The Corpse at Custer’s Court Martial

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by the Shapell Roster Project research team.

The Battle of Little Bighorn took place 139 years ago today, on June 25, 1876.  The US Army was waging a campaign to force the last of the Native American tribes around the Black Hills onto reservations.  That day, Lieutenant Colonel and Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer led the 7th US Cavalry into the valley of the Little Bighorn, preparing to stage an attack on an encampment of Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho.  Without any knowledge of his foe’s position and number, Custer divided his overtired unit into four sections to enter the area from opposite sides, ultimately leaving himself and his command of 210 men isolated from three-quarters of the regiment—enabling Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors to surround Custer’s detachment and slaughter them to a man.

“Custer's last charge: Brevet Major-General George A. Custer, Lieutenant-Colonel 7th U.S. Cavalry.”
“Custer’s last charge: Brevet Major-General George A. Custer, Lieutenant-Colonel 7th U.S. Cavalry.”[1]
In the succeeding decades, our understanding of this engagement and its context has changed drastically.  Custer is no longer the fallen hero, ushering in the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny.  Today we recognize that the US Government killed millions of Native Americans, and wiped out entire cultures based on narrow-minded views of what a society is and how progress works.  And, we have taken a more balanced look at the life of George Custer, and the actions he took at Little Bighorn.  Custer had always been a big risk taker, and that day his uninformed, arrogant ventures caught up to him and his men.  But Custer was not alone in his beliefs and practices when it came to 19th century battle tactics and fighting the tribes, and there is a strong argument to be made that Custer also became a scapegoat for US Army policies in the West as a whole.  Many fictionalized accounts have been written and filmed of what a court martial examining the events of Little Bighorn would have been like, had Custer survived that fateful day.  But this is less of a mystery than some might believe, for Custer was tried by court martial almost nine years prior for similarly brazen, haphazard behavior.

George Armstrong Custer, circa 1865
George Armstrong Custer, circa 1865[2]
 George Custer graduated from West Point early to join the Union Army in its struggle to reunite the country.  With the country’s military leaders divided on both sides of the conflict, the Civil War provided many opportunities for young officers to rise through the ranks quickly.  Few managed the dynamite trajectory of Custer, however.  Known for being at the very front of his men, leading spontaneous and daring charges; Custer achieved notoriety for his bravery, and his casualty count.  His wild appearance and colorful character quickly made him a favorite of the press and a darling of the politicians.  At 24, he was appointed Major General of the US Volunteers.  At the end of the war, Custer decided to remain with the Army, and accepted a commission as Lieutenant Colonel in the Cavalry.  In 1867, the US Army sent him west to handle the “Indian problem.”

Suddenly, Custer was no longer fighting large armies with standard military formations in familiar terrain.  Now he was chasing small bands across the Plains, mounted on ponies with far better endurance than the Army raised horses of the Cavalry.  To make matters worse, he was caught between politicians’ meager attempts at diplomacy, and his commanding officers’ orders to force the Native Americans into submission by whatever means necessary.  For the first time in his career, Custer was floundering, and it didn’t suit his prideful nature.  This tension led to the events of the summer of 1867—Custer’s court martial and the death of Charles Johnson.

In June of 1867, Custer scouted along the Republican and Platte Rivers with a portion of the 7th US Cavalry, looking for tribes.  On June 22nd, the command, being depleted of supplies and rations, started for Fort Wallace.  Custer pushed the men and horses hard; the march was “a forced one.”[3]  In the last seven days of the march to Fort Wallace, the troops covered 182 miles.  The unit was losing men slowly to desertion, and as the pace increased, so did the runaways.  Many desertions occurred in the dark of night on July 6th, and there was open talk amongst the enlisted men that more intended to follow.  On July 7th, in broad daylight, yet another group of deserters absconded, spotted just two miles from camp.  Five men were on horses, more fled on foot.  Custer gave orders, intending to stop the growing rebellion:

Testimony of Custer’s Brother, 1st Lieutenant Tom Custer
Testimony of Custer’s Brother, 1st Lieutenant Tom Custer[4]
Testimony of 2nd Lieutenant Henry Jackson
Testimony of 2nd Lieutenant Henry Jackson[5]
Two parties of officers headed out to enforce Custer’s orders.  Tom Custer’s group overtook Privates Tolliver, Alburger, Willis, and Johnson first.  When Jackson’s party arrived, three of the men were lying on the ground, and the fourth, Alburger, was on the run, and being shot at.  Tom Custer and his mounted officers captured Alburger soon after.  Ultimately, three of the four were wounded—only Willis remained unscathed, having hit the ground, feigning death when the shooting began.  The troop had ambulances, but a cargo wagon was sent for the captives instead.

When the wagon was brought up to the rest of the command, men rushed over to look, and many threw in overcoats to provide at least some bedding for the wounded.  The whole group then traveled several hours before stopping for the night to set up camp.  At that point, Dr. I. T. Coates, Acting Assistant Surgeon for the regiment, approached the wagon for the first time.  As he did, Custer ordered him to stay back and not bother treating the deserters. Two hours later, however, Custer spoke to Coates in private: “Doctor my sympathies are not with those men who are wounded, but I want you to give them all necessary attention.”[6]  Coates then administered opiates and did everything he knew how to make them comfortable.  Coates did not believe any of the three had been mortally wounded, and shared this opinion with Custer.

Custer and his men reached Fort Wallace on July 13th.  The three wounded deserters received more sophisticated medical care once at the fort, but nevertheless, Charles Johnson died on July 17th.  The men were exhausted, and the unit’s horses “were in very bad condition.”[7]  In spite of the fatigued state of the horses and men, Custer set out again two days after reaching Fort Wallace with an escort of 75 enlisted men and several officers to march to Fort Hays and then on to Fort Harker. The purpose of the journey was later proved to be for his own personal reasons.[8]

George Armstrong Custer, in uniform, seated with his wife, Elizabeth "Libbie" Bacon Custer, and his brother, Thomas W. Custer, standing, circa 1865.
George Armstrong Custer, in uniform, seated with his wife, Elizabeth “Libbie” Bacon Custer, and his brother, Thomas W. Custer, standing, circa 1865.[9]
During the march, a group was detached from the main body of the escort, following behind to pick up stragglers and deal with horses having difficulty.  Along the way, several horses had to be abandoned and three shot, because they could go no further.  The main command reached Downer’s Station on July 17th.  About four miles away, 50-60 Native Americans attacked the detachment.  Nine riders escaped with some of the assailants in hot pursuit, leaving two presumed dead behind.  Despite the news, Custer and his men resumed their march, leaving Captain A. B. Carpenter, commander of the 37th Infantry and the officer in charge of Downer’s Station, to retrieve the bodies of Custer’s men.  According to Carpenter, an attempt to pursue the perpetrators would have proved “fruitless.”[10]

Upon reaching Fort Harker in the middle of the night, Custer roused General A. J. Smith from his sleep.  Custer told Smith he planned to get on a soon arriving train to Fort Riley, but that he would be back the moment Smith needed him, and the General made no objection.  The next day, when General Smith learned the state of the horses and men from Custer’s escort, and of the pace and events of their journey, he ordered Custer back immediately.  Upon his return to Fort Harker, Custer was placed under arrest.

Charges and Specifications
Charges and Specifications[11]
The US Army formally charged Custer with:

  • Absence Without Leave from His Command, for his journey from Fort Wallace to Fort Riley,
  • Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order and Military Discipline, for dragging a large portion of his command out on the march again after they had just completed one harrowing trek, on horses that were largely spent, again at fast pace, “the said march being upon private business, and without proper authority or any urgency or demand of public business[,]”[12]
  • Additional Charges for “neglect[ing] to take any measures to pursue such party of Indians, or recover or bury the bodies of those of his command that had been killed[;]”[13] and, for ordering Johnson, Tolliver, and Alburger “to be shot down as supposed deserters, but without trial”[14]—causing the three to be “severely wounded”[15] and, after denying the three medical care, causing Johnson to ultimately die.

Custer had no choice but to address the charges against him; but he did so without remorse.

In response to the charge of being absent without leave, Custer first explained that he had been under orders from General William T. Sherman to ride to Fort Wallace to meet with General Hancock, who would be visiting the fort.  Upon arriving to said destination, and finding that Hancock had already left, Custer said he felt his duty was to try and overtake Hancock at Fort Harker, and have the meeting Sherman requested.  Evidence was shown, however, that these orders did not reach Custer until long after he had already chosen to depart Fort Wallace.  The orders had been in the possession of 2nd Lieutenant Lyman Kidder, who had been dispatched to meet with Custer along the Republican River.  By that time, Custer had already left his camp there, and on June 29th as Kidder led his party in the direction of Fort Wallace, they were overtaken and killed by a party of Cheyenne and Sioux warriors led by Pawnee Killer.  This incident became known as the Kidder Massacre.  Unable to use these specific orders for a defense, Custer then pointed to the more general instructions Sherman had given him earlier in June.  Custer presented testimony showing Sherman had told Custer “he would receive orders from General Augur, but not to confine himself to those orders, if his judgment led him elsewhere. That if he wished he could go to Denver City, or he could go to hell if he wanted to. That he could go to any post he wanted to.”[16]  Custer felt this directive gave him carte blanche; that he could lead his men where he pleased.  Additional testimony was shown that the context of this discretion, however, was specifically in the pursuit of the tribes.  Sherman wanted Custer to go wherever was needed to hunt down the Native Americans currently giving the Army trouble.  Custer’s march to Fort Hays and Fort Harker was not in pursuit of any Native Americans, so the court held this exchange with Sherman afforded Custer no authority for said march.

Fort Wallace, Kansas
Fort Wallace, Kansas[17]
Aside from being absent without leave, Custer did not dispute the alleged events, but provided many justifications for his choices over those several weeks.  On the condition of the horses leaving Fort Wallace, Custer stated that those horses had two days rest—more than they had gotten in weeks.  Yes, the horses could have been in better condition, but they were not unfit for service.  He also claimed no one had informed him that some of the horses had started failing on the later march.  With the attack on the detachment, Custer pointed out that he did not find out about the assault until after the fact and did not know that a Sergeant from the detachment reported that only one of the casualties was dead, the other merely wounded.  He felt, at that time, nothing could be done to catch the culprits, and others could retrieve the bodies of the fallen.  But, it was noted by the court that Custer was informed of the attack within an hour of its occurrence, and some of the Native Americans involved pursued members of the detachment to a mile and a half from Downer’s Station.  So, perhaps the hunt would not have been so futile.

As for the shooting of the deserters, Custer believed his orders were totally justified and necessary.  The rampant desertions in the midst of hostile territory, despite his previous measures of arresting deserters and placing sentries at night, left Custer concerned that his officers and loyal enlisted men would be vulnerable to attack.  He claimed he did not believe his orders would be taken literally; they were mainly made for effect.  Custer argued, based on the testimony of some of his loyal men, that Charles Johnson threatened his approaching captors with a carbine, and if not for that act no one would have been shot at all.  In contrast, Lieutenant Jackson testified that “there were no arms near them at all”[18] when he arrived upon the wounded men.  Both sides conceded all had surrendered and were unarmed at the time of the shooting.  Ultimately, Custer stood behind his actions because they achieved the desired result; the number of desertions between the acts on July 7th and their arrival at Fort Wallace was exactly zero.

Table of Desertions from Custer’s Command July 1st to July 13th, 1867.
Table of Desertions from Custer’s Command July 1st to July 13th, 1867.[19]
Table of Distances Marched by Custer and His Men from June 1st to July 13th, 1867.
Table of Distances Marched by Custer and His Men from June 1st to July 13th, 1867.[20]
While Custer was able to prove that he did secretly provide medical care to these soldiers, his case for the necessity of his orders, and the rest of his actions, fell short.  The court found Custer guilty of all charges, although no criminality was attached to the denial of medical care to the three wounded men.  He was sentenced “to be suspended from rank and command for one year, and forfeit his pay proper for the same time.”[21]  According to Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt’s report on the case “[t]he conclusion unavoidably reached under the hands of the inquiry, [was] that Gen. Custer’s anxiety to see his family at Fort Riley overcame his appreciation of the permanent necessity to obey orders which is incumbent on every military officer; and that the excuses he offer[ed] for his act of insubordination [were] afterthoughts.”[22]

Private Charles Johnson received “a shot in the side… making a flesh wound.  He was also wounded in the head, the ball entering in the left temple and coming out below, under the jaw, and passing down into his lungs, the same ball entering again at the upper part of the chest.”[23]  He was carried wounded for 180-190 miles in an open wagon before arriving at Fort Wallace, and his wounds were not dressed for the first two days because clean enough water could not be found.  Most of the officers who shot Johnson and his compatriots admitted they did not even know the men’s names at the time.  These officers fired down on the men from horseback, “within 25 yards at least, and perhaps much nearer.”[24]  Of the wounded men, Dr. Coates found Johnson to be “the most cheerful at that time[,]”[25] possibly explaining why the surgeon believed such serious wounds would not be fatal. But who was this stoic? And why of the 156 desertions from the 7th Cavalry that took place between April 18th and July 13th, 1867, was his the one that led to summary execution?

Why is Charles Johnson of any consequence to The Shapell Roster of Jews in the Service of the Union and Confederate Armies and Navies, 1861-1865?  The Charles Johnson who died a deserter’s death at Fort Wallace was actually Israel Highhill, a man with a long record of previous, honorable service in the Civil War.   The History of the Sixty-First Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers 1861-1865 states that Highhill was “recommended for a medal for bravery at Petersburg, Apr[il] 2, 1865” by General Getty, after he “captured one of the pieces of artillery near Lee’s headquarters.”[26]

Israel Highhill’s Re-enlistment Contract Dated January 1, 1864
Israel Highhill’s Re-enlistment Contract Dated January 1, 1864[27]
custer11
Israel Highhill’s Re-enlistment Contract Dated January 1, 1864[27]
Highhill enlisted as a Private in the 23rd PA Infantry in September of 1861, and was then transferred to the 61st PA Infantry; re-enlisting as a Veteran Volunteer for an additional three years in 1864, then being promoted to 1st Sergeant in November of that year.  He was mustered out with his regiment June 28, 1865, because the war was over, and their services were no longer needed.  Following his discharge, Highhill returned to Pennsylvania and opened a dry goods business in Hazelton.  Unfortunately, he found little success as a merchant, so he decided to re-enlist in the Army.  In November of 1866, he enlisted in the 7th US Cavalry in Philadelphia, under the alias of Charles Johnson,  “to elude his creditors.”[28]  He was then sent west to help round up the Native American tribes on to reservations.  Perhaps in July 1867, he was experiencing the same struggles as Custer; failing to adapt to a new and foreign type of soldiering he neither expected nor was prepared for.

Highill’s mother Rachel applied for a pension in 1889 based on Highill’s service, stating her son served in the 61st PA Infantry, then died in 1867 while serving in the 7th US Infantry and was buried at Fort Wallace.  Included with her application was her ketubah, or Jewish marriage contract, establishing her marriage to Highhill’s father Asher.

Ketubah of Israel Highhill’s Parents
Ketubah of Israel Highhill’s Parents[29]
Ketubah of Israel Highhill’s Parents
Ketubah of Israel Highhill’s Parents[29]
The War Department had no trouble confirming the soldier’s Civil War service, but they could not find Highhill in the 7th US Cavalry.  Rachel then submitted a set of affidavits from friends and neighbors explaining why Highhill’s name was missing from the Cavalry rolls.  One such affidavit was authored by Powell R. Thorne, a fellow Civil War veteran and Highhill’s would be brother-in-law.[30]  Thorne identified Israel Highill to be Charles Johnson, explaining the purpose for the soldier taking an alias and stating that he corresponded with Highhill as Johnson after he went west. In 1867, Thorne learned that the soldier died under mysterious circumstances:

“I ascertained thru’ an ‘Insurance Agent’ who had been informed by the Captain of the Company ‘that Charles Johnson’ had been killed. I read the letter myself and the details of the case, as near as I can recollect were as follows: viz: A party of the soldiers among whom was Charles Johnson were grazing their horses and the report was sent to Camp that they were deserting- After this report had been received- General Custer- ordered that ‘their bodies be brought in’ and Lieutenant Custer was assigned to carry out the order of the General:  and accordingly- the men were shot- and their dead bodies brought into Camp. When I heard of this, I employed Colonel William B. Mann… as counsel to investigate this outrage[.] [T]his he did – and proceeded to bring suit against the ‘Military Authorities’ and he subsequently learned that the civil authorities could not interfere, thus the case was dropped- The investigation caused a temporary relief of the command.”[31]

Powell R. Thorne’s Affidavit
Powell R. Thorne’s Affidavit[32]
It is unclear whether Thorne’s insurance agent reported to him that Highhill/Johnson was only out grazing his horse, or whether Thorne said this to help protect Rachel Highhill’s claim for a pension.  Per Henry M. Frank’s affidavit, Rachel’s need was desperate; the soldier’s father had long been of “feeble health” and Highhill sent much of his pay home to support them both.[33]  Rachel “always spoke of how good and kind he treated her, and if it had not been for his contributions she would not have known how to get along.[34]

What little we know about Israel Highhill, aka Charles Johnson, shows he was a man capable of both good and bad.  He served his country with honor during the Civil War, but slipped in his later service; he was a loving, supportive son, but bailed from his business debts when his dry goods store failed. The same could be said of George Custer, although his highs and lows impacted more people and remain world-renowned.

Today in particular, so many will reflect on the Battle of Little Bighorn and Custer’s legacy.  Because Israel Highhill is buried under the name “Charles Johnson,” his only legacy is that of an assumed persona, found as a footnote in Custer biographies.  I hope putting this out into the world helps to broaden that story a bit, and allows history to remember Israel Highhill, a patriotic Jewish soldier, as more than a corpse.

Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer
Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer.[35]
Private Charles Johnson/Israel Highhill
Private Charles Johnson/Israel Highhill.[36]
___

Interested in staying updated with the latest research news and discoveries?  You can follow the research team’s progress as it’s made at the Shapell Manuscript Foundation Facebook Page and Roster Project Album, or by following @ShapellManu on Twitter,#ShapellRoster, or check back at our blog for more interviews and news from the archives.

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[1] Currier & Ives: a catalogue raisonné. Compiled by Gale Research. Detroit, MI: Gale Research. ca. 1983. no. 1457. via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3b50044/

[2] Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2005689042/

[3] War Department. The Office of the Judge Advocate General. Court Martial Case Files 1809-1894. Record Group 153: Records of the Office the Judge Advocate General- Army. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC. online at fold3.com. Publication: Custer’s Court Martial. Section: Court Documents. Subject: Proceedings. p. 5.

[4] ibid. p. 100.

[5] ibid. p. 149.

[6] ibid. p. 127.

[7] ibid. p. 32.

[8]  The private business referenced in Custer’s charges, but not discussed at trial, was Custer’s anxiety to meet up with his wife Libbie. At the time, there was a cholera outbreak in Kansas, and many had concerns about the health of their loved ones. He had originally believed Libbie to be at Fort Wallace, after sending a letter asking her to join him there; helping to explain his rush on the first leg of his journey.  She never received that letter, and was then staying at Fort Riley; spurring Custer to set off once again across the plains. Many accounts of Custer’s life describe Custer’s court martial as merely him being punished for a simple act of disobedience to be with the one he loved—the ultimate romantic gesture.

[9] Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/95512236/

[10] War Department. The Office of the Judge Advocate General. Court Martial Case Files 1809-1894. Record Group 153: Records of the Office the Judge Advocate General- Army. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC. online at fold3.com. Publication: Custer’s Court Martial. Section: Court Documents. Subject: Proceedings. p. 79.

[11] ibid. p. 21.

[12] ibid. p. 21.

[13] ibid. p. 22.

[14] ibid. p. 24.

[15] ibid. p. 24.

[16] War Department. The Office of the Judge Advocate General. Court Martial Case Files 1809-1894. Record Group 153: Records of the Office the Judge Advocate General- Army. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC. online at fold3.com. Publication: Custer’s Court Martial. Section: Court Documents. Subject: Proceedings. p. 159-160.

[17] Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC. http://www.loc.gov/item/96509715/

[18] War Department. The Office of the Judge Advocate General. Court Martial Case Files 1809-1894. Record Group 153: Records of the Office the Judge Advocate General- Army. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC. online at fold3.com. Publication: Custer’s Court Martial. Section: Court Documents. Subject: Proceedings. p. 150.

[19] ibid. Subject: Miscellaneous. p. 38.

[20] ibid. p. 39.

[21] War Department. The Office of the Judge Advocate General. Court Martial Case Files 1809-1894. Record Group 153: Records of the Office the Judge Advocate General- Army. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC. online at fold3.com. Publication: Custer’s Court Martial. Section: Court Documents. Subject: Findings. p. 3.

[22] ibid. Subject: Summary Report. p. 12.

[23] ibid. Subject: Proceedings. p. 122.

[24] ibid. p. 123.

[25] ibid. p. 129.

[26] http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t46q25w9t;view=1up;seq=147

[27] War Department. The Adjutant General’s Office. n.d. Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Volunteer Organizations During the American Civil War, compiled 1890 – 1912, documenting the period 1861 – 1866. Record Group 94: Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1762 – 1984. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.

[28] Department of the Interior. Bureau of Pensions. (1849 – 1930). Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents of Civil War Veterans, ca. 1861 – ca. 1910. Record Group 15: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773 – 2007. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.

[29] ibid.

[30] Thorne became acquainted with Highhill in 1866 through Highhill’s fiancee, Sarah Zeigenfuss. Powell was eventually married to Sarah’s sister, Emma.

[31] Department of the Interior. Bureau of Pensions. (1849 – 1930). Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents of Civil War Veterans, ca. 1861 – ca. 1910. Record Group 15: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773 – 2007. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.

[32] ibid.

[33] ibid.

[34] ibid.

[35] Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC.  http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/cwp2003001154/PP/

[36] Tombstone at Fort Leavenworth Cemetery, KS. Photo courtesy of KAB, online at http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=3657968

A Special Memorial Day Thank You to Bayside Cemetery Volunteers from the Shapell Roster Project Researchers

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by the Shapell Roster Project research team.

Cemeteries are interesting places that attract all sorts of people: family and friends of those interred; dog owners, runners, and others who enjoy a quiet, usually beautiful oasis in the middle of a bustling city or suburbs; volunteers; vandals… wait, what?

That’s right, vandalism—and not just tagging or petty theft. I mean opened crypts, bodies left lying in plain view—serious stuff. Serious enough incidents for a lawsuit and a whirlwind of press coverage, but not enough to encourage those responsible for the care and upkeep of an old cemetery to do the right thing. But, I’ve gotten ahead of my story. This story began last year for the Shapell Roster Project team when I sent a series of emails out into the ether about a soldier who was supposedly buried in a Jewish cemetery called Bayside, located in Ozone Park, Queens, New York. We knew the soldier was Jewish, but we couldn’t (and still haven’t) determined in what regiment he served. Sometimes that information is available in cemeteries. A few days later I received an email from an Anthony Pisciotta.

I try really hard not to name profile, but I did not expect a guy with an Italian sounding name to get back to me about a Jewish cemetery. Anthony is not Jewish, yet he probably knows more about Bayside Cemetery than anyone. The story he told me about his connection to Bayside was fascinating. Back when he was a kid, he heard tales about cemetery desecration that, like a good campfire ghost story, stayed with him into adulthood. Today, Pisciotta works for the city driving a truck and his route goes right by Bayside Cemetery. One day, he noticed a tomb, wide-open with two damaged coffins with the skeletal remains exposed—just like the stories from his youth! Since then, he’s become one of Bayside’s most dedicated advocates and volunteers.

Pisciotta researches genealogy to find descendants to let them know about the condition of their ancestors’ final resting place and helps descendants who contact him find their relatives. In one case, he sealed the mausoleum of Marcus Witmark to prevent any future vandalism, after securing Witmark’s descendants’ permission. There are many more mausoleums he’d like to similarly protect, but some are too dangerous to even fix, and he’s not a rich man.

 

Photo courtesy of Anthony D. Pisciotta
Photo courtesy of Anthony D. Pisciotta

Recently, Pisciotta launched a crowdsourcing fundraiser for a permanent flagpole to honor the many Veterans interred at Bayside.

Photo courtesy of Anthony D. Pisciotta
Photo courtesy of Anthony D. Pisciotta

Pisciotta doesn’t shy away from talking to the press, but he has a simple agenda: the dead deserve better. And Pisciotta isn’t just talking about the problem, he and his children frequently pick up trash that accumulates in the cemetery and just this week he escorted a Boy Scout troop through Bayside, placing flags on Veterans’ graves for Memorial Day.

We at the Shapell Roster Project are extremely grateful to Pisciotta and other volunteers at Bayside Cemetery for helping us find Civil War soldiers not included in Simon Wolf’s 1895 roster and for confirming that some soldiers listed in Wolf’s roster are, in fact, Jewish (because many are not, but that’s a topic for another post).

George Samuels

Thanks to the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, we discovered the name (but not the regiment) of George Samuels in the Minutes Book of the Hebrew Union Veterans Association.

Courtesy, National Museum of American Jewish Military History
Courtesy, National Museum of American Jewish Military History

Unfortunately, with so many soldiers named George Samuels serving in the Civil War, we had no idea which one he was!

When Anthony sent me a photograph of a tombstone for a George Samuels buried at Bayside,

Tombstone for George Samuels
Tombstone for George Samuels

the death date lead us to a soldier who served in the 9th PA Cavalry.

This led us to Norm Gasbarro’s blog post, “Who is George Samuels?”

After a flurry of emails in which Gasbarro, Pisciotta and I excitedly exchanged the pieces of the puzzle we each had, Gasbarro posted an update entitled, “New Information on George Samuels.

Lob Turk

We found out about Lob Turk (alias Lewis Blake) from his descendant, who contacted us via the Shapell Roster website’s contact form. She wanted to make sure that her ancestor was included in our roster so his patriotism was not forgotten. As it turned out, we were able to help Turk’s descendant gain access to his Pension Record (which she had previously been told by the National Archives was lost or destroyed). She, in turn, told us that Turk was buried in the Mokom Sholom part of Bayside Cemetery, and put us in touch with long-time volunteer, Florence Marmor.

The history of Bayside Cemetery and the adjoining Acacia and Mokom Sholom cemeteries on IAJGS’ International Jewish Cemetery Project website for Ozone Park was written by Marmor. In most cases, references to Bayside include the other two cemeteries and vice versa. Collectively, the remains of more than 35,000 Jews are interred in the Bayside, Acacia, and Mokom Sholom cemeteries. Lob Turk and George Samuels are just a few.

No matter how I try, I just can’t understand how (or why) a cemetery in the middle of Queens could be subject to such a long history of misfortune and neglect. Bayside was the cemetery of choice for hundreds of Congregations and Burial Associations since 1865, including the Hebrew Benevolent Society, who buried poor deceased Jews like Lob Turk for free.

"A Good Idea." Commercial Advertiser. November 22, 1869. p. 4. via GenealogyBank.com.
“A Good Idea.” Commercial Advertiser. November 22, 1869. p. 4. via GenealogyBank.com.

“A Good Idea.” Commercial Advertiser. November 22, 1869. p. 4. via GenealogyBank.com.

Perhaps it was the wealth of some of the residents of Bayside Cemetery relative to that of the surrounding neighborhood that attracted criminals:

"It Happened in New York." The Washington Post. February 9, 1906. p. 1. Via newspaperarchive.com
“It Happened in New York.” The Washington Post. February 9, 1906. p. 1. Via newspaperarchive.com.

Or perhaps it was anti-Semitism?

“Cemeteries Damaged.” The Kingston Daily Freeman. February 19, 1951. p. 12. via newspapers.com

"Cemeteries Damaged." The Kingston Daily Freeman. February 19, 1951. p. 12. via newspapers.com
“Cemeteries Damaged.” The Kingston Daily Freeman. February 19, 1951. p. 12. via newspapers.com.

Regardless of the reasons, the crimes against the cemetery became more horrific over time. In 1983, a woman’s body was removed from her coffin and in 1997, the coffin of Joseph Geismer was set on fire. Geismer’s niece relies upon Anthony Pisciotta to keep an eye on her family’s plot because she herself can’t bear to visit the cemetery.

The original owner of Bayside Cemetery, Congregation Shaare Zedek, is accused of negligence and fraud. A lawsuit filed in 2007 by John Lucker, a man whose grandparents purchased a perpetual care lot in Bayside, was dismissed in 2011 on a technicality. Lucker continues his crusade against Congregation Shaare Zedek via Bayside Cemetery Litigation while groups like Olive Branch Cemetery Restoration and the Community Alliance for Jewish-Affiliated Cemeteries, and individuals like Marmor and Pisciotta do what they believe is the best for the cemetery and its inhabitants.

The Shapell Roster Project honors the Jews in the service of the Union and Confederate Armies and Navies during the American Civil War period of 1861-1865. We, the researchers behind the Roster Project are grateful to all of the volunteers at Bayside Cemetery and any place where these men were laid to rest. Without your help, our job is just that much harder!

Interested in staying updated with the latest research news and discoveries?  You can follow the research team’s progress as it’s made at the Shapell Manuscript Foundation Facebook Page and Roster Project Album, or by following @ShapellManu on Twitter, #ShapellRoster, or check back at our blog for more interviews and news from the archives.

Lincoln and the Jews: A Book Review

Originally posted on Presidential History Blog:

The Book.

Lincoln and the Jews, by Jonathan D. Sarna and Benjamin Shapell, is an important book on many levels. First, it is a beautiful book, and very very classy. The illustrations, while not rivaling Michelangelo, are copies of historical ephemera: letters, photographs, newspaper articles and related items. Many are priceless because they are written in Abraham Lincoln’s own hand. The others are important because they are personal connections to Abraham Lincoln.

While much of the illustrated ephemera comes from the Library of Congress or similar Lincoln archives, the bulk of it is from the world-renowned private collection of Benjamin Shapell, lovingly assembled, preserved, protected, and now available to all.

It is not leather-bound and gold-tooled, but it is a book that looks wonderful on the coffee table or the shelf. Or read in entirety. The publishers should be proud.

The Great Man

Then of course, as the title…

View original 891 more words

The Last Seder of the Confederacy, 150 Years Later

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Adam Geibel, Shapell Roster Researcher.

"The Fight Before Mobile – Storming of Fort Blakely, April 9, 1865." Harper's Weekly. May 27, 1865. p. 10. http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1865/May/battle-of-mobile.htm
“The Fight Before Mobile – Storming of Fort Blakely, April 9, 1865.” Harper’s Weekly. May 27, 1865. p. 10. http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1865/May/battle-of-mobile.htm

“Probably the last charge of this war, it was as gallant as any on record.”

On March 17, 1899, The Jewish South reprinted an article by Dr. Mark Jacob Lehman, editor of the New Orleans based Jewish Ledger. Lehman vividly recounted the sights and sounds of what would become known as the “Last Sedar of the Confederacy.”

Lehman, Dr. M.J. "The Last Sedar of the Confederacy." The Jewish South. March 17, 1899. pp. 2-3. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn94051168/1899-03-17/ed-1/seq-1/
Lehman, Dr. M.J. “The Last Sedar of the Confederacy.” The Jewish South. March 17, 1899. pp. 2-3. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn94051168/1899-03-17/ed-1/seq-1/

One hundred and fifty years later, the article prompted Adam Geibel, one of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s Roster Project researchers to ask the question:

“who was this Dr. Lehman and how did he know what happened that night?”

The Seder of Lehman’s account took place in Mobile, Alabama. There is only one Lehman family in Mobile per the 1860 Federal census, thus probable that Jacob M. is Mark Jacob, one of two sons living with cigar maker Abraham Lehman. The other son was Moses (known by his family as Moise, which is Moses, en Francais).

1860 Eighth Census of the United States. Microfilm Publication M653: Record Group 29: Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C. In fold3.com. Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2011-2012.
1860 Eighth Census of the United States. Microfilm Publication M653: Record Group 29: Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C. In fold3.com. Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2011-2012.

Memorials for the family on findagrave.com confirm that this was Dr. Lehman’s family.

Lehman describes the Seder’s host as “arrayed in the tattered remnants of a Confederate soldier’s uniform, an irreconcilable of France and the Confederacy,” and the Tachrichim as made “in another clime by the hands of his then youthful bride.” Lehman’s father, Abraham, immigrated to America shortly before 1850 from his birthplace – France, and there is no record that Moise ever wedded, thus we believe that this historic Seder took place in the home of Abraham Lehman and his eleven year old son witnessed the event first hand.

"Moise Lehman, A Well-Known Mobilian, Passes Away." Times-Picayune. January 15, 1894. p. 10. (genealogybank.com)
“Moise Lehman, A Well-Known Mobilian, Passes Away.” Times-Picayune. January 15, 1894. p. 10. (genealogybank.com)

As noted in his obituary, ill health prevented Moise from leaving Mobile in April of 1861, but when the War came to Mobile’s front door in 1864, Moise (as Moses) enlisted in Company A of the 22nd Louisiana (Consolidated) Infantry. While the 22nd was originally an infantry unit, they were retrained to crew the heavy cannon that protected Mobile from Union land and sea threats.

http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/fort-blakely/maps/fortblakelyhistoricmap.html
http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/fort-blakely/maps/fortblakelyhistoricmap.html

Fifty year-old Abraham Lehman was an enlisted member of Captain Baas’ Company of the 1st Mobile Alabama Volunteers at the time of the siege of Mobile. The regiment was “composed of citizens over 45 years of age,” organized specifically and solely for the defense of Mobile City and County. As a younger man, he may have served as a soldier in France before immigrating to America, but we have not yet found evidence of such.

Dr. Lehman mentions that among the Seder guests, mostly Privates with a few subalterns (ranks above a Private but below a Captain), there was a French Captain from the 22nd Louisiana and a Major from a distinguished South Carolina family. We may never know whether Lehman ever knew the names of the guests or if he forgot them over the passage of time. Fortunately, the details of Dr. Lehman’s account give us clues to who might have been there. For example, a quick check of our database reveals that at least three soldiers in the 22nd Louisiana were in Mobile in April of 1862: Private Samuel Blum, Adjutant Lieutenant Benjamin Oppenheimer and Sergeant Joseph Zimmern. We have not yet determined if these men were Jewish, nor if the other twelve soldiers in our database who served in the unit were Jewish or in Mobile during Passover. We have not yet identified the name of the French Captain, but we do believe that the identity of the man Lehman described as “a ranking major, a native of South Carolina, his family distinguished for able men, all conscientious Israelites” is Major Washington Marks of the 22nd (Consolidated) Louisiana Infantry. The son of Alexander and Esther (Hetty) Hart Marks, born in Columbia and raised in the Jewish traditions and customs of the times in Charleston, South Carolina, was in Mobile that night. Standing six foot tall in an age when most men stood half a foot shorter, with grey eyes, black hair and a dark complexion (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~marksfamily/markspage.htm#wash), he probably cut a figure that no impressionable boy would ever forget.

As the clock wound down in the final weeks of the Confederate States of America in late March of 1865, Federal forces besieged the coastal city of Mobile, Alabama. With 45,000 troops, the Federals outnumbered the 4,000 Confederate defenders at better than ten to one odds. The final Federal assault began in earnest on April 9th – Palm Sunday for the Christians, the day before the start of Pesach for the Israelites, and the official end of the War of the Rebellion and the Confederacy. For those gathered in the home of Abraham Lehman that next night, “the Sedar proceeded uninterrupted.”

Enjoy your Passover, Friends.

Dankmar Adler: Architecture and the American Dream

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Caitlin Eichner and Alexandra Skerry, Shapell Roster Researchers.

Confession: we, Alex and Caitlin, your intrepid Shapell Manuscript Foundation bloggers, did not know in school that we were going to grow up to be archival researchers.  The both of us studied Historic Preservation in college; with Alex continuing on to get her Master’s and Caitlin breaking from the fold and heading to law school (which is why Alex is responsible for a lot of the technical parts of this post).  People from the Historic Preservation community think our job is really cool, but we don’t do a whole lot of architectural and landscape conservation out of the National Archives.  What our Historic Preservation backgrounds did give us though, which is essential to our chosen profession, is a HUGE awareness and appreciation of the importance of saving the past for future generations.  Every day we get to document and reconstruct the lives of people who lived over a century ago, to share with people living now and hopefully generations later.  And Caitlin’s law degree, well that just makes her really OCD about sources and occasionally helps her interpret a court martial.

But, this week, we came across a soldier who allowed us get our inner Preservation geek on, and relive our school days of architecture and design.  Dankmar Adler had immigrant beginnings, like most of our soldiers, but he went on to become one of the most well-known architects of his time.  His more famous partner, Louis H. Sullivan, is considered the father of modern American architecture.  Together, they helped train Frank Lloyd Wright, arguably the most famous American architect of all time.  We have several gentlemen in our database who made great names for themselves for their great deeds and exploits during the Civil War— Marcus Spiegel, Leopold Karpeles, Judah P. Benjamin, to name a few— but none, perhaps, who built such a lasting legacy.

Dankmar Adler, World’s Columbian Exposition, c. 1891. Ryerson and Burnham Libraries Book Collection, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago. Digital File # DFRWCE.Port_Adler.
Dankmar Adler, World’s Columbian Exposition, c. 1891. Ryerson and Burnham Libraries Book Collection, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago. Digital File # DFRWCE.Port_Adler.

Dankmar Adler was born in Germany, in 1844.  His father, Liebman Adler, was a Rabbi, and upon coming to America, he moved the family first to Detroit, where he served as Rabbi for Temple Beth El.  In 1861, he then became Rabbi of the Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv Synagogue in Chicago, IL, and the Adlers moved again.  Dankmar had been an apprentice to a local architect in Detroit, and when he got to Chicago, he found employment as a draftsman.

The Adlers’ move, of course, coincided with the build up to and beginning of the Civil War.  And, in August 1862, Dankmar Adler enlisted to join in the fight.  The US Naturalization Indexes show Adler did not become a citizen of the United States until 1888, so he would not have been eligible for the draft instituted during the Civil War.  And working as a draftsman, Adler would not have been in any great need of money; like many of the poor immigrants enlisting in the service.  His decision to enlist seems only to have been motivated by a sense of pride in or duty to his adopted home; a choice motivated by patriotism and honor.

Dankmar Adler joined the 1st Illinois Light Artillery as a Private.  He was promoted to Corporal during his service, but requested to be reduced back to Private.  No explanation is given in the soldier’s service records as to why he made this decision.  In March of 1865, as the war was winding down, many men detached for special duty were being returned to their regiments to be mustered out.  This left the Department of the Cumberland’s Topographical Engineer Office in desperate need of draftsmen.  So, Adler was sent down to Nashville, at the request of the Chief Engineer of the Department of the Cumberland, to fill that void.  He remained at the Topographical Engineer’s Office until the end of July 1865, when his unit returned to Chicago to be mustered out.

 

In 1870, according to the US Census, the 26 year-old Adler was still living at home with Rabbi Adler, like today’s Millennials.  But, Adler’s career was about to take off.  In 1871, he formed a partnership with architect Edward Burling.  Then the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 happened, and business was booming.  Adler married Dila Kohn in 1872, the daughter of Abraham Kohn, who helped found the Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv Synagogue. Abraham Kohn is well-known for sending then President-elect Abraham Lincoln a silk American flag, hand painted by Kohn himself with lines from the Book of Joshua in Hebrew.  You can read more about Kohn and his flag in the upcoming book Lincoln and the Jews – A History.

1870 Census Including the Adler Family 1870, Ninth Census of the United States. Microfilm Publication M593: Record Group 29: Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C. In: Ancestry.com (online database). Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2011-2012.
1870 Census Including the Adler Family
1870, Ninth Census of the United States. Microfilm Publication M593: Record Group 29: Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, D.C. In: Ancestry.com (online database). Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2011-2012.
Dankmar and Dila Adler, c. 1890. Dankmar Adler Collection, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago. Digital File # 195202.090706-02.
Dankmar and Dila Adler, c. 1890. Dankmar Adler Collection, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago. Digital File # 195202.090706-02.

Adler’s success continued to grow.  He was able to open his own firm in 1879 and shortly after, formed what is often referred to as one of the most significant and influential partnerships in American architecture, when he hired a young Louis Sullivan.

Louis Henry Sullivan has often been referred to as the “father of skyscrapers,” a designation that would not have been possible without the training and initial success with his partner Dankmar Adler.  Adler was formally trained as an engineer and believed that Sullivan’s creative and artistic abilities would be an ideal match to his more technical training.  Adler’s premonitions were correct and his sense of structure along with Sullivan’s artistic eye lead them to become extremely successful, designing around 180 buildings during their 15 year partnership.

Louis H. Sullivan, c. 1900. Richard Nickel Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago. Digital File # 201006_110711-023.
Louis H. Sullivan, c. 1900. Richard Nickel Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago. Digital File # 201006_110711-023.

Adler and Sullivan achieved initial fame as theater architects, using Adler’s expertise in acoustics and Sullivan’s artistic eye to create beautiful and functional designs.  One of their most well-known buildings, the Auditorium Building in Chicago, was completed in 1889, with a young Frank Lloyd Wright hired to draft finished drawings of the interior of the project.  Wright would spend five years working for the firm, learning from Adler and Sullivan, and developing his distinctive style.

Auditorium Building, Chicago, IL.  Designed by Adler & Sullivan. Photographs, Historic American Building Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1979. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress: HABS ILL,16-CHIG,39—1; http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/hhh.il0091.photos.061068p/?co=hh accessed February 18, 2015.
Auditorium Building, Chicago, IL. Designed by Adler & Sullivan.
Photographs, Historic American Building Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1979. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress: HABS ILL,16-CHIG,39—1; http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/hhh.il0091.photos.061068p/?co=hh accessed February 18, 2015.
Portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright Frank Lloyd Wright, photographed by Al Ravenna, 1954. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, NYWT&S Collection, LC-USZ62-116657. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/96514795/
Portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright, photographed by Al Ravenna, 1954. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, NYWT&S Collection, LC-USZ62-116657. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/96514795/

Adler and Sullivan also designed the new Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv Synagogue (1891), where Adler’s father was the Rabbi.  After this time, Adler and Sullivan focused primarily on office buildings and created some of the most famous designs of the time including the Wainwright Building in St. Louis, MO (1891) and the Guaranty Building in Buffalo, NY (1896).

Kehilath Anshe Ma'ariv Synagogue (now, Pilgrim Baptist Church), Chicago, IL.  Designed by Adler & Sullivan. Photographs,Historic American Building Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1979. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress: HABS ILL,16-CHIG,56—1 http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/il0127.photos.061286p/resource/ accessed February 18, 2015.
Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv Synagogue (now, Pilgrim Baptist Church), Chicago, IL. Designed by Adler & Sullivan.
Photographs,Historic American Building Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1979. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress: HABS ILL,16-CHIG,56—1 http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/il0127.photos.061286p/resource/ accessed February 18, 2015.
Wainwright Building, St. Louis, MO.  Designed by Adler & Sullivan. Photographs, Historic American Building Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1979. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress: HABS MO,96-SALU,49—1 http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/hhh.mo0297.photos.099165p/ accessed February 18, 2015.
Wainwright Building, St. Louis, MO. Designed by Adler & Sullivan.
Photographs, Historic American Building Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1979. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress: HABS MO,96-SALU,49—1 http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/hhh.mo0297.photos.099165p/ accessed February 18, 2015.
The Guaranty Building (now, Prudential Building), Buffalo, NY.  Designed by Adler & Sullivan. Photographs, Historic American Building Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1979. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress: HABS NY,15-BUF,6—1 http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ny0204.photos.116403p/resource/ accessed February 18, 2015.
The Guaranty Building (now, Prudential Building), Buffalo, NY. Designed by Adler & Sullivan.
Photographs, Historic American Building Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1979. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress: HABS NY,15-BUF,6—1 http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ny0204.photos.116403p/resource/ accessed February 18, 2015.

Despite their enormous success, Adler and Sullivan split in 1895, citing that year’s economic depression as the reason for their separation.  Adler agreed to continue to consult on Sullivan’s projects however, and went into practice with his son.  Adler’s career was cut short by his early death on April 16, 1900, from a stroke at the age of 56.  He is buried at Mount Maryiv Cemetery, a Jewish Cemetery in Chicago, IL.

Dankmar Adler’s legacy goes far beyond his designs, lasting buildings, and writings on architectural theory.  Both the partner and the apprentice he inspired would go onto create and write theories about the most important architectural designs of the 20th century.  Sullivan would go on to command the new Modernist movement with new technologies such as steel-frame construction and be a mentor and inspiration to young American Architects of the Chicago School such as Frank Lloyd Wright.  Sullivan was also one of the ten architects chosen to build the major structure of the “White City” at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.

Frank Lloyd Wright became the zenith of American architecture.  Like most of Wright’s personal and professional relationships, his tenure at Adler and Sullivan did not end on the best of terms, but without their help, Wright would not have been able to influence the Chicago and Prairie Schools of Architecture and design masterpieces such as Fallingwater, the Ward Willits House, the Robie House, or Unity Temple.  Despite their tumultuous relationships, Wright would still go on to refer to Sullivan as “Lieber Meister” (German for “Dear Master”) as a sign of respect for the rest of his life.

Fallingwater, Mill Run, PA.  Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photographs, Historic American Building Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1979. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress: HABS PA, 26-OHPY.V,1—87 (CT) http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/hhh.pa1690.color.570317c/ accessed February 18, 2015.
Fallingwater, Mill Run, PA. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Photographs, Historic American Building Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1979. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress: HABS PA, 26-OHPY.V,1—87 (CT) http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/hhh.pa1690.color.570317c/ accessed February 18, 2015.
The Frederick C. Robie House, Chicago, IL.  Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photographs, Historic American Building Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1979. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress: HABS ILL, 16-CHIG, 33—2 http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/il0039.photos.061028p/resource/ accessed February 18, 2015.
The Frederick C. Robie House, Chicago, IL. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Photographs, Historic American Building Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1979. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress: HABS ILL, 16-CHIG, 33—2 http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/il0039.photos.061028p/resource/ accessed February 18, 2015.
Unity Temple, Oak Park, IL.  Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photographs, Historic American Building Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1979. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress: HABS ILL, 16-OAKPA, 3—1 http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/il0318.photos.061737p/resource/ accessed February 18, 2015
Unity Temple, Oak Park, IL. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Photographs, Historic American Building Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1979. From Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress: HABS ILL, 16-OAKPA, 3—1 http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/il0318.photos.061737p/resource/ accessed February 18, 2015.

We here at the Shapell Manuscript Foundation are excited to tell Dankmar Adler’s story, and help memorialize not only his part in modern American architecture; but his part in American history as a whole.  He was one of the many brave young men, who chose to fight to defend the Union, when he did not have to; and he used that courage later on in his work.  Plus, Alex and Caitlin have had a blast reading their old architectural history books and looking at pictures of beautiful buildings. We highly recommend everyone do the same!

Caitlin on a Trip to Fallingwater
Caitlin on a Trip to Fallingwater.
Alex and her Preservation Classmates (who are very excited to see the Guaranty Building in person!)
Alex and her Preservation Classmates (who are very excited to see the Guaranty Building in person!)

 

International Man of Mystery – Colonel Frederick George d’Utassy

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Caitlin Eichner, Shapell Roster Researcher.

Working on The Shapell Roster Project, I have the great good fortune of getting to dig through the military records of Civil War soldiers every day at the National Archives.  Some soldiers only have a page or two to indicate their small but important part in this turning point of our nation’s history; others leave a long paper trail.  But few soldiers leave their mark or raise as many questions as Colonel Frederick George d’Utassy of the 39th NY Infantry.

Frederick George d'Utassy
Frederick George d’Utassy. U.S. Civil War Photos, 1860-1865. Original data: Brady Civil War Photograph Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. In fold3.com. Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2011-2012.

Colonel d’Utassy was not included in Simon Wolf’s roster of Jewish Civil War soldiers; we came across his name in a not particularly flattering article published in the New York Tribune.  Amongst many other allegations, the paper claimed that d’Utassy changed his name to hide his former identity, and most importantly for the Roster Project, that he was Jewish. Generally presented in a negative context— was this contention that d’Utassy was Jewish a fact, or merely another attempt at tarnishing his already spotty reputation?

Much has been written on the infamous service of Colonel d’Utassy.  If he lived today, his name would be splashed across the covers of US Weekly and the National Enquirer, and we would peruse his supposed exploits as we stood in line at the grocery store.  But much like those who serve as tabloid fodder nowadays, the true story of his life remains elusive. An alleged Hungarian aristocrat, d’Utassy was said to have worked as a dancing master, secretary to the Governor of Nova Scotia, and a professor of languages after fleeing his homeland.  He claimed in statements given to the War Department that he left Hungary after the failed Revolutions of 1848, where he deserted the Austrian army to serve with his father for his mother country.  Perhaps because of this former experience, d’Utassy helped to form the 39th NY Infantry, or “Garibaldi Guard” shortly after the Civil War broke out.  The unit quickly became known for their lavish uniforms and colorful Colonel.  But, after two years of commanding the regiment, and a multitude of complaints and scandals, d’Utassy was finally cashiered in 1863 and sentenced to one year of hard labor at Sing-Sing Prison for “[u]nlawfully selling and disposing of Government horses for his own benefit” and “[c]onduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline” — namely opening private mail, selling appointments in his regiment, and altering and padding muster rolls before submitting them to the Pay Department.

It was during his trial that the New York Tribune published the story that lead us to d’Utassy, including the following account on d’Utassy’s origins:

“We have been at the trouble of collecting, from the published accounts of the D’Utassy court-martial and among his personal acquaintances in this city, the materials for a personal sketch, which, although necessarily meager, will be found not uninteresting even to the general reader. It seems that in 1848, when the Hungarian revolution broke out, the officers of the huzzar regiments, on arriving at the city of Pesth, found in the Jews’ quarter a man of the name of Strasser, who kept a second-hand clothing store, and who seemed to be in confidential relations with the horsekeepers of the Hungarian plains which surround that city, and with whom he had an extensive business connection. Strasser, upon being applied to, furnished a number of horses, obtained from his friends, to the troopers of the patriot army, and ultimately formed a connection with the quartermaster’s department in the capacity of a clerk. The person who gives us this information was in one of the regiments, and was personally acquainted with Strasser at that time. He lost sight of him for some years, but finally, in the spring of 1861, when the Garibaldi Guard was being formed in New York, recognized in the elegant and influential D’Utassy, Strasser, the Jewish clothes-dealer of Pesth.”

"D'Utassy's Career." New York Tribune. Vol. XXIII. No. 6923. June 12. 1863. p. 2.
“D’Utassy’s Career.” New York Tribune. Vol. XXIII. No. 6923. June 12. 1863. p. 2.

In the many varying accounts of his life, some acknowledge d’Utassy as formerly being Strasser, and some claim the story was merely an attempt to discredit d’Utassy.  According to The Thorny Rose: The Americanization of an Urban, Immigrant, Working Class Regiment in the Civil War. A Social History of the 39th New York Volunteer Infantry, the Colonel’s powerful friends “begged him to set the record straight, to refute the charges, to act swiftly to neutralize the scandal… [but] D’Utassy refused to answer what he considered to be ridiculous and insulting calumny.”  Even with the accounts that identify d’Utassy as Strasser, most do not address the issue of the Colonel’s religion; and those that do provide no source. Was d’Utassy’s silence really due to principles, or because there was some truth to the stories?

These accounts of his past were believed by men in d’Utassy’s regiment.  While amassing its case against d’Utassy, the Army interviewed the Chaplain for his regiment, Antony P. Zyla, on d’Utassy’s dealings.  Along with some of the crimes d’Utassy was eventually convicted of, Zyla also accused d’Utassy of blackmailing inferior officers into purchasing horses from him, carrying on affairs with other officers’ wives, having “an excessive thirst for gold” and manipulating the system to get his brothers commissions; “one of his brothers, like him, bearing an assumed name and well known in the streets of Washington as a professional gambler[.]

In addition to alleging some very serious breaches of conduct, Zyla’s statement referenced d’Utassy’s supposed double identity, and showed the Chaplain’s rather un-Christian view of his Jewish comrades. He claimed d’Utassy required Zyla to pay him a portion of his salary every month- “$30, for the maintenance as he said, of a due splendor of his household as a Colonel, born a noble-man, while, even at that early epoch [he] had already heard from [d’Utassy’s] own countrymen that he was a Jew.”  Zyla voiced his objection to this taking, seemingly not because of the impropriety of an officer requiring his men to support his extravagances, but because he believed d’Utassy to be in actuality a Jew.  This sentiment got worse when Zyla recounted the Colonel’s dealings with Stonewall Jackson at the surrender of Harpers Ferry:

“Col. D’Utassy, although a perfect coward in adversity, but proud and crass in prosperity, told Stonewall Jackson, when asked what his officers said to the conditions of the Harper’s Ferry surrender, that he was never wont to ask his officers their opinions at all, but he himself was the embodiment of the supreme will in his regiment….  His sophistry is a cake, baked of Jewish covetousness, gipsy eccentricity, and the sensual proneness of the beast.”

The Chaplain’s words do not merely evidence a great dislike for his former commander, but show deep-seated hatred and distrust of a people as a whole.  Simon Wolf’s The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier, and Citizen was written in response to a great wave of anti-Semitism in the late 19th century; and Jewish historians have often described— in generalizations, but rarely with specificity— great prejudice against the Jews in the ranks during the Civil War.  But, my colleagues and I have run into relatively few examples of this bigotry in the primary source records from this period.  The case of d’Utassy is one of those few.

Zyla’s statement proved helpful to us, however, because his references to d’Utassy gaining commissions for his two brothers led to us tracking them down as well.  A search through the New York Compiled Military Service Indexes and rosters for the 39th NY Infantry, with corroboration from contemporary newspapers, presented us with Anthony d’Utassy and Carl von Utassy.

Carl von Utassy U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles. Original data compiled by Historical Data Systems of Kingston, MA from the following list of works: (http://www.ancestry.com/search/rectype/military/cwrd/db.aspx?). In:Ancestry.com (online database). Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2011-2012.
Carl von Utassy
U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles. Original data compiled by Historical Data Systems of Kingston, MA from the following list of works: (http://www.ancestry.com/search/rectype/military/cwrd/db.aspx?). In:Ancestry.com (online database). Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2011-2012.

Anthony or Anton d’Utassy served as a Captain in the 39th NY Infantry and Carl von Utassy served as 1st Lieutenant under their older brother.  And by a stroke of luck, Carl’s widow applied for a pension- providing us, a century and a half later, with proof that the three Utassy boys were really the Jewish Strassers.  Bertha Utassy applied for a pension in 1892, twenty one years after Carl’s death.  To prove her status as Carl’s widow, she contacted the US Consulate to Austria-Hungary in Vienna for help gaining official records. The record of Carl and Bertha’s marriage was found in the Marriage Record of the Civil Recorder’s Office “of the Jewish Confession, of the 10th Ward of the City of Warsaw,” stating that a ceremony was performed by the “Rabbi of the District and City Warsaw Cheim Davidsohn” on October 26, 1852.  The names given of the two united were Carl Strass and Bertha Nelken, however— no form of the name Utassy was present.  The final page of the marriage transcript submitted by the US Consulate is actually a deposition taken from two residents of Vienna— an attorney and a journalist— swearing “that the Carl Strass or Strasser mentioned in the herewith annexed Certificate of Marriage, is identical with Carl von Utassy late Lieut 39 N.Y. Vols., and who with the sanction of the R. Hungarian Government has changed his name of Carl Strass or Strasser into that of Carl von Utassy.

Based on this evidence, Bertha Utassy was granted her pension, and we were finally able to learn at least part of the truth about Frederick George d’Utassy and his storied past.  Frederick, Carl, and Anton were most certainly brothers, so this primary source evidence is enough to show that all three left different identities behind in Hungary.  Whether, when still living as the Jewish Strasser, d’Utassy also acted as horse trader and second-hand clothes dealer remains to be seen.  Unfortunately our search is limited by geographical and language barriers, but it would be fascinating if d’Utassy/Strasser’s military career could be traced, or found in Hungary.  What is clear is that through a change of name and scenery, d’Utassy built himself a quite a colorful and exciting life. To date, most of the names included in The Shapell Roster come from Simon Wolf, but he missed the three Utassy brothers in his count.  As notorious a figure as Colonel d’Utassy was at the height of his US military career, Wolf would surely have known of him.  Whether Wolf was unaware of the d’Utassy brothers’ past and Jewish faith and missed them from his list, or whether Wolf intentionally omitted the controversial figure and his siblings to avoid the negative stereotypes he was trying to combat remains a mystery.

Interested in staying updated with the latest research news and discoveries?  You can follow the research team’s progress as it’s made at the Shapell Manuscript Foundation Facebook Page and Roster Project Album, or by following @ShapellManu on Twitter,#ShapellRoster, or check back at our blog for more interviews and news from the archives.

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