Benedict M. Maryniak - LINKS
First at Vicksburg, Buried in Buffalo
By Ben Maryniak
Buffalo Civil War Round Table
Lancaster Historical Society
Cover of A. A. Hoehling's "Vicksburg: 47 days of Siege"
The monument in front of the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society Museum
Bronze plaque on the monument
J. F. Culp & Son Advertisement.
Most Civil War aficionados have seen Charles McBarrow's "First at Vicksburg" painting of the First Battalion, Thirteenth US Infantry, colliding with Confederate defenders at Stockade Redan, which took place during Grant's assaults on that Mississippi fortress during early May, 1863. Back then, the 13th was part of Major General Wm. T Sherman's XV Corps, Army of the Tennessee, but the unit was later to become known as "Buffalo's Own Regiment" throughout its Spanish American War exploits because of a long stint as the Fort Porter garrison. During 1899, donations from hundreds of Buffalonians caused a huge boulder to be placed on the west end of the Fort Porter parade ground as a token of the city's esteem for the regiment.
Buffalo's Saturn Club presented a silver cup to the 13th US Infantry in 1898, marking the unit's Spanish American War service. A subscription drive soon flowered, seeking nothing larger than five-dollar donations from citizens who wished to see a monument erected in the 13th's honor, and $650 was quickly obtained, much of it from schoolchildren. An egg-shaped boulder of monumental proportions -- weighing twenty tons and measuring nine feet at its widest -- was to be moved to Buffalo from the Lower Niagara Gorge near Lewiston.
A bronze plaque would be mounted on the massive rock, bearing the following message:
To commemorate the gallantry of the officers and enlisted men of the Thirteenth Regiment, US Infantry, in the campaign against Santiago de Cuba. First at San Juan Hill, July 1st, 1898, as they were at Vicksburg in 1863. Erected by the Citizens of Buffalo 1899.
There were a few peculiarities surrounding the monument. As soon as the imposing boulder had been selected from all others in the gorge, local Native Americans protested its removal because the rock was impregnated with spirits and possessed magic properties. Anglers who frequented the Lower Gorge also complained, claiming the stone was a good fishing spot. The boulder was relocated despite the objections and placed on the site of old Fort Porter in what we now call Front Park. It was to be unveiled for soldiers and civilians in a grand ceremony planned for April 20, 1899. The 13th US Infantry, however, received last-minute orders which sent them to the Philippines on that very day, so the plaque and its rock were unceremoniously put on public display at sundown, April 19. The regiment did well on its new assignment but never returned to Buffalo.
Years passed and so did Fort Porter. Situated alongside Sheridan Terrace near a subsequent baseball diamond, the 13th US Infantry Memorial provided a perch from which many a person watched many a game. Then it disappeared, and Buffalo resident John G Putnam finally noticed it was missing during 1957. "My brother wrote, asking if I could get the exact wording on the tablet for his friend who is a Spanish American War veteran, but I went all through the park and couldn't locate the stone anywhere."
Mr. Putnam quickly took his puzzlement to the Buffalo Historical Society, where Society Director Wilbur H Glover was able to provide a photograph but no ideas as to the memorial's location. Dr. Glover eventually contacted Buffalo Commissioner of Parks John Leone, who took the search a few more steps toward absurdity. He discovered that the twenty-ton rock had been buried during 1955 when a new approach for the Peace Bridge was built. Leone thought it was "near an embankment behind the new Customs Freight House." Before bulldozers pushed the monument into oblivion, its bronze tablet was removed by a Buffalo Parks Department crew, but the Department no longer had the plaque. Many people had seen the boulder buried, and several individuals came forward to point out where it rested under four feet of dirt.
The City promised to restore the monument, even obtaining a picture of the bronze plaque for its duplication. Nothing more had been done by early 1958, however, when Dr. Glover proposed that the boulder be placed near the BHS museum. The John W Cowper Company would donate the equipment and manpower to recover the rock and move it. The Parks Department promised a quick review of Glover's proposal and prompt notice of permission to proceed. During August of 1958, however, Parks Commissioner Patrick J McGroder Jr. informed Glover that there were some conditions attached to an official approval. The Society would be responsible "to take care of backfilling, replacing topsoil, and re-seeding the area." In addition, the City also required "a suitable concrete platform" for the boulder on the Historical Society grounds. At this point, the debate over responsibility disappeared from the newspapers.
The 13th US Infantry boulder was rededicated on Veterans Day, November 11, 1958, at its new location next to the BHS museum. Officials of the Society and the City were on hand, as were four veterans of the Spanish American War -- Wm. E Beilman (Buffalo), Louis Wohlrab (Buffalo), Wm. A Sikora (Elma), and Henry C Wendt (Tonawanda). The new bronze tablet duplicates the original wording, adding one last line -- "Rededicated by the Buffalo Historical Society 1958."