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Keepers of a heroic WNY past

Western New York sent more than 4,400 soldiers to the Battle of Gettysburg. They, and thousands more, also fought in far-flung places during the Civil War.

In the decades that followed, veterans groups filled with members of the Grand Army of the Republic were commonplace in communities across the region, but that changed as the veterans died and two World Wars followed in the first half of the next century.

Still, the history of what these soldiers did continues to fascinate, in ebbs and flows, in hundreds of Civil War Roundtable groups across the country. Times like these – the 150th anniversary of the war that preserved the United States of America – tend to boost their ranks.

That’s how the Buffalo Civil War Roundtable got its start in 1958, on the eve of the war’s centennial, and why it has seen a resurgence in recent years. The group, which almost folded in the 1970s, has had close to 100 visitors attend each of a three-part Battle of Gettysburg lecture series in recent weeks.

Its next lecture, on the Vicksburg campaign, takes place at 7 p.m. Sept. 26 at its home base, the Lancaster Historical Society, 40 Clark St., in the Village of Lancaster. For more info, visit

Ed Mikula founded the Buffalo Civil War Roundtable after attending a similar meeting in Mayville run by a retired “newspaperman who was a real taskmaster,” Mikula recalled. “If you were a member of the Roundtable, you gave a talk; he did something on Alonzo Cushing, who he called the greatest hero of the Civil War.” (Find out more about Cushing on Wednesday, the final day of this series.)

The bulk of today’s local group leadership helped raise funds in the 1980s to improve the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Lafayette Square, unvieled July 4, 1884 in a ceremony attended by then-New York Gov. Grover Cleveland to honor Civil War veterans.

The Buffalo roundtable chapter is named for its beloved longtime president, Benedict R. Maryniak, a gifted writer who unearthed a treasure trove of Civil War histories. He died in 2009. Thomas M. Grace, secretary of the group and part-time history professor at Erie Community College, was instrumental in providing information for this series.

“We try to make our presentations understandable to people with a lot of knowledge and people with a little bit of knowledge,” said Richard Rosche, of Amherst, chapter vice president.

– Scott Scanlon