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Bellmont Bathing Beach Club

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Civil War Letter of William Bell Miles, by John Dodge Miles

William Bell Miles (1824–1885) came to Franklin County in 1825 from Bath, NH with his parents, John D. and Martha Emerson Miles, who settled on the west side of Lower Chateaugay Lake adjacent to the Drew place. His father, sometimes referred to as “Squire Miles,”(1) was a stonecutter who learned his trade in Bath, where his brother operated a mill. John Miles and John B. Jackson, another early Chateaugay Lake settler, ran the Jackson and Miles mill,(2) located northwest of the bridge later known as “The Forge,” until it was taken over in 1826 by Roswell Weed.(3) In 1832, John was later supervisor of the Town of Chateaugay.(4) William’s surviving siblings were Adaline Young, Martha Jane Kirby, Olive Susan Cantwell, Abner, and Josephine Percy. Martha and Olive were schoolteachers in the early school district;(5) Olive later married William P. Cantwell of Malone, and was an instructor at Franklin Academy. William married Lydia A. Smith prior to 1850, who died in 1856. William then married Lydia Maria Kirby (1829–1902), When William enlisted in the Union Army, he left behind his wife with two young daughters, one of them an infant. During his later years, William was a farmer, and he served as superintendent of the local Methodist Sabbath school,(6) was a steward of the church,(7) and was an election supervisor in Bellmont.(8)

The letter that follows was written during William’s Civil War service in October 1861, at Camp Graham near Washington, D.C., where the 22nd Reg. NYSV was guarding the capital. The recipient, James Sweet of Chateaugay, was an ancestor of the late Dr. James Sweet, also of Chateaugay. In the letter, William mentions both Fanny and Ezra Sweet; Ezra worked in a sawmill on Chateaugay River near the Sweet family farm.(9)

Daniel Dockum(10) has provided information about William’s Civil War service:

William B. Miles was born October 30, 1824. He enlisted in the Union Army with the 22nd New York State Volunteers on April 28, 1861. He was 36 at the time but his enlistment record indicates that he was only 29. He enlisted in Schroon Lake, New York in Company I under the command of Captain Lyman Ormsby.

The 22nd NY was part of a brigade which contained the 22nd, 24th, 30th and 84th NY regiments. The 84th was also known as the 14th Brooklyn. The 2nd US Sharpshooters were also, at times, a part of the brigade.(11)

William’s statement “I have been only two days since I have been enlisted” is odd, considering his April 28, 1861 enlistment date. Has a word been omitted, such as ‘sick’, after ‘I have been’? Another anomaly concerning William’s service record was his age: although he was actually 36 when he enlisted, on his service record his age was given as 29. Finally, since most of the soldiers from Franklin County enlisted in Malone, why did William enlist as far away as Schroon Lake? Did he try to enlist locally, and was turned down because of his age? Did he lie about his age in order to be accepted, in an area where he was not personally known? Given the fact that other area soldier enlistees such as David Blow and Nathan Thurber were William’s friends and neighbors from Chateaugay Lake, it’s difficult to know.

William comments on his living conditions(12) (“…we have poor beds I have not slept on a bed since the twenty egith of last April only on the ground all last week and fore part of this we have had no shelter ober us a few cornstalks…) and gives some information regarding how he supplemented his income scavenging grease: “…the company makes my wages up to twenty dolars a month when I was in camp in washinton…I use to make three dollars a week a saveing grease…”(13)

Finally, William gives an account regarding how he shot a “rebel” soldier while on a scouting patrol: “…I shot one rebel it was when I was out on a scouting party he was behind an old stone chimey and he was first taking aim at one of our men and I was just behind of corn so he did not see me I just took aim and he fell…”

Dockum adds the following details regarding William’s Civil War Service:

The brigade served under Brigadier Generals E. D. Keyes, C. C. Auger, John Hatch, and finally, Colonel Walter Phelps who originally commanded the 22nd regiment.

The brigade was part of General lrwin McDowell’s Corps (Army of Virginia) in the early part of the war. Much of the regiment’s early service (June 1861 to August 1862) was in northern Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, protecting the capital city. They fought at Groveton and Gainesville, Virginia on the 28th and 29th of August 1862 and then in the second battle of Bull Run (Manassas) on August 30. Between these two battles, Union losses were 14,800 killed, wounded or missing. Confederate losses were 10,700 killed, wounded or missing.

General Joseph Hooker became the new Corps Commander and led them at South Mountain, Maryland on September 14, 1862 then at Antietam (Sharpsburg, Maryland) on September 17. The battle of Antietam resulted in more than 30,000 casualties making it the bloodiest day in US history. They then fought at Fredericksburg, Virginia on December 13, 1862. The Union lost 1,180 killed, 9,028 wounded and 2,145 missing in that battle. The final big battle for the 22nd was under Major General J. F. Reynolds at Chancellorsville, Virginia on May 1–4, 1863. The Union lost 1,512 killed, 9,518 wounded and 5,000 missing in that battle. Confederate losses were 1,581 killed (including Stonewall Jackson) 8,700 wounded and 2,000 missing.(14)

Soldiers of the 22nd then returned home to New York in June 1863. Records show that William Miles mustered out at Albany, NY on June 19, 1863.(15)

[Uplous?] Hill, VA
Oct 11, 1861

Mr James Sweet

Respected

i take this optunity of writing to you in hopes find you well and i am the same

i have only been two days since i have been enlisted

i shot one rebel

it was when i was out on a scouting party

he was behind a old stone chiney and he was just taking aim at one of our men and i was just behind of corn so he did not see me

i just took aim and he fell

that only chance i have had to shoot one and only one i have for i dont have no chance to go very near them for i am cooking for the [company] i belong to and been cooking for them ever since we came to washington

the company makes my wages up to twenty dolars a month when i was [at] camp in washington

you is use to make three dollars a week a saveing grease

o James you have no idea what a buatiful country this is & there is some of the hansomest peach orchards i ever see

we have plenty to eat and wear but we have poor beds

i have not slept on a bed since twenty egith of last april only on the ground

all last week and fore part of this we have had no shelter ober us a few cornstalks

i dont think that this part of the army will make any attacked on othe rebells unless they make attack upon us for they say delay is worst than fighting fighting them

i had a letter from your aunt fanny and your uncle robert and they where all well

he wrote to me that he had been to your house a little summer

Jimmy i cant i cant write you anymore new at present

give my respects to your father and Mother margret and Ezra and his mother and all enquireing friends

no more at present from your friend

William Miles

if your write to me direct your letter

William Miles
22d.Reg. N.Y.S.V.
Camp Graham
Washington, D.C.
in care Capt L ormsby


(1) Merrill, Charles E., The Old Guide’s Story of the Northern Adirondacks (Burlington, Vermont: George Little Press, 1973), 100.

(2) Seaver, Frederick J., Historical Sketches of Franklin County and its Several Towns with Many Short Biographies (Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Company, 1918), 174.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Hurd, Duane H., “Chateaugay,” History of Clinton and Franklin Counties, New York, (Philadelphia: J.W. Lewis & Co., 1880), 462.

(5) Seaver, 182, 176.

(6) “William B. Miles obituary,” Chateaugay Record, vol. 8, no. 4 (May 1, 1885).

(7) Hurd, 464.

(8) Hurd, “Bellmont,” 442.

(9) Recently, James Vaugh, a family member who now has the original letter among the papers left by Dr. James Sweet, contacted me regarding William Miles’ Civil War service. At a later date I received digital copies from James that were taken by his photographer friend in North Carolina.

(10) Daniel Dockum is a great-great grandson of William Miles.

(11) Correspondence to John Miles from Dr. Tom Clemens, a noted Civil War historian. Regarding the brigade and who was in it, Clemens cites Frederick H. Dyer’s Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, vol. 1 (Dayton, OH: Morningside Press Reprint, 1978), 284. Clemens comments further, “That the brigade was called the Iron Brigade can be found in William F. Fox’s Regimental Losses of the Civil War (Dayton, OH: Morningside Press Reprint, 1985), 117.”

(12) In quoting from the letter, I have retained William’s unique spelling and punctuation.

(13) Miles served as a cook for the 22nd NYSV.

(14) Christian J. Heidorf, Shoulder Arms! Letters and Recollections of the 22nd New York Volunteers and a Community at War (Glens Falls, NY: Chapman Historical Museum of the Glens Falls-Queensbury Historical Association, 1998). Correspondence to John Miles from Dr. Tom Clemens: “…casualty figures are from Heidorf’s book, the only history of the 22nd published.…”

(15) NY State Adjutant General’s Records, 22nd NY Vol. Inf., Albany, NY. Dr. Clemens was so kind as to respond to my queries regarding the information he gave to Dan Dockum several years ago.

Bellmont Snow Schoolhouse

The Bellmont Murder–Testimony at the Coroner’s Inquest

Fay and Goodell, Malone, NY

Joseph Wood, just prior to being hanged in Malone, NY

Mr. A. P. Beedy was the first witness examined after Mrs. Barbour. The essential points of Mrs. B’s statement were given last week. Mr. Beedy was at Mr. Barbour’s on the Thursday previous to the murder, when a stranger called and wanted to sell a coat and vest. Mr. barbour bought them, paying him two dollars, saying: “I let you have this money to accomodate you; I do not care much for the cost.” When the stranger was about to leave the house, Mrs. B asked him if he would not like some luncheon to take along with him? Replying in the affirmative, she prepared and handed him some done up in a paper. Witness was sent into the mail to see the prisoner, and on his return said: “I have now seen the man that I saw at Mr. Barbour’s house. he is in jail. I recognize his coat, pants and eyes. I am positive he is the man. His whiskers have been shaven since I saw him at Barbour’s. They are not as heavy as them.”

Walker Moody, residing in Bellmont, said he saw the man confined in jail on suspicion of being the murderer of Barbour at his house on Thursday. Besides describing his apparel, he said he carried a brown satchel. He wore a dark mustache and chin whiskers. His whiskers are not now as they were on the day he saw him at his house. pThat satchel is wanted, and searc is being made for it.]

William L. German says: I reside in Plattsburgh. Am a Deputy Sheriff of Clinton County. Yesterday (Tuesday) at about 11 o’clock A.M., I arrested a man who called himself Joseph Woods, in company with Simeon Noel, on a stage coach running from Dannemora to Plattsburgh, at a point about one and a half miles from the village of Plattsburgh. O took him from the stage, Mr. Noel, the prisoner and myself getting into my buggy. We drove to the headquarters of the Sheriff of the County. I took him into our private office and immediately began to divest him of all substances which I found upon his person, the same consisting of one revolver No. 15,079, one dumb watch with rubber or gutta percha chain and locket attached, one jack knife, two packages containing silver plate broken up, one razor with black handle, a small package of salt or saltpetre, a small package of soap, two paper collars, one pocket book containing seventeen dollars as I best recollect the same, one silver ring, one watch chain, three shirt studs, two ladies’ slcave buttons, one darning needle, one package of German silver or silver cups, broken in pieces, which was found at the hotel of Mr. Noel after the arrest and while on our way here with the prisoner. The first conversation I had wtih prisoner he asked me what I had arrested him for. This was not more than a minute or a minute and a half after he got into the buggy. I told him that time would tell. After that he said, calling me Captain, “give me a fair show for my life.” I then asked him where he had been for the last week or two. His answer was that he had taken dinner for about a week at a point or place about six miles from Chateaugay. On our passage from Plattsburgh here and before I had told him what he was arrested for, he said to me that he was afraid of being mobbed. I went in compoany with officer Tobey and others to the house of Mr. Barbour and there assisted in taking the man I arrested into the presence of Mrs. Barbour, the wife of the man murdered.–When the cloths that then covered her eyes were removed, Mrs. Barbour, pointingi at the prisoner, said, “That is the man.” I don’t think Mrs. B. could have seen the irons on the prisoner’s hands or feet at the time.

Simeon Noel said: I reside at Dannemora, in the County of Clinton. At the Chateaugay ore bed on Monday night last I saw Joseph woods, so called, at the Chateaugay Lake ore bed store. He inquired the way to Clinton prison. I asked the man where he came from. He said he came from Chateaugay Lake. I asked him what road he came up on. He said he came across the Lake from where Cook kept kept last year, (Indian Point) and then came through the woods. He asked if there was any liquor sold at that place. I told him about 8 miles from the ore bed on his road to Dannemora he could get some. He then bought a pair of socks and started off. I then went out and told him I could give him a ride to Dannemora in about five minutes. He waited and rode with me to my place, about 8 miles from the ore bed. When we got there he asked me if he could get some supper. I said yes, in about half an hour, and while we were waiting I asked him where he was from and where he was going. He said he lived at Rouse’s Point and was going to Plattsburgh. I said I knew several parties at Rouse’s Point, and asked him if he knew them. He said he did. I mentioned the parties: Peter Luch, James Shaw, Mr. Speers. I asked why he did not take a different route to go to Plattsburgh. He said, “Mister, I am a peculiar kind of a man. I don’t tell my business to everybody.” He then said that was all he cared about telling. He took supper at my house. I told him I would carry him to Plattsburgh for the price that the stage charged if he would stay all night at my place. He said no, that he would walk to Dannemora, and if I was not loaded he would ride from Dannemora with me to Plattsburgh in the morning. Yesterday morning (Tuesday) I drove to Plattsburgh ahead of the stage. When I got to Plattsburgh i went into Mr. Bromley’s office and he (Bromley) asked me if I had heard anything of a murder at Bellmont. He went on and gave a description of the man. I went out and got one of the handbills, went to the stable, took a horse and went to Mr. Crowley’s office for a warrant. I saw Mr. German, who asked what I wanted. I said a warrant to arrest the murderer. He said he could do it without a warrant, that he would go with me and arrest him. he got into my buggy and we went and arrested him on the stage.–I came to Malone in company with Mr. German. All along the route here he (the prisoner) talked about being mobbed. he expressed fears that his life would be taken. He paid for his supper at my place in specie.

Fernando C. Smith, residing about a mile and a half from the house of Mr. Barbour, saw the same man confined in jail between 3 and 4 o’clock on Sunday, the day previous to the murder. he was in the field going in the directin of Mr. B’s house. {Murder committed sunday night.}

Julia Lowell, who lives where she can see Mr. Barbour’s house, saw the man in jail at her house on Sunday.

John Clark lives about two miles and a half from Mr. Barbour’s. The man in jail was at his house about 9 o’clock on Sunday morning. He came to the door and asked for something to eat, which was given him. He asked several questions as to how much Mr. Clark thought he was worth, if he kept much money around him, how much land he had, if it was all paid for, &c. he remained at his house about an hour and a quarter, and on leaving went in the direction of Malone. He had a dark leather satchel.

Carlisle McWeeny, living in the same section, saw the man in jail in his neighborhood on Sunday.

Rufus E. O[…]ns, residing in Bellmont, about half a mile from Mr. Barbour’s, testified to his house having been entered and several articles carried away. Recognized watch and razor shown him by the Coroner. Found peculiar tracks under the winow and traced them to Barbour’s. The tracks correspond with those made by the prisoner in size and large nails in the toe of the shoe or boot.

Freeman P. Cleveland resides about a quarter of a mile from Mr. Barbour’s. He was the first man who entered the house Monday morning. Found Mr. Barbour lying under the foot of the bed, his face in a pool of blood. After getting Mr. Barbour on to the bed with the help of his little boy, he went to the road, where Mrs. Barbour had crawled for assistance, and helped her back into the house. A woman unknown to him assisted. Search was then made for the place the murderer came into the house, which was found to be by the north parlor window. He then looked for tracks, but found only one, but the earth was so stirred as showed that other tracks had been covered up.–The track he found was like the one shown him in a pan of earth, and was going towards the window.

Morris H. Wilcox, of New York, who has been with Mr. Hurd in the 99 cent store during the summer, and who has been spending a few weeks at Chateaugay Lake, was at McPherson’s shanty, Indian Point, on Monday, the day after the murder. In the afternoon, about 8 o’clock, a stranger came there and asked for something to eat. He said he had been wandering about in the woods, and appeared to be very hungry. Food was given him. He said he was going to Clinton prison, where he had a brother who was a keeper and was sick and dying. While eating his luncheon the man told Mr. Wilcox that he found three mouldy potatoes at a shanty back in the woods, but they were so bad he could not eat them. Mr. W. thought he referred to a shanty at Mountain Pond. Mr. W. took him across the Lake and put him on the wood road leading to the plank road. he said his name was Joseph Woods, and that he lived at Chateaugay. Mr. Wilcox said he had seen the same man that he rosed across the Lake in a cell in the jail a few minutes before.

The testimony of Dr. S. P. Bates describes the localities and character of the four wounds infliected on the head of Mr. Barbour, and which caused his death.

The verdict of the jury, stripped of its antediluvian verbiage and rendered into intelligible English, was to the effect that on the night of the 26th day of August a man calling himself Joseph Woods inflicted pistol shot wounds upon Stephen Barbour, with intent to kill, of which he died the next day.

The prisoner was taken into the presence of the jury previous to the rendering of the verdict, and asked if he had anything to say. Replying in the negative, he stands committed for trial, after the action of the Grand Jury in October.

————-

Col. Durkee, Halll Keeper at Clinton prison, was at home on Monday, and called at the jail to see the prisoner Woods, but was not cordially receied by that gentlemen. Apparently recognizing the apparel of the Colonel as being that of a prison official, Woods violently objected to his presence in his apartment and to being looked at by him. Colonel d. does not think he ever saw the prisoner before, but says there are those at Dannemora who think, from the description, that he was discharged from there in 1875. Nothing certain on that point.

Later.–Woods has been pretty clearly identified as an old convict sent to Sing Sing in 1869 for ten years for an assault to kill, and transferred to Dannemora in 1875.

At that time he went by the name of Guseppe De La Maraie.

————

The feelng of horror and indignation excited by the cowardly, cold-blooded murder of Mr. Barbour does not diminish in the least, and seems to pervade all classes. We have conversed with persons living in the west part of the County, most distant from Bellmont, and they partake of the universal feeling, and even talk of and advocate lynching in their excitement. When the trial of the prisoner comes on, where will the Sheriff be able to find a competent jury? who that can read, or hear for that matter, are not going to know enough about the case to form such an opinion as will disqualify them for impartial jurors?

The Franklin Gazette
September 7, 1877

Fay and Goodell, Malone, NY

Joseph Wood, Hung at Malone, NY