I decided to tackle a family story I heard from my grandmother Agnes King Warner when I was about 12-14 years old.
The family story I had been told was about an ancestor who served in the Civil War. He was about 13-14 years old and wanted to fight in the Civil War. He had a man from the neighborhood sign for him saying he was old enough to join the Civil War and he enlisted under an assumed name. He was believed to have been a drummer boy or a flag bearer in the Union Army. My grandmother died when I was 16 years old so I was unable to ask her any further questions when I decided years later to see if the story was true and to determine who this veteran was in our family. I wasn’t even sure years later if the mystery man was a direct descendant or the brother of a direct descendant.
I continued to wonder over the years about this mystery man. I asked family members and was able to get a few more pieces of information which I filed away. Someday I will have to figure this out. Time passed but this nagged at me.
First: I looked at several lines on my grandmother’s side of the family and thought it might be one of her grandfathers. I know the Civil War began on April 12, 1861 and the enlistment age was 18. How old were my grandmother’s grandfathers? Louis King, her paternal grandfather was born in 1843 so he would have been 18 at the start of the Civil War, so, maybe it was him. My grandmother’s maternal grandfather John Rowan was born in 1846 so he would have been 15 years old. That’s a little closer to the family story. Definitely more research needed.
Next: I wrote letters to several great aunts and cousins to see what they knew and asked other family members. Several thought it was John Rowan who had served in the Civil War.
- I researched the life of Louis Arthur King because I wanted to rule him out. (See post Who Was Louis Arthur King) I couldn’t find any reference to Louis having served in the Civil War.
- I spoke to Civil War experts. and asked how am I going to be able to find someone who enlisted under an assumed name? I was assured that if my ancestor ever filed for a pension after the War they would link his name with the assumed name. But if he never applied for a pension I’d be out of luck trying to find him.
- I began to research the life of John W. Rowan. I researched his mother Ann Meenan ( see post - A Lot More Questions Than Answers-The Life of Ann Meenan Rowan) and his father William Rowan (Using City Directories to Find William Rowan). I know that John’s father and infant brother died when he was 4 years old and it was just he and his mother after that.
- I researched in New York for soldier’s named John W. Rowan that served in the Civil War and found four of them. All I had were names and what Regiments they served with. Hard to imagine that there would be 4 John W. Rowans. UGH!
- I researched the Regiments that the 4 John W. Rowan’s belonged to. Three of the units were from upstate New York and one was from Staten Island, New York. Staten Island is a lot closer to Manhattan so, maybe that’s the right one? Then I found out that the Staten Island Unit disbanded and was absorbed by one of the upstate New York units. That narrows my list down to 3 possible John W. Rowans (Company H New York Infantry 150th Regiment, Company A 105th New York Infantry, Company D 145th NY Infantry). To get copies of the Civil War records for a soldier you need to visit Washington, D.C. or pay someone to locate them for you and send them to you. Ordering 3 sets of records would be expensive. Can I narrow this down further?
- I went back to some correspondence I had gotten years ago from relatives and reread it. The following is an except from a letter my grandmother’s sister Anna King Earle sent to her niece Barbara who in turn shared with me in 2010:
Transcribed: John Rowan –Sarah A. King’s father fought in the Civil War, joined at 13 under an assumed name-got a man to sign for him, was shot in the leg. His family moved from New York to Brooklyn in 1896.
- There was another piece of information that might help me…he was shot in the leg. Were any of the 3 John W. Rowan’s shot in the leg? Will that narrow it down for me further?
WOW! John W. Rowan and wounded in action and another name- James Rowan. The NY 145th Infantry was from Staten Island and absorbed by the 150th Infantry. I think I’m ready to take a chance and pay the money and get the records for this John W. Rowan. I am so hoping he is the right one…
I sent for the records and just received them. Are they the right ones? I’ll let you know in my next blog post.
If you have any corrections or additions or stories to share I look forward to hearing them.
Enjoy the journey,