The sacrifices of Berne families during the Civil War were immense

To the Editor:

I am disappointed that the World War II monument at the town park in Berne has fallen into such disrepair. Many of the names of those who served in that war are now missing and until recently a very tattered, torn, and faded flag flew over this monument.

I wasn’t paying enough attention to this situation and I must apologize for not taking action sooner. This problem was brought to my attention by Milton Hart, former Berne resident and World War II Veteran.

The military sacrifice of Berne families and local history like the Anti-Rent Wars should be better recognized. Children should be taught more about the contribution of local families to military efforts of the past. These have been commendable goals of the Helderberg Hilltowns Association for some time now. It is remarkable how tightly Berne families are woven into the history of our nation and HHA has recognized that.

My ancestry exemplifies the past sacrifices of Hilltown families. Our ancestors in Berne on my father’s and mother’s sides of the family have a long record of military service.

During the Revolutionary War, our great-grandfathers, living in what is now Berne, with names like Ball, Shultes, and Dietz served in the Albany County Militia or were victims of the Dietz massacre.

Several other great-grandfathers served in the Revolutionary War and later settled in the town of Berne. This included Hendrick Willsey of the Dutchess County Militia. My grandson is named Hendrick Glennon Willsey to reflect the heritage of his mother and father.

On my mother’s side, Colonel Asa Abbott, served in the 3rd Connecticut Regiment of the Continental Army and fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill. He is buried in Knox, which was part of Berne at the time.

My mother’s ancestor, David Seabury, served in the War of 1812. His father and his wife’s father served in the Revolutionary War. The Seabury farm is on Seabury Road, which was part of Berne when David lived there. My mother told many fond stories of visiting her grandparents there. She also told me the Seaburys  came over on the Mayflower.

My grandparents on both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family had uncles who served in the Civil War. My grandmother, Millie (née Ball) Willsey’s uncles, Lucius and Henry Ball, served in the famed 7th New York Heavy Artillery. Those ranks were primarily filled by men from the Albany Hilltowns. Her father, their younger brother, was born in 1859 and was a child at the time of the war.

The 7th New York was decimated during Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign of 1864. At Cold Harbor, Lucius Ball died after lying wounded for three days between enemy lines where he could not be reached. His brother, Henry, made it through that battle but was shot in the foot before the war was over. 

Posted at are a Richmond National Battlefield Park Facebook post commemorating the service of the Ball Brothers of Berne, New York as well as their photos. Lucius Ball’s plight was also published in the local Knickerbocker paper. 

My grandfather’s uncles, Elias Willsey of the 8th Missouri Cavalry and Stephen Holmes and Abraham Ferris of the 3rd New York Cavalry served in the Civil  War. Stephen and Abraham participated in the siege of Petersburg and the fall of Richmond.

My grandmother Merta (née Meiers) Wolford’s uncle William Bogardus died in a Confederate prison and his brother, Charles, died at Cold Harbor. They were also members of the 7th New York Heavy Artillery. 

Addison Fisher Meiers, my mother’s grandfather was named after Addison Fisher, an uncle who fought in the Battle of the Wilderness. This was also one of the most brutal battles of the war. He was shot in the arm during the assault on Petersburg. My granddaughter’s name, Nora Addison Rice, reflects this heritage.

The sacrifices of Berne families during the Civil War were immense. Many current residents are unaware.

We currently care for two World War II veterans in their 90s, my father and my father in-law. My father-in-law lives with us. His father served in World War I and his brothers, my wife’s uncles, served in World War II and the Korean War.

My uncles, my father, and many of their friends were veterans of foreign wars. I grew up with veterans. I truly respect and admire their service to our country.

I am thrilled that Glen Gilbert has been memorialized in Berne. I rode the school bus with him. He hung out with my brother.

We grew up on farms when this town was part of a close-knit farm community. It was devastating when we heard he lost his life in Vietnam. Those who have served in more recent conflicts should also be recognized.

I don’t know that anyone who has not served in the military can fully empathize with those who have put their life on the line in combat to keep us free. I received a notice to sign up for the draft at 18 but the Vietnam war ended.

I did not choose to serve in the military but I deeply admire and respect those who did and those who serve today. We should do more to recognize the service of local veterans.

Joel Willsey



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