Friday, November 19, 2010

On the March from Cooperstown to Virginia

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

Research for an exhibit often starts long before the exhibit is slated to open. The curatorial staff pours over books, websites, meets with scholars and watches videos to get ourselves up to speed on our upcoming topics. The dazzle of the objects to be displayed is always augmented by enlightening facts that surface along the way.

With the 250th anniversary of the Civil War approaching we are diving head first into all things related to the conflict. In 2012 Fenimore Art Museum will mount an exhibition drawn from historian Sal Cilella’s book Upton’s Regulars, The 121st New York Infantry in the Civil War.

Eastern Theater of War 1861-1865
Courtesy of the National Parks Service

The 121st were Cooperstown’s hometown regiment. Drawn from the surrounding area the landowners, businessman, students and farm boys of Otsego and Herkimer Counties made their way to Virginia and were put under the leadership of Colonel Emory Upton. It is easy to be wowed by the battles the 121st engaged in and the hardships they endured, but I am awed at how far these guys had to sojourn just to be part of the fray.

Route from Cooperstown to Fredericksburg
Courtesy of Google Maps

Traveling from Cooperstown to Washington, D.C. and points south by public transport in 2010 can be a bit of a challenge. In 1862 it was considerably more difficult. Upton’s men traveled over 400 miles just to reach the fighting. Google Maps tells me that it would take 7 hours and 13 minutes to drive, and at least 5 days and 7 hours to walk that distance today. The 121st marched, traveled by train and by wagon to make their way south. This in an age when many men never left the confines of their village or county, let alone down to the nation’s capital and beyond. Once onsite the 121st faced 3 years of marching, camping and fighting, ending in another monumental trek back north to home and family in the Cooperstown area.

121st Battles and Casualties
From: New York in the War of the Rebellion, 3rd ed. Frederick Phisterer
Albany: J. B. Lyon Company, 1912

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