Monday, January 24, 2011

Nathaniel Case Potter, abt 1843 - April 3, 1877

[Photograph by Kari Petersen, 2010]

Nathaniel Case Potter was born to Abraham Potter and Susannah Case Potter somewhere in Wayne County, IN sometime in 1843.1 He was the eldest of 8 siblings.2 He was 18 when he enlisted to go to war and served for four years in Co. C, 8th Indiana Infantry. He was promoted to Corporal during his service.3

The 8th Indiana Infantry was originally organized for a 3 month enlistment under this name, but they had disbanded before Potter enlisted. A second regiment was organized under this name, serving the first part of the war in Missouri, then moving south to Mississippi and Louisiana by the end of the war.4

He, presumably, returned to Indiana right after his discharge at Savannah, GA.5 The next record that is likely to be his is a marriage record from Marion County, IN on May 27, 1869 for Nathaniel C. Potter and Eliza J. York.6 This name matches his widow's name on the pension records7, but I'm hoping that one detail is wrong - her estimated birth year - as the recorded transcription lists her birth year just 10 years before her marriage.

I was unable to find any records for Mr. Potter until his death in Oakland. He had only lived in the city for about 5 months and was employed as a clerk before he died of "Phthisis," the old Greek term for tuberculosis.8 It is again possible that he and his wife had moved out here hoping that the more temperate climate would prove a cure.

Eliza can be found a few years later still living in Oakland, as Mrs. N. C. Potter (widow). She was still Eliza J. Potter when she applied for her pension in 1886.9 They did not have any living children that I have been able to discover, but perhaps when I am able to get pension records I may learn differently.

In many ways, it is for those who didn't have descendents that I love to tell the stories, even the barest ones like this. No one else remembers or will remember for them, and it seems sad to me that a man who served throughout the whole Civil War would be forgotten in time.

1 Year: 1850; Census Place: New Garden, Wayne, Indiana; Roll: M432_180; Page: 274A; Image: 555. 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009.

2 Ancestry Family Tree, titled "Extended Family 2010" owned by kskinner189,, online , downloaded January 23, 2011.

3 Historical Data Systems, comp.. U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009.

4 Union Regimental Histories: Indiana, The Civil War Archives, online , downloaded January 24, 2011.

5 Historical Data Systems, comp.. U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009.

6 Title: Marion County, Index to Marriage Record 1866 - 1870 Inclusive Vol, Original Record Located: County Clerk's Office Ind; Book: 451;. Indiana Marriage Collection, 1800-1941 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005.

7 National Archives and Records Administration. Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000.

8 Nathanial Case Potter, death certificate (1877), Oakland, Alameda County, California. Accessed at the Oakland Public Library, Main Branch, History Room.

Mountain View Cemetery Record Book 1, pg. 58.

9 National Archives and Records Administration. Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Charles J. Robinson, May 13, 1838 - March 6, 1877

[Picture by Kari Petersen, 2010]

The truth about history is that most of it is written about the big names and the heroes. I suppose because my family were farmers and carpenters, I have always been fascinated by those people whose lives were more mundane. I want to try to read between the lines to flesh them out of the ether.

But in my research, I'm finding that even those whose lives were less well-known have left gems (or maybe more appropriate to say nuggets) in the sand for us to find. Charles J. Robinson was one of those men. Of course, he didn't leave the gem so much as his family or friends, but one exists in the form of his obituary. Indeed, it is tempting to just cut and past the whole of it, as it speaks to not only his history, but also his character.

Mr. Robinson was born June 22, 1838 in Clarendon, New York. I don't know much about his early life, except that he was able to receive a college education.1 After he graduated, he moved to Wisconsin. He was there in Columbus, WI when the census was taken in 1860. He was working as a teacher and living with a family, possibly one of his students' families.2

When the war broke out, Charles enlisted in Company G of the 1st Wisconsin Infantry. He served as 2nd Lieutenant, until he was discharged about 9 months later due to illness.3

In 1865, he came out to California to escort "greenbacks" to the mint in San Francisco, and once here established himself as an educator, and ended up turning down the opportunity to be a professor back east to stay in the west.4 It is unclear whether he was infected with tuberculosis by this time. I don't know how long it takes for the infection to progress, but if he was infected, a move to California would have been considered a beneficial one as the "fresh air cure" was the only way to improve your chances to survive.

Regardless, he lived a successful and productive life in the Bay Area. He moved to Oakland in about 1872 and worked for Burnham, Standeford & Co., a planing and milling company which later also would contract to construct cable cars in San Francisco.5 After having to leave this industry due to failing health, he was appointed the Oakland City Clerk and Treasurer which post he held until his death. 6

Mr. Robinson was obviously well-respected among his friends and colleagues. He was considered learned and passionate about education. He was described as compassionate, but uncompromising about his ethics and morals. And he was a strongly religious man and kept that part of his life very private.7

When he died on March 6, 1877 of Tuberculosis,8 he left his wife, Madge,9 and 2 young daughters.10 It is likely that Madge moved or remarried before the next census as I lose track of her in the records, and I do not know the names of their children. I really hope that someday, someone may search for him and find this bio because there is so much to know about him and he seems like just a good man to have as an ancestor.
1 Charles J. Robinson Obituary, Oakland Daily Evening Tribune, Wednesday, March 7, 1877, pg. 3.

2 Year: 1860; Census Place: Columbus, Columbia, Wisconsin; Roll: M653_1401; Page: 184; Image: 189; Family History Library Film: 805401. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009.

3 Historical Data Systems, comp.. U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009.

4 Oakland Daily Evening Tribune, Wednesday, March 7, 1877.

5 Henry G. Langley, editor, A Directory of the City of Oakland and the Town of Brooklyn, for the Year Ending June 30th, 1873 (Oakland: Henry G. Langley, 1872), pg. 211.

6 Oakland Daily Evening Tribune, Wednesday, March 7, 1877.

7 Oakland Daily Evening Tribune, Wednesday, March 7, 1877.

8 Mountain View Cemetery Record Book 1, pg. 56.

9 Historical Data Systems, comp.. U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009.

10 Oakland Daily Evening Tribune, Wednesday, March 7, 1877.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Alexander W. Copely, abt 1831 - September 9, 1976

[Photograph by Kari Petersen, 2010]

Alexander W. Copely is the first of our known foreign-born veterans. It shocked me to learn that so many men not born in the US had served in the Civil War, but it turns out that about one third of all service men in the Union blues were foreign. I suppose that shouldn't surprise me too much. They were choosing to come to this country for a new life.

Capt. Copely was no different, I suppose. He was living in California before war broke out a continent away, but he had already chosen to serve his new state, then his country. He enlisted in Company B of the 4th California Infantry in the fall of 1861 and served as 1st Lieutenant for that company until he was promoted to full Captain in 1864 and served in Company A of the same regiment.1

Again, we can only speculate about the reasons for his emigration to California, but it is not hard to imagine that a young man from England wouldn't have been attracted by the lure of gold and silver in California in the 1850s. And such a young man might be lured again by the adventure of war. Unfortunately, the California regiments did not serve in anything like the eastern engagements of the war and served mostly garrison duty along the entire west coast.

After the war, Capt. Copely moved to Washington Territory where he was living in Wallula with his wife, Jessie.2 He was working as a carpenter, but there are few details about his life in this place, but at the time construction on the railroad was in the works and the need for a carpenter would have been high.

He applied for his pension in 1872 while living in California3 and continued to live here until he died on September 9, 1876 of cerebritis.4

This isn't a lot to go on, as a story, but I am drawn by the sense of romance that must have captured so many men and women to travel to a distant land and make a new life for themselves filled with possibilities. To further that sense of romance, I have found that there evidence that his widow, Jessie, never remarried.5

1 National Park Service. U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.

2 Year: 1870; Census Place: Wallula, Walla Walla, Washington Territory; Roll: M593_1683; Page: 305B; Image: 615; Family History Library Film: 553182. 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009.

3 National Archives and Records Administration. Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000.

4 Mountain View Cemetery Record Book 1, pg. 44.

5 Year: 1920;Census Place: Portland, Multnomah, Oregon; Roll: T625_1499; Page: 14A; Enumeration District: 45; Image: 1044. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

George S. Vrooman, May 11, 1837 - July 14, 1876

[Picture take by Kari Petersen, 2010]

Without his wife, and the paperwork she filed to receive a Navy Widow's Pension, I would know little of any certainty about George S. Vrooman. The dates above, listed on his gravestone, would have likely been the extent of the info I could prove because despite the seeming uniqueness of his name, there was another George Vrooman who fought in the Civil War who never arrived here in California but who is much more accessible in the available records.

You see, the George Vrooman buried in Oakland was in the Navy. The records of the various states' regiments and those of the regular army are more or less well documented. Even when existing regimental records are no longer available, the states often published reports after the war detailing the names and service of their veterans. This was, after all, a mark of pride for those states, that so many had served.

But to serve in the Navy was to fall under a cloak of some anonymity after the war. Individual Captains would keep logs of their ships, and presumably, there were additional records, but they have either not come down through the years intact or they were never complete. Even the pension records for naval veterans are less intact, and in many cases non-existent.

Regardless, Mr. Vrooman never filed for a pension on his own. He died before the more comprehensive of pension laws would have allowed for his filing as he did not receive an injury during the war that led to his discharge from the Navy. But after 1890, widow's of veterans, even those who had not died as a result of war injuries, could file for a pension if they were not currently married.

The 132 pages of materials that were ultimately filed for Margaret Vrooman (nee Dudley) give insight into her life, her late husband's life, and into the pension system itself. Although the latter I will explore in a different post. As all the information I will be discussing is, literally, from this one source I will not be bothering to enumerate the citations.

George was born in New York on May 11, 1837. He had at least one sister, Jerusha, who is listed in the pension records. It is likely that he already knew Margaret Dudley when he went to war, as two witnesses to his marriage were acquainted with both he and his wife long before they were married.

He was 25 when he enlisted, August 1, 1862, as an ordinary seaman aboard the USS J. P. Jackson. He would serve out his entire period of service on that same ship, being discharged January 16, 1864. He would have been serving on the ship when it was critically disabled under fire from the batteries at Vicksburg. Which gives partial support to an affidavit of a former crewman who reported that Vrooman had been injured when a cannon had exploded because it was double loaded with shot during the fighting at Vicksburg.

After the war, Mr. Vrooman returned to New York. He and Margaret were married in Albany, NY on April 25, 1866 by the Rev. J. Robinson, the Presiding Methodist Elder. They had 4 children together, 3 daughters who died within their first year, and a son, George S. Vrooman, Jr. who lived to adulthood, married and had 2 daughters.

I don't know why George and Margaret moved to California. I don't know what he did as a profession when he lived here. Margaret later supported herself by working as a shop keeper and some nursing, but it is unlikely that these were related to her husband's line of work.

The report of the SF Public Health Department reads that he died on July 14, 1876 at the Masonic Temple Baths of general debility and dropsy. Dropsy is an archaic term for edema or swelling, so he likely died of either kidney failure or congestive heart failure, as both would cause swelling and general debility. I am left to wonder if he had gone to the baths in hopes that he would sweat off some of the swelling.

Once her son was an adult, Margaret met and married another man, although they only had 4 years of marriage before he passed as well. Margaret died at a friend's house in San Francisco on August 22, 1917.

Navy Widow's Certificates #4243 and 4975 for Pensioner Margaret S. (Vrooman) Favor former widow of veteran George S. Vrooman. Can number 241, bundle number 14. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. Found on, online , certificate downloaded November 11, 2010.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

William W. Scott, March, 1839 - April 3, 1875

[Picture taken by Kari Petersen, 2010]

When he died, William W. Scott was older than the city in which he was living. But 36 years, even in the 1870s was still considered the prime of life. Tuberculosis was indiscriminate about age or any other socio-economic factor.1

Still, he had lived a successful life in the time he had. As a student of psychology, I would love to more about where he was from and who is parents were, but I may never know. The earliest he shows up in the records are through his service records. He enlisted in the 77th Ohio Infantry in October 1861. It was not long into his career that he was commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant. He was later promoted to regimental Quartermaster, then to Captain towards the end of his service in 1864. He was mustered out in 1865 having served almost the entire war.2

This may not seem like much of an anomaly, but due to high rates of both casualties and disease, it was fairly common for a soldier to serve only a few months during the war before being discharged. Instead, Capt. Scott survived through the battle of Shiloh, service in the west and, later, the surrender of Mobile, AL.3 Of note was that his regiment as a whole did not have a very high casualty rate, and after the initial period of enlistment most of the men re-enlisted reclassifying the 77th Ohio Infantry as the 77th Ohio Veteran Volunteers.

His pension records show that he was living in Ohio in 1869,4 but he did not stay there long. By 1873, Capt. Scott was living and working in Oakland. He worked as an engineer for the Central Pacific Railroad Co.5 The railroad had two different types of positions with the title of engineer. However, the most likely job he held was that of the conductor who drove the train.

It seems somewhat fitting that one of the earlier veterans to be buried in the GAR plot would be a railroad man. The railroads were integral in the growth and expansion of Oakland as a city and it was a major employer. But did he come to Oakland to work for the railroad, or did he find work here after he moved? There is a strong possibility that he may have moved to Oakland for its temperate weather, something that drew many afflicted with tuberculosis.

His pension records show that he was married to a woman named Sarah and that they had at least one child, although until I can request pension records the name and gender of the child is unknown.6 He was also active in the community as a Mason and his funeral was held at the Masonic Hall in Oakland of the time.7

1 Mountain View Cemetery Records Book 1, pg. 18.

2 Historical Data Systems, comp.. U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009.

3 "77th Ohio Infantry" compiled by Larry Stevens, online , data downloaded January 2, 2011.

4 National Archives and Records Administration. Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000.

5 Henry G. Langley, editor, A Directory of the City of Oakland and the Town of Brooklyn, for the Year Ending June 30th, 1873 (Oakland: Henry G. Langley, 1872), pg. 217.

6 Historical Data Systems, comp.. U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009.

7 W. W. Scott obituary, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, CA, 4 April 1875, pg. 8.

Monday, January 3, 2011

J. F. Cox, abt 1840 - 1874

[Photograph by Kari Petersen, 2010]

It seems ironic that the first biography I will present will be that of J. F. Cox. When I came upon the plot in Mt View Cemetery, I read the names on the stones and wanted to know the stories of these men who had been buried there. It's my favorite part of history: the stories of everyday men and women.

But J. F. Cox is a story untold. Other than his name his stone reads that he was a U.S. Soldier. Through research on, I was able to learn that he had died on November 27, 1874.1 Further research into the cemetery records revealed that he was 34 years old when died of cerebro-spinal meningitis.2 And he had been born in Illinois.

There is not much more that I can prove about him.

This is a sticky business, this proof. I've had arguments about it with my partner: what I can prove and what I can't. I must proceed cautiously, especially when speaking of the dead. But I hate to leave the story of J. F. Cox with so little flesh.

So here is what I can speculate. There is a J F Cox who shows up in IRS records as early as 1864 in San Francisco. He had earned $600 in income in the year 1863.3 And sometime in the 1860s, a J. F. Cox filed for a pension for his service in Company E, 116th Illinois Infantry.4 While he did not file while he was living in California, his wife Sarah did.

We could spin a story that J. F. Cox had come out to California to seek gold in the early 1860s and returned to the east after 1863 to join a regiment from his home state, perhaps marrying at the same time. The timing of his application for a pension suggests that he sustained disabling injuries during his service and was discharged. He may have returned to California, finding Oakland a more family-friendly city than San Francisco and settling down, only to die an early untimely death. If the J.F. Cox of the Civil War pension is the correct one, he had a daughter named Lillie who later applied for pension benefits for his service, as well.

I will likely be updating this story later in the year, as I plan to request a copy of the pension records that I have found for J. F. Cox to see if there is any evidence that this is the same man. I hope to come closer to the real story for this gentleman.

1 Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, 1879-1903 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.

2 Mountain View Cemetery Burial Records Book 1, pg. 252

3 U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008.

4 National Archives and Records Administration. Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Grand Army of the Republic

This is the picture of the Grand Army of the Republic Plot as it appears today at Mountain View Cemetery. The veterans who are buried there are veterans of the Union in the Civil War. They came from all over the world to get to this place, and in the coming blog posts I will be sharing their stories.

But first, what was the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)?

Founded in 1866 in Decatur, Illinois, it was the first voluntary veteran's organization in the United States. Although membership was slow to grow initially, it would, at its peak, have 490,000 members. The GAR would establish Memorial Day and lobby for its place as a national holiday. They fought for the establishment of pension laws to help veterans who had served in the Civil War. They promoted the, then, controversial idea of voting rights and integration for blacks. And, more visibly, they organized national conferences, called Encampments, which brought together veterans from around the country.

On the local level, the organization of Posts created a more fraternal organization which focused on community organization for supporting local members and social activities. In Oakland, they worked with the Mountain View Cemetery governing body to set aside a plot for the burial of members. This was never, given its size, going to contain all its deceased members or even all of it's prominent members. This leaves the plot as one of the most fascinatingly diverse burial spaces from the 19th century in Oakland.

The creation of this blog is to tell the stories of these veterans. In many cases, these stories are woefully incomplete. In others the research, continues to be in process. And in one case, the one unknown "U.S. Soldier" in the plot, there is no story to tell.

I am organizing the stories chronologically from their dates of death, and will also add details about their professions, the City of Oakland they lived in, and my own musings about the process of this project. I hope you will come along with me in discovering the lives and the deaths of these men who served our country in the Civil War.