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Big Chuck

September 10, 2012

Family's history includes ancestor who knew Lincoln

Oh, the story Beverly Kuhr can tell.

The quiet and unassuming woman invited me into her Wells Bridge home to tell me a tale that has been handed down in her family for almost 150 years.

“My great-great-grandfather was Stephen Aldrich,’ she began in little more than a whisper. “He owned a packet boat on the Erie Canal.”

She handed me a photo of Aldrich from a 1909 Albany newspaper. He is seen proudly wearing his Union Army uniform, medals splayed across his chest.

“This article shows him at the time they were planning a Civil War monument in Rensselaer. In fact his name is on the monument even today.”

Aldrich left his position as a canal boatman and joined the Union Army out of Glens Falls in 1863 just days after his 23rd birthday.

“He was wounded in the Battle of Topotomoy, Va. He was shot in the head, but survived,” she told me.

The battle took place near Richmond. Both generals Lee and Grant were present on the battlefield. The date was May 28-30, 1864 and more than 2,000 died in the engagement.

“Stephen was wounded in the final hours of the battle,” Beverly said. From the many documents she showed me we can locate Stephen being sent to a hospital in Washington, D.C., for recuperation. The paper trail for Pvt. Aldrich is exhaustive. Military affidavits, volunteer enlistment orders, daily muster sheets, army casualty sheet and much more.

“Thank God I’ve got these copies. All of the originals were lost in a house fire years ago,” she said wistfully.

When we find Stephen Aldrich convalescing in Washington, the story makes a dramatic twist.

“Before the war, I’ve been told that Abraham Lincoln came to central New York and actually traveled on the Erie Canal with Stephen Aldrich as the pilot,” she said with a smile. “From all the news reports of the day, they had a grand, old time. In fact my great-great grandfather actually cooked up a meal for Mr. Lincoln in an old frying pan on the boat.

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