Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 20 August 2010 00:00
The African American Civil War Museum in Washington, D.C. is preparing to close its doors at its current location and presented its last civil war soldier - David Carll of Oyster Bay, on Aug. 7, 2010.
The presentation was made by Frank Carl of New York, NY and Gilbert McDonald of Odenton, MD., the descendants of David Carl of the 26th United States Colored Troops. The regiment was organized at Riker’s Island, New York Harbor, February 27, 1864. The regiment was deployed to South Carolina in April 1864. There it saw action in 1864 and 1865, according to the museum.
While doing research on the soldier, David Carll’s great-great-great grandson, Gil Frank McDonald, uncovered a 145-year-old “tin-type” photograph of the civil war soldier taken in 1865. The photo was not tucked away in a family member’s attic, but discovered in David Carll’s Civil War pension records at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
It was David Carll himself, who submitted the long lost photo, upon request, to the Bureau of Pensions in 1902, a final act to a 12-year struggle in collecting his rightful pension. David Carll died in 1910. The family heirloom was never returned to the family and remained a part of his record and was unseen by any descendant for over 109 years.
As part of the final presentation at the African American Civil War Museum, a complete photo copy restoration of the civil war solder David Carll was revealed and archived for the first time.
Frank Carl said in a telephone interview that the Aug. 7 presentation went very well and the photograph of the Civil War veteran was on view. David Carll is Mr. Carl’s great great grandfather. He said the family has been involved in doing research on the Civil War soldier. “We never had the opportunity to see the photo of him. My nephew Gilbert McDonald did the presentation. He was doing research at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. when we saw the photo of him from when he was applying for his pension. It’s an incredible story. He fought for over 10 years for his pension because of an identity problem with another Charles H. Carll. In 1890 Congress passed legislation about Civil War pensions and he applied in 1890 and fought until 1902 – when he received six dollars a month.
“It took a long time but he continued to go forward and fight. We came across so many documents – it’s almost an autobiography. It includes witnesses that testified on his behalf. It is an incredible story that unfolded as we did the research,” said Mr. Carl.
His nephew, Gilbert McDonald received his masters degree at the American Film Institute in California. “He has always had a staunch interest in David Carll and his life story and our family history,” said his uncle.
Gilbert McDonald, who was originally from New York remembers being in the Oyster Bay area. “All my family frequented the area a lot as a child. We all know Carll’s Hill, off South Street.”
Mr. McDonald said he has been focusing on David Carll and his experience in the Civil War. “I’ve been reading the depositions in his file. The depositions he filed for his pension. There was a mix up and his name was changed to Charles H. Carll.
“David couldn’t read or write so he just ‘X’d’ documents. So there were 12 years worth of material in the file between 1890 and 1902 when he finally received his pension. All that to get $6 a month.
“The files have documents from family friends; including his brother-in-law. It’s a lot of fun and a great read – it’s like reading a novel. From reading them I have a picture of the man. He was ambitious, confident, he set his sights and achieved his goals, he was full of confidence – he was one of a kind.”
Mr. McDonald said, “His second wife was able to read and write. But in spite of not having those skills, he started several business. He owned a schooner business.”
Mr. McDonald said besides his area of interest in David Carll and the Civil War that he discovered in the National Archives, he has also talked a lot with his cousin Denise Evans, a family historian, on their shared family history.
Phil Blocklyn, Oyster Bay Historical Society acting director said, “We have some copies of various Carll family photos from Denise Evans in our collection. One is a picture of a woman named Imogene taken on Carll’s Hill. There is another of a Joseph Carll, who was born in 1880, that is taken in front of the office of the Oyster Bay Pilot.”
Mr. McDonald, 25, a writer, is now working on his first novel. It is a children’s book based on a piece he wrote at AFI. “Once that is written I will follow up with a story on David Carll because there is a wealth of information in the National Archives and the subject matter has a wide audience,” he said.
He will have a photograph of David Carll for the book. “We had the actual photo from the National Archives and brought it to a Civil War Restoration Photographer and had it digitally restored. Uncle Frank has it,” he said.
John Hammond, Oyster Bay Town historian was delighted to hear about the photograph. “Oh, that’s cool. I’ve never seen a picture of him. I am familiar with him because I have been researching the ‘colored’ Civil War veterans for years.
“There are records of whom is buried in the Pine Hollow Cemetery on South Street. There is a record from 1961 that states there are 12 Civil War veterans buried there, but we don’t know who they are. I have been trying to find out by using alternate records to identify them. I have identified five of them so far.”
Mr. Hammond checked through his data base of the veterans he has identified at the Pine Hollow Cemetery. They include:
“John Bolden, born a slave in Virginia in 1837 and fought in the Civil War to gain his freedom. He died Aug. 1, 1903 in Glen Cove and his grave has a GAR marker (Grand Army of the Republic).
“David Carll, (who later in life dropped an l in his name, as has Francis Carl’s family). He enlisted in the 20th US Colored; born in Cold Spring Harbor in 1849 and died Sept. 21, 1910; and has a GAR marker on his grave in Pine Hollow Cemetery.”
The next item on his data base is: “James H. James born in New York in 1840; died in Mineola, Nov. 10, 1905, age 65. There was a GAR marker on his Pine Hollow grave.
“Simon Rapalyea, US 20th - US Colored – born 1828 and died Nov. 24, 1894; buried at Pine Hollow Cemetery. There is no GAR marker currently but he may have had one previously.
“Another veteran is James Smith who was born a slave in the south; he was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation and served in the Civil War and died Feb. 19, 1908 at age 71. He died at the Jones Institute in Hicksville and is buried at Pine Hollow Cemetery.” Mr. Hammond added, “The Jones Institute was originally located in Brookville – but that is another whole story.”
Mr. Hammond explained, “One of ways to identify someone is to find a death record which usually tells where and when they were buried. We have lost most of those in the ‘colored’ regiments but we don’t know when they died. So, when I get a record of deaths in that area of time, I look to see if he was one of the local Civil War veterans and if it says they were buried in Pine Hollow Cemetery – then I have one.”
Another part of the story is, “But we don’t know which grave they are buried in unfortunately. In some case there is only the GAR marker. David Carll has a nice beautiful government stone marking his grave, but that is not the case with everybody,” Mr. Hammond said.
When he saw the digital image of David Carll he recognized the genre of picture. He said, “He has his arm on the flag. Fantastic. The Civil War soldiers would go to a commercial studio where they had the uniforms of all the services and they would have their picture taken in case they didn’t return. It was taken just before muster at Rikers Island, New York. From there the ‘colored’ troops usually went to Beauford, South Carolina to train.
“According to my records, David Carll enlisted in the 20th US Colored on Jan. 2, 1864 at Jamaica. His occupation was laborer; he was discharged 28, Aug, 1865 at Oyster Bay.
“Denise Evans, has lots of information about him owning a schooner. I question it. On all the census reports he is recorded as a boatman. The term boatman was an inclusive title for working on the water. But she may have more documentation,” he added.
“It’s cool stuff, it really is.” said Mr. Hammond who is always on the trail of information to create historical accuracy.
The museum is preparing to close its doors at its current location at 1200 U Street N.W. Washington D.C.
War Department of the United States, recognizing the critical role of African Americans in the fight for freedom, established a separate bureau for management and organization of United States Colored Troops on May 22, 1863, said the museum’s website. The museum itself was opened in January 1999.
The museum is readying for a move to the historic Archibald Grimke (Elementary School) building about two blocks away from its current location (on Sept. 14), said Mr. McDonald.
The building is part of a redevelopment project for shuttered public schools. The choice of the Grimke Elementary School (1923 Vermont Avenue, NW), is auspicious since it was named in honor of the Grimke family.
The Grimke Family was one of the most prominent black families in Washington. According to the families website, “The brothers Archibald and Francis Grimke and their wives and offspring made their marks on the city in religion, education, civil rights, and the arts.”
Archibald Grimke, the second black graduate of Harvard Law School, is considered a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Francis Grimke graduated from the Princeton Theological Seminary and became the pastor of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church.