Niagara County Historian Catherine L. Emerson readily admits she got "carried away" with her assignment to compile a directory of all the veterans' monuments in the county.
"It started out to be a pamphlet," Emerson said.
Instead, what she produced, with help from her staff and several municipal historians, is an 87-page book titled "They All of Them Fought Like Heroes."
The book lists 79 monuments, contains photos of all but one, reproduces their inscriptions and tells the stories of the monuments and, in many cases, the men and women they memorialize.
The idea of the compilation originated with State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, who was impressed several years ago when he found a huge old Civil War memorial at the back of Mount View Cemetery in Pekin. It dates from 1867 and is the earliest Civil War monument in the county.
"You'd need to be Lewis and Clark to find it," Maziarz recalled. "The idea just came upon me: We've got a lot of these beautiful monuments all over the place. . . . Hopefully, this directory will help guide people to where some of these hidden treasures are."
Maziarz announced his plan for a booklet at a Memorial Day speech earlier this year, expecting it to be done in time for release on Veterans Day, which is Nov. 11.
But that was before Emerson joined the county in early August.
"On my third day of work, the historians had a meeting with Sen. Maziarz, and they gave me all this stuff," she recalled.
The "stuff" led her to do more than list the monuments. It grew into a book that will be a definitive reference to many monuments that now go unnoticed.
As she started to edit the material for publication, Emerson came upon story after story "that was so compelling, I said, 'I have to write more than this. A listing of veterans' monuments is boring, and I don't think the veterans deserve that.' "
The listing grew into a book that reveals, for instance, that the cannon at the Cenotaph in Niagara Falls is Japanese, not American, and that a horse confiscated from the Confederate army at the Battle of Chattanooga is buried on Wilson-Burt Road.
"Poor Sen. Maziarz had to come up with another $5,000," Emerson said. In all, $17,500 of state money was invested in the book, and an anonymous donation that County Clerk Wayne F. Jagow received allowed the first edition to be increased from 2,000 copies to 2,500.
The book, printed by Gooding Co. of Lockport, is expected to be released around Presidents' Day in February.
Adam Tabelski, a Maziarz aide, said the books will be distributed free to libraries, posts of veterans' organizations, schools and municipal historians.
The book contains the stories of 13 Medal of Honor winners who came from, or had a connection to, Niagara County, as well as the tales of long-forgotten plaques, statues and even the grave of "Billy Sherman, Secessionist Horse."
That's the one buried on Wilson-Burt Road. The horse was captured at Chattanooga in 1864 by a man from Wilson who was a bugler in a New York light artillery regiment, and he was named after the commanding general, William Tecumseh Sherman.
"Billy Sherman" (the horse, not the general) was brought back to Wilson at the end of the war, and led annual parades of Union veterans every year on Decoration Day, or Memorial Day, as it is now known. When the horse died in 1887, he was buried off Wilson-Burt Road in a standing postion with full military honors. A small rock with a plaque on it marks the spot.
During their research, Emerson and her deputy historians, Craig Bacon and Marcia Rivers, even turned up monuments that no one knew about, even the municipal historians who provided most of the raw material.
"We thought we were done, and we found nine," Bacon said.
However, mysteries remain. The question of how a Japanese World War II cannon ended up in downtown Niagara Falls remains unanswered. And no one seems to know why the name of Army nurse Claire Judson is listed twice on a plaque honoring World War I service personnel in Middleport Village Hall.
But many stories have been saved. "We kept a lot of things from sliding into oblivion," Emerson said.
Although there is a monument at Fort Niagara to "the unknown defenders of the fort," including bones of soldiers believed to date from the period before 1759 when it was a French post, there are no monuments to American veterans in Niagara County from any of the wars before the Civil War, Emerson said.
However, there is a memorial at the fort to Betsy "Fanny" Doyle, a woman whose husband was taken prisoner by the British in 1812 and shanghaied back to England for trial on a treason charge. British law held that if you were born in British territory, you weren't allowed to fight for any other country. Doyle's husband was from Ontario. The angry Mrs. Doyle helped American gunners fire at Fort George, Ont., during the War of 1812.
That's just one of the little-known stories that appear in the book. Its title derives from a letter written during the Civil War by the New York Soldiers Relief Society about the death of a Niagara County soldier. "This phrase," Emerson said, "just popped out."