Saturday, August 16th, 2014, Amsterdam City Hall
Remarks of Mayor Ann Thane
This very hour 150 years ago, Amsterdamians of the 115th New York Volunteer Infantry were assaulting the Confederate trenches at Deep Bottom, Virginia, an action in the climatic close of the Civil War. 47% of them would become casualties.
Sergeant James Readon said: “I think I never saw or heard the firing more rapid or continuous, the bullets passed in and around us like hail.” LieutenantNicholas DeGraff said: “We were mowed down like grass.”
As they were pushed back by superior numbers, they sang “We’ll Rally Around the Flag Boys” in defiance of the rebel yells.
Corporal Seeley Conover saw his brother Sergeant Frank Conover fall and rushed to his side. As he held his dying brother, he was also wounded and captured.
Later, Seeley would write: “I awake in the still hours of the night and thinking of times agone. Will I ever forget them? Ah, no, theyare two deeply graven on my soul as with a pen of iron.”
Nicholas DeGraff returned to Amsterdam to become a beloved local businessman. Every day he would dress in suit and tie and greet those who always addressed him by his military rank.
Seeley Conover returned to establish the second oldest continuously operating business in our City [The Recorder is the first]. He would serve two separate terms as Mayor of Amsterdam. To the end of his life, the bullet lodged in him at Deep Bottom plagued him as he sat on his porch on his Guy Park Avenue home.
In 1925 DeGraff would address a GAR reunion: “Rejoicing with our comrades of other wars in the stability of our government and the happiness of our people, under the favor and blessing of Almighty God, we rest from the great work we did…”
The Amsterdamians who served in the 115th and other units of the Union Army and Navy were the bedrock of our community. They poured their sweat and blood to save the Union and erase the original sin of slavery from our national character. And then they came home to build our community with the same determination. One of the first things they did was to organize themselves into posts of the Grand Army of the Republic, the first American modern veterans organization, the first not limited to just officers and to reject segregated membership.
Over sixty years ago, the combined veteran organizations of this City came to the Common Council to request the dedication of this park so that the sacrifices of those veterans who had gone before would not be forgotten, as the these heroes of the Civil War inevitably passed on into history. The Common Council with great wisdom concurred and so named this GAR Park.
Today we rededicate it, affirming that original purpose, but also expanding that dedication. We honor and remember the request of the veterans of the 1950s to remember the veterans that proceeded them, and to you modern veterans we pledge no less.
I would like to thank our citizens who helped make this happen:
Commanders, Polish American Veterans and American Legion Post 701, Wally Rogers and Skip Warner,and in particular, Commanders of their Color Guards, Rich Egnaczyk and “Chief” Dennis Rogers, and the representatives of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, the successor organization to the Grand Army of the Republic.
I would also like to recognize three City employees who helped make this happen: Tony Leggiero, who refinished the original 1953 dedication plaque, Rob von Hasseln, who arranged for the remounting and this rededication ceremony, and Shane Hoefs, who prepared the site.
Today we not only renew the promise made in 1952 to remember our CivilWar Veterans, we reaffirmour pledge that no Amsterdam veteran will ever be forgotten. Let no one ever forget that the sons and daughters of Amsterdam were ever lacking even onto the last full measure in their support of our nation and its ideals.
Thank you for coming here today to honor our veterans. God Bless them, and the United States of America they suffered and died to preserve.