Written by Connie Shakalis Friday, 21 January 2011 00:00
Eagle Scout Patrick Looney and the Farmingdale Bethpage Historical Society joined resources last year, getting involved to honor, at last, forgotten local heroes from the Civil War. Three brothers-in-law and their friends left Farmingdale one morning to fight, and now, after 149 years, they will be honored. A memorial is coming, and the veterans, all boys and young men, are being identified.
It will be a carved granite statue called a Tree of Life. A portion of the tree will be missing, to represent the shortened lives of the veterans. Wellwood Memorials of Lindenhurst is designing and installing the monument. A bronze plaque, attached to its center, will bear the known veterans’ names. Designers will leave space on the plaque for additional names, as they come to light. At the Tree of Life’s base will rest a representation of a soldier’s rifle and pack.
Looney launched a mission to find and identify the graves of the civilians-turned-soldiers who left their cozy farms and families that day in 1862. His Scout troop, number 261, searched through miles of local wooden area in and around Farmingdale, looking for indications of graves. The tallest scout eased down into a grave the troop had just discovered. During the past century, the soil had given way and the soldier’s tombstone had worked its way into the casket.
The Scouts’ work inspired members of the Farmingdale-Bethpage Historical Society, who lent their support to the project. The society’s volunteers did research on the veterans and began raising money for the monument.
FBHS Trustee Serena Brochu drove to cemeteries and libraries, looking for clues to the men’s stories. At first, she focused on two brothers from the Walters’s family. Both had been part of the Farmingdale group. One had died of disease during his service, the other of his war wounds.
Brochu, however, was on a productive and complex trail. Using Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.com, library archives, and pension records, she began to form a picture of who these men had been. She found descendants of their friends, relatives, and neighbors.
For one soldier, Philip Darby, she located his great-great-granddaughter. Darby is buried in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, and on one of her trips, Brochu realized he had no stone for his grave. She reported its absence to government officials, who issued a headstone for him. Brochu discovered that Darby had been shot in his jaw, an injury that in those days would have caused him lengthy suffering. His pension was $8.
Two of the veterans are still in graves not yet discovered, perhaps in places far from Farmingdale.
No one will ever know what motivated the Farmingdale group to take that August train ride in 1862, but maybe it was a plea President Lincoln made on July 2. He asked for 300,000 enlistments; his earlier request had failed. On September 17, 1862, four weeks after the Farmingdale men enlisted, more Americans were killed or fatally hurt in the Civil War Battle of Antietam than in all other 19th Century U.S. wars combined.
Brochu reminds us that these men are not just names on a plaque; they were people. They had families, farms, secrets, and plans. A plan they shared was the Union cause. As Northerners, Farmingdale’s soldiers were fighting to keep the Union intact. Invading the South and attacking the Confederate Army accomplished this.
The Tree of Life will stand in Farmingdale’s Village Green near existing monuments for veterans of other wars. These earlier monuments are to be rearranged so that all the monuments will be in chronological order. Room will be left, unfortunately, for future monuments.
Memorial Day 2011 is the date of the monument’s official unveiling. This leaves time for anyone with additional information to contact the historical society.
More than three million Americans served in the Civil War; more than 600,000 of them died fighting in it. These veterans gave us, as Abraham Lincoln said in 1863, a “new birth of freedom.”
The historical society asks not just for financial donations but for any information or stories people might have about those who served during the war, from 1861 to 1865 or about their families or friends. Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Farmingdale-Bethpage Historical Society at www.fbhsli.org.