(NEWS10) — Some of us can’t help but hop on the internet to dig into our family history. But, for Diana McCarthy, the answers could be found in her family’s old farmhouse in Craryville, New York with an incredible story contained inside an old box.
Inside the box was a collection of 80 letters written by her great, great, great grandfather Peter Dumont, to his wife Clarinda, Diana’s great, great, great grandmother back in Utica. They were written as he braved the front lines during the Civil War.
The enlisted Union soldier wrote about the unburied bodies after the Battle of Bull Run, saying it was the most sickening sight, he had ever seen.
While fighting in Fredericksburg, he narrowly escaped the rebel troops. Peter sketched this outline of the city, with some of the buildings ablaze.
The 26-year-old soldier wasn’t so lucky in the spring of 1863 when he was captured during the battle of Chancellorsville.
“Along the fence there stood a rebel with a gun leveled at my head. To have withdrawn my gun back to the fence and to have fired at him would have been impossible,” he wrote to his wife.
While in the Libby Prison camp in Richmond he continued writing and drawing. One sketch represented his longing for his regiments old camp and his tent. He was released 3 months later.
He used every inch of paper, capturing all he witnessed. Scenes of Union soldiers setting up encampments in Virginia as well as the French-inspired Zouave soldiers protecting enslaved children who were considered contraband during the war.
“He was front and center for some of the major turning points in American history and the Civil War,” said NEWS10’s Anya Tucker.
“He really was,” replied Diana McCarthy, Dumont’s great, great, great grandaughter.
Diana McCarthy is a retired teacher from Slingerlands who gives talks about her exceptional ancestor. Even dressing as her 3 times great grandmother during her presentations.
Much of what she shares, she learned from the contents of that old box. She and her family could have sold the letters for a tidy profit, but they felt they had a greater purpose. So, they decided to donate them to the New York State Library.
Anya asked, “What do you think of this?”
“Oh, I think these are cool. I love looking at these letters. It’s actually a snapshot of that place at that time, for that person. It’s like you are back there with them,” replied Vicki Weiss with the New York State Library.
He didn’t know it then, but Peter Dumont was a kind of 19th-century documentarian. His letters also very intimate, always ending with his devotion to his dear wife Clarinda.
“….And it’s signed until death, your husband Pete. Do we know if he survived,” read Vickie.
Peter Dumont is believed to have perished in battle around the time his final letter was delivered.
But his experiences, words and images will live on here at the library.
“These letters have a safe home. It’s a wonderful environment and it’s something people can use to research and learn more about what those times were like,” says Diana.
To learn more about Diana’s research and presentations you can email her at CIVILWAR@DYNASYSWEB.COM