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Book honors sacrifice of Civil War soldier buried at Kendall cemetery

By Kristina Gabalski, Correspondent Posted 1 November 2016 at 1:15 pm
Photos by Kristina Gabalski: Morton Union Cemetery is pictured in Kendall. John Farnharm is buried under the mountain ash tree at the center.

Photos by Kristina Gabalski: Morton Union Cemetery is pictured in Kendall. John Farnharm is buried under the mountain ash tree at the center.

KENDALL – A recently published book by Brockport resident Bill Andrews ensures that a Civil War soldier buried at the Morton Union Cemetery in Kendall will never be forgotten.

Andrews transcribed six detailed diaries and extensive letters for the book, The Life of a Union Army Sharpshooter: The Diaries and Letters of John T. Farnham, which tell about Farnham’s experiences as a Union sharpshooter as well as his first-person accounts of battles, campaigns, life in camp, the home front and what he experienced emotionally and psychologically during the war.

“It is an in-depth portrait of this young man,” says Andrews, who is a Village of Brockport historian emeritus, professor emeritus of The College at Brockport, and currently serves as deputy mayor on the Brockport Village Board of Trustees.

Farnham lived in Brockport, just a few houses down the street from where Andrews now lives, and worked in the newspaper industry. He was shop foreman at the Brockport Republic before serving in the war. Farnham enlisted in 1862 at age 20, and was a voracious reader, subscribing to newspapers and magazines and reading books, as well as writing on a nearly daily basis both before, during and after the war.

This close-up picture shows Farnham’s gravestone at the Morton Union Cemetery.

This close-up picture shows Farnham’s gravestone at the Morton Union Cemetery.

“The amazing thing is that he wrote every day,” Andrews says. “Over 850 days, there are 848 entries. He wrote after battles, long marches, when he was hospitalized, he never failed.”

Andrews first learned about Farnham while researching another one of his books on Brockport history. He found nearly 200 letters written by local soldiers which were published in the Brockport Republic during the Civil War. Andrews says he planned a book based solely on the letters, but it didn’t work out the way he had hoped.

He Googled Farnham’s name and discovered the existence of the diaries, five of which were in the collection of the Witchita State University library. The sixth had been sold at auction for $23,900 due to the fact it was sold along with the blood-stained cuff of the shirt President Lincoln was wearing when he was assassinated.

Farnham, an avid supporter of Lincoln, had acquired the cuff through a group of friends and fellow Lincoln supporters.

With much persistence, Andrews tracked down the diary’s owner, who agreed to send him a copy of the book for transcription.

Farnham was, by all accounts, a remarkable young man. He was very intelligent and open-minded and had many friends. He served in the 1st New York Sharpshooters and also worked as a clerk at the headquarters of the Iron Brigade and at the War Department in Washington, D.C.

Poor health resulted in him spending more than 100 days ill or in the hospital, but even there, Farnham worked as a library clerk and errand boy and nursed other patients. He was politically active, enjoyed attending concerts, plays and other events, and made friends with escaped slaves, teaching them to read and write and building them a school.

Following the war, Farnham returned to Brockport and continued working in the newspaper industry there as well as in Rochester and Elmira.

He died of tuberculosis only four years after the war while living in Hamlin. Farnham was 27 years old when he died and was buried in the Morton Union Cemetery in Kendall.

The Life of a Union Sharpshoooter: The Diaries and Letters of John T. Farnham is published by Casemate Publishers and is available locally at the Lift Bridge Book Shop in Brockport. The book includes photos, illustrations and explanatory notes by Andrews. 

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