By Deb Everts
More than 125 descendants of the 154th New York Volunteer Infantry gathered Saturday at their 33rd annual reunion on the grounds of the Cattaraugus County Memorial and Historical Building.
Hosted each year in a different location in the area, the reunion brings together descendants of the 154th New York, a group of soldiers from Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties. During the program, descendants had the opportunity to introduce themselves and share stories about their ancestors.
This year’s host was Citizens Advocating Memorial Preservation (C.A.M.P.), an organized group that owns the memorial and the attached former Board of Elections building that sits on the corner of Court and Seventh streets.
Those in attendance came from not only Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, but also from the Buffalo, Springville, Rochester and Syracuse areas of New York state. Out-of-state guests traveled from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina.
As he has each year since the gathering’s inception in 1986, Mark H. Dunkelman of Providence, R.I., presided at the reunion. He is the great-grandson of John Langhans of Ellicottville who served as a corporal in Company H of the 154th. Langhans’ great-great-grandson, Scott Frank of Cheektowaga, provided music on the mandolin.
Dunkelman described what the soldiers of the 154th New York Volunteer Infantry went through. Known as the “Hardtack Regiment,” the 154th New York was a Civil War regiment raised in Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties in the summer of 1862. The regiment participated in many of the great campaigns and battles of the war, including Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Chattanooga, the Atlanta Campaign and Gen. William T. Sherman’s marches through Georgia and the Carolinas.
“They enlisted for three years, and when they mustered into the U.S. service in September 1862 the war had been raging for a year and the Union cause had not met with a lot of success,” he said. “The first seven months in the service was spent with inconsequential marches through northern Virginia and in camp where they were already falling prey to disease. Then came the Battle of Chancellorsville where they lost 240 out of its 590 present and a 90 percent casualty rate in their first battle.”
With CAMP the focus of the 2018 reunion, the program brought remembrance of two events in the regiment’s post-war history: the dedication ceremonies for the regiment’s Gettysburg monument in July 1890 and the Memorial and Historical Building in September 1914. On both occasions, the main speaker was James S. Whipple of Salamanca, a son of First Sgt. Henry F. Whipple of Company H who was captured at Gettysburg and died as a prisoner of war at Andersonville, Ga. in 1864.
Whipple descendant Karen Whipple Thomas of Boiling Springs, S.C. read excerpts of the address given by James Whipple in Gettysburg on July 1, 1890. She is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Sgt. Henry Whipple and great-great-grandniece of James Whipple. She later read a few excerpts from his address given at the Memorial and Historical Building in Little Valley, Sept. 7, 1914.
“One of the prime objects in erecting this edifice is to prove our appreciation of the importance of the victories won by our forefathers, and to publicly show our love and veneration for that generation of men who sacrificed all, even their lives, to preserve that which was won by their fathers at Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and Yorktown. Delayed though the act has been, we dedicate this structure with our hearts full of love and loyalty for our country, and wish it ever to stand, signifying the deathless patriotism of American soldiers and sailors and their loyalty to the Stars and Stripes,” the late James Whipple said.
Renowned sculptor Gary Casteel of Gettysburg debuted his new miniature replica of the regiment’s Gettysburg monument, located on Coster Avenue in Gettysburg. Over the next year, he has offered to donate a portion of the profits from sales of the replicas to CAMP to do what’s necessary to maintain it, preserve it and enjoy it.
CAMP president Tom Stetz of Allegany took the podium and made heartfelt comments to the descendants of the 154th and other Civil War descendants. He said CAMP acquired ownership of the Memorial building in October 2017. There’s a lot of work to be done and CAMP members are attempting to address all the issues.
“We’ve had tremendous support from a lot of different groups but, probably, no more than the 154th,” he said with emotion. “So, it’s for people like you that we are standing here and attempting to save this Memorial building. That’s how we view it — as a memorial — it’s not just an old building. It has a reason for being and we’re going to follow through with that. Thanks for your support.”
Dunkelman has authored six books and dozens of articles on various aspects of the 154th’s history, and is creator of the mural next to the regiment’s Gettysburg monument.
The event allows him to add people to his mailing list which, he said, currently includes more than 800 descendants. He’s happy to obtain or copy any photographs, letters or other primary sources to add to the regiment’s extensive collection at Friedsam Memorial Library at St. Bonaventure University.
For more information about the 154th New York regiment, call Dunkelman at (401) 369-0637, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website, hardtackregiment.com. To find out more about CAMP, visit online at cattcomemorial.com.