Story by Nora Gurvich, Warwick Historical Society Executive Director
Through a string of fortunate circumstances, the Warwick Historical Society was recently given a trunk that once belonged to Captain James Benedict, a Warwick resident and part of the 124th New York Regiment, also known as the “Orange Blossoms” during the Civil War.
This irreplaceable treasure was saved from the dump when it was found by Civil War buff and re-enactor, Mr. Michael H. Brantley from Valrico, FL as he was cleaning out the home of his late brother, Mr. Russell Brantley, also a Civil War re-enactor and enthusiast.
After Brantley saved the trunk from destruction, he set out to find a proper home for the one-of-a-kind find. Clifton Patrick, the Town of Chester Historian, saw images of the trunk online, and contacted his colleague, Town of Montgomery Historian Mr. John Pennings.
Pennings was immediately impressed and contacted Dr. Richard Hull, the Town of Warwick Historian. Dr. Hull recognized the significance and importance of the trunk, and, using funds from the Town Historian budget, the wheels were set in motion to retrieve the trunk from Florida and bring it home to Warwick.
“We knew we needed to act immediately. This all happened within the last 50 hours. This is a priceless item for Warwick: Benedict was a local hero. The trunk was sent from Florida State, but we don’t know how it got to Florida,” said Dr. Hull.
A Local Hero, Farmer & Friend
Born in 1830, James Benedict moved to Warwick with his parents Jonathan Bell and Fanny Benedict in 1835. Raised on a farm, his father passed away when James was just 11 years old, at which time the young boy took over the management of the farm for his mother.
In 1862, Benedict enlisted in the Union Army, and was instrumental in forming Company D of the 124th Orange Blossoms Regiment. He was involved in 28 engagements, sustaining multiple gunshot wounds. Capt. Benedict was seriously injured during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House in Virginia in May of 1864, but returned to serve until mustered out in June of 1865.
After the War, Benedict went west and became a horse dealer. He brought livestock back to Warwick to sell, and in 1866 married Harriet Durland, daughter of a prominent Warwick farmer, Mr. Thomas E. Durland.
With his mother’s passing, Capt. and Mrs. Benedict moved into the homestead he had worked and saved in his youth. It was here that he enjoyed entertaining guests, particularly those who had survived the War.
One such visitor was a Confederate soldier named Elder Eubanks. Eubanks had twice been caught by the 124th Regiment, and it is likely the two had previously fought against each other in battle. Captain Benedict and Eubanks became dear and lifelong friends. After Captain Benedict’s passing, Mr. Eubanks made the journey from Delaware to Warwick for the funeral service, which was well attended by people from throughout Orange County, and the country.
Benedict preferred to be addressed as Captain Benedict even after he was promoted to the rank of Major, and was highly revered in Warwick. He helped to incorporate the Warwick Institute, and was a member of the Board of Education.
At first glance it might appear that the old trunk does belong in the dump: time and travel have taken their toll on the container. Yet, upon closer examination, it becomes obvious that this trunk is special and rare. On the front are the words “Capt. Jas. W. Benedict., Co. D, 124th Regt., N.Y. State.”
The trunk arrived at the Warwick Historical Society on Tues., Jun. 11. The Society’s Curator Michael Bertolini was there as it was opened, along with Historical Society President Mary Ann Knight, Society Archivist and immediate Past President Cathryn Anders, Society member Christofer Gass, Town of Warwick Historian Dr. Richard Hull, Town of Montgomery Historian John Pennings, and Charles LaRocca, a Civil War enthusiast, expert on the 124th Orange Blossoms Regiment and author of the book “124th New York State Volunteers in the Civil War.”
Inside were numerous documents, letters, a copy of the “Constitution and Bylaws of the Army and Navy Association of Veterans” book, a banner that reads “Army and Navy Association,” and more. At any stop along the way, the trunk might very well have been claimed or kept. But thanks to the numerous benefactors involved in this transaction, the trunk and the entirety of its contents has been generously donated to the Warwick Historical Society by Michael H. Brantley in memory of his brother, Russell Brantley. As Pennings generously put it, “The trunk belongs in Warwick.”
Trunk to be on Display on Jul. 28
Captain Benedict’s trunk and the contents will be on display at the open-house tours of the Society’s buildings on Sun., Jul. 28 from 2 to 4 p.m. in the “New Acquisitions” exhibit at the A.W. Buckbee Center, located at 2 Colonial Ave. in Warwick. The Society is thrilled to be able to share this wonderful treasure with Warwick and the Hudson Valley residents, as they “welcome home” some of Captain Benedict’s belongings.