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The Civil War and the Cemetery at the Palisades Mall

Mount Moor What’s that cemetery doing at the Palisades Mall?  What is the history behind it?  This is one of the common questions in the Rockland local history community which pops up from time to time.    The subject is the topic of Bill Batson’s excellent Nyack Sketch Log column today.   This segregated African American cemetery is a reminder of the bloody conflict which nearly tore our nation apart 150 years ago as there are many African American veterans of the Civil War buried there.

The New City Library has a collection of the 19th Century newspaper the Rockland County Messenger (published in Haverstraw) that gives us a unique insight into how Rockland residents were experiencing the war years.   In the April 7 1864 issue a small notice appeared on page 2 of the newspaper announcing the death of several soldiers including two African American veterans, Francis Cisco and Uriah Thompson, both privates in the 26th U.S. Volunteers.  The Messenger indicated that these men were among the first African Americans in the district to volunteer for the service.  Unfortunately, neither lived to see a battle as both died of small pox while still in training on Riker’s Island.  Twice as many Civil War soldiers died from disease as from battle injuries according to Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.  Approximately one out of five black soldiers died from disease. By contrast, only one out of twelve white Union soldiers died from disease.  Death from illness offered "all the evils of the battlefield with none of its honors," observed an Iowa solider.
Rockland County Messenger April 7 1864 excerpt

The towns in Rockland were each required to supply a certain number of men based on their population and in turn they all developed plans to raise money to pay for exemptions. Men who were drafted could buy an exemption at a cost of $300, about $5,000 in today’s money.   Opposition to the war in Rockland was strong yet many African American men enlisted.  You can learn much more about New York’s African American soldiers and the challenges they faced in William Seraile’s New York’s Black Regiments During the Civil War.

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