Tag Archives: Simon Wolf

Searching for Charles Newburgh

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

After several years working on the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s “Roster of Jews in the Service of the Union and Confederate Armies and Navies, 1861-1865,” we have come across a LOT of names.  A handful of the names stick, and can be recalled at will; but most do not, and remind us how thankful we are that the database and our email server have a key word search function.  We record our favorite discoveries in weekly reports so we can easily revisit stories we have learned. Building the narratives for literally thousands of men rewards the soul, but tests the memory.

We look into men who came from all walks of life. Men who were born all over the world, and served from all over the country.  We find connections between a few soldiers here and there; brothers, cousins, neighbors, comrades, friends.  But, it’s rare that we see a name come up consistently across large numbers of different soldiers’ records, except maybe references to “Mr. Lincoln.”  So translator Charles Newburgh stuck out in our memories.

One of the best resources when researching Union* soldiers are the pension records of Civil War veterans held by The National Archives.  The contents of a Union pension application file vary greatly, depending on who was applying, and what type of claim they were making.  Veterans could apply for benefits based on disabilities created by injury and disease incurred during the War, or later benefits based on soldier’s advanced age.  Widows, under-age children, and dependent parents could apply for benefits following a soldier/veteran’s death.  Age, degree of disability, and relationship to a soldier are typical facts to be proven in these different types of applications.  The Bureau of Pensions therefore routinely collected evidence about a soldier’s birth, marriage, and death during an investigation into a claim.  These are the three hallmarks we hope to find in a pension file, because they provide the strongest and likeliest connections for us to confirm a soldier’s identity or verify that a soldier was Jewish.  Was the guy buried in a Jewish cemetery? Married by a Rabbi? Did his birth get recorded in the local synagogue’s records? Gosh, we hope so!

Because so many Union soldiers were immigrants, and some returned to their homelands after the war; many of the documents they submitted were written in foreign languages, typically without any translation.  The Bureau of Pensions therefore needed translators to decipher these records, so the claims could be processed.  We come across the names of many different translators when reviewing said documents in pension files—translators in German, Italian, Portuguese, etc.—but only one when we gleefully stumble on documents in Hebrew.  A Mr. Charles Newburgh.  The Hebrew translator has become an old friend, a favored guest in our research.  For every ketubah, every synagogue birth record we’ve found, submitted from the late 1880’s up until the early 1920’s, Newburgh is there.  Helping our Jewish soldiers prove the details of their lives so they could receive crucial benefits, and helping us put together the specifics of these soldiers’ lives more than a century later.

Charles Newburgh played such a key role in our searching, that we began wondering who he was, and whether he might have kept records of the translations he did at the Bureau pf Pensions.  If anyone would have had the inside track on which Union soldiers were Jewish, it would have been Newburgh. Could he have been one of Simon Wolf’s sources for his 1895 roster?

But, with so many soldiers to track and deep understanding of the mess that is digging though administrative agencies’ back logs, an investigation into Charles Newburgh’s background was put on hold.  That is, until we came across Charles Newburgh in a place we hadn’t expected.

Otto Zoeller served as a Private in the 7th NY Infantry; and was included in Simon Wolf’s book.  

Since Wolf employed the 19th century acceptable practice of “name profiling” in compiling his roster, we independently authenticate each and every name, including Private Zoeller.  The pension record indexes showed that the soldier Otto Zoeller had actually served under an alias, and that his true name was CHARLES NEWBURGH.  That coupled with the fact that this soldier died in Washington DC, in 1930, after the period we had observed our translator operating, set off alarm bells.

Pension Record Index for Charles Newburgh, Alias Otto Zoeller[7]
Pension Record Index for Charles Newburgh, Alias Otto Zoeller[7]
After requesting and pouring over the Zoeller pension file, we were able to confirm that Otto Zoeller the soldier and Charles Newburgh the translator for the Bureau of Pensions were one and the same.  

Charles Newburgh was born in Oettingen, Bavaria, Germany on April 27, 1837.  He came to America by way of Liverpool, England, on the S. S. City of Philadelphia in 1854, and settled in New York City prior to the war.  Newburgh became an American citizen in 1860, and so answered his new country’s call to arms almost exactly a year later; enlisting in the 7th NY Infantry for 18 months under the name Otto Zoeller.  He was wounded in action at the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862, in Henrico County, VA; receiving a gunshot wound in his left arm.  Due to this injury, Newburgh was discharged for disability, and his military career was brought to an end.  

It is unclear why Charles Newburgh served under an alias.  We often see soldiers hiding their identities because they were too young to serve, and their families refused to give them permission to join.  Newburgh was 21 years old at enlistment though; very comfortably over the age of majority.  The affidavit he provided to the Bureau of Pensions provides no explanation.  Newburgh simply states he served under this alternate name, likely because he was already an employee in the department, and had no need to prove his identity.  

Zoeller is a German name of Bavarian origin, so Newburgh chose a new name from his homeland.  Like so many surnames, Zoeller was originally the name of an occupation: a tax collector, or toll gatherer.  This was a prominent and lucrative position to hold, so families with this name were often wealthy and well-to-do.  Maybe this is why Newburgh chose the name; to add some clout to his persona.

Speculating as to why the soldier chose to use an alias, perhaps it had something to do with his younger brother receiving an appointment as Captain of the 10th NY Infantry six months earlier; while he was a lowly private.  Joseph Newburgh, by records showing his age across the years, appears to have been born the year after Charles.  He enlisted at the start of the war, and like his brother was wounded in action.  Joseph was shot in both the arm and the side at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862.  When Joseph was discharged for disability, he re-enlisted in the Veteran Reserve Corps.

After the war, Joseph Newburgh provided Charles with an affidavit in support of his pension claim; confirming Charles’s identity as Otto Zoeller, and stating that they had run into each other regularly during the war around Newport News and on the Chickahominy River.  Joseph even saw Charles the day after Malvern Hill, and observed his wound.  A few years later, Charles repaid the favor, and gave an affidavit on behalf of Joseph’s widow, Sophie.  Joseph met an unfortunate end on a steamboat named the Sandy Fashion.  There was an explosion on board the Sandy Fashion along the Big Sandy River, and Joseph Newburgh drowned.  Sophie applied for a widow’s pension, but at the time of her application, a veteran’s death had to be directly related to an injury or condition that occurred or began during and due to his service.  Charles gave testimony that prior to the war, based on observations Charles made when the brothers would go bathing in the river, Joseph was “a good swimmer.”  After the war, the injuries to his arm had left Joseph “crippled… to such an extent that he could not swim afterwards.”  Other passengers of the Sandy Fashion survived the accident, swimming back to shore; but Joseph was unable to do so.  The Bureau of Pensions did not agree with the Newburgh family’s assessment that Joseph’s death would not have happened if not for his injuries during his military service, so Sophie’s claim was unfortunately rejected.  Joseph’s funeral was held at The Plum Street Temple in Cincinnati, OH; now called the Isaac M. Wise Temple, built for the famous rabbi’s congregation.

Charles Newburgh led a much longer, less tragic life after the Civil War than his brother.  He moved around frequently before settling in Beloit, WI for over a decade.  There he met and married his wife Kate, and started his family.  Then, in 1887, he was hired as a translator by the Bureau of Pensions, moving to Washington, DC, and unknowingly beginning his century-later relationship with our research team.  In Washington, the translator was known as Professor Charles Newburgh, although we have not yet found that he ever served on the faculty of any school.  He translated Hebrew and German documents for the Bureau, and proved to be not only an expert in languages, but in comparative religions as well.  Newburgh gave many lectures around DC, primarily on behalf of the Washington Secular League, discussing, among other things, the origins of different religions’ central texts, and “the philosophy of the Hebrews.”

Charles Newburgh’s sharp mind can be readily observed reading the appeals he submitted to his office on behalf of his own pension claim.  The Bureau of Pensions held that Newburgh’s injury during the war had not left the veteran “unfit for manual labor” and that he was therefore not entitled to the benefits he claimed.  In his appeal, Newburgh analyzed the language of the law under which he filed his claim, and like a skilled litigator, pulled apart its meaning, and explained why the Bureau had misinterpreted the legislative purpose and incorrectly found that he did not qualify:

“As to the law: The act provides ‘That any person who served in the military or naval service of the United States during civil war and received an honorable discharge, and who was wounded in battle or in line of duty and is now unfit for manual labor by reason thereof, or who from diseases or other causes in line of duty resulting in his disability is now unable to perform manual labor, shall be paid the maximum pension under this Act, to wit, thirty dollars per month, without regard to length of service or age.’

This clause of said Act divides claimants into two distinct classes: 1., persons wounded who are by reason of such wounds now unfit for manual labor, and 2., persons who by reason of disability resulting from disease are now unable to perform manual labor.

Webster’s Dictionary defines unfit by ‘not fit; not suitable.’  For instance, a lame horse is not fit, not suitable to be driven, but may nevertheless be made to pull a buggy or a cart.

Unable is defined by the same authority by ‘not able; not having sufficient strength, means, knowledge, skill or the like; impotent, weak; helpless; incapable.’  A horse unable to pull a buggy or a cart is a very different description and expression from unfit for such work.  What the Act contemplates and the distinction intended by it is expressed in perfectly plain words.”

Newburgh argued, based on this understanding of the language of the law, that the fact that the Bureau found that he could still perform some physical acts, in spite of his wounded left arm, did not mean he was suitable for physical labor.  His injury did leave him unfit to do much physical work.  The special examiner in Newburgh’s case did concede that he put forth a compelling argument, but held the standard intended for receiving benefits under this act was closer to what Newburgh defined as unable; regardless of what wording was chosen and what Webster’s said.  Years later, Commissioner of Pensions Winfield Scott would help push through Newburgh’s claim at a rate of $90 a month, after the latter had exceeded the age of 80 and was entitled to hefty age-based benefits.

Charles Newburgh served in the Bureau of Pensions over 30 years before retiring; helping countless veterans prove their claims.  He died January 26, 1930, in Washington, DC, and was interred at the historic Glenwood Cemetery.  His good works continue to be a boon to the Shapell Roster Project, and we are thrilled that now we get to celebrate both his military and administrative service, so hopefully others too remember the name “Charles Newburgh.”

*Pension records also exist for Confederate soldiers, but are more difficult to track down because they were submitted at the state level to the former Confederate states, and are therefore not centrally held in one place. To find a Confederate soldier’s pension application, if he even submitted for one, you must know not only the regiment he served in, but also where he lived after the war; because these veterans would submit for benefits in the state they were living in at that time, which was not necessarily where they were living when they enlisted.

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.


[1] 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.






[7] Microfilm Publication T289: Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900. Record Group 15: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773 – 2007. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC. In fold3.com (online database). Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2011-2012.

[8] Department of the Interior. Bureau of Pensions. (1849 – 1930). Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Veterans Who Served in the Army and Navy Mainly in the Civil War and the War with Spain (“Civil War and Later Survivors’ Certificates”): Nos. SC 9,487 – 999,999, 1861 – 1934. Record Group 15: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773 – 2007. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.

[9] U.S. Naturalization Record Indexes, 1791-1992 (Indexed in World Archives Project). Original data: Selected U.S. Naturalization Records. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC. In: Ancestry.com (online database). Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2010.

[10] Microfilm Publication M1372: Passport Applications, 1795-1905. Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, 1763 – 2002. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC. In fold3.com (online database). Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2011-2012.

[11] 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.

[12] Department of the Interior. Bureau of Pensions. (1849 – 1930). Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Veterans Who Served in the Army and Navy Mainly in the Civil War and the War with Spain (“Civil War and Later Survivors’ Certificates”): Nos. SC 9,487 – 999,999, 1861 – 1934. Record Group 15: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773 – 2007. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.



[15] “Deaths.” The Cincinnati Enquirer. Vol. XXXVI. No. 99. April 9, 1878. p. 5. Accessed on Newspapers.com.

[16] The Washington Post. No. 13,785. March 7, 1914. p. 5. Accessed on Newspapers.com. AND “Origin of Bibles Debate.” Evening Star. No. 18,639. October 9, 1911. p. 9. Accessed on GenealogyBank.com.

[17] Department of the Interior. Bureau of Pensions. (1849 – 1930). Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Veterans Who Served in the Army and Navy Mainly in the Civil War and the War with Spain (“Civil War and Later Survivors’ Certificates”): Nos. SC 9,487 – 999,999, 1861 – 1934. Record Group 15: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773 – 2007. National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.


[19] “Veterans in Civil Service.” The Washington Herald. No. 4952. May 20, 1920. p. 12. Accessed on Newspapers.com.

[20] Courtesy, Brian Tosko Bello.


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.

Behind the Scenes on the Shapell Roster Project: Alex Skerry & Adrienne Usher on Soldiers Justinian Alman & Jacob Hyneman

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Alexandra Skerry, Shapell Roster Researcher, and Adrienne Usher, Head Researcher – Shapell Roster.

This is the first in a series of “Behind the Scenes” reports on the Shapell Roster Project Team’s collaborative research process. Adrienne Usher and Alex Skerry explain how instincts, attention to detail and team work can transform two names in a database into a story about a post-war death and the woman who connected two soldiers, illustrated with beautiful historical documents.

PART I: Adrienne 

As the Lead Researcher for the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s Roster Project, my responsibilities include administrative duties, database management, and research. While our primary goal at this stage of the project is to confirm the Civil War service of the names included in Simon Wolf’s 1895 The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen, we are constantly adding new names. Periodically, I discover new resources, and when I do – it’s like winning the lottery! Such was the case in March of 2014, when I realized that the New York based newspaper, the Jewish Messenger, was included in our subscription to GenealogyBank – a subscription database of searchable historic newspapers. I stopped what I was doing and immediately began searching for the names of soldiers appearing in the newspaper. My assumption was that if they were written about in the Jewish Messenger, they were, presumably, Jewish, and all I needed to do was figure out their Civil War service to be able to add them to our roster. For every name I found, I had to cross-check the information in the article (if there was any) against ancestry.com and fold3.com. Once I was able to confirm his Civil War service, I then checked the database to see if we already had him. Most of the time, they were in Wolf’s roster, and so not a new name. But, here and there, I struck gold. Such was the case with Justinian Alman.

A search of the Jewish Messenger for the keyword “Cavalry” from 1861-1865 yielded 31 results. #2 in the list was an article dated January 23, 1863 entitled “Virginia.”

Luckily, Captain Alman had a unique first name, which always makes things easier, so I went to the CMSRIs (the Compiled Military Service Record Indexes) on fold3.com. The good news was that I found only one hit – the bad news was that it wasn’t for a New York regiment, as the newspaper article stated. Next stop was to check ancestry.com for a Pension Record Index, and there it was, confirming that there was only one Justinian Alman (or any variation thereof) who served in the Civil War and that his widow applied for and received a Pension on the basis of her late husband’s service. Best news of all, the Pension file was already scanned and online at fold3!

A secondary search of the Jewish Messenger resulted in 3 additional mentions of Alman, including the news of his untimely death. I was confident that Justinian Alman was Jewish and served in the Civil War, so I created what we call a “shell record” for him into the database, including his name, regiment, and links to the supporting documentation. We have two very dedicated researchers who spend Monday through Friday at the National Archives in Washington, DC, reviewing the military records for each name in our database. I knew that at some point, one of them would turn their attention to Justinian Alman, so I moved on to the next discovery…


My favorite aspect of the Roster Project is watching the soldiers’ stories unfold and begin to fit into greater, more comprehensive narratives.  Not only were these soldiers men with individual personal life stories, but they were part of a company and a regiment during the war, and a larger community before and after.  When two lives connect, we usually find that these soldiers directly influenced each other in some way.  We often find soldiers that were brothers, friends, coworkers or even neighbors but sometimes it takes some digging in the records at the National Archives (NARA) and some additional online research to discover more complicated connections.

Justinian Alman is a soldier who I keep coming back to over and over again.  His story continues to intrigue me as it has evolved through a small connection from a seemingly singular history to an expanded, wider narrative.  Every time I think our team has exhausted our knowledge of Alman—learning of his tragic death, reviewing his interesting documents, and finding out about his connection with another soldier in our database—additional bits and pieces of his story seem to emerge.

When I began my research on Alman, all I had to go off of was what Adrienne had entered into the “shell record” she had created for him.  I had his name, his Compiled Military Service Record Index (CMSRI), his Pension Record Index (PRI) and the article she had found in the Jewish Messenger.  I was able to fill out a “Request for Military Records” pull slip based off of the information on Alman’s CMSRI and submit it in order to receive Alman’s files at NARA.

Pull Slip submitted to NARA
Request for Military Records pull slip submitted to NARA.

With this pull slip, Alman’s Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR) was retrieved for me to review.  Each volunteer soldier has a CMSR for each regiment in which they served during the war.  The CMSR generally contains basic information that was taken from original muster rolls about the soldier’s military service.  A CMSR will usually contain dates such as enlistment and discharge, record if the soldier was wounded in action or became a prisoner of war, and may report on a soldier’s age or place of birth.  Some CMSRs contain more information than others, depending upon the thoroughness of the original record-keeper.

By reviewing Alman’s CMSR at NARA, I was able to confirm that Alman enlisted in the 1st PA Cavalry on September 9, 1861 as a 2nd Lieutenant, transferred to the 2nd PA Cavalry Co. K, which subsequently became the 5th PA Cavalry Co. K.  Transfers, detachments, and re-enlistments were very common during the Civil War. Luckily for us, all of Alman’s records were compiled into one envelope, his record for the 5th PA Cavalry.

Alman was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and was mustered out as such on December 16, 1862 to accept a commission as a Captain in the 5th PA Cavalry.  He was commissioned as a Major on April 4, 1865.  Alman served in the 5th PA Cavalry until the end of the War when he was discharged on June 6, 1865.

Many soldiers and their widows, minor children, and parents applied for a pension after the Civil War. Pension files often contain additional information about what the soldier did during and after the war which could include information such as specifics on the soldier’s military service, medical history, place of residence, dates of birth and death, proof of marriage, etc.  The extent or the amount and kind of information available varies greatly from case to case and depends on the relationship of the person who is applying to the soldier.

According to Alman’s PRI, his wife Augusta applied for a pension.

Justinian Alman Pension Record Index (PRI)
Justinian Alman Pension Record Index (PRI)

A widow’s pension file often includes proof of marriage (such as a marriage certificate) as well as information about family and children. Since the pension record was online, there was no need to submit a second pull slip at NARA.

Justinian Alman Pension Record at fold3.com
Justinian Alman Pension Record at fold3.com

From Augusta’s pension, I discovered Justinian’s additional military service after the Civil War, details concerning the circumstances of his death, information about family, and some very fascinating newspaper articles submitted by the soldier’s mother, Alicia Marks (formerly, Alman).

According to the PR, Alman continued his military service after the Civil War by enlisting in the 4th US Cavalry.  While on duty with his regiment, Alman was killed on March 17, 1868, while on board a small boat crossing the Black Cypress Bayou in Texas.  He was struck by the wheel of the steamboat “J.M. Sharp” when his boat collided with the vessel, and drowned.

Justinian Alman Obituaries
Justinian Alman Obituaries

Despite the pension being a “Widow’s Pension,” the bulk of the documents included were from and about the soldier’s mother.  Included in Alman’s pension record was an inquiry from Alicia asking the Pension Bureau if she was also eligible to receive benefits.  Alicia’s letter included dates and locations from Alman’s letters home, as well as transcriptions from newspaper clippings she kept concerning her son.

Letter from Alicia Alman on Justinian Alman’s service. Click to view full-size image.

Two of the clippings are from the Jewish Messenger.  Alicia writes: “I have framed & hung near his full length likeness in uniform.  It was copied from the Jewish Messengerof New York by a communal paper dated Feb 20, 1863.” The article she transcribes states that Alman received a promotion for bravery.

An article from the Jewish Messenger reads: “One of the most gallant achievements of the present campaign was the recent capture of prisoners, commissary stores, &, at the White House on the Pamunkey River.  The affair has been warmly commended by the Press.  We learn that the officer who captured the train loaded with stores, &, was a young coreligionist, Justinian Alman a Captain in one of out New York Calvary RegimentsCapt Alman entered the service as a private and won his way by simple merit to his present position.  He was highly complimented for his handsome conduct on the White House expedition.  His command [sic] were out for two days and nights, and penetrated to within fifteen miles of Richmond.  Capt. Alman will make his mark promoted from the ranks he has already distinguished himself on occasions demanding the exercise of true courage and presence of mind.


In the death of Major Alman the service has lost a most useful and efficient officer and his many friends a warm hearted and true companion.  Although Major Alman had been with us for a short time he had made hosts of friends by his high toned conduct and was the life of the social circle.

At the conclusion of her letter, Alicia discusses a drawing she includes in the packet she mails to the Secretary of War that depicts a colored lithograph of a soldier’s memorial.  She writes:

Should it be necessary to substantiate any statement to any member of the American Legation in this country I shall be most pleased and ready to submit to their inspection the originals of what I have herein copied as well as letters and the beautiful colored lithograph of the Soldier’s Memorial presented to my son of which I have endeavored to give some idea whilst at the same time particularising [sic] individuals in the regiment.

Alicia painstakingly recreates the lithograph in order to send it to the Pension Bureau so she could keep the original. This is by far the most interesting document I have ever discovered in a PR at the National Archives!

Justinian Alman "Soldier's Memorial"
Justinian Alman “Soldier’s Memorial”

Each week I write up any interesting stories, significant findings, and questions I have to Adrienne, who reads over and responds to my reports.  So, on May 31, 2014, I reported on Justinian Alman and all of the really cool documents in his Pension record, and his tragic story.

PART III: Adrienne

Upon reading Alex’s update about Justinian Alman two months later, I admit, I’d forgotten all about finding him in the first place. I was particularly excited about Alicia’s painstaking facsimile of the memorial she submitted, and asked Alex to inquire if NARA would permit her to access the original to scan it in color. Once pension records are digitized and available online, the records themselves are closed, to preserve these 100+ year old documents.  NARA only permits access to the originals if a special need is shown. She was granted permission, but once she saw the condition and size of the document, she felt that attempting to scan it in color would cause additional damage, so she did not.

Alex Skerry, Researcher, with "Soldier's Memorial" document submitted by Alicia Alman, mother of Justinin Alman.
Alex Skerry, Researcher, with “Soldier’s Memorial” document submitted by Alicia Alman, mother of Justinin Alman.

As I reviewed Alman’s record, something was bothering me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Nothing bad, mind you, just something odd. But, the record was more complete than most in the database, so I moved on to the next item in my to do list. Sometimes, history reveals itself when we least expect it.

Fast forward to October, 2014: Alex and our other researcher at NARA, Caitlin, were finishing the review of the Pennsylvania soldiers, while Adam, our Pennsylvania-based researcher, and I were focusing on a soldier from Wolf named “Ullman,” no first name. According to Wolf, he supposedly served in the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry, but we had not yet found evidence of him doing so. As I tried to find evidence of anyone named anything even close to Ullman in the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Justinian Alman’s name appeared in one of my searches. I wondered, was “Ullman” Alman? I studied the details of Alman’s life closely and nothing about him matched what we knew about the mythical Ullman, so that was a dead end, but in doing so, I realized what was bothering me about his record! When a soldier dies, his wife or mother can collect a pension, but not both. Why would Alman’s mother attempt to collect a pension when it was already granted to his widow? I re-examined the Pension Record and realized that the Pension Bureau dropped Augusta Alman from their rolls as “unclaimed.” Had she died? I ran her name through my usual gauntlet of searches and no, Augusta Alman hadn’t died, she just kind of disappeared… However, an Augusta Davidson, with the same information as Alman’s widow, re-appeared in the historical record. Strange, but not really germane to the project, or was it?

Per the copy of the marriage certificate in his Pension record,

Justinian Alman Marriage Certificate copy
Justinian Alman Marriage Certificate copy

Justinian Alman married Augusta Davidson at the residence of the bride’s father, Dr. J. Davidson. Augusta’s application for a Pension was witnessed by Esther A. Davidson. In 1870, two years after Alman died, Augusta is back living with her family in Philadelphia, including father, Dr. Julius Davidson and sister Esther. My next stop was to look for the Davidson and Alman families in the most comprehensive published Jewish genealogical resource: Malcolm Stern’s First American Jewish Families. The only result I found was in one of the Hyneman family trees which had Civil War soldier Jacob Ezekiel Hyneman listed with two marriages: first to “Alman” and then to “Augusta Davidson.” What, I wondered, were the chances that there were two, unrelated Augusta Davidsons in Philadelphia, born circa 1846? Even though Hyneman’s Pension record had been previously reviewed, I asked Alex to request it again and see if there was any mention of Justinian Alman in it – if so, what started out as a sense that something was odd would turn into a connection between two seemingly unrelated Civil War soldiers! I couldn’t wait to hear what Alex would discover…


There was the proof of the hunch!  Included in Hyneman’s PR is a Questionnaire provided by the Pension Bureau asking the soldier to fill out information such as: “State your wife’s full name and her maiden name” and “If your present wife was married before her marriage to you, state the name of her former husband, the date of such marriage, and the date and place of his death or divorce, and state whether he ever rendered any military or naval service, and, if you, give the name of the organization in which he served….” Hyneman lists “Justinian Alman,” that he was a Lieutenant in the 4th US Cavalry, and that he drowned while in the service.  We also see from this document that Augusta was married to Hyneman on May 7, 1877, three days after the Pension Bureau dropped her from the rolls of receiving the widow’s pension for Alman.  Augusta died on January 15, 1912.

Jacob Hyneman Pension Bureau Questionnaire
Jacob Hyneman Pension Bureau Questionnaire

This discovery lead me to equally interesting documents in Hyneman’s Pension Record.  Hyneman received an inquiry from the pension department about his date of birth on file.  Apparently, the pension department claimed that Hyneman listed both August 5, 1843 and August 15, 1843 as his date of birth on different forms.

Jacob Hyneman letter regarding date of birth.
Jacob Hyneman letter regarding date of birth.

To clear up the error, Hyneman writes: “I know my birthday to be August 5th, 1843 as that day is impressed on my mind for many years.  I am enclosing birthday cards mailed principally August 4th, received August 5th.” There are seven beautiful, brightly colored birthday cards included in Hynman’s PR.

Jacob Hyneman Birthday Postcard Collection. Click to view full-size image.

The discovery of the connection between these two soldiers untimely lead to stumbling upon some of the most interesting and colorful (literally) documents I have reviewed thus far during the roster project!

Part V: Adrienne

The Shapell Roster Project’s database is full of amazing stories just like this one, and for every story we’ve uncovered, we know there are many, many more. If you have a Jewish ancestor who fought in the Civil War, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact us via the Shapell Manuscript Foundation and share your stories!

As of October 2014, of the 7100 Union soldiers in our database, we have identified and confirmed the service for 6000 of those men. To date, our team has added 646 new names to Simon Wolf’s original roster and continue to add new names every week.

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.

1st Lieutenant Ferdinand Linz: Honoring His Contribution to Our Society

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

Some days, working on the Shapell Roster Project is difficult.  The lives of Civil War soldiers were very often short and tragic.  Reading accounts of young men cut down in their prime, or left with permanent, grave disabilities, all day long can be emotionally draining.  So sometimes, we separate ourselves from our subjects.  We remind ourselves that these men died a long time ago, and we look at their stories like one would a character on a television show; digging for facts with a morbid, detached fascination.  On the difficult days, it is the armor necessary to get through the research.

I spent a long time with 1st Lieutenant Ferdinand Linz, after he was added to the database from a short newspaper article one of my fellow researchers stumbled upon. He was a odd omission from Simon Wolf’s roster, because Wolf in fact represented Linz’s widow for her pension claim.

Linz Widow's Pension Declaration, naming Simon Wolf as her counsel, and stating that they were married by a "Jewish Minister"
Linz Widow’s Pension Declaration, naming Simon Wolf as her counsel, and stating that they were married by a “Jewish Minister.” Click to view full-size image.

Ferdinand (or Fernando) Linz, born in Darmstadt, Germany, served in the 103rd NY Infantry Co. K.  He died, less than a year after enlisting, on September 17, 1862.  At first glance, one would very naturally assume that Linz was killed in the Battle of Antietam- “the bloodiest single day in American military history”- which took place that day.  But instead, Linz was killed at an encampment in DC by one of his own privates while trying to quash a late night scuffle.

The chief witness for the prosecution at the trial of John Kessler, the private in question, was Sergeant Bernhard Zimmerman.  Zimmerman was Linz’s bunkmate, and the first officer to arrive at the scene of the argument.  He described the incident as follows:

“It was about 1 o’clock in the morning when I was aroused by an alarm in our Co. I heard loud talking and knew the voice of Private Kessler[,] the prisoner.  Lt. Linz slept the same time in one tent with me.   As soon as I heard the noise I got up and outside the tent to see what it was about.  I heard Kessler cursing, swearing and quarreling with a Private of Co. K whose name is Conrad Finger.  I ordered both to go to their tents and keep quiet which Kessler refused to do.  I had no shoes on at the time and I went back to put on my shoes.  Lt. Linz just raised up at that time and asked me what the noise was about.  I told him it was only a quarrel between Kessler and Finger and that I wanted to put on my shoes to go out and settle it[,] but he went out before I did.  I followed him right afterwards.  When I came out I saw the prisoner having a rifle in his hand with fixed bayonet.  He ha[d] long been talking at the same time with Conrad Finger.  Lt. Linz got out his watch and said ‘Kessler it is near 2 o’clock.  Everybody ought to be quiet at this time.  You ought to be in your tent long ago.’  [Kessler] said that he couldn’t get in any tent- his comrades did not want him there.  Lt. Linz said that if he behaved himself he could get in a tent well enough.  The prisoner said ‘I don’t want to go in no tent: you haven’t got no sentries here and I want to be sentry.’  Lt. Linz told him that he did not want a sentry.  After this Finger commenced to talk with the prisoner again[,] then the prisoner moved up towards Finger and told him to get out his rifle and he would fight him.  Finger said he would not fight him with a rifle[,] but if he laid down his rifle he would fight him with his fists.  Then I ordered the prisoner to put down his piece[,] where at he moved up towards me.  I though he wanted to stab me.  I said “Kessler[!]  What are you doing?  Do you charge bayonet against your Sergt.?’  He said ‘No I won’t do it.  I respect you and you are the best man in the Co.’  I told him if he respected me he should go in a tent or in a barrack near that place which was empty[,] which he also refused to do.  Then Lt. Linz told him again ‘Kessler lay down your piece[,] if you don’t I [will] have you tied and sent to the Guard House.’  He did not obey.  Lt. Linz called me and Corporal Wolf.  Then Private Kessler[,] who was at this time about seven paces in front of Lt. Linz[,] jumped forward and run the bayonet in his (Linz) right breast[,] saying at the same time ‘then I have to defend myself.’  Lieut. Linz groaned 3 or 4 times and fell down on the ground.  I ran at once to Lt. Linz who held both hands tight together on his breast.  I took his hands off and seeing little blood ran back towards Kessler[,] who was held by three men[,] and took the Rifle from his hands.  Then I turned round to Lt. Linz[,] who lying on the ground at that time[,] looked at him and ran for a Doctor[,] but I soon found out that I could find no Doctor around that place and returned.  After which I found Lt. Linz lying in his tent motionless.  I sat alongside of him and found him but one minute afterwards dead.”

Court Martial Envelope for Murderer's Case (Left third of document is Judge Advocate Joseph Holt's report on the case to President Abraham Lincoln, and Lincoln's signature and approval of the sentence of the murderer - that he be condemned to death).
Court Martial Envelope for Murderer’s Case (Left third of document is Judge Advocate Joseph Holt’s report on the case to President Abraham Lincoln, and Lincoln’s signature and approval of the sentence of the murderer – that he be condemned to death). Click to view full-size image.

Linz became known around the research table as my “murder vic,” and I gobbled up any information I could find relating to him and his murderer.  A crazy anecdote about a poor man killed in his pajamas, or a cautionary tale about giving the mentally unstable bayonets.

Then, last week, we took our field trip to the Washington Hebrew Cemetery, and I stumbled across the grave of 1st Lieutenant Ferdinand Linz.  And all of the sorrow and pity I had buried down for Linz came rushing to the surface.  Just how unnecessary and tragic was Linz’s death was even acknowledged by his gravestone, which notes that he was “Murdered by a Private in the same company.” All he did was roll out of bed and try to break up an argument in the middle of the night.  It seems unfathomable that this would be Linz’s last act.

Fernando Linz's Tombstone. Click to view full-size image.
Ferdinand “Fernando” Linz’s Tombstone

It is so crucial for us not to lose sight that the men of the Roster are not merely entries in a database, or soap operas for us to follow. Sitting next to the grave of Ferdinand Linz, it became crushingly clear how little time has passed since these soldiers lived, fought, and sacrificed.  At the end of our visit, I returned to his grave to place several stones atop his headstone- a sign of respect and remembrance in the Jewish faith. And I thanked him for reminding me of the most important aspect of our project: keeping the memory of these soldiers alive and honoring their contributions to our society.

Fernando Linz Muster Roll Abstract. Click to view full-size image.
Fernando Linz Muster Roll Abstract

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.

Research at the U.S. National Archives, With Adrienne Usher

We asked Shapell Manuscript Foundation researchers at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., about their work and experience there.  The team is working on the Shapell Roster – an updated and accurate roster of Jewish soldiers who served in the American Civil War.

Responses from Adrienne Usher, Head Researcher, Shapell Roster.

Adrienne Usher


What’s been your favorite discovery so far?

I’ve had so many amazing discoveries on this project, it’s like trying to pick your favorite child! Finding my first ketubah will always be in the top ten, and it was by finding multiple ketubah translations that I began my obsession with Charles Newburgh. At some point in his career as a clerk employed by the Pension Bureau, Newburgh began to translate documents, submitted to the Pension Bureau by veterans and their widows, written in Hebrew and Yiddish). By 1910, he is specifically working in the Civil War Division of the Pension Bureau, and, I imagine, handling all of the pension records of Jewish soldiers. My dream discovery would be to find a list of the Pension records for which Newburgh provided translation services. This, of course, would require that Newburgh kept such a list and that I could find it in the Archives – but one can dream!

Salinger, Adolphus. Marriage Certificate. Salinger, Adolphus. Marriage Certificate. 2

First Ketuba Discovered.

Gold, Henry. Ketubah Translation

Charles Newburgh Translation.

Of actual discoveries, the D’Ancona family is my favorite as of today because it illustrates the research process so well. A search of the “Jewish Record” on genealogybank.com led to one soldier being added to the database. But, where there is one, there might be more. The census records revealed this soldier had a brother and a father, and the military files showed service for men with the last name of Ancona matching the age and residence of the brother and the father. A family tree on ancestry.com led me to a descendant with whom I corresponded, and she confirmed that yes, all three served and the family was Jewish.


D’Ancona family in the newspaper.

What’s your favorite/least favorite thing about work at the national archives?

When I started working on the Shapell Roster three years ago, I spent a great deal of time at the National Archives. Since then, we’ve added Caitlin, Kim and Alex to the team to do the work of reviewing the military service records at the National Archives. Currently, I spend all my time managing the workflow of the project and conducting online and primary resource research on new additions to the roster. When I did work at the the Archives regularly, I loved having access to such a rich repository of documents! There is nothing quite like opening a pension record and finding a ketubah – it’s a bittersweet moment because it is undeniable proof that the soldier in question is Jewish, but it’s sad that the Pension office never returned the document to the family. I hope that descendants will be excited to find out that their great-great grandparents’ marriage document is in the National Archives, preserved and protected.

My least favorite thing about the National Archives stems from my training as a museum collections manager – it’s hard for me to watch the way some of the visitors at the archives handle primary source documents. I appreciate the mission of the National Archives and am grateful that WE have access to these documents, but I am very happy that the records are being digitized so that the general public has access to them without the risk of further degradation to the documents.

What have you learned from your research and the research process?

I’ve been a researcher-for-hire for more than twenty years. My primary clients are museums with small budgets and tight deadlines. Since I’m not a subject specialist, I must learn quickly. Three years ago, I did not know, specifically, when and where the Civil War started and ended. Today, I can tell you the difference between a paroled, returned and exchanged POW, and can tell you when and where most of the major battles took place. I also didn’t know much about 19th century American Jewish culture, but today, I can discuss the immigration of “the ‘48ers,” and where in the midwest Jewish immigrants tended to settle and why.

As for what I’ve learned from the research process – wow – The US National Archives, ancestry.com and fold3.com are amazing resources! So are the collections of the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, Ohio. And for as much as I’ve learned, I continue to learn something new every day. This is why our work is like “shooting a moving target from a moving vehicle.” As the collective historical record is digitized, more information is added to the world wide web every minute. What wasn’t there yesterday might be there tomorrow. And we have to weigh the validity of the resources as they become available. I place more faith in a book written in 1900 by a Rabbi about Civil War veterans in his congregation than I do in a book published in 2010 by a “scholar” who, by not including citations, asks his reader to take his word on who was Jewish and who was not. Which brings us to the most important aspect of our research process – transparency. In the Shapell Roster, we provide citations, copies or links to everything we’ve accessed. We provide all of the necessary information for anyone to check our work and we invite them to do so.

Another thing I’ve learned on this project is that I can’t teach anyone my research instinct – but I can teach my research methodology by example. When I communicate with the team via email, I give them the step-by-step process I went through to reach my conclusion. That process is not the same every time, but the goals are. We have to prove two things for every name we add to the Shapell Roster – that they served in the Civil War and that they were Jewish. Finding a Jacob Adler from Philadelphia who served in a Pennsylvania regiment and finding a Jacob Adler who is buried in a Jewish cemetery is not the end of the task. I have to prove that the Jacob Adler who is buried in the Jewish cemetery is the same Jacob Adler who served in the 27th Pennsylvania Infantry, Company B, and that there were no other soldiers named Jacob Adler who served in Pennsylvania or are buried in a Jewish cemetery. Imagine trying to do that with “John Smith”!

 What’s the longest you’ve gone without making any headway on a soldier/case?

As a rule, I don’t spend more than a day on chasing my tail on any one soldier. After I’ve gone through my normal checklist of places to look for information, if I’m stuck, I will either ask Adam to try his luck, or I’ll write up a summary of the case, and file it for later. If I find a descendant and reach out to them, it can take weeks or months before I get a response.

The good news is that all of my “open files” are very interesting! One case, now open for 2 years, involves 5 brothers from Philadelphia, one of whom, as a Surgeon, amputated his own brother’s leg during the war. If they are actually Jewish, it will be through their maternal grandmother. I need a genealogist who specializes in Jewish communities in Amsterdam to find the grandmother so I can either close the case or add the brothers to the database. Another case is about a year old – it involves three Jewish businessmen from Santa Fe whose service records, along with many others, are missing. The court files with the details are in an archive in Albuquerque and I need to travel there to go through the archives so I can prove that these men actually served as they claimed on the 1890 Veterans Census. And then there are the Hebrew Union Veterans Association members – we know they are Jewish, we know they served, but we have no idea in what regiment. This last case is about 6 months old.

 How long does it usually take to qualify or disqualify a soldier from the Roster?

We have two types of names in the Shapell roster – those who were in Simon Wolf’s 1895 roster of Jewish soldiers and sailors who served in the Civil War and new names we’ve found through research. Getting into the Shapell Roster is not easy if the soldiers were not already in Simon Wolf’s roster! Like I said, the soldier or sailor has to have service records and we have to have something that indicates they are Jewish. So, it completely depends on the resources available. Currently, in order to establish quality control, we only add soldiers and sailors who served in Federally recognized regiments – so that can disqualify a new name very quickly, even a Rabbi’s son! At a later date we will travel to State Archives to research the many state militia and home guard soldiers. If we can find service records, then we have to make sure they actually served – we have more than one “habitual enlister/deserter” – men who never actually served, despite having many “service records.” If they have proven service, then it’s a matter of proving them Jewish if we’re adding them to the roster. If they’re already in the roster because they were in Simon Wolf’s roster, finding evidence that they are Jewish is great, but not required at this point. In most cases, it’s easier to find proof of service for someone we know was Jewish than the other way around. By way of example, I’m currently working from a list of Jewish Civil War veterans buried in Cook County, Illinois. I added 11 new names to the roster yesterday, but that’s a great day, not necessarily a “normal” day.

Adrienne Usher, Sylvia Sellers, Kim Packett, Alex Skerry, John Sellers, Caitlin Eichner

From left to right: Adrienne Usher (Head Researcher), Sylvia Sellers, Kim Packett (Researcher), Alex Skerry (Researcher), John Sellers (Project Director), Caitlin Eichner (Researcher). Charlestown Racetrack.

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.

The Shapell Roster Research Team Takes a Fieldtrip… to the Cemetery

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Adrienne Usher, Head Researcher – Shapell Roster.

Planning a trip to Jewish cemeteries in Washington, DC, is not as simple as one might think. On a map, it looks like there is one, called Washington Hebrew Congregation Cemetery, bordered by Alabama Avenue SE, 15th Place SE, Congress Heights Metro Station and the infamous St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.

Cemetery Map

Luckily for us, the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies provided a different perspective.

Washington Hebrew Congregation Cemetery is the largest of the four contiguous cemeteries collectively known as the National Capitol Hebrew Cemetery: Washington Hebrew Congregation, Adas Israel (also includes Agudas Achim Congregation), Ohev Sholom, and Elisavetgrad – the latter representing the congregations of Beth Sholom (old), DC Hebrew Beneficial Association and District of Columbia Lodge (merged and now closed), Kesher Israel Congregation, The Georgetown Synagogue (Old), Southeast Hebrew Congregation (old) and Tifereth Israel Congregation, aka 14th St. Shul (old). The easiest way in is through Washington Hebrew Congregation Cemetery – which features a welcome center and parking spaces to the left and the oldest part of the cemetery to the right as you enter from Alabama Avenue, SE.

The oldest portion of the cemetery is on a hill, and many of the tombstones are leaning. Some show signs of repair. Some of the unmarked children’s stones were colorful with lichen, but overall, the cemetery is remarkably well maintained and we saw no evidence of vandalism.

Cemetery Image 1

Our goal was to take photos of the tombstones of men who were of the right age to serve in the Civil War so we could look them up later and perhaps add a new soldier to our roster. Usually, we have to find evidence that a soldier was Jewish, but with these names, we have to figure out if they have a military record.

Cemetery Image 2

Ferdinand J. Linz was a soldier we knew about and hoped to find – which we did within 15 minutes of arriving! An auspicious beginning to our adventure, we decided.

Cemetery Image 3

Walking up the hill to the newer section of the Washington Hebrew Congregation cemetery, we were quite surprised to find another soldier’s name we recognized.

Cemetery Image 4

From left to right: Kim Packett, Caitlin Eichner and Alex Skerry.

On November 18, 1861, Adajah Behrend, not quite 21, enlisted in the US Army as a Hospital Steward with his father’s permission. On December 4th, 1892, his father, Bernard Behrend, wrote a letter to The Occident, a Jewish monthly periodical, addressed to Abraham Lincoln. He asked Lincoln to issue an order so that “all those in the army who celebrate another day as the Sunday may be allowed to celebrate that day which they think is the right day according to their own conscience” and then added that “I taught [my son] also to observe the Sabbath on Saturday, when it would not hinder him from fulfilling his duty in the army.”

Adajah Behrend was the first soldier I “met” three years ago when I began working on the Shapell Roster. He and his family were quite prominent in Washington, DC. I suppose he spoiled me in a way, not every soldier leaves such a rich and plentiful historical record.

The next tombstone we found was that of Simon Wolf – the author of The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen.

Cemetery selfie top left down and back up to the right Alex Skerry Caitlin Eichner Adrienne Usher Kim Packett Adam Geibel

Counter-clockwise from top left: Alex Skerry, Caitlin Eichner, Adrienne Usher, Kim Packett, Adam Geibel.

I sincerely hope our slightly irreverent group “selfie” with Simon’s tombstone can be forgiven, but we all have a love/hate relationship with Wolf. On the one hand, the roster he published in 1895 of Jewish soldiers and sailors who served in the Civil War is nothing short of amazing. He did not have the internet, or the military service records at the National Archives. He was well connected in Washington, and many of the soldiers he sought to include in his roster were still living, so that must have helped. On the other hand, I can’t tell you exactly how he found Jewish soldiers – he left no record of his methodology, no notes or references to his work in his personal papers. We are continually scratching our heads over why he included one brother but not another… why he included soldiers who were baptized Lutherans but excluded other soldiers whose application for a Pension he personally handled. We suspect he engaged in the then-common practice of name profiling. So, we respect Simon Wolf, but we really wish we knew what he knew back in 1895.

The next exciting surprise was finding Cherrie Moise Levy’s tombstone! I suppose I should preface the following with *research geek alert* warning, because surely this story would only interest a limited audience…

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In a letter to Secretary of War Stanton dated November 4, 1862, Abraham Lincoln specifically mentions a “C.M. Levy” in the context of commissioning him as a Quartermaster because he believed he had “not yet appointed a Hebrew.” Our team spent hours trying to figure out what the names were behind the “C.M.” abbreviation. Finally, my colleague Adam asked me for the name of the “big book of Jewish genealogy.” Also known as Malcolm Stern’s First American Jewish Families: 600 Genealogies, 1654-1988, a search for “C.M. Levy” produced more of the same: nothing. Then we tried searching on Levy’s famous father-in-law, Rabbi Morris J. Raphall, whose daughter married… a Cherie Moise Levy! The good news was, having two actual names instead of initials opened the door to hundreds of historical documents, including military records, a court martial file or two, and a fair amount of newspaper articles… the bad news was that good old fashioned human error recorded C.M. Levy as Cherie, Cherrie, and worse, Cheme! Adam, Caitlin and I argued back and forth on what his actual name was, and how it was spelled. As of today, C.M. Levy is officially Cherrie Moise Levy. See, I told you that was geeky! PS: Me and Cherrie have the same birthday :0)

To the best of our knowledge, Leopold Karpeles is the only Medal of Honor recipient in any section of the National Capitol Hebrew Cemetery. The sun was a bit too bright to get a better image, but he has a memorial on the website findagrave.com.

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At the back end of the cemetery, a gate separates Washington Hebrew Congregation and Ohev Sholom, which is also identified by a beautiful engraved arch.

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My favorite tombstone in Ohev Sholom was most likely for a child, given the size. In another 50 years, I suppose the tree will envelope the tombstone. Will anyone remember this grave once existed?

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Another gate and a plaque separates Ohev Sholomand Elisavetgrad.

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Elisavetgrad is a long and narrow cemetery compared to the others, and unfortunately, most of the burials were outside of the age range we sought. That left Adas Israel as our final stop. Which, by the way, you should know is only accessible from Alabama Avenue if the gates are open or from Washington Hebrew Congregation through a gate on the right before you leave.

We gathered more names to research, from tombstones in various styles and degrees of age:

Upon completing our tour of the cemetery, we headed off to lunch and compared photos and names we discovered. Sometimes it’s good to get out of the office!

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.