The Men of Cattaraugus County: Why They Fought

James Byron Brown, courtesy of Mark Dunkelman

Last week, I mentioned a rather sick-to-my-stomach turn of events in Cattaraugus County, New York (where I teach). County legislators want to demolish the Civil War memorial in order to put in a parking lot.

In my open letter to the legislators, I made mention of some of the men from Cattaraugus County who’d enlisted in the war. Mark Dunkelman, regimental historian for the 154th New York, was kind of enough to share with me some of their stories, which I excerpted for my letter. However, the blurbs Mark shared with me were so fascinating, even as little micro-snapshots, that I wanted to pass them along (with his permission!).

Cpl. Thomas R. Aldrich, Co. B, March 28, 1863: “I don’t care much where we go if it only helps the government to put down this cursed rebellion. I would not give a snap to get out of this until our country is once more united in the bonds of peace and brotherly love. I came down here to protect the government in this her time of peril and I mean to stand by her to the last.” Note: Aldrich was captured at the Battle of Dug Gap on Rocky Face Ridge, Georgia, and endured a grueling imprisonment at Andersonville and elsewhere.

Second Lieut. John W. Badgero, Co. A, October 11, 1862, to his son: “I cannot tell how soon I shall be called upon to into a battle and if I do I may never come out alive, and if I do not you must remember your father died fighting for one of the best governments the sun ever shone upon.” Note: Badgero died of disease in June 1863.

Pvt. Barzilla Merrill, Co. K, October 14, 1862: “I came here because I thought that it was my duty to come and I expect to stand up like a man and do my duty like a man whatever that may be, and leave the event with God.” Note: Barzilla and his son Alva, also a private of Co. K, were both killed at the Battle of Chancellorsville. (I tell the Merrills’ sad story in detail in my book War’s Relentless Hand.)

Also from Mark: “I told James Byron Brown’s story in an article, ‘Brown the Poet,’ Military Images, May-June 1995. A sergeant in Co. B of the 154th New York, he was sent sick from the regiment on November 17, 1862, never to return. He spent time at hospitals in Washington and the Convalescent Camp at Alexandria, working as a nurse and a clerk. On July 29, 1864 he was discharged on a surgeon’s certificate of disability, by reason of deformed feet. A note on his discharge stated, ‘The Soldier desires to be addressed at Newport, RI.’ But I’ve never found any record of him in Newport or anywhere else. He never filed for a pension and disappeared from the public record.”

As I mentioned in my previous post, Mark has been working tirelessly to save Cattaraugus County’s Civil War Memorial and Historical Building. You can read about his efforts courtesy of the Olean Times Herald. If you’d like to help, contact him at

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