I’ve fallen way behind in my 52 ancestors posts. Not having done any in a while makes me feel extremely guilty. To start back up I thought I would use the pension files I am currently going through from a visit to the National Archives in Washington D.C. It will give me 5 people to talk about so it will hopefully help me get back into the swing of things. Before I begin I must first say I have one of the best husband’s ever! Not the least bit interested in genealogy he surprised me with an overnight stop outside of Washington D.C. He knew I was itching to view some pension files and we were heading down south to visit family. Since we had to go by D.C. he figured it would be the best chance I had of doing this. He even went so far as to sign up for a researcher’s card and photographed two huge files for me. What a man!
When we look into the lives of people we sometimes forget that they led lives beyond those dates we see in records. We see a marriage date for a couple but how often are we encountered with how they felt about each other? We see a death date for someone but how often do we read an affidavit from a man talking about visiting a brother’s home to celebrate the birth of a child only to be faced with the death of a loved one? I was lucky enough to find these things in the files I viewed. This may be an incentive to get more people to consider the costs of obtaining their ancestor’s file.
I am going to start with Richard J. Wentworth, a cousin of my direct line ancestor. A quick background about Richard before starting on what was in his file. Most of what I have found about the family is from “The Wentworth Genealogy: English and American, Volume 3” by John Wentworth. I am currently working on verification of the information used. Richard Joseph Wentworth was born 28 May 1837 in New York, the third child of Richard Holloway/Halloway Wentworth and Mary Harris Lyons. He married 23 November 1862 (pension file says 26 November 1862) at Albany, NY to Mary Elizabeth McClellan. Richard enlisted August of 1864 in the 158th Regiment, New York Infantry. The same Regiment his brother, Samuel Henry, had enlisted in in 1862. The first reference I find to anything having happened to Richard is a form his brother David Lyons Wentworth, (176th NY Infantry) had filled out. He said his brother Richard had been shot through the body. His hand? Leg? Shoulder? I wondered about this for ages but could not find anything detailing his wound. Until his pension file answered the question for me, above his hip and out just near his spinal column. Even better than the description from the medical records were the letters his widow included with her pension application. Richard had died 8 March 1884 in Albany, NY.
He wrote to her about his experiences. Things like having to walk a mile away from camp through fields, over hedges and up hills to a rapid creek in a ravine to break the ice to wash clothes. He also talked about how a man froze to death due to drinking too much bad rum. In every letter he talks about his love for her. “I am still without a letter from her I love more than life itself. Yes dearest even so more than my own life- except to prepare for an endless eternity- is mine, if it was not to be shared by you, and in the enjoyment of your love.” Even in the middle of a war he is worried about her. (see image)
Then comes the letter every wife feared in receiving. According to his file it was received in action at Fort Gregg, VA, outside Petersburg.
The rest of the pension file is interesting reading, including affidavits from people describing his condition since he was discharged. It also has several mentions of the wound “entering left side just above and anterior to hip passed through and escaped opposite and to the right of spinal column.” Which, leaves him unable to perform manual labor. A description of Wentworth by a neighbor is heartbreaking. “..the general appearance of said Wentworth is vastly different than it was previous to his enlisting. Previous to his enlisting he has the appearance of a strong vigorous physical condition and that since and now he is a week pale nervous person with a constitution very much shattered.”
Another thing I discovered from the pension application was that he had one child “by adoption” named Howard. I had Howard as his biological child so I will have to look further into this.