How the Hudson Valley Changed the Civil War

In the Civil War, the Hudson Valley — and all of New York State — led the way in keeping the United States united


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u.s.s. monitorSoldiers stand aboard the U.S.S. Monitor, which was armed with materials made in Troy

They also produced some local heroes. Col. George Watson Pratt, commander of the Ulster Guard, was actually from Greene County. Mortally wounded at the Second Battle of Bull Run on August 30, 1862, Col. Pratt died on September 11. He was “an exemplary citizen soldier,” says John Quinn, cochair of the Greene County Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee and a board member of the Zadock Pratt Museum in Prattsville. “He was a man of means, self-educated and highly respected, yet he gave it all up in service of his country.”

Col. David S. Cowles, a Yale-educated lawyer from Hudson, led the 128th under Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. Mortally wounded in June 1862, “he asked an aide to turn him to look at the Confederate Army, and said, ‘Tell my mother I died facing the enemy,’ ” Quinn says.
As for materiel, New York’s wartime production was “in high gear,” says Weible. The famed ironclad, the U.S.S. Monitor, was built in the then-high tech Brooklyn Naval Yards with armor made in Troy. The West Point Foundry was well-known for its manufacture of the Parrott gun, an accurate long-range weapon widely used by the Union army. “The Hudson Valley itself was mostly farmers, but there were also many tanneries that profited nicely from the war,” says Seward R. Osborne, a Civil War historian and author who lives in Olivebridge, Ulster County. But war profits hardly compensated for the astonishing loss of life and property. “No one came out of this war in better shape,” Osborne says. “It affected literally every family from every state. It was that big, and that devastating.”

And the aftereffects are still being felt in debates about civil rights, states’ rights, and the limits of federal power. That is perhaps the greatest good that can come from celebrating the sesquicentennial of such a horrific conflict, says Weible. “It’s a great opportunity to get people thinking about how they define freedom and how the issues of the war still resonate today.”

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