Monday, November 28, 2011

The Civil War Diaries of George Rolfe, 134th New York

Flag of the 134th New York Volunteers, the regiment in which George Rolfe served.
Photograph from the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

On June 1, 1864, Private George Rolfe of the 134th New York Infantry was sent along with other injured men to Chattanooga, while others in the 134th moved onward through Georgia. "Huddled thick together all day on box and platform cars, draw no rations and arrive in Chattanooga 11:00 p.m.," Rolfe writes in his diary. "Left on cars all night nothing to eat, no one to care for wounded. Two trains loaded in same condition. Some died on the cars." Rolfe had been wounded during a battle near Dallas, Georgia. He was shot in the thigh, "hit by spent ball on right thigh bruised and stiff but not cut."

George Rolfe was born in Kent, England, to Alfred and Ann Rolfe. The family moved to the United States in the 1840s, and George eventually settled in Schenectady, where he married Mary Penny in 1855 and became a naturalized citizen in 1859. In the 1860-1861 Schenectady city directory, he is listed as living at 24 Lafayette Street and working as a machinist. On August 7, 1862, he joined the New York Volunteers, becoming a part of Company B of the 134th Regiment. Rolfe was wounded at Gettysburg; after healing, he was sent back into action. His diaries begin on January 1, 1864, as he returns to service, and continues through June 1865, when Rolfe is mustered out of service and returns home. After the war, by 1870, Rolfe and his family had moved to Minden, Montgomery County. He would live in Montgomery County for the remainder of his life. Rolfe died in 1882 in Fort Plain. He is buried in Vale Cemetery in a plot with his wife's family.

Rolfe's diaries were transcribed by Jerry Whitehouse and given to the New York State Library in 1985. The Grems-Doolittle Library holds a copy of the transcribed diary, which also includes supplemental photocopied material, including Rolfe's military pension paperwork, a document related to his naturalization, and information about the 134th New York. The diaries trace Rolfe's experiences, chronicling the company's travels, battles, camp life, and Rolfe's monetary accounts. From June 1, 1864 until April 9, 1965, Rolfe and other injured men were in Chattanooga, while the remainder of the 134th continued on with the Atlanta campaign and Sherman's March to the Sea. While in Chattanooga, Rolfe details camp life, his hospital stays, and his assigned duties (i.e. as nurse), and reacts to news of the fall of Atlanta. On April 9, 1865, Rolfe returned to the 134th's encampment at near Goldsboro, North Carolina. There, he reunited with his brother, Sam, and found "the other boys well and in good spirits." Rolfe describes the final movements of the regiment and shares his thoughts on the end of the war, Lincoln's assassination, and other news. As the regiment moves homeward, they parade in towns along the way.

Rolfe's diaries also show him to be a man of great religious faith and a teetotaler. Many entries include details about Rolfe's spiritual life, including prayers, religious meetings, and Bible readings: "At 10:00 a.m. instead of Sabbath religious services we have a kind of brigade review, but a complete hoax, or next to failure. O when will our commanding officers learn to have respect for the Sabbath" (March 5, 1865). The diaries include a copy of Rolfe's signed pledge to the U.S.A. Temperance Union, and the diary contains several mentions of the deleterious "effects of whiskey" and "effects of beer" on his fellows. On June 5, 1865, as the company continues to head toward home, Rolfe writes "Lieutenant Dillon commander of Co. B under the influence of bad whiskey abuses the Co. on and after dress parade. Several of the Co. also are intoxicated. Makes us appear rediculas [sic] before the Brigade." 

As Rolfe's regiment is mustered out on June 10, 1865, Rolfe shares, "the long looked for and much to be desired day has arrived. And now may God grant us a speedy and safe journey home, and prepare us for a peaceful and happy future." By mid-month, Rolfe has reunited with his wife's family. He ends his diary with a brief summation of his service: "Return from Charlton and go to Albany and get my discharge from the military service with pay in full. 17 months 22 days. And clothing money $22.00, also the bounty $75.00. total $372.65. Have been in military service of the United States 2 years 10 months."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The History of Medicine in Schenectady County

In anticipation of our program about the history of medicine in Schenectady County this Thursday evening, we would like to highlight materials related to the history of medicine in our collections.

Please click here for a research guide to sources pertaining to the history of medicine in the Grems-Doolittle Library. In addition to the sources listed in this guide, family files, city directories, city and county maps, and other library materials are useful in tracing the development of the medical profession in the city and county of Schenectady and learning more about the area's doctors, nurses, dentists, and other medical professionals. Below, we have included a small sample of materials -- please visit the Library to see more of the resources available for research!

Operating room at Ellis Hospital, ca. 1900.
Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Advertisement card for Hill Dental Company in Schenectady.
From Grems-Doolittle library Documents Collection.

Steel work addition to Sunnyview Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Center on Rosa Road in Schenectady, 1959. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection

Minutes of the Medical Society of the County of Schenectady, 1810.
From Grems-Doolittle Library Documents Collection.
Label from Barhydt and Van Patten in Schenectady. From prescription book, ca. 1900.
Entries in Schenectady Nurses' Directory, 1905.
From Grems-Doolittle Library Documents Collection.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Celebrating Veterans Day

In honor of Veteran's Day, we would like to share just a few of the photographs and memorabilia related to local veterans and Veterans Day in our collections:

The first page of a letter from Edna Pilling, a teacher living in Scotia, to Private Joseph Memelo, written on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. Pilling describes the celebration in Schenectady. "At 3 or thereabouts this morning, bells and whistles made things lively - and things have been lively ever since," Pilling writes. "Stores, schools, shops, everything closed. The streets crowded. Parades as early as 8 o'clock this morning, and still more parades. The Italian parade was especially fine . . . It has been a beautiful November day - full of sunshine and warmth - a fitting day for so much joy" (Letter from the Larry Hart Collection). After World War II, the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day and its purpose changed to honor all United States veterans.

Civil War veterans from the Horsfall Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, ca. 1930s.
From the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

David H. Coulter of Schenectady, one of the last surviving veterans of the Spanish-American War, displays a medal he received for his service in the Philippines. In 1978 Coulter, at age 98, led the annual Veterans Day parade. "I never got above a buck private," said Coulter during a 1978 interview. Photograph from the Larry Hart Collection.

Local servicemen celebrate Victory in the Pacific Day on August 14, 1945 in Schenectady.
From the Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Members of the Last Man's Club, a World War I veterans' organization in Scotia, pose at the American Legion Hall around 1955.
Photograph from the Larry Hart Collection.

Program for the first annual ball of the Schenectady Washington Continentals in 1855. The unit, formed in 1839, served in the Mexican War. It was disbanded during the Civil War, but reformed afterwards. From the Grems-Doolittle Library Documents Collection.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Francis Poulin Scrapbook Collection

Francis Poulin with scale model of a steel bridge built in Pleasant
Valley in 1904 to carry trolleys to the growing Mont Pleasant
neighborhood. Photocopy of photograph from Schenectady
Gazette article dated 31 July 1980, in Poulin family file.
The Francis Poulin Scrapbook Collection is comprised of scrapbooks compiled by Francis Poulin, a long-time resident of the Mont Pleasant neighborhood, Schenectady city archivist, and local history enthusiast.

Francis A. Poulin was born in Fort Johnson, New York. He attended Schenectady public schools, graduating from Mont Pleasant High School in 1934. Poulin married Mary Abbatiello in 1941; the couple went on to have three children. Poulin worked for the New York Central Railroad’s signal department and for the American Locomotive Company. He then worked for over 20 years with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles before retiring in 1979.

Poulin’s love of local history began when he was still in high school. Poulin participated in a citizens’ effort for a plaque to be placed at the site of the city’s first railroad station; he had the honor of unveiling a plaque at the Crane Street site in 1938. After his retirement in 1979, Poulin increased his involvement with local history. He served as historian for Mont Pleasant High School and for the Mont Pleasant Reformed Church, and served as an advisor for the historical preservation of Proctor’s Theatre. In 1988, he was appointed City Archivist for the city of Schenectady; he continued to serve as archivist until his death in 1994.

Poulin served on the board of trustees of the Schenectady County Historical Society. He was a member of the Schoharie County Historical Society, Vermont Historical Society, Mohawk Hudson Railroad Society, National Railway Historical Society, Schenectady 2000, Friends of Union College, Mont Pleasant Reformed Church and the Greater Consistory of the Church, the Order of the White Shrine of Jerusalem, the Giles Fonda Yates Council 22, New Hope Masons Lodge 730, and was a patron of the Order of the Eastern Star.

Poulin died at Ellis Hospital on January 21, 1994. He is buried in Memory Gardens Cemetery & Memorial Park in Colonie, New York. Following his death, the New York State legislature passed a resolution honoring Poulin and his advocacy of railroad history.

Materials in the Francis Poulin Scrapbook Collection are Photostat copies enclosed in three-ring binders; contents include copies of newspaper and magazine articles, maps, photographs, correspondence, and notes. The binders cover a variety of topics related to the history of Schenectady, with particular emphasis on the history of railroads, the Mont Pleasant neighborhood, the Westinghouse family and company, local schools and churches, and the YMCA. A finding aid for the collection can be found here.