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: Ancestry.com 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. Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com 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: Ancestry.com 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. Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.

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