A fitting tribute

Published 9:54 pm Thursday, June 28, 2012

When Thomas Place came to Riddick’s Folly recently, it’s pretty well certain that it wasn’t his first visit. The first time he entered the grand home at the corner of Constance and Main would have been about 150 years ago. That’s when Union Gen. John J. Peck was using the building for his headquarters during the Siege of Suffolk. Place was an enlisted man in the Union Army, having joined Troop H, First New York Mounted Rifles on Sept. 20, 1862, whence he was immediately sent to Suffolk.

During his first visit to Suffolk, Place and his unit were set up at Camp Dodge, which was on the Jericho Plantation owned by the Riddick family of Riddick’s Folly. That military unit was involved in skirmishes in and around Chuckatuck, Somerton and Ivor, but there was plenty of down time, too. And Place took advantage of that down time to do something that would ensure his legacy: He portrayed his small corner of the Civil War in sketches and paintings.

Those works of war art depict soldiers at muster and at leisure and everything in between. Dozens of them portray scenes in and around Suffolk during that time, giving historians a great glimpse into the life of an average soldier serving in the Union army.

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They also have resulted in Thomas Place becoming a far better-known name in Suffolk more than a century after his death than it ever likely was when he was camped with his fellow New Yorkers back in 1862. One of those drawings has hung on the wall at Riddick’s Folly for about seven years. A second one — this one portraying Camp Dodge during a muster of troops — was recently donated to the museum by descendents of Capt. Lemuel Beebe Gregory, Place’s commanding officer in Suffolk, who it is thought received the drawing from the artist as a memento.

That family members thought well enough of the museum to donate the artwork to the museum, thereby in effect returning their ancestor to Suffolk, is a fine testament to the professionalism of Lee King and his staff there. But it’s an even finer testament to the generosity of that family, which has insisted on anonymity.

A plaque they donated along with the drawing offers a fitting tribute both to the artist and to the memory of all those lost in the war that he portrayed:

“The descendants of Captain Gregory feel that this artifact belongs in this house as a part of Suffolk’s history. It is given with the genuine spirit of peaceful reconciliation. It is their hope that Americans will never again be called upon to take up arms against their fellow countrymen.”