The Civil War Comes to Life in Peekskill 

Re-enactors will be on hand opening weekend, including Ken Serfass (l) as Ulysses S. Grant, who will field questions.

As the warm weather brings outdoor activity back in full swing, it opens another season of learning and gathering. Lincoln Depot Museum in Peekskill announced the start of its 2022 season with a special opening weekend, May 6-8, that took the form of a living history event, including a recognition of the 200th birthday of Ulysses S. Grant.  

The celebratory weekend included living history professional Ken Serfass reenacting the finer details of the end of the Civil War at Appomattox Court House. Museum visitors were also be able to view a reconstructed Civil War encampment with local reenactor units. 

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On May 14, Lincoln Depot Museum will be home to another outdoor event, this one hosted by Peekskill’s Lincoln Society. The society’s annual fundraiser — this year titled “Lincoln Lawn Party” — will be a catered event with a night of history and music. Entertainment headliners are Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, known to history buffs for their theme song “Ashokan Farewell” from Ken Burns’ Civil War series on PBS.  

While separate organizations, the combined goal of both the Lincoln Society of Peekskill and the Lincoln Depot Museum is to coordinate together on events moving forward. Events like these offer the opportunity to connect not only with our neighbors, but with the past.  

At the outbreak of the Civil War, local Union loyalists gathered in Peekskill in Simpson’s Hall on North Division Street — later known as the Sutton Building, now a national historic landmark.

While the happenings and national figures of that era are well known, it’s always worth rediscovering regional and local actors and their prevailing attitudes. Many notes on the area’s contribution to the war can be found in William T. Horton’s Pioneers, Patriots and People, Past and Present 

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As Horton documents, at the outbreak of the Civil War, a large crowd of local Union loyalists gathered in Peekskill in Simpson’s Hall — later known as the Sutton Building — where the crowd was whipped into nationalist enthusiasm.  

But, despite gatherings like this, there were skeptics of President Lincoln’s attempts at national unity, especially in Westchester County. The local paper at that time, The Highland Democrat of Peekskill, was a notable opponent of President Lincoln during his early years and remained so throughout his presidency. 

As commemorated by the 1916 Civil War Monument on Peekskill’s North Division Street, this area lost young lives to the war effort just as communities across the splintered nation did. One example was 17-year-old Lewis Latham, killed by a sniper during the Richmond–Petersburg campaign. He, like many from the area’s past, rests in Hillside Cemetery on Oregon Road in Cortlandt Manor. 

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Enlistment was not the only contribution to the war effort, however; women’s organizations popped up in the Village of Peekskill in the early 1860s to amass and ship materials to care for the casualties of war. Similarly, the Soldiers’ Aid Society of Peekskill engaged in the provision of medical supplies to the Union Army. 

As local gatherings begin to emerge from the depths of winter and two years of uncertainty, an opportunity to discover the past with neighbors begins again. Events like those hosted by the Lincoln Depot Museum and Lincoln Society offer the community a chance to learn about the neighborhoods we encounter every day in ways we may have never considered.  

More importantly, the social capital that can be built from shared experience and the free exchange of ideas is what will allow future generations to rediscover and examine the events that shaped our area. 

  • lincolnsocietyinpeekskill.org 
  • lincolndepotmuseum.org 

Dominic Evangelista is a resident of Peekskill. 

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