A visit with the military exhibit at Sullivan County Museum

by Eli Ruiz

HURLEYVILLE — On April 12, 1861, after a protracted dispute between slave-holding states in the American South and the Union’s months-old Lincoln administration over slavery and “states’ rights,” an army unit from the newly formed “Confederate States of America” attacked the Fort Sumter Union Army installation near Charleston, South Carolina, representing the beginning of a brutal and bloody four year internal battle called the American Civil War.

A “To Exit” sign graces the entrance to the SCHS exhibit honoring Stephen Crane and local connections to the Civil War.

For more than a century, Civil War scholars agreed—and school children were taught—that there were 360,222 killed from the North during the war and 258,000 from the South, a total of 610,222, the greatest toll in any American war by a large margin. Then, a few years ago, a groundbreaking study revised those numbers—upwards—by more than 20 percent, with scholars now estimating that more than 750,000 were killed in the conflict.

Yes, the Civil War, with its especially brutal close-quarters battles and skirmishes, featuring foot-soldiers carrying small arms, saw more deaths than both World Wars and all their technological advances, combined.

That, and the fact that Memorial Day has its very roots as a holiday in the practice of decorating Civil War veterans’ graves with flowers, which gave rise to the name Decoration Day, make the Civil War exhibit at the Sullivan County Historical Society’s Museum in Hurleyville a perfect place to commemorate Memorial Day weekend in Sullivan County.

Here, visitors can pay tribute to the many local Union Army volunteers and conscripts who paid the ultimate price, not only to keep the United States united, but more importantly, to end the South’s long-term dependence on slave-labor.

And for the observant visitor, the Museum’s exhibits actually memorialize the county’s three principal links to the Civil War.

To be sure, there is an homage to the soldiers, representing a number of regiments such as the 143rd, the 56th and the 28th. There is an exhibit depicting the tanning industry in the county, which during the war turned out more leather for boots and belts and bridles than any other county in the Union, and there is a large display of artifacts and memorabilia dedicated to the author Stephen Crane, who lived in Sullivan County and wrote what is arguably the greatest Civil War novel of them all, “The Red Badge of Courage.”

Interestingly, Mr. Crane was not born until well after the war ended, but his connection to the conflict through his book has become his most celebrated legacy.

Other men are honored, as well. For example, Sullivan County native John C. Holley of Callicoon, who in 1862, according to the historical website, dmna.ny.gov, “received authority to recruit a regiment” in Monticello.

Serving as Colonel for the newly formed regiment was Monticello native David P. DeWitt. Also according to the account, Mr. Holley recruited from throughout the whole of Sullivan County, and “they left New York [for battle] on October 14, 1962…[initially] serving in the defenses of Washington in the 3rd Brigade.”

The SCHS Military Room exhibit features uniforms from local servicemen from the Civil War to Desert Storm.

Several other such “defense” missions would be taken on by the 143rd, which, by the war’s end, had lost six officers, 215 enlisted men, 37 of whom died “in the hands of the enemy, according to the account (the vast majority of the deaths were due to disease), which also states, “the large loss by accident (9) was primarily caused by a railroad accident.”

The Museum also includes a salute to other local veterans from other wars. Its Military Room was opened to the public in November, 2016. The Military Room exhibit – also on the museum’s second floor – features uniforms, weaponry, medical supplies and much more from the Civil War up to Operation Desert Storm. All items in the Military Room exhibit were donated locally and feature many familiar Sullivan County surnames.

Uniforms from the Civil War through Desert Storm are representative of some of those who served proudly from Sullivan County. Memorabilia is also on display with items from the Civil War through post- WW II.

For more on the Sullivan County Historical Society’s Civil War Gallery and Military Room, visit the Museum at 265 Main St. in Hurleyville. For hours and special exhibit information go to www.scnyhistory.org or call 845-434-8044.