Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Allen line: George R Allen's Civil War records! Dance On!

Great joy and emotional discomfort are just two of the feelings I'm having as I write this post.  It is the result of my birthday gift from my husband, finally being able to order the Civil War records for my great grandfather, George R Allen (1837-1915).  I knew the basics of his service: he enlisted on August 6, 1862 and served with Company B of the 87th Indiana for just a few months before he was discharged.  I knew that he was at the Battle of Perryville but didn't actually fight in it because his unit was still green and learning how to soldier.  I knew that he was discharged from a hospital in Gallatin, Tennessee and from the service on January 15, 1863.  I also knew that many men had died in that hospital, about the same time that he would have been there.  What I didn't know, was why he was hospitalized and discharged, and how whatever caused his disability would affect the next 52 years of his life.  There is much else I didn't know, as it turned out.

Here's some of what I learned from the compiled military service records and the pension records of George R Allen. Some of it is what we might now call "TMI" but it is part of his story and needs to be told, with much compassion and respect.   His is the story of far too many Civil War veterans.

There was not much information in the compiled military service record, although we can start to see the problem.  George was absent sick from roll call in September, in October, and December of 1862.  It doesn't appear on these records exactly when he was hospitalized, but he was noted as "sick at Gallatin, Tenn" on December 31, 1862.  His certificate of disability for discharge has a lot of good information.  "Private George R Allen of Captain James W. Selders Company B of the 87th Ind. Vol. Inf. was enlisted by Capt. Selders at Winamac on the sixth day of August, 1862, to serve three years;  he was born in Putnam (county) in the state of Indiana, if twenty five years of age, five feet eight inches high, dark complexion, black eyes, black hair, was by occupation when enlisted a farmer."

He was examined by L. W. (I think those are the correct initials, could be wrong) Hamilton, Med. Dir. and surgeon, and discharged on the order of Brig. Gen. E.A. Paine.  The cause is not completely clear, but I can read "general debility" and something else.  Other records will make it clear, in layman's language, that his was a case of chronic diarrhea and piles, what more polite society would call "dysentery" and I would rather use language of "gastro-intestinal distress".  Still, it was what it was, and at the time there was very little treatment for either the diarrhea or the hemorrhoids.  The only other tidbit from the discharge certificate was a note that he was not entitled to a pension (under 1863 law). It appears that George had been paid $25 of the $100 bounty that was promised him when he enlisted, and is due $75, but I didn't see any records indicating when or if that was paid him.

I can't imagine what it must have been like to be on a train and probably a wagon at some point, to get back home to Pulaski County, Indiana from Gallatin, Tenn with those problems.  I'm sure this was one uncomfortable soldier, glad for more than one reason to be back on the farm.  If our great grandmother expected him to go right back to farming and doing chores around the house, she was probably mistaken, but at least he had a few months to gain strength before spring planting began. 

Did you notice that his discharge said he was born in Putnam County?  All of the information I have previous to this says he was born in Pulaski County.  I have never found his father, Archibald, in the 1840 census so I don't know what to believe.  Some of George's pension papers say Pulaski County and some say Putnam County, so there's not a lot of help there.  However, Putnam County makes a lot of sense, if Archibald and Margaret Allen came to Indiana shortly after their 1834 marriage. George would have given this information when he entered the service, and was young and healthy, so it needs to be given some weight.  Also, I was thrilled to have a physical description of him.  I don't have a single picture and have never seen one, so this may be as good as it gets.

The pension records have a lot more information than the military records.  They begin in 1890, when a law was passed making more soldiers eligible for a pension.  There are statement from neighbors that they know George Allen and have known him for many years, and that he cannot work a full day, sometimes not even half a day.  There are records that he had "ruptured himself" while trying to move a heavy stone, but it appears that the pension was based on the "chronic diarrhea and piles" that George suffered with, ever since his discharge from the service 27 years ago. 

The pension application is filed from Marion Township, Daviess County, Missouri where George had moved after the death of his wife, Nancy McCoy, in 1880.  He married Sarah Powell Nance there, in 1881.  When he finally was approved for a pension, it appears that it may have been as little as $12 or possibly $15.  There is a document approving an increase to $21 in 1912, when George was 75 years old.  And then, there was the incredibly sad document that Elisha Frost (George's son-in-law, married to daughter Emma) had been appointed George's guardian in 1913, because George was "insane".  I am hoping that  I can someday locate the court records for this, that George was not "insane" but was "incompetent" because that would be easier for me to bear.  But for now, he died "insane" in 1915. The cause of death as listed on his death certificate was "cerebral hemorrhage." 

There is then a whole lot of information regarding Sarah and her application for a widow's pension, including details of her husband Peter Nance's death in 1876 and that she had had no other marriages.  Within a week after George's death, there were affidavits from two of George's children, Emma Frost and Edward Allen, regarding the death of their mother Nancy, and supporting Sarah's application for a widow's pension.  It was approved and there is a letter from F.B. Nance, Sarah's son, in 1916 asking that his mother's pension be sent to Oroville, Washington, because that was her current address.  F.B. Nance was superintendent of schools there, and it appears that Sarah had gone there either for a long visit or to stay.  However, she died in 1923 in Pattison, Mo., so at some point she moved back home.

I was thrilled to see what I think is George's signature on at least one of the documents, and also the signature of my grandfather, Edward F. Allen.  I had never seen either man's signature before, so this was a treat.

I ordered my records from American Civil War Ancestor.  They were less costly than ordering them through NARA, and my records arrived in 4 weeks.  However, they do send them via Dropbox, which means you get pictures of the documents, instead of copies of the documents. This suited my purpose, because it was the information I was after.  However, if you want a nice copy of George's discharge certificate to frame, you probably want to order the documents from NARA.

This has turned out to be a long post, and it's taken a while to write because every now and then I had to get up and dance a bit.  This has got to be worth every penny of the money it cost for the records; in fact, it is priceless.  I am so glad I finally decided, and husband finally agreed, that this would be the perfect birthday present for a family historian!

The line of descent is:

George Allen-Nancy McCoy
Edward Allen-Edith Knott
Richard Allen-Gladys Holbrook
Their descendents