Proof, in the Form of a Letter

proof-in-the-form-of-a-letter-title

A cousin shares a Civil War letter that confirms the death of my ancestor, Charles Carson, in 1863

Many of the men in our extended Carson family enlisted when called to defend the Union in the Civil War. My ancestor, Charles Carson of Trenton, New Jersey was not among them. He would have been 37 years of age when the war broke out, but for some unknown reason he did not enlist. Whether he suffered from a physical infirmity, or whether it was due to family obligations – he had a wife, and by varying accounts either six or eight children at home – we may never know. Perhaps his skills as a sawyer were needed on the home front. What is known is that many of his kinsmen did serve, and it is through the records they left as a result of their service that has allowed this researcher to paint a much fuller picture of the extended family.

Charles Carson married into another Carson family when he took Caroline Carson as a bride in Monmouth County, New Jersey 29 Jun 1845.1 Caroline’s younger sister Amy Carson married a man of Germanic descent, William Hausman, who later went off to war, serving in Co. E. of the 21st New Jersey regiment.2

In 2008, William McGovern, a Carson descendant through the Hausman’s daughter Bertha, reached out to me via the GenForum message board, and informed me of the existence of a letter written by William Hausman and his reference to Charley Carson within it. McGovern thought I might possibly be able to identify Charley. In 2016, he gave me permission to publish the contents of the letter. I am still not clear whether McGovern owns the original letter, or whether he has only a copy.

William Hausman was convalescing in the Tilton Army hospital in Delaware when he learned of the death of Charles Carson and penned a response to his wife on the back of a song sheet3, probably distributed that night at the event he describes in his letter. Oh, how I wish that her letter to him had also been preserved to know her thoughts and feelings on the death of her brother-in-law.

I offer a complete transcription of the letter below. Emphasis mine. Note that the letter had only about seven words per line; I have not maintained the exact formatting due to the nature of its presentation on this blog. The spelling and punctuation is as it appears in the original, however.

***

               Tilton Hospital     June 10th, 1863

Dear Wife

          I now take this opportunity to send you a few lines to inform you that I am well, and hope these few lines may find you and the Children the same. I Received your letter From the 3d day of June on the 5th, and I was Glad to hear that you was all well, but I was sorry to hear that Charley Carson was Killed, and I think it is very bad for his family. A man is apt to Get Killed at home, as well as the Soldiers in the Field of Battle, we have heard that General Hooker, has crossed the River Again, I think its likely that our Regiment is over Again with him, but if they have Another fight, I will not be in it this time, All the soldiers in this Hospital had a Good Ride free off Expence, yesterday to a Union Meeting at a place called Dover, About 50 miles From here, we had a very nice time

[p. 2]

and came back to the Hospital last night About 9 Oclock, All the soldiers had a Good Dinner From the Cizens of that place I Expect to be home next week. If you get this letter you need not to answer It. I have got a pretty Good Job in the Kitchen, and my time passed away very fast and I Get plenty to eat, they had not men Enough, and the Doctor asked me if i would not help them, and I sayed yes, and I have been in there ever since
send my love to you and the Children
no More at present

From Your Affectionate
Husband
William Hausman

Thank you to my cousin William McGovern, who provided a copy of the letter to this researcher and allowed publishing of the content of same.

Happy Independence Day today. We owe a debt of gratitude to all who have served and are serving to preserve our freedom, and to their families who sacrifice so much in their absence.


Sources:

1 Monmouth County, New Jersey, Marriage Returns, Book D-1, Folder M, Carson-Carson, 1845, County Clerks Office, Monmouth County Archives, Freehold; copy provided by John Konvalinka, CG, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], ca. Dec 2004.

2  For the 1857 Hausman-Carson marriage and his unit number see William Hausman (Pvt., Co., E, 21st NJ Inf., Civil War), pension no. 143,808 (Invalid), Case Files of Approved Pension Applications…,1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Record Group 15 : Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

3  A very similar example is here: “Mother, is the Battle Over?” song sheet, (publisher Charles Magness, 12 Frankfort St., N.Y., [n.d.]), digital image, Library of Congress (https://www.loc.gov/resource/amss.hc00018b.0 : accessed 4 Jul 2017).

Three Civil War Pension Files

If you’ve reached an impasse when researching your direct-line ancestors, you’ll need to cast a wider net. Whether called “collateral research”, “whole family research”, “cluster research” or similar variants, the concept remains the same: to break down our proverbial “brick walls” we need to broaden the scope of our research to include members of our target ancestor’s extended family and larger social circle. We may need to research the lives of friends, neighbors, colleagues, comrades and the like. The more difficult the problem to be solved, the further afield we may need to go to track down records relevant to our research problem.

It is with this idea in mind that I recently ordered three United States Civil War pension files, all for the brothers or brothers-in-law of several of my direct ancestors, each of whom served in the Union Army. To order their files, I needed information from the pension index cards. There are two readily available indexes online: T288, available at Ancestry.com, and T289, available at Fold3.com. (To see the card images, you either need to be a subscriber, or go to an institution that has a subscription to one of the databases.) Both indexes were created and microfilmed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) from the original index cards.

I’ve uploaded the pension index cards from T289 for each of the soldiers whose file I’ve ordered. Each card shown illustrates a different scenario with respect to Civil War pension research.

Soldier: David M. Bingaman of Companies C, D and E of the 20th Indiana Infantry, brother of my 2nd great-grandfather, Josephus Bingaman who also served in the Civil War.

Civil War Pension Card for David M. Bingaman

“Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900,” digital images, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com : accessed 09 May 2012); David M. Bingaman (Cos. C, D & E, 20th Indiana Inf.) index card; imaged from Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900, T289 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives), roll 91.

In the image above, note that David Bingaman (the “invalid”) applied for a pension 13 Aug 1892, application no. 1,125,866, certificate no. 890,449. Following his death, his widow also applied for a widow’s pension, application no. 645,202, certificate no. 464,995. The fact that the card references a certificate number beside each pension type means that both David and his widow received pensions.

Soldier: George Carson, alias George Cassner, of Company F 38th New Jersey Infantry, brother of my 3rd great-grandmother, Caroline Carson.

Civil War Pension Card George Carson

“Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900,” digital images, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com : accessed 09 May 2012); George Carson, alias George Cassner (Co. F, 38th New Jersey Inf.) index card; imaged from Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900, T289 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives), roll. 307.

George Carson applied for a pension 14 Apr 1902 less than a year before his death. His application was no. 1,283,970. His widow also applied for a widow’s pension, application no. 781,136. Applications for both George and his wife were apparently rejected, as there is no certificate number recorded for either of them in the column on the right. Perhaps there was a problem establishing his identity, especially since George seems to have also used the last name of Cassner.

Should I allow the fact that it appears that the applications were rejected to deter me from following up and ordering his pension file? Most definitely not! Even if a pension was rejected, the file will still contain, at a minimum, the application. Indeed, rejected applicants often tried multiple times to prove their claim, offering additional details and advancing more witnesses to vouch for them. On occasion, a Special Examiner was appointed to investigate the merits of the claim, in which case the file may yield a great deal of information.

Soldier: Jackson Wells of Co. D, 128th Ohio Infantry, brother-in-law of my 2nd great-grandfather, Washington R. Wallace.

Civil War Pension Card Jackson Wells

“Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900,” digital images, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com : accessed 09 May 2012); Jackson Wells (Co. D 128th Ohio Inf.) index card; imaged from Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900, T289 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives), roll 429.

In this last example, the soldier himself did not apply for a pension. Instead, his widow applied under application no. 462,465. She received a pension under certificate no. 508,610.

Widows’ applications typically provide more family information than a soldier’s application as a widow had to prove:

1. that she was married to the soldier, and the date of the marriage
2. that she remained a widow (she lost the pension if she remarried)
3. divorce or death of any previous wife or wives
4. that the soldier was deceased (if he died outside of actual service)
5. birth information for soldier’s minor children under 16

(See the full text of the pension Act of July 14, 1862 as published in the New York Times, 12 Aug 1862).

Although acquiring a Civil War Pension file isn’t cheap ($75.00 for the first 100 pages from NARA), oftentimes a pension file can contain the key to solving a brick wall problem. You can spend literally years searching for proof of a relationship only to discover the answer plainly stated within the file.

How to order a Civil War pension file
Civil War pension files are still, for the most part, textual (i.e. paper) records. They have never been microfilmed, and are only now being digitized. With the large number of pension files available, it will be years before they’re online. To access a pension file, you’ll need to do one of three things:

1. Visit the National Archives in Washington D.C. yourself
2. Order the pension file from the National Archives directly
3. Hire a private researcher to examine and copy the record for you

To order a pension file from the National Archives, go to: https://eservices.archives.gov/orderonline/start.swe#SWEApplet1

Order Military Records OnlineThe second item is the link to order the complete file (form NATF 85D).

NATF 85D online formTechnically, to order a pension file using NATF 85 you only need the following information, marked with an asterisk (*) in the above screenshot:

Veteran’s first and last name
Branch of service (Army, Navy, Marine Corps)
Kind of service (Regular, Volunteer)
War in which he served
State from which he served

However, I have found that having the pension application number and name of widow or other claimant will ensure you are getting the correct file.

Whenever possible, I recommend acquiring a complete military pension file early on in your research. If you don’t look, you won’t know what nuggets of family information may be included. I have heard tales of family bible pages and photographs being found within a pension file, although I myself haven’t been that lucky.

Stay tuned as I reveal the goldmine of family information discovered in just one of these pension files!