News of the surrender of Fort Sumter and the start of the Civil War reached Niagara County by wire early in the morning on April 14, 1861. Of course there was no radio, television or internet to herald the news, so sleepy citizens first heard the announcement with the sound of the newsboy, “Extra, Extra, Read all about it!” The Journal and Courier had labored at the presses through the night and sent the newsboys scrambling into the streets. The banner headline read, “War! War!,” as the much feared news was proclaimed. A few days later, northern blood was beginning to boil and the paper proclaimed, “To arms, To arms, Citizens of Lockport and Niagara County. Are we not comparatively asleep while the bloody hand of war is upon us? Dreadful as the battle cry is, we must meet it not only for our own country and its flag, but for our homes and firesides.”
However dreaded, the news of war sparked a wave of patriotism in our county’s citizenry and men who had always been for peace, now stood ready to shoulder arms. The 66th Regiment of Militia was c omposed of one company from each of the 12 towns of Niagara County. The unit had been organized for many years and had trained at the old Fair Grounds off Locust Street. Although the 66th never did get the call to war, its colonel, Dudley Donnelly, and many of its men, joined a new unit, the 28th Regiment, New York Volunteers, with four companies of this regiment being recruited from Niagara County within 48 hours time.
The departure of the 28th for Albany on May 17, 1861 was the occasion of a great celebration. Escorted by the 66th Militia, the Continental Home Guards, the Lockport Fire companies and the Niagara Baseball Club, they paraded to the New York Central Depot, stopping for a farewell address in front of the American Hotel (site of the F&M Building.) At Albany, two more companies were added to bring their strength to 1,000 men before they were mustered in and received their equipment.
The 28th fought in many battles, including the Battle of Cedar Mountain in Orange County, Virginia, where in one fateful charge against enemy batteries, amid a barrage of bullets and hail of shells, they lost 196 men and all but one officer. Among those killed was Captain Donnelly. The men had enlisted for two years and by May 1863, their ranks were so decimated, they were ordered home to be mustered out of service. On their arrival in Lockport on May 20, 1863, they received a royal reception and paraded to the fair ground.
All told, eleven regiments were partially recruited in Niagara County, four of cavalry, two artillery and five infantry. Nearly 4,600 men from the county fought in the war and of these, more than 800 were killed or died of illnesses or in prison camps. Many others came home to Niagara County with their health shattered and lived only a few more years.
Douglas Farley, Director
Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094