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Civil War history to come alive in Niagara

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Tue, Aug 25th 2015 03:50 pm

Donation of materials from war between states announced

Niagara County Clerk Wayne F. Jagow has always made veterans a priority - and that includes veterans of the Civil War. Wednesday will be no different, as he and county historians will take possession of a huge treasure trove of first-hand correspondence from the War Between the States.

The announcement, made this morning by County Legislator Wm. Keith McNall, R-Lockport, comes after the great-grandson of an area Civil War veteran made the decision to turn over 180 letters, a portion of a Civil War diary, and assorted other reminders of the painful war that tore the Union asunder.

The items, handed down by Union Pvt. Simon B. Cummins, are being donated by his great-grandson, Melvin Jones.

"The Civil War was perhaps the most significant event in this nation's history," McNall somberly noted. "In a war that ultimately set men free, approximately 750,000 Americans died - and, incidentally, most of those deaths were not due to combat. Pvt. Cummins's letters will give historians and students of history insights into the day-to-day life of soldiers during the War Between the States."

McNall, who spent nearly two decades on the Lockport City School District Board of Education, including a six-year run as its president, sees the county's role in preserving these antiquities as key to putting American history in context.

"The Civil War was a complex event. It was about slavery, but it was about a lot of other things, too. Most of those things, though, were way over the heads of enlisted soldiers just fighting to stay alive and healthy during a war that disrupted life for millions," McNall said. "I hope that students of history, teachers and others will avail themselves of this material. There is so much here worth preserving."

County Historian Catherine Emerson pointed to a letter from Cummins's cousin that is interrupted midway with news President Abraham Lincoln had been shot as a high point of the collection.

Other items include a list of absentees from Cummins's unit, the 151st New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which was raised through recruiting in Niagara County, a letter from Cummins's cousin describing his participation in the Battle of Gettysburg, and Cummins's first-hand accounts of the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. The collection also includes Grand Army of the Republic memorabilia.

The materials will be formally turned over to the county Wednesday at 2 p.m., in the rotunda of the Niagara County Courthouse, 175 Hawley St., Lockport. The collection will be made available to the public for research.

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