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Two things happened yesterday.
Ancestry.com posted a nifty “cheat sheet” which can be used to determine if your ancestors served in one of the US conflicts back to the Revolution.
Second, a third cousin, in my Wilson line, contacted me through Ancestry.com asking to compare notes, which prompted me to review the pending “shaky leaves” for that line.
A Find-A-Grave hint popped up for James Alexander Wilson, my 2nd-great uncle and brother to my 2nd g-grandmother, Roxanna “Anna” Aurelia (Wilson) Hall (her story here).
Attached to this Mount Hope Cemetery grave record was a photo referring to 11th Regiment Massachusetts [Light] Battery. A Google search revealed that this was a Civil War unit “Organized at Readville and mustered in for three years January 2, 1864 … Mustered out June 16, 1865″
The Ancestry.com chart reads: “Civil War birth years 1811-1848”. Another mistake in my tree! My James died on 14 Sept 1886, which matches the Find-A-Grave entry, but I recorded his birth at St. John, New Brunswick, on 27 February 1850, thus implying an age of fourteen in 1864. Did I have the wrong birth date?
I re-reviewed the records, most concurred – James was born in 1850! Was it possible a 14 year old served in the Civil War?
At bit of research revealed at least 100,000 Union soldiers were boys under 15 years old and about 20 percent of all Civil War soldiers were under 18. Many lied about their age to join. As the casualties grew and more soldiers were needed, recruiters looked the other way. The exact number of children who enlisted during the Civil War is unknown, but it is known that 48 soldiers who were under the age of 18 won the Congressional Medal of Honor for their bravery and service.
Census/Marriage/Death Records Analyzed for Birth Year
No birth/baptism has been located at St John for James Wilson.
In 1851, a one year old James Wilson was enumerated with his parents, David and Elizabeth, in Saint John County, Dukes and Queens Wards, http://tinyurl.com/3ag9nzd
The 1855 Massachusetts Boston, Ward 03, census reports his age as five.
In 1860, he was enumerated in Boston Ward 3 as age ten.
In 1865, he was residing in Boston Ward 3, listed as age 16.
He was 20 in 1870 when enumerated in Boston Ward 4.
He was 21 when he married Susan “Susie” Jane Perkins, daughter of George Perkins and Margaret Taylor on 17 May 1871 in Boston.
He was listed as age 34 in the 1880 Boston census (the only record which implies a birth in 1846 – note that his parents were married in 1847 – their story here).
When James Naturalized in 1882, he gave a birth date of 27 February 1850.
A signature comparison (beautiful handwriting for a 14 year old!) confirms that the James Wilson who joined the Civil War and the James Wilson who applied for Naturalization are likely the same man.
James’ Massachusetts death entry dated 14 September 1886 lists his age as 36 years, 6 months, 14 days (implying a birth of 28 Feb 1850). Cause of death was Consumption. The newspaper notice of his death also lists an age of 36.
Side Note: James was a Fresco Painter – I have not uncovered any information specifically related to his work. Given his beautiful handwriting, I wonder where he was educated, his mother was unable to write, thus he must have had schooling in this craft. An article published in Massachusetts, in that time frame, describes the study:
Fold 3- CMSR for James
Fold 3 has digitized the Massachusetts Compiled Military Service Records. Although James Wilson is a common name, knowing he served in the 11th Regiment Massachusetts Battery helped in locating the record. In his file, was a volunteer enlistment form, dated 2 December 1864, with a claim that he was seventeen and ten months. The form includes minor consent from his father.
The enlistment occurred in Cambridge (the family resided in Boston, perhaps he intentionally enlisted in a place where he would not be known?) and James was described 5’4″ tall (quite short for an almost 18 year old). He was given a $33 recruitment bounty in exchange for a one year commitment (the family was quite poor and likely needed the funds). His pay was later docked for loss of Clothing Camp and Garrison equipage (typical kid ?).
Whenever I find a Veteran, I check for a pension file. The pension laws changed frequently not everyone who participated was entitled. A good place to start in understanding Civil War pensions is the Family Search Wiki – here.
There are two indexes, one on Fold3 and the other on Ancestry. They can differ.
Ancestry.com’s “U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934” (NARA T288) tells us that James’ widow Susan applied, and received a pension.
Fold 3’s Civil War Pensions Index (officially called the “Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900”; NARA T289) lists a widow’s pension and mother’s pension (the lack of certificate number means that the mother’s pension request was denied).
This morning I headed to the National Archives in DC and placed my request for these two files. If you ask that the file be delivered to the new Innovation Hub, not only do you avoid having to wait for a specific pull time (they pull it right away for you) but you can use their scanners for free and once scanned the digitized documents are posted on NARAs website for others to find. If you don’t live near the Archives, you can place a request online (the fee is $80 for the first 100 pages – order here).
The two pension requests were consolidated into one file. Nothing in the file mentions James’ enlistment age and the death certificate in the file implies a birth in 1850.
It seems that James’ mother, Elizabeth, age 70, who was unable to sign her name, applied for a pension in 1890 saying that her son was unmarried, without children and prior to his death she relied on him for some support.
Her witnesses included, Elizabeth’s daughter, my 2nd g-grandmother, “Anna” aka Roxanna (Wilson) Hall and Anna’s sister-in-law, Mary (Hall) Patten. Elizabeth was residing in Everett, the address was c/o Charles Baker, Simpson Court. Later documents give her address as Richardson Court, Malden (the address of my Hall ancestors).
When James’ widow later placed a claim, Elizabeth’s claim was thus rejected. Elizabeth’s attorney stated that he was told there was no widow or children. Elizabeth, was likely desperate. Her husband David had died, probably by suicide in 1879 (story here), thus she likely had relied on her eldest son James for some support.
The file (although one of the smaller I have pulled – just 36 pages) is chock full of family details (albeit nothing confirming my suspicion that James parents were born in Ireland)! A witness statement indicating that Susan was a laundress working for $1.50/week for 22 year old Margaret E. Clark who she had known for five years. Susan relied on her minor children, two boys and two girls, earnings of five to six dollars a month, as aid. She owned some household furniture valued less than $25.
Susan was removed from the Pension rolls in 1895 as she was “reported dead”. She wasn’t deceased, she remarried Brenton B. Cook on 07 Oct 1895 in Boston (record here). She died 2 March 1908 from Chronic Brights Disease and Edema of Lungs.
In summary, while a great tool, use Ancestry’s “cheat sheet” as a guide. There are always exceptions. Without the Find-A-Grave hint, I wouldn’t have searched for these records and I would have missed some great family details!
The Family of James Alexander Wilson 1850-1866
Service according to civilwararchive.com
The service of the 11th Independent Battery, Massachusetts Light Artillery after James joined in December 1864 was as follows (text from Wikipedia):
Dabney’s Mills, Hatcher’s Run, February 5-7, 1865.
The Battle of Hatcher’s Run, also known as Dabney’s Mill, Armstrong’s Mill, Rowanty Creek, and Vaughn Road, fought February 5–7, 1865, was one in a series of Union offensives during the Siege of Petersburg, aimed at cutting off Confederate supply traffic on Boydton Plank Road and the Weldon Railroad west of Petersburg, Virginia. Although the Union advance was stopped, the Federals extended their siegeworks to the Vaughn Road crossing of Hatcher’s Run. The Confederates kept the Boydton Plank Road open, but were forced to extend their thinning lines.
Fort Stedman March 25.
The Battle of Fort Stedman, also known as the Battle of Hare’s Hill, was fought on March 25, 1865, during the final days of the American Civil War. The Union Army fortification in the siege lines around Petersburg, Virginia, was attacked in a pre-dawn Confederate assault by troops led by Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon. The attack was the last serious attempt by Confederate troops to break the Siege of Petersburg. After an initial success, Gordon’s men were driven back by Union troops of the IX Corps commanded by Maj. Gen. John G. Parke.
Appomattox Campaign March 28-April 9.
The Appomattox Campaign was a series of American Civil War battles fought March 29 – April 9, 1865 in Virginia that concluded with the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to the Union Army (Army of the Potomac, Army of the James and Army of the Shenandoah) under the overall command of Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. In the following eleven weeks after Lee’s surrender, the American Civil War ended as other Confederate armies surrendered and Confederate government leaders were captured or fled the country.
Assault on and fall of Petersburg April 2.
The Third Battle of Petersburg, also known as the Breakthrough at Petersburg or the Fall of Petersburg, was fought on April 2, 1865, south and southwest of Petersburg, Virginia, at the end of the 292-day Richmond–Petersburg Campaign (sometimes called the Siege of Petersburg) and in the beginning stage of the Appomattox Campaign near the conclusion of the American Civil War. The Union Army (Army of the Potomac, Army of the Shenandoah and Army of the James) under the overall command of General-in-chief, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, launched an assault on General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia’s Petersburg, Virginia trenches and fortifications after the Union victory at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865. As a result of that battle the Confederate right flank, rear and remaining supply lines were exposed or cut and the Confederate defenders were reduced by over 10,000 men killed, wounded, taken prisoner or in flight.
The thinly-held Confederate lines at Petersburg had been stretched to the breaking point by earlier Union movements that extended those lines beyond the ability of the Confederates to man them adequately and by desertions and casualties from recent battles. As the much larger Union forces, which significantly outnumbered the Confederates, assaulted the lines, desperate Confederate defenders held off the Union breakthrough long enough for Confederate government officials and most of the remaining Confederate army, including local defense forces, and some Confederate Navy personnel, to flee Petersburg and the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia during the night of April 2–3. Confederate corps commander Lieutenant General A.P. Hill was killed during the fighting.
Union soldiers occupied Richmond and Petersburg on April 3, 1865 but most of the Union Army pursued the Army of Northern Virginia until they surrounded and forced Robert E. Lee to surrender that army on April 9, 1865 after the Battle of Appomattox Court House, Virginia.
Pursuit of Lee to Appomattox C. H. April 3-9.
the Siege of Petersburg ends with the Union assault and breakthrough of April 2. The remainder of the war in Virginia is classified as “Grant’s Pursuit of Lee to Appomattox Court House.
Moved to Washington, D.C., April 20-27.
Grand Review May 23 (note that James was enumerated with his family in the Massachusetts census on 1 May 1865 with no occupation listed. Records do indicate he mustered out June 16, 1865. It is possible that whoever spoke to the census taker listed him as residing with the family even though he was not present).
The Grand Review of the Armies was a military procession and celebration in Washington, D.C., on May 23 and May 24, 1865, following the close of the American Civil War. Elements of the Union Army paraded through the streets of the capital to receive accolades from the crowds and reviewing politicians, officials, and prominent citizens, including the President of the United States, Andrew Johnson