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Letters Bring Civil War Era to Life at Lewisboro Library

LEWISBORO, N.Y. – A small slice of the America Civil War era will be brought to life this Sunday at the Lewisboro Library when local high school thespians will read and recreate scenes from actual letters written by area residents who lived through those times.

The event is part of the library’s ongoing commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

The letters, about 25 of them, were written by Joel Morse Bouton to his friend Stephen E. Hoyt and are part of Lewisboro’s history collection, which is overseen by Town Historian Maureen Koehl. The letters were written between 1860 and 1863 and chronicle many of the historic moments of the time such as the advent of oil drilling in upstate New York, the creation of the Wide Awakes, a political activist group that supported the candidacy of Abe Lincoln, and the formation of the spiritualism movement spurned by an unnamed comet that appeared in the summer of 1861.

Koehl said that at the time of letter writing, Bouton was living in upstate Cattaraugus County, while Hoyt remained in what was then simply known as Salem.

“We can’t quite figure it all out, but it’s clear that they were good friends and we are sure that Bouton lived in the (South Salem) area at one time (before going upstate),” Koehl said.

Throughout the letters, Bouton constantly asks Hoyt about their mutual friends in Salem.

Also in the letters, Bouton expresses several times a desire to join the Union Army, but is discouraged by his mother. Eventually his patriotism wins out and he joins the 154th New York Infantry Regiment.

“I Googled that and found a gentleman from Providence named Mark Dunkleman who was researching that regiment,” Koehl said. “He used our letters in two books he was writing. He was thrilled to get them.”

Unfortunately, Bouton’s experience as a Union solider did not have a happy ending. He died in the battle at the Gettysburg Brickyard in July 1863. Visitors to the site will find a grave marker for Joel Bouton on the Gettysburg Battlefield Cemetery.

“It was just three weeks after the last letter was written (that he was killed),” Koehl said. “I figured there was a reason the letters just stopped and I did a little research and discovered his name listed among those who were killed there.”

Koehl said the letters revealed several things about Bouton, who was 20 when he wrote them, besides his patriotism.

“Joel had a fondness for Old Salem, an eye for the girls and a wry sense of humor,” Koehl said.

For Sunday’s performance, which takes place at 4 p.m., Sebastian Bates, a sophomore at St. Luke’s in New Canaan, Conn., will portray Bouton. Sean Kaplan, a freshman at John Jay High, will play Stephen Hoyt. Kate Holmes and Zury Cutler will perform the action that is being read in the letters.

“This whole thing was really a collaborative effort between Maureen (Koehl) and the teens here at the library,” said Dolores Antonetz, the teen librarian who is helping direct the production.

Registration is required for those who wish to attend. Call the library at 914-763-3857.

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