By Elyana Schosek
Current estimates for the number of soldiers who fought in the Civil War are at about 2.75 million people. These nearly 3 million men came from all across the eastern United States over the course of only four years.
Among all these soldiers was a man named J.P. Myers who spent most of his life living in Western New York, specifically, in our own town of Springville later in his life.
On Wednesday, Feb. 27, Jolene Hawkins, research assistant at the Lucy Bensley Center, presented to the community on the life of Myers.
“The life of J.P. Myers ties together several well-known Springville landmarks, including the log cabin, which was formerly a G.A.R. post, on South Buffalo Street and the Soldier’s Monument in Fiddler’s Green Park,” Hawkins said.
Myers was born in 1843. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1866 for the 104th NY Regiment in Geneseo.
During his time in service, he was injured by a musket ball which shattered his ankle bone, forcing him to spend five months in the hospital.
“He had a chance to come home and the chose not to. He chose to come back and rejoin his regiment,” Hawkins noted. “He was lucky to be alive!”
Myers fought in the Battle of Gettysburg. Throughout his time in the army, Myers kept a detailed journal.
In an entry from July 14, 1863, he wrote, “My regiment along of the 1st Army Corp did all the fighting that was done that day except the cavalry that opened up the battle. We were fighting a whole number of Lee’s men numbering 55,000 but there was only about 8 to 10,000 of us.”
After receiving orders to fall back, they knew that they had to fight their way through the rebels just to get back to their base, they were surrounded.
They were successful at holding back the rebels, but at what cost? Many lives were lost and in addition, there were a number of men who were taken as prisoners of war. One of those men was Myers.
He spent 661 days as a P.O.W.
“We were taken to Staten, VA, about 170 miles away, we had to march the whole way,” Myers’ journal entry read. “We were tired, hungry, and the guards were horrible to us.”
Upon their arrival, they were searched and all of their money and valuables were taken from them. Additionally, they were given the gray clothes indicative to the rebels.
In his time as a prisoner, Myers was taken to multiple camps for confederate prisoners. Most times, they were transferred on cattle box cars as to not attract unwanted attention.
The main location was the Andersonville Prison, where he was taken on Feb. 14, 1864. Here, they had no hope of escape whatsoever. High walls that were sunken into the ground destroyed an small glimmer of hope they may have had of escape.
There was consideration of exchange numerous times for various factors, including a devastating winter, during which they used whatever they could find to form makeshift shelters, they often slept close together to preserve their body heat. Due this, many of the prisoners died from exposure and more yet from disease.
Myers wrote in his journal, “The manner of the burial was to dig a long trench and lay the bodies side by side.” The graves were marked with slabs of wood noting the names and regiments of the men. If such was unknown, then that was marked as so.
After nearly two years as prisoners, the men were taken to Vicksburg, Miss., for exchange. The night prior to the exchange, Myers noted in his journal that they fell asleep with Confederates as their guards and woke up with Union men on guard.
“We knew for the first time in 22 months that we were among friends,” he wrote.
On their way home from Mississippi, they were transported by boat. A terrible explosion occurred causing many casualties. The men made it through all those rough months as prisoners only to lose their lives on their way home.
Again, Myers was lucky.
He married in 1868 and first adopted a relative’s child. Myers and his wife had a child of their own soon after. In 1880, Myers and his family moved to Springville where he built over half a dozen houses, including 105 East Main St., which still stands today. The home had the first indoor bathtub in town.
J.P. Myers was an entrepreneur. He owned a large butter and egg business, but he also helped to establish the Maplewood Cemetery. He helped to build a log cabin as a meeting place for the non-profit organization: Grand Army of the Republic. The logs used to build the cabin came from the West Valley Swamp.
Every small town has a huge history, and Springville is no exception.