniform coat, recently restored. It now occupies a display case along with other items, including his vest, hats, ribbons and some syringes. Back at the 1841 Courthouse after the ceremony, Meaney and Gjersvik, and interns Sean Otis and James Dollaway, explained some of the items on display belonging to John Hudson Thompson of Goshen, a surgeon during the Civil War and a veteran of Gettysburg, the Wilderness and Cold Harbor. Both a label with his name and an orange ribbon adorn the clothing of this officer. The coat was of exceptionally high quality with a lining of silk and cotton thread. More of this officer’s interesting history is available there. For more information about this period of local history, stop by the County Historian’s office, where you can view the Civil War collection, read moving letters from Orange County’s soldiers, and consult books about the 124th Regiment available across the hall at the Orange County Genealogical Society. Related story on page 31: Jeffrey Albanese served as Master of Ceremonies at a Mechanicville, N.Y., ceremony honoring Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth, the first Union officer killed in the Civil War.