WHO’S FAMOUS NOW? [MAY 3, 2007]

Dr. Paul Loatman

Mechanicville City Historian

               

                Heritage tourists on their way to visit the Saratoga National Battlefield often pay their respects to the first Union Army officer killed in the Civil War by visiting his gravesite in Mechanicville’s Hudson View Cemetery. Many people are familiar with the story of young Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth, law clerk and confidante of Abraham Lincoln, who had gained recognition in the late 1850s as organizer of the famous Zouave military drill teams. His “martyrdom” on May 24, 1861, in Alexandria,Virginia, galvanized Northern opinion in support of Lincoln’s response to secession, while portending that future events might exact a terrible toll in human life. The eagle-crested monument marking the Colonel’s grave, erected through the efforts of his beloved Zouaves, and the New York State Legislature, insures that his sacrifice will not soon be forgotten.

 

                However, few visitors to Hudson View are aware that the larger monument standing to the right of that of the heroic Colonel marks the burial place of another local figure whose fame and influence far surpassed that of Ellsworth for decades following the Civil War. Prior to his appointment as Chaplain of the United States Senate in the 1870s, Reverend John P. Newman had gained the attention of politicians and the public alike through his efforts to re-establish Southern Methodist congregations, re-open schools and establish colleges, and head relief efforts on behalf of freed slaves in the devastated South following the Civil War. A frequent visitor to the White House during Ulysses S. Grant’s two-term presidency, Newman [who later became a Bishop] baptized Grant’s daughter, and is credited with reviving the General’s lapsed Christianity. Known to the public as “Grant’s pastor,” he delivered the funeral sermon when the former president  passed away in 1885 at his summer retreat at Mount McGregor. Bishop Newman and his wife, a former Mechanicville resident, summered in nearby Saratoga and socialized with the Grants regularly. He also maintained a long-time friendship with William McKinley whom he had met when the future President was a young law student in Albany. Newman vigorously campaigned for the Republican candidate in 1896, to the consternation of Democratic members of his flock. President McKinley, in turn, paid his respects to his clerical supporter by attending services whenever the Bishop preached from pulpits in the nation’s capital.

 

 Mrs. U.S. Grant and her daughter-in-law were with the Newman family at the family summer home in Saratoga when the Bishop passed away on July 5.1899. They were among the large group of prominent citizens who attended his gravesite rites at Hudson View Cemetery a few days later. This local cleric had been in the public eye for almost four decades, his much sought-after opinions on topics political, profane, and sacred often cited on the front page of the New York Times. Now, a century after his passing, few if any remember the Methodist clergyman, while Colonel Ellsworth’s fame has been far more long-lived. What comment this makes about the advantage enjoyed by military heroism over the practice of “heroic virtue” in earning enduring fame is a judgement best left to the reader to decide. In either case, two “small-town” men whose exploits had made them household names in the late 19th century lie side by side on a quiet hill overlooking the Hudson River in Mechanicville. 

 

[The above article was written for regional tech journal that features brief historical pieces about communities in “Tech Valley” in upstate New York.]