Historian Seeking Information For Civil War Book
By Rick Hiduk
Kurt Lafy is proud of his heritage, which includes having a great grandfather who fought in the Civil War as a member of the 141st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. His passion about uncovering the details of his ancestor’s experiences as a soldier has snowballed into a near obsession with wanting to know everything he can about the 1,000 men who comprised the 141st. His speaking engagements at a variety of venues around the county are not just about sharing the information that he has already gathered but are offered in hopes that he may glean more facts from audience members.
On Oct. 20, Lafy spoke before a group of senior citizens at a weekly luncheon held at Wysox Presbyterian Church and sponsored by the Towanda Area Senior Citizens Club (TASCC) that focused on members of the 141st, 49 of who were interred in the adjacent cemetery. The cemetery, which bears the remains of Mjr. Gen. Henry Madill, the most highly decorated military officer in Bradford County’s history, has always been an inspiration to Lafy, who grew up in Wysox Township.
Lafy related that he attended Wysox Elementary School, which is at the other end of the church parking lot. His fifth-grade classroom was at the far right corner of the school, facing the cemetery.
“We were called the ‘tombstone kids,’” he recalled, noting that he thought that was pretty cool, especially when the students were learning about the Civil War and the teacher told them, “and many of those soldiers are buried right out there.”
During the luncheon, which was attended by about 30 seniors, Lafy spoke of Madill, advancements in weaponry that changed the course of warfare, and of Jimmy Carr, an Englishman who served as a cook for the 141st Infantry. Lafy likes to blend the serious aspects of military conflict with its lighter moments, and Carr was apparently quite a character. Because Madill enjoyed milk, Carr secured a cow that only he could milk, as she had an ornery streak. When Carr once tried to bring the cow aboard a ferry as the troops crossed a river, the boatmaster balked at bringing the bovine aboard. A nearby soldier poked the milking cow in the behind with his bayonet, and she leaped onto the Ferry and was hence taken across the water.
Lafy’s presentation was well-received by the seniors, as was the early Victorian-era dress worn by Laura Mae Hewitt, who accompanies him to many of his speaking engagements.
“It was a really good presentation. He’s very knowledgeable on the subject,” said former TASCC president Tom House of Lafy’s talk. House assists current club president George Smith with the coordination of some of the speakers for the luncheons, which are held on the first and third Thursdays of each month. According to House, the covered-dish-style gatherings are open to all Rocket-Courier readers 55-years or older.
After the program, Lafy met a woman with the last name of Roof, which triggered him to ask if her family was related to the Woods family of Bradford County. When she answered affirmatively, Lafy was able to tell her that one of her ancestors, Amasa Roof, was a member of the 141st and was shot through the head and died instantly at the Battle of Gettysburg.
It’s that kind of interaction that has made Lafy popular with library audiences and has helped to procure his involvement with several civic groups with whom he has shared his knowledge and talents as a Civil War reenactor. Although he did not acertain any new information on the spot, Lafy related that people often follow up with him as they come across information that might be of interest to him.
Lafy recently made the acquaintance of Rocket-Courier publisher David Keeler, whose last name he immediately paralleled to the list of infantrymen in the 141st. When Lafy asked Keeler if any of his ancestors had fought in the Civil War, Keeler pointed to a photo of a bearded man in the upper corner of the wall opposite his desk. “That’s John Gregory Keeler right there.”
It was one of those “Eureka!” moments that Lafy lives for, and hopefully one of many more to come as the Rocket-Courier begins publishing monthly stories about members of the 141st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in mid November. Readers who have information about family members who fought in the Civil War are encouraged to contact Lafy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next TASCC luncheon is scheduled for noon on Thursday, Nov. 3. The featured entertainment will be singer Martha Kress, who will perform a variety of gospel music. Readers who would like to know more about the TASCC luncheons may contact Smith at 265-6916.