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Civil War’s impact on north country to be discussed in roundtable

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CANTON — Passion and patriotism led thousands of north country men to be involved in war in 1864.

A century and a half later, St. Lawrence County is still passionate about remembering the north country’s significant involvement in America’s bloodiest war.

The St. Lawrence County Historical Association is holding a Civil War Roundtable at 2 p.m. Sunday as part of its commemoration of the war’s 150th anniversary.

Stanley L. Maine, a historian who serves on the association’s board of directors, will speak during the free hourlong session about major battles and the significant events that impacted the north country during the war.

“It’ll be an overall look at the year 1864 with a look at the north country regiments, which included five infantry, three or four cavalry and at least two artillery,” he said.

Mr. Maine said the approximate population in St. Lawrence County at that time was 81,000 people, with about 7,000 men participating in the war.

“That was a huge percentage of the population,” Director of the St. Lawrence County Historical Association Trent A. Trulock said. “So everybody knew somebody who had gone off to war. If it wasn’t in your own family, it was a neighbor.”

Mr. Maine said there were several reasons why so many from the north country joined the ranks. “There was a lot of patriotism,” he said. “It was something people wanted to do and it was different from farm work. There were a lot of Republicans up here and they wanted to preserve the Union.”

Mr. Trulock said that New York sent more men into the Union armed forces than any other northern state.

Mr. Maine said the battle at Fort Sumter drove many northerners to join the cause.

In that battle, the Confederates surrounded the South Carolina fort and out-gunned the Union army for almost two days before the Union troops evacuated, resulting in the declaration of war.

“The taking of Sumter was the first time the Confederates had done something that would be considered an act of war,” Mr. Trulock said.

Mr. Maine said the draft was implemented in 1863, but most of the 7,000 St. Lawrence County men enlisted because of the bounty that was offered.

“It was big money back then,” he said.

According to Mr. Maine, northern soldiers who enlisted got from $25 to $50 from their towns and sometimes up to $300 from the state.

“By 1865, a combination of the town and state were paying them up to $1,000,” he said. “But as the war went on they had fewer people enlisting.”

From roundtables to re-enactments, each of which have been going on for years, the north country continues to show interest in the battles that took place over a century ago.

Mr. Trulock said a television mini-series about the Civil War written by filmmaker Ken Burns was broadcast on PBS in 1990, re-igniting a large interest in the war.

“Whenever there’s a commemorative time period, that also helps to get people interested and excited,” he said.

Mr. Trulock said the Internet is also responsible for sparking further interest in the county. “The Internet has helped make it easier for people to get started on finding out about their family’s past,” he said. “Folks are running into family members who were in the Civil War or at least affected by the war. That gets people very excited because they are discovering a personal connection with this huge cataclysmic event in our national history.”

J. Susanne Longshore, who coordinates the Civil War Weekend battle re-enactments in Massena each year, said more people have been discovering their ancestors’ involvement in the war through websites like Ancestry.com.

“People involved with their family history really get interested in what it was like for their ancestors,” she said. “That personal connection is the biggest draw.”

Mrs. Longshore also said that many of the re-enactors in Northern New York are military veterans.

“I think it’s that sense of people who have gone before them and sacrificed in the same way,” she said. “They understand it and want to recognize and appreciate other people who have fought for this country and our rights here.”

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