Veteran's Pension Application for John M. Fitzsimmons
OBIT: Marion, Grant County, Indiana Newspaper, Dec. 9, 1910
The info on John Fitzsimmons that is buried in Shiloh Cemetery.
Thanks to Kerry Day who lives in Washington DC and does CW research, went
to NARA and read his entire file and sent this information to Mark Davis.
(following from Kerry Day)
I read John Fitzsimmons' military and pension files last night. While it
is always difficult to read a soldier's personality from the file,
Fitzsimmons strikes me as a very decent, responsible boy who was extremely
devoted to his mother, and who had a very good relationship with her.
His army records carry his residence at the time of enlistment as the town
of Wheeling in Delaware County. It is apparent, though, that he and his
family had also lived in Grant County.
John's mother, Rebecca, had been born in Guernsey County, Ohio on December
28, 1825. John was born on August 15, 1842, either in Ohio or in
Pennsylvania. Ohio is listed on a military record, but Pennsylvania
appears on a 1903 affidavit submitted by Rebecca ... so I tend to accept his
birthplace as Pennsylvania.
The year of the family's migration to Indiana isn't disclosed in the file.
However, John had numerous siblings, so if you're interested you'll
probably be able to figure out when the Indiana migration occurred by comparing
the siblings' birth dates and birth states as they appear on census returns.
In 1858 John's mother, Rebecca Fitzsimmons, filed a divorce lawsuit
against his father, Charles Fitzsimmons, in the Grant County Circuit Court.
Since most jurisdictions require that divorce be filed in a jurisdiction where
at least one of the married people resides, it's likely that the family
resided in Grant County in 1858.
The divorce hearing occurred before Grant County Circuit Court Judge John
M. Wallace on October 7, 1858. Charles Fitzsimmons had been properly served
with his subpoena, but he failed to show up. Consequently, the only
testimony that was offered came from Rebecca.
The trial ended with Judge Wallace granting Rebecca's divorce and awarding
her custody of the couple's six children. A later affidavit describes the
children as John, who was 16 years old, Mary Emaline (12 years, b. 5/14/46),
Elizabeth (8 years, b. 2/13/50), Catherine (6 years, b. 5/5/52), Rebecca
Amanda (3 years, b. 11/21/54), and Sarah (2 years, b. 7/30/56).
Rebecca was also awarded ownership of whatever personal property she had
in her possession. There was no awarding of alimony or child support
payments, and no mention of any real estate. If you'd like to search locally
for the lawsuit's records, the case was "Divorce No. 57" from the Court's 1858
After the divorce Rebecca went to live in a home provided by her father,
Nathan Merritt, where she paid no rent. The file doesn't elaborate, but I
suspect it was probably a tenant house on his farm. I don't know if it
was located in Grant County, but if not, it wasn't far away.
Rebecca was a basic housewife with little or no business-worthy skills,
and thus became dependent upon the wages that her son, John, was able to earn
as an itinerant farm laborer on various Grant County farms. John went to
work immediately (or perhaps very shortly) after the divorce. He lived with
the families who employed him, which may account for why you had difficulty
finding him in the 1860 Grant County census.
In an 1867 affidavit the farms where John worked from 1858 to 1861 were
> identified as belonging to George Needler, Samuel Moore (Jr.), H. Lewis,
J. W. Rugh, Jonathan Delany, and a man whose name appears to be George Beusy
(?). The affidavit says his average monthly wage at these farms was eight
dollars, most of which he gave to his mother.
As a little aside, a J. W. Rugh ... probably the same man referenced above
... signed an affidavit in support of Rebecca's pension claim, and was
identified in that affidavit as a well respected physician.
Nothing in the file indicates how much support Rebecca's father was able
to provide beyond providing a residence for her. I suspect, though, that he
was a rather simple farmer without a lot of extra cash. After all, if he'd
been a financially prosperous man, I suppose young John could have stayed in
school or apprenticed for a promising trade.
Instead, he was forced to grow up quickly, and ended up spending the rest
of his life working very hard and risking death in order to provide a living
for his mother and five siblings. There is no indication in his file to
suggest that he ever faltered in this regard.
Actually, John's father was described in one affidavit as a "worthless,
good-for-nothing husband," so he may have been a drunk or simply a lazy,
irresponsible sort of man. I rarely find divorce decrees in the pension
files that I read, and when I do, it's usually pretty obvious that the man
was unwilling or incapable of providing support for the woman. I suspect
that was the case here.
It's also probably worth noting that Rebecca was married on April 21, 1841
... when she was just 15 years old. That's another reason why I suspect
that her father, Nathan, was a simple dirt farmer scrapping out a living off
the land. A well educated, professional man would not likely have allowed his
15-year-old daughter to marry anyone at that age, much less a fellow like
In any case, if Charles Fitzsimmons was the kind of poor quality man that
I suspect he was, John may have been forced to pick up the slack long before
his parents divorced. He may, in fact, have developed into a responsible,
mature kid very early in his childhood. I figure he was always a pretty
John enlisted into the 19th Indiana on July 29, 1861. The enlistment
location is shown as Indianapolis, but he probably enlisted at home and
took his formal oath upon arriving in the big city. It's also worth mentioning
that the army pay of a Private was greater than the average wages John was
making on Grant County farms, so his family's welfare may have been a
factor motivating his enlistment.
The 19th Indiana was sent to Washington, DC in August 1861, and John took
sick sometime after the regiment's arrival in the capital. His first
payroll muster card (September-October 1861) lists him as a patient in the
"Patent Office Hospital" ... which is simply a portion of the US Government
Patent Office building that was temporarily converted to a military infirmary.
John's illness apparently wasn't serious, as he was back on duty with the
regiment for its November-December payroll muster. He then shows "present"
for every muster thereafter until September 1862, when he is shown among
the casualties from Antietam.
The nature of his wound at Antietam is not described in his file. It is
noted as having occurred on September 17, however, which is the date of
the battle. Thus, I presume John was wounded during his regiment's fierce
early morning fight at the north end of the field. That he was wounded in
close proximity to the enemy is also implied by the fact that he was captured
The Confederates paroled him very quickly, though, as he was seriously
wounded and obviously not someone they wanted to burden themselves with on
the retreat back to Virginia. The seriousness of John's wound is
demonstrated by the fact that he spent approximately one year recuperating.
The first hospital he was sent to appears to be the "School House Hospital"
in Chambersburg, PA. From there he soon went to one or more hospitals in
the Philadelphia area, including the "Cuyler USA General Hospital" in
Germantown. Cuyler may or may not have been the only hospital he was treated
at in Philadelphia ... the records are not precise on this point.
The records do show, however, that John was granted leave sometime during
the May-June 1863 payroll period. He had apparently recovered enough to go
home, visit family, and continue his convalescence in more pleasant
Post-war pension affidavits report that during this visit home, he gave
his mother $100 that he had saved from his paydays. It was John's normal
practice to keep only what he needed for himself, and send the rest to his
Furloughs were usually for thirty days, although wounded soldiers were
sometimes granted longer periods. The exact dates of John's furlough are
not recorded, but he was back at his Germantown hospital for its August 31
payroll muster. He then returned to full duty with the 19th Indiana at
Culpeper Court House, VA on September 12, 1863.
During the fall of 1863 the 19th Indiana participated in the Bristoe Station
and Mine Run Campaigns, but was not engaged in the major combat actions of
those campaigns. John's muster cards show him present with the regiment
throughout this period, and records his re-enlistment on December 31, 1863.
The 19th Indiana fought throughout the spring of 1864, of course, engaging
at The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and the North Anna River, etc.
John's muster cards reflect he was still present with the regiment during
this period, and it's unfortunate that he was.
On Saturday, June 18, after heavy fighting in the Petersburg area over the
past several days, three Corps of Union forces launched a massive assault
against Confederates entrenched in the city. John was among the troops
who made that assault, and during it he caught a bullet in his right thigh.
He was subsequently evacuated and sent to "Campbell USA General Hospital"
in Washington, DC.
His right leg was amputated at some point. His records don't reflect
whether this occurred in Petersburg or DC, but my guess is that it came off
in Petersburg fairly soon after he was shot.
Remarkably, Rebecca reported in a letter to pension officials that she
traveled to Washington, DC and personally nursed her son after his
Petersburg wounding. I take this as a sure sign of the immense love and
gratitude that she felt toward him. I take it also as testament to the
quality of young John's support and devotion to his mother.
Unfortunately, John's wound resisted healing, and on August 17 he passed
away. I presume the leg had developed gangrene. Military records almost
never mention that complication in any soldier's file, but it was a common
complication. Actually, the relatively few medical details that exist in
John's record are more than found in most files. They confirm his wound
resulted from a gunshot, and that the amputation occurred at the juncture
of the middle and lower thirds of the right thigh. Nothing more.
Rebecca subsequently arranged for John's body to be transported back to
Indiana, where he was buried. Obviously, you know the place.
She remained in Indiana for a few years, living in New Cumberland. In the
1867 affidavit mentioned earlier, Rebecca was described as doing most of
her shopping at Jacob Newberger's store, J. G. Williams' store, and at the
mill of a man whose name is difficult to read, but who may be Thomas Dunn,
Lum, or Hum (?). These were said to be in both Grant and Delaware Counties,
so I take it she lived near the County line.
The affidavit also declares that in 1867 Rebecca's financial assets included
one town lot in New Cumberland (just the ground, with no mention of a
structure built on it, although presumably there was one ... as she was
living in that town). Also listed among her assets were a cow, a couple
stoves, and various articles of clothing. She was not very well off, but
John's pension money was apparently enough to allow her to live independently
and with dignity.
You guessed that Rebecca eventually moved away, and you were right. The
file doesn't indicate when that occurred, but it may have been in conjunction
with her second marriage. She wed a man named Evan Stanley on October 7, 1869
in the town of Marion, Grant County ... exactly eleven years to the day after
her divorce from Charles Fitzsimmons. I wonder if she chose October 7 for
a reason, or was it a mere coincidence?
With a husband to give her financial support, Rebecca no longer qualified
for John's pension and so it terminated. But Evan Stanley died in 1878, and
in May of 1903 Rebecca ... perhaps feeling financial pressure again for the
first time in many years, or perhaps only recently informed that her son's
pension could be revived ... submitted a re-application to the Pension
At this time she was shown to be living in a small, 2-room, unpainted
frame house in Ashland, Clark County, Kansas. The house was located on at
least two lots, and it had a well. She owned the house and the lots outright,
along with one additional, undeveloped lot in Ashland's "suburbs." She
estimated her home's value at $150 to $200, but said the suburban lot was
worth practically nothing.
In support of her application, neighbors reported that the 77-year-old
Rebecca was able to earn a small amount of money by weaving carpets, but
that she did not get enough orders to make a decent living. They described
her income from the carpets as being between twelve and one-half cents and
fifteen cents per yard. By the way, Rebecca still went by her second
husband's surname, "Stanley," having long ago permanently abandoned
There is no indication whether she was living alone, or whether any of her
children were close by. However, she did indicate that all of them were
still living, with the exception of John and Mary Emaline. Also, the
execution of her 1903 affidavit was witnessed by a Sarah Hoover.
I don't know whether this woman is Rebecca's youngest daughter, but I
suppose she could be. In any case, it's likely that at least some of
Rebecca's children married and had children of their own. Therefore, there
are probably modern 21st-century descendants of this family who would be
interested in what I am writing. Whether any of them are still back in
Indiana is questionable.
Rebecca's re-application was granted and she again began drawing a pension
from John's service. And she drew it for nearly another twenty years. She
finally died at 1417 N. Sherman Street in North Bend, Coos County, Oregon
on December 14, 1921 ... two weeks shy of her 96th birthday. The cause of
death was listed as pneumonia.
I presume the Sherman Street address was Rebecca's residence, although it
may have been a hospital. In any event, her death certificate listed her as
a resident of North Bend, so she had apparently moved from Kansas at some
point ... although the pension file doesn't indicate when that was.
Rebecca's daughter, Rebecca Amanda, cared for her mother during the last
fifteen years of the mother's life. My guess is that "Amanda," as she was
called, had made her life in Oregon and brought her mother to live with
her when the elder woman got too feeble to be alone. Amanda buried her
mother in the Sunset Cemetery at Marshfield, Oregon.
By the way, Amanda's married name was "Williams," and she signed her name
"Amanda R. Williams." This suggests that Rebecca may have actually been
her middle name and not her first, although she was identified as "Rebecca
Amanda" in documents forty years earlier.
In case any family member ever reads this, there are a couple additional
genealogical details I'd like to offer. First of all, there is John M.
Fitzsimmons' physical description. His military file lists him as 5 feet
5 inches tall, with gray eyes, black hair, and a dark complexion.
Secondly, Rebecca's mother was named Elizabeth Merritt. According to
Rebecca's death certificate, Elizabeth's maiden name was Ward or some
other surname very similar to that. The handwriting gets a bit rough after the
"WA ..." but the name is very short and I guess it to be "Ward."
Oregon's death certificates included the birth locations of a deceased
person's parents, but for some reason Elizabeth Merritt's place of birth
was not listed. I suppose Amanda probably just didn't know it. Nathan
Merritt's place of birth, however, was listed as Ohio.
Finally, I'm going to have to throw a little dirt in the game. There is a
possibility ... just a possibility ... that Charles Fitzsimmons was not
actually John's natural, biological father. In her 1903 affidavit Rebecca
answers a question regarding John's father, whose name is not mentioned in
anywhere on that affidavit, by saying that he died November 14, 1851 ...
which is eight years before she divorced Charles Fitzsimmons.
I suppose it's possible that Rebecca was pregnant and suddenly became
widowed in 1851, then gave birth to Catherine in 1852, and then got remarried
to Charles Fitzsimmons in time to give birth to Rebecca Amanda in 1854. And
theoretically, after that her children from the first husband adopted the
surname of their new stepfather.
On the other hand, I didn't see anything else in the file to suggest the
existence of any other husband, and I think it odd for him not to be
mentioned somewhere by name. Therefore, I'm inclined to think that the
lawyer or notary public who interviewed Rebecca and wrote out the
affidavit for her to sign probably misunderstood the death date that she had
told him ... perhaps he heard "sixty-one" as "fifty-one." I've seen plenty of
transcription errors like that, and wouldn't be surprised if that's what's
going on here.
There's also a reference in the file that provides Rebecca's exact wedding
date in 1841. To be honest, though, I can't recall now whether Charles
Fitzsimmons was mentioned by name on the affidavit that provided that
date. I think he was, but I don't usually photocopy every single document in
a file, and unfortunately that affidavit was one that was not copied.
Most documents in pension files are redundant and the ink on some is
sufficiently faded that the writing won't transfer to a photocopied image.
I can't recall why I didn't xerox this particular affidavit, but the fact
that I didn't attempt to xerox it leaves me sure there was nothing particularly
noteworthy or inconsistent about it. I merely recorded the wedding date
in my notes.
Unfortunately, I noticed the suspicious 1851 death reference after I'd
returned the file to the Archives staff for reshelving. And once that
happens, it takes the file several weeks, or even a couple months, to
become available again.
Anyway, if a descendant ever reads this and wants to nail down this point,
there are several avenues he can pursue. The simple one is to find
Charles Fitzsimmons in an 1850 census and see if he's married to Rebecca.
If he is, the 1851 date is a simple misunderstanding.
Grant County might also still have records related to Rebecca's divorce
pleading, and those records might mention the date when she married
Charles ... a date that is not mentioned in the divorce decree. Also, knowing
that Rebecca's initial marriage occurred in 1841, and that Rebecca was born in
Guernsey County, OH, a descendant might find an Ohio marriage record
confirming the groom's name.
And, of course, another check of John's pension file will confirm whether
Charles was mentioned by name on the affidavit that I didn't copy.
Unfortunately, though, it will not reveal the true father's name if
Charles is not mentioned as the groom. I'm sure no other man was identified.
I photocopied a number of the better documents from John's pension file
... the 1867 and 1903 affidavits, Rebecca's death certificate, the divorce
decree, the letter in which she mentions caring for John in DC, and a few
others. I also copied John's enlistment paper, his POW parole paper, and
an original War Department death and interment form. I'll send them and the
pension papers along to you.
I didn't copy the full military record, given that it's just transcriptions
of payroll muster cards from the 1880s and 1890s. Beyond confirming John
as present or absent with the regiment on bi-monthly paydays, and reporting
the fact that he's hospitalized in Philadelphia after Antietam, they don't say
a great deal ... certainly nothing that I haven't already reported to you.
There are no battle details, no personal details ... nothing that an
experienced researcher or even a descendant would take notice of.
I think your work to restore this boy's grave has been a wonderful thing.
I think the kid truly deserves the recognition and honor that you're
according him. Sometimes Civil War soldiers turn out to be real louts, but I
think you've got a really good kid here. It's a shame he couldn't have survived
to raise a family of his own. It's for sure he'd have taken good care of