SOMERS, N.Y. – The New York State Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee held its kickoff meeting on Saturday at Somers’ Elephant Hotel, with several attendees decked out in full military regalia.
Bill Wienecke, a social studies teacher at Somers Middle School and a devotee of war reenactments, was dressed as one of Duryee’s Fifth New York Zouaves. The Zouaves based their uniforms on an elite French fighting force active in North Africa, Wienecke said. The Zouave regiments were considered one of the best drilled volunteer units in the federal army.
Inside the meeting room, attendees who individually introduced themselves included a Civil War author, an historical artist, a filmmaker from upstate, Civil War buffs, members of Peekskill’s Lincoln Society, members of Civil War Roundtables, dedicated re-enactors, descendants of Civil War soldiers and members of the Somers Historical Society.
“This committee actually started from nothing and we’re not sure about our long-term goals,” said chairperson Lance Ingmire. “But we know we want to foster awareness of the role that New York State played in the Civil War.” Initially the goal was to have a display at the New York State Military Museum, he said.
Now the committee is working on expanding its website and eventually organizing symposia in two or three locations, Ingmire added. Another goal is to do a sort of antique road show with antiques experts.
Another guest at the event was Somers resident Joseph Whittman, grandson of Henry Springler Van Beuren (1834-1906), a captain in the 22nd New York National Guard Fourth Brigade. Whittman loaned Van Beuren’s collection of Civil War memorabilia to the historical society, and it’s on display in the foyer of The Elephant Hotel.
Eighth-grader Emily Malavenda said she was excited to be a part of the action. She is a member of the middle school’s Living History Club, whose advisor is Bill Wienecke.
“My goal is to make history come alive for my students,” said teacher, re-enactor and club advisor Bill Wienecke. “I want to promote a deeper appreciation for the people, great and small, who endured incredible hardship and practiced admirable virtue to make our nation great.”
“The Civil War had several factors,” said young historian Malavenda. “One of them was slavery. One side wanted it and the other didn’t. So we went to war. No one knew it would happen. The day the war started, people were having picnics on the battlefield.”