Recently, the Lewis County Historical Society was fortunate to receive a donation from the Christian “Earl” Yousey family of a Civil War-era Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle, which had been owned and used during the Civil War by prominent Lowville and Lewis County man Van Rensselaer Lansing Waters.
Every year, new artifacts are added to our collections through the generosity of individuals, families, businesses and other organizations. Donations of artifacts are the main way in which our collections grow; they are one of the few ways you can help preserve and leave a legacy to the history of Lewis County; and they truly help the Historical Society in fulfilling its mission as interpreters and promoters of Lewis County’s history. So let us say right up front, thank you to the Yousey family.
And now to Lansing Waters, who was quite a well-known and accomplished figure around Lowville for many years. He was born in 1843 in Trenton Falls, NY to the Rev. Van Rensselaer Lansing Waters and his wife, Belinda Burr, but the family soon moved to Constableville, NY, where young Lansing’s boyhood days were spent. He attended the common schools around Constableville, but subsequently would move north to board at and attend Lowville Academy.
For those who might not know, Waters would later go into business with prominent Lowville merchants Dewitt Clinton West and Frank Easton, ultimately taking over their businesses and becoming renowned as one of the largest and best known dry goods merchants in the North Country. His business occupied three floors in downtown Lowville; his merchandize was varied, with different lines grouped separately; and essentially he ran what was Lowville’s first department store. A prominent member of the Lowville community, known for his intelligence, honesty and fine judgement, he was active in most every movement for the upbuilding of Lowville and the extension of its influence in the business world.
Beyond his own dry goods store, he was also a director of the Asbestos Burial Casket Factory, one of Lowville’s most valuable industries at the time; he was instrumental in organizing and the first president of the Fulton Machine and Vice Company, another major Lowville business; he was one of the principal organizers of the Lowville and Beaver River Railroad; and he played a prominent role in securing the splendid water system that Lowville continues to use to this day, serving as Lowville’s water commissioner for years. He was a high priest in the Lowville chapter of the Masonic Order, a vestryman at Trinity Church, and a long-time trustee of Lowville Academy.
Waters Terrace in Lowville take its name Lansing Waters, not only because of his stature in the community, but because he lived for much of his life in the house on the corner of that street, known today as the 1812 House. Indeed, he built much of the back half of the 1812 House while he lived there. And if you have the good fortune to visit or stay at the lovely house, you will find that Chris and Shelia Buckingham, who operate the 1812 House, have named one of their rooms after him.
But as much as Lansing Waters is known as one of Lowville’s foremost citizens, he was also known as a soldier. At the time of the Civil War, Waters was fresh out of Lowville Academy, barely 17 and working as a clerk in the store of Col. Seth Miller in Constableville. But when Fort Sumter’s guns resounded through the land in 1861, Lansing Waters was one of those who stepped forward to answer Lincoln’s call and stake his life on the issue then involved.
He enlisted out of Turin in Co. K, 5th New York Heavy Artillery (at the time called Co. B, 3rd Battalion, Black River Artillery). Notwithstanding his youth, he was elected sergeant of his Company, and though he was mustered into service at Sackets Harbor, he and his Company were soon sent south. He proved an exceptional soldier, and was quickly promoted to second and then first lieutenant before he was twenty. He served within the defenses of Washington, and commanded a mortar battery on Maryland Heights when it was besieged by General Jubell Early during his raid on Washington. He was subsequently appointed assistant provost marshal on the staff of General Stevenson, where he would go on to distinguish himself in the lengthy engagements at Harper’s Ferry and Shenandoah Valley.
Upon enlistment, Lansing Waters had been given this Enfield rifle, which he carried with him throughout the war, and he was allowed to retain it upon his discharge. The gun is a Pattern 1853 Enfield rifle. And put simply, it is one of the most important firearms of the 19th century. It is a rifled musket (replacing the older smoothbore muskets of the time); it was produced in England and issued to British regulars and colonial troops around the globe.
These guns were chambered to fire a Minie ball, which was a relatively new type of ammunition that replaced musket balls with lead .58 caliber bullet-shaped projectiles. The Enfield was also among the first military rifles to be fitted with sights as standard (previously muskets had been inaccurate, due to their smoothbore barrel and round musket ball, could only shoot an effective range of 200 yards, and sights were unnecessary) and was considered a “sharpshooters rifle.” The Pattern 1853 Enfield used an adjustable ladder sight, with a second, flip up sight for distances up to 1,250 yards. Both the North and the South purchased Enfield’s from the British in great numbers during the War; it was the most popular firearm used by the South and the second most used by the North (which also used the Union .58 Springfield).
Lansing Waters kept this rifle throughout his life, often taking it to events long after the Civil War. He took a deep interest in Grand Army affairs; he was one of the oldest members of the Guilford D. Bailey Post, G.A.R, and held the office of commander at the time of his death. He was active in organizing annual reunions of veterans of the Third Battalion, Fifth New York Heavy Artillery, and served as president of that organization. In 1913, a year before his death, Waters even visited Gettysburg on the 50th Anniversary of that battle to make peace and shake hands with former Confederate officers. And, of course, where he went, so too often did his Enfield rifle.
After his death in 1914, his Enfield rifle became available at an estate sale and was purchased for $2 by Earl Yousey, who also received a bayonet, the original ammo pouch, and a belt buckle and brass uniform buttons with his purchase. Kept by that family all these years, it was recently donated to our collection.