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Transcribed from:
The Nunda News, Nunda, N. Y., Saturday, June 27, 1891.

CAPTAIN JAMES LEMEN

Biographical Sketch Prepared and Read by
Comrade B. S. Coffin
on Decoration Day.

PUBLISHED BY REQUEST OF CRAIG W. WADSWORTH POST.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, Comrades of the G. A. R.:

The year just passed, since last we met to decorate the graves of those who have preceeded us to the spirit land, has truly been marked by its sorrows. As a nation we mourn over the death, within a few days of each other, of those great commanders, Porter and Sherman, bright stars in the firmament of our national honor. As comrades, we are particularly grieved in the loss of General Sherman, for in our gathering here to-day there are those who marched under his command to the sea, cutting the back-bone out of the rebellion and ending the war by the surrender to them of the last organized force of the Confederate States under General Johnson. I refer to the comrades of the 136th Regt., which was distinctly a Livingston County Regt. The 104th Regt. also formed in our midst named the Wadsworth Guards, have too, within the year, lost their brigade commander, Gen. Robinson. But it is for those from our own midst, our own circle, our own post, our own personal friends who have fallen, that we freely weep. The commanding form of Captain Lemen will no more, with a bright smile upon his countenance, marshal us on decoration day, and the clear earnest voice of Captain McNair will never again resound from this platform, giving us bright thoughts and true ideas of noble Christian manhood.

Comrades, you have asked me to give the biography of these two men. To write it fully would be to write the history of Nunda for the past 30 years. If we search the records of our town, their names are there filling prominent offices in the gift of the people, the state and the government. If to the school, we look and there too find their names as leading members of the board of education. If to the Post, both were present at almost every roll call, and both have been your commander. If to the church, there too we find their names as officers, vestrymen and elders. There has been no move in town or village in all these years which would build up the place, and render its citizens more prosperous and happy but that the hands of these men can be seen as they pushed or guided the car of improvement. Their army record, would involve the writing of the history of 1st N. Y. Dragoons, and the 33rd Regt. in detail. In this broad field we can but sketch the outline, your own acquaintance must fill in the ground work, and the recollection of their noble deeds shall be the coloring.

James Lemen was born June 10th, 1815, in the adjoining town of Ossian. He was brought up on a farm and being the eldest of a large family of children, could not be spared from the home labor to attend school only a few months in the winter of each year, being fond of reading he acquired a good knowledge of most practical subjects and was well versed in the science of political economy and the history of his country. Married at 21, his wife died in 1846 leaving him alone with the care of three young daughters. In 1851 he left the farm and engaged in the mercantile business at Ossian Centre, and the following year married for a second wife, Mrs. Mary A. Donaldson by whom he had one son. In 1855 he moved his family to Nunda that his children might enjoy the better educational advantages of this place.

Upon the call of the President for 300,000 more men as volunteers he at once took steps to raise a company, which subsequently became Co. “I”, the 1st N. Y. Dragoons. The time when this regiment was raised, as well as the 136th, was one of the darkest hours of our national existence. McClellan’s army had been withdrawn from the peninsula. Pope with his headquarters in his saddle, had skedaddled back to the fortifications at Washington. Grant had failed to capture Hood at Shiloh; Sherman was called crazy; Hunter and Fremont were both sat down on for their emancipation proclamation. Mason and Slidell were busy in Europe, and these powers had declared that a blockade of the southern ports must be effective gunboats, not paper; and the Confederates were belligerents, not rebels; and the general order of Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War, July 22nd, 1862, was that there should be no destruction of property in the nine seceded States. In other words the Union soldier, enlisting at this time, was expected to shoot at the rebel but not hurt him. The experience of the nearly 100 battles, that had then been fought, was that the rebels were well officered, fearfully in earnest, and determined, if possible, to succeed. The return of the first prisoners exchanged had brought the new of the horrors of Libby prison and Belle Isle, and the fate that would be theirs’ if captured. While the decimated ranks of these regiments who had been in the service little more than a year, told plainly the fearful danger into which they were invited. Then too, there was no silver lining to the cloud in the form of a large bounty to lure these men on. At such a time as this James Lemen organized his company. It required not merely patriotism, but courage to surmount all these obstacles and brave the dangers. The regiment commanded by such men as Alfred Gibbs, T. J. Thorp and Rufus Scott could not long be idle, and their barracks at Portage were hardly completed before they were on their way to Suffolk, Va., where they arrived Sept. 13th. Here, encamped on the borders of the Dismal Swamp, many fell victims to its fatal malaria, while the unusual daily drill of eight hours rapidly perfected all in discipline. The first battle in which Capt. Lemen was engaged with his company was at Deserted House, Va., Jan. 30th, 1863, and the next morning at dawn found the rebels under Gen. Roger A. Pryor under full retreat across the Black Water, who escaped by destroying the bridge over which he had crossed his forces. On the 11th day of April Gen. Longstreet appeared before them with an army of 40,000 men, and for 20 days he pushed the siege of Suffolk. Our forces under Gen. Peck were about the same in number, and during the whole time the 130th were almost constantly under fire. Longstreet, raising the siege, joins Lee as he marches Northward to be defeated at Gettysburg, while the 130th are placed on transports, landed at Yorktown, put under the command of Gen. Keyes, marched up the peninsula towards Richmond as a diversion in favor of the Army of the Potomac, and fight the battle of Baltimore roads the same day of the battle of Gettysburg. Ordered to join the army of the Potomac, by a forced march through mud and rain, they reach their transports, are conveyed to Washington, and join the army of the Potomac at Berlin. Assigned to army headquarters, their soldierly conduct while on foot elected the commendation of Gen. Meade, and by special orders they were transferred into the mounted service and designated as the 1st. N. Y. Dragoons. Given only one month to adapt themselves to the cavalry service they are again placed under 8 hours daily drill and fight their first battle as dragoons on the 17th of October and lead in the charge over the old rebel fortifications at Manassas. A sharp fight at Culpepper Court House, Va., on the 20th of Nov. 1863, and the regiment goes into winter quarters. During the winter we find Capt. Lemen almost constantly on duty at headquarters as one of the officers of the court martial for which his sound common sense had prominently marked him. His wife having died in 1857, he, while home recruiting for the regiment, married Mrs. Olney, Sept. 8th, 1863. While in winter quarters permission was obtained by some of the officers for their wives to visit them in the army, and Mrs. Col. Thorpe and Mrs. Capt. Lemon arrived Jan. 18th 1864. The regiment were in line as they came to the camp. The fun-making propensity of the boys could not be restrained and immediately rose the cries of, “put them in a canteen!” “put them in a nose-bag!” “put them in a gun barrel!” etc., until every thing about the camp had been named as the proper receptacle for the ladies. The impetuous Thorpe was mad, and dismissing the regiment he stalked to his quarters in a way that seemed to threaten vengeance (sic) on the whole regiment. Not so with Capt. Lemen, leading his company to their company street he halted them, and, calling his wife, he introduced her to each of them, calling them by name, and as she shook hands with each, she told this one she had brought a package for him from home, perhaps the next some kind work sent, and so clear down the line, and when it was done there was not a boy in the company but what was glad she came and honored their Captain the more on her account.

A new order of affairs is inaugurated in April, 1864, for Gen. Sheridan is placed in command of the cavalry and all must be active. From this time on the regiment are in forty different battles, beginning at Todd Tavern, May 7th, 1864, and ending at Appamatox (sic), April 9th, 1865. Twice they nearly encircled Richmond. They crossed the Rapidan in May ’64, 400 strong, the rebels arrogant and defiant before them. Their horse and its rider slake their thirst in every considerable stream of Virginia, and the blood of heroes dyes the fairest portion of the state. In the month of May 1865, the regiment appears again on the banks of the Rapidan, one-half its number slain or disabled, the rebellion crushed and the remnant homeward bound. They had fought 53 battles, captured 1,533 prisoners, 4 battle flags, 16 pieces of artillery, beside horses, wagons, ambulances, etc., in great numbers. At the battle of Trevillian Station Captain Lemen was severely shot through the hand, June 11th, 1864. He led his company in the battle of the following day, remaining with them until midnight. At half-past-one o’clock in the morning of the 13th they began the retreat and all that day he rode with the regiment. For just eight days he bore the pain of a shattered hand, and before they reached the Pamunkey river opposite West Point, and he could no longer ride on horseback, he confiscated a buggy and rode in that. Going aboard a transport with the other wounded, five of them being of his own company, he arrived at Washington June 20th. Granted a furlough to better care for his hand, he came to his home here, and as soon as able returned to duty and again leads his company at the battle of Strasburg, Va., October 14th. From this time on, to the close of the war, and return home, he was constantly on duty. We find he was an active participant in 39 distinct battles; brevetted twice, first as Major; next as Lieut.Colonel for meritorious conduct on the field. He modestly never assumed the titles he had earned, but proud of his company, he preferred to be called Captain. For a little over 25 years since this war we have frequently met in Lodge, in Chapter, and in Post, until as it were by sharp shell or whistling bullet, he laid him down to rest. If we ask the brethren, the comrades, the surviving members of his company or regiment, the widows of those of his company deceased since the war, whose bodies lay buried in this beautiful cemetery, or the wife he leaves whom he had cherished for the past 17 years, what the distinguishing trait in Capt. Lemen’s character was, the answer comes readily, his kindness. Comrades, permit me to close this sketch of Capt. Lemen by reading to you the following letter:

Chicago, ILL., May 18, ’91.
Mr. B. S. Coffin, Nunda, N.Y.
My Dear Friend:
You have asked me to contribute a word to the memory of the late Major Lemen. I would gladly honor the memory of any man who has served our nation, and in that service perpetuated constitutional liberty and the natural and inalienable rights of mankind. I cherish the memory of Major Lemen most dearly, and regret that I cannot, in suitable terms, express my feelings and estimate of his personal worth and character. It does the living good, it fosters our loyalty to the flag, and strengthens a manly patriotism in our people to recount the deeds of such noble men. It is a culture which we all need of those excellent qualities possessed by the men who gave conspicuous grandeur to the battle scenes of the war for the restoration of the Union of the states.

Capt. Lemen was greatly beloved by all of the Dragoons, not only for what he did, but for what he was at heart. The old Dragoons may be divided into three classes each equally deserving of their fellow-countrymen, although each class was well defined and signally different in many peculiarities, all were moved by a common motive, a common impulse, the restoration of the soverign (sic) authority of this nation over each and all of its inhabitants and over all its territory.

Capt. Lemen stood at the head of that conservative class whose judgment was unclouded and whose heart when moved, knew no limit in action; to him no duty was too great to undertake, no sacrifice too onerous to make in the name and behalf of liberty and law. He loved his men passionately, but when the hour for terrible trial came, when the noblest hearts of the nation must be laid on the altar of our common country, Major Lemen stood at the right of his command, himself an example of what he required of others in action, and with every thought and emotion fused into one sublime purpose to crush every opposing enemy in his front. During our campaign in the Wilderness, especially, he displayed those heroic qualities which gave distinction and honor to the members of the First New York Dragoons who have never been made to blush for their regiment which participated in upwards of forty battles of the war, among them being some of the most stubborn contests known in the history of the world.

Please permit me to intrude upon your forbearance while I ask you in my name and in my behalf, to contribute some suitable garland of flowers for the decoration of the grave of Major Lemen, whose memory I shall ever treasure, and whose excellent personal qualities I shall ever seek to cultivate. Believe me

Most sincerely your friend,
T. J. Thorp.

Contributor: Ann Magee Tanner

Also See: Capt. Jas. Lemen for his obituary.