Male residents of Amsterdam, NY had two legitimate ways to avoid military service during the Civil War. According to the provisions of the conscription act the US Congress had passed in March of 1863, able-bodied young men between the ages of 20-45 could legally avoid being drafted into the Union Army by buying an exemption for $300 or finding a substitute to take their place. Amsterdam native Nicholas Jeremiah DeGraff would have had no problem coming up with the $300. His family was one of the largest and most influential landowners in this area of the Mohawk Valley and I’m sure if they wanted to come up with a substitute to take this young man’s place, they’d have had no problem with that either.
But young Nicholas, who was born on his family’s farm just east of Amsterdam on June 9, 1842, had no interest in either option. Eight months before the conscription act was put in place and just one month after he turned twenty years of age, he became the third generation of the DeGraff family with the first name of “Nicholas” to fight in a North American-based war. He enlisted in the Union Army, joining Company D of the 115th Regiment of New York State Volunteers. This contingent of fighting men, which would later earn the nickname “The Ironhearted Regiment” was raised from the counties of: Saratoga, Montgomery, Fulton, and Hamilton, and stationed just north of the village of Fonda, on land alongside present day Route 30A. DeGraff was one of 1,040 enlisted men who joined its ranks.
During the next three years, this brave native of Amsterdam took part in nineteen battles and skirmishes, was wounded in action and truly proved to be a great soldier. He was promoted from private to 1st sergeant , to 2nd lieutenant, to 1st lieutenant and finally after he was mustered out in October of 1865 and returned to Amsterdam, he discovered he had been breveted major for gallant and meritorious conduct in the field.
Back home, he and his brother, Edward Teller DeGraff pooled their resources…
(Another military hero from Amsterdam was born on today’s date in 1921.)
My complete birthday post for Major DeGraff will appear in the new second edition of A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam, NY Birthdays, which will be available before the 2016 Holiday season. On June 30, 2016, I will also once again begin distributing an Amsterdam, NY Birthday Blog Monthly Newsletter that will include the full birthday posts for three of the twenty-to-thirty people whose birthdays I will recognize each month. Each newsletter will also include an Amsterdam Birthday Quiz that will test your knowledge and memory of people and events in your hometown.
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