Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 09 December 2011 00:00
Oyster Bay Town Historian John Hammond has recently published a book on the Civil War entitled, Civil War Records: Town of Oyster Bay.
Mr. Hammond explained the publication’s timing and purpose saying, “This year is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, and the publication of about 100 pages - is an index of all of the Town of Oyster Bay records that are relevant to the civil war. It is really a research document for people doing genealogy research or research on the Civil War.”
Oyster Bay Historical Society Executive Director Phillip Blocklyn said of the publication, “I think it’s a wonderful resource, and also the timing of the issue is fortunate because this year we received the Elizabeth Roosevelt donation of her family documents and the James A. Roosevelt connection to the northern war effort ties in very much with that.” FYI: James A. Roosevelt was the brother of TR’s father Theodore Sr. - James A. Roosevelt is also the great-grandfather of Elizabeth Roosevelt, who donated the family documents to the OBHS.
Mr. Blocklyn added, “James Roosevelt tied into Oyster Bay history when he built Yellow Banks; and he was a big force in the Sanitary Commission (which became the American Red Cross) and in forming the 20th Regiment which was an African-American Regiment. Mr. Hammond’s book came out just at the right time because both the collection and the book highlight Oyster Bay’s significant participation in the Civil War.”
Mr. Hammond had some interesting stories to tell, as he explained the scope of the book. He said, “I’ve added some things, unusual documents we have including: bounty certificates; and soldier’s power of attorney forms, which are quite rare and unusual to have.”
He had another story to tell that ties Oyster Bay to Vanessa Williams, the Miss America of 1984. He began his story saying, “There were two particular units that fought in the Civil War that were more than passing interest to Oyster Bay: the Harris Light Cavalry, the unit that the most number of Oyster Bay soldiers were in: 124 served in the unit; and information on the 20th and 26th U.S. Colored - which were the black regiments that were formed. That was the one we featured in the television show I was in with Vanessa Williams - that her great, great grandfather David Carll of Oyster Bay served in. That was the regiment that James Roosevelt, TR’s uncle formed. He was the bookkeeper for the Union League of New York City.
“Elizabeth Roosevelt donated material on James A. Roosevelt to the Oyster Bay Historical Society and one piece is an account book that James Roosevelt, her great-grandfather kept when the Union League club raised funds when they were developing the 20th U.S. Colored.”
Mr. Hammond told an interesting story about a Mr. Carll. He said, “Now, David Carll initially went into the 20th Colored but by the time he mustered - went to report for duty - the 20th was all filled up and they had to make the 26th US Colored. The interesting part of the records is that if you see the actual records, it says 20th U.S. Colored but his marker in the Pine Hollow Cemetery says 26th. The records were as of the enlistment when he received his bounty of $300. So there is some fascinating stuff in this publication - especially for Civil War historians,” said Mr. Hammond.
Another story is about the right to vote. He said, “There is even one from a guy Wait Mitchell who actually tried to vote for President Lincoln at a time when blacks were not able to vote. But,” he said, “New York State had a law to allow soldiers to vote on an absentee ballot. So, Wait Mitchell signs it and his Commanding Officer sent it to the Justice of the Peace John Ruchmore to vote for him. But we don’t know if his vote was carried. How do we know the ballot was from the 26th – his white officer signed it. He enclosed this little piece of paper – like a Chinese Fortune cookie – and it had the name of who you are voting for. In this case it was for Horace Greeley. Back in that time you truly voted for electors for president. You didn’t vote for Abraham Lincoln, you voted for his NYS elector.
“Wait Mitchell was in Beauford, South Carolina trying to exercise his right in 1864 to vote for Lincoln. The NYS law didn’t say whites only,” added Mr. Hammond
Town Supervisor John Venditto said in talking about the book, “As a history buff, the American Civil War has always held a fascination for me. The war’s impact was felt all across our country, including the Town of Oyster Bay. The Town Supervisor at the time, George S. Downing, experienced it on a very personal level when his son, Daniel, who enlisted over his father’s objections, was killed in the fierce fighting at Aldie, Virginia. Mr. Downing got permission to travel to Virginia to retrieve his son’s body for burial in a local cemetery.”
“This is cool stuff,” said Mr. Hammond. “On the third page of the book is a picture of Town Supervisor George Downing along with a photo of his son Daniel Downing who was killed in Aldie, Virginia on 1, May 1863. That was just weeks before they came out with the draft system.
“Supervisor Downing took town money so young boys from Oyster Bay didn’t have to go into the draft.”
[During the Civil War, you could pay to have someone take your place in service. TR’s father Theodore Sr. was one of those who paid to exempt himself from service during the Civil War – which is considered by experts as one of the reasons that TR had such a desire to serve the country in war, himself. FYI: The man who replaced TR Sr. survived the war. Additionally, Theodore Sr.’s wife, was a Bulloch of Georgia. On December 22, 1853, Mittie and Theodore were married in the dining room of Bulloch Hall. Had he entered the war he would have been in the unenviable position of possibly shooting his wife’s relatives.]
Mr. Hammond added, “They already had 600 who served.” When he was asked why there were so many volunteers from Oyster Bay, Mr. Hammond said, “A lot of them were raised here when the area was under occupation during the Revolutionary War and they couldn’t fight the British. When you consider the total population of the township was 8,000 and 600 of that total, actually saw active duty. There were a total of 2,000 men signed up for the militia to be available. But, 600 out of 8,000 is a huge percentage. It was an awful lot and a lot were killed in the Rebel prisons. In the book I also talk about prisons and how Charlotte Townsend’s brother was commander of the prisons. It’s fascinating stuff.”
Town Supervisor Venditto recommended the book saying, “Town Historian Hammond is a well-known authority on Oyster Bay during the Civil War and has compiled an impressive array of records relating to soldiers and sailors, including African-Americans, from the Town who were eligible to serve.”
Mr. Venditto added, “The guide contains enrollment lists from 1862 and 1864, as well as a list compiled after the War of those who served. The information provides interesting insight into how the war impacted our then small, rural town of less than 8,000 inhabitants and is full of interesting facts. One which I found very interesting was that having no teeth was a reason for exemption from service because a soldier had to have two opposing teeth to bite off the small gunpowder bags used in smoothbore weapon, which were a mainstay of Civil War infantry. Throughout the guide are photos, letters and documents, which make this a valuable tool for both the serious researcher and genealogist.”
Town Clerk Steve Labriola too, commented on the guide. He said, “This guide, compiled by Town Historian John Hammond, is an important tool for genealogists searching for male ancestors who live in Oyster Bay during the Civil War, as it contains both the 1862 and 1864 enrollments lists, as well as a list compiled in 1865 after the war listing the names of those who served, along with their dates and place of birth, date enlisted, ranks, place of enlistment, bonus received, occupation, names of parents, date and place of discharge, and, in some instances, information regarding such things as imprisonment, cause of death and promotions. In the case of Naval Service, the listings include the name of the vessel served on. Additionally, the guide includes an overview of some of the units in which soldiers, including African-American volunteers, from the Town of Oyster served, as well as photos.”
To obtain a copy of Civil War Records: Town of Oyster Bay Birth, contact Town Historian John Hammond at 624-4971. A copy of the guide can also be downloaded from the Town’s website, www.oysterbay town.com. Other guides by Town Historian Hammond are: Historic Cemeteries of Oyster Bay, Birth, Marriage and Death Records 1847-1849 and Index to register of Deaths Town of Oyster Bay 1881-1920, which can also be obtained by calling the above-listed number or visiting the Town’s website.
“Vital records are the cornerstone of genealogical research, providing dates and locations of events in the life of an ancestor, as well as other useful data,” Town Clerk Labriola said. “For those whose search leads them to the Town of Oyster Bay, this guide to Civil War Records might just provide that piece of information about your ancestor you’ve been seeking.”
Note: Quotes from Mr. Venditto and Mr. Labriola are from press releases on the book and Mr. Hammond.