51st NY Volunteer Regimental Colors

Regimental Flag of the 51st NY Volunteer Infantry

I have been doing ancestral research during my free time (which isn't a lot, due to my increasing professional, volunteer/public service and social commitments).

That said, I have had some time to research my 4th Great Uncle, Nathaniel King (1838-1908). Coming from an old Manhattan shoe-making/cobbling family with over 100 years of history on the island (his grandpa served in the American Revolution), on September 22nd, 1861 he was mustered into Company K of the 51st NY Volunteer Regiment.

Among the company's more illustrious feats was that it was one of only two units that successfully crossed the Rohrbach Bridge (now called Burnside Bridge) across Antietam Creek, pushing back the 20th and 2nd Georgia Regiments (who had the high ground) during the Battle of Antietam, on September 17th, 1862. With over 22,000 casualties, this battle represents the single bloodiest day in American history.

I have found Mr. King's muster and discharge documents, as well as documents from his time in the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic--a Union veterans organization, akin to the modern day VFW or American Legion), and his periodic stays in the the Bath/Steuben County, NY Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. Apparently, my Great Uncle acquired chronic bronchitis during the Civil War, and was never able to overcome it. The bronchitis became so bad, with loud, horrendous, bloody and violent coughing that it rose to the level of what was considered a "disability" in the mid 19th century, and he was honorably discharged for it on January 8th, 1863 in Baltimore, MD. 

I spent an hour or so on the internet the other day looking for written historical accounts of Company K/51st NY Volunteer Infantry. During this research I was surprised to learn that George Washington Whitman, the brother of the famous poet Walt Whitman, also served in Company K of the 51st NY Volunteer Infantry. During the Civil War, a company only had about 100 men, so its highly probable that George Washington Whitman knew my Great Uncle, Nathaniel King. This is even more likely, due to the fact that George Washington Whitman was the company's lieutenant. Later in life, George Washington Whitman lived with his brother, Walt, in Camden, NJ, which is not only in the same county I live in (Camden County, NJ), but also only 15 minutes away from my abode. After Walt died, George moved to Burlington, NJ, which is also rather close to where I live, albeit to the north. I have attended court many times in both locales. 

Here's where the research gets tricky.

The Veterans Gravestone application lists my Great Uncle as only having been a private with company K of the 51st NY. This is corroborated by almost every other document I have reviewed. No problems there.

However, documents from the G.A.R. specifically list him as having attained the rank of Colonel in Company F of the 35th NY Infantry. These documents say that he re-mustered into the military after a leave of absence (during which time he was married), and joined a new regiment and company, which he served with until 1865. That said, the official muster rolls of the 35th NY Infantry don't mention him as having been a member. I know this is the same guy, though, because his address, occupation and birthday are identical with those used on his 51st NY/Company K documents.

As such, there's more research I need to do.

I am also realizing that the world is a much smaller place than we realize. Its like the old game, "Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon," only with an extra historical layer added.


Title: Battle of Antietam--Army of the Potomac: Gen. Geo. B. McClellan, comm., Sept. 17' 1862 ...Date Created/Published: c1888. Medium: 1 print : lithograph, color. Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-pga-01841 (digital file from original print) LC-USZC4-1768 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-15599 (b&w film copy neg.) Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: PGA - Kurz & Allison--Battle of Antietam ... (D size) [P&P] Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA Notes:27020T U.S. Copyright Office. Copyrighted 1888 by Kurz & Allison, Art Publishers, Chicago, U.S.A.

Views: 193

Comment by Zanelle on October 16, 2015 at 9:52am

Connections.  Good for you to at least try to piece it all together.  Makes me question what is real but I know history is important and getting the facts straight is tricky.  Good luck. 

Comment by Arthur James on October 16, 2015 at 10:00am


good off-line read...


I use new avatar?

Name? Nobody-

Nobody comment?


no daydream and

cloud gage all day?

okay. But it so fun.

`~ '

Comment by Rob Wittmann on October 16, 2015 at 10:45am

Thanks, Zanelle. Thanks, Arthur. Your comments are always appreciated here!

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on October 16, 2015 at 11:18am

This is very cool. I admire the effort that this involved. 

(The most glorious military engagement my people engeged in was being pogrom'd by Cossacks and Wobbly rock-throwing @ Patterson Police.) 

Comment by koshersalaami on October 16, 2015 at 11:23am
So where else do you look to figure out why he's listed two different ways? What's the next step?

Antietam. That's serious stuff.
Comment by JMac1949 Today on October 16, 2015 at 11:50am

Good luck with your research, but with the name Nathaniel King, there's a good chance of there being more than one person with that moniker which could add to the confusion.  R&L ;-)

Comment by koshersalaami on October 16, 2015 at 11:52am
But probably not in the same regiment.
Comment by Rob Wittmann on October 16, 2015 at 12:00pm

Jmac: its hard, but I'm lucky to have in my possession a few family documents which pinpoint his address, occupation, and wife's name and age at the time. The census for said date shows me additional information for said address. In addition, I did Ancestry.com's DNA test and it shows that I am related to this, specific Nathaniel King's direct descendants with an "extremely high" degree of confidence.

These things take a bit of time, because you're gathering and organizing a large amount of evidence. But once you have enough, you use deductive reasoning. For example, Nathaniel King was married to a woman named "Reginia Naylor." He worked as a shoe-maker prior to the war, according to the Civil War records. He recommenced this job after the war, too. His sister's marriage certificate (which I inherited from my grandma when she died) shows Nathaniel King, of 322 Broome Street, served as best man/witness at the wedding. This is the same address on the census, his G.A.R. documents, and his pension file from the National Archives, which corroborates 51st Infantry. K company.

Lots of people get confused with ancestral research. Not me. Its like putting a case together for court, no more difficult than the LSATs or Bar Exam.

My wife has a most amazing family tree. She's a direct ancestor of Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock. And from there, she traces them back to minor nobility in England, back to the 1300s.

Comment by JMac1949 Today on October 16, 2015 at 12:09pm

My wife traces her family back to Plymouth Rock as well as membership in the DAR.  My family shows up in America sometime before 1850.  R&L ;-)

Comment by Rob Wittmann on October 16, 2015 at 12:10pm

In all honesty, the man listed as Nathaniel King on the GAR docs, who served with the 35th---that's the same guy. It has his address. There are two listings for the same man, with the same address, same job, same birthday, but two totally different regiments.

My opinion is that either (a) the clerk made a mistake when entering all this info by hand, or (b) Nathaniel King was trying to pass himself off as another guy from upstate NY, in order to get a higher pension and/or greater benefits from the G.A.R. This happened, from time to time.

Another one of my relatives, Martin Lutz, came to the US from Germany, and had to sign-up for the draft. We know he used two different occupations and birthdays while doing this, but used the same address, name of wife and kids, and his birthday was only 2 years different--but he used the same month and day.

Either he was trying to create a fall-back identity, in case he was drafted, or the clerk made an error. Considering the fact that he was a pacifist and fled Germany to avoid military service, its possible he was intentionally trying to evade service.

I have a handful of other relatives who served in the U.S. Civil War. My ancestry here goes back to colonial times. The only time it really gets crazy is when I have to track Pennsylvania Dutch, non-Amish, pioneer ancestors who migrated from Pennsylvania into Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and finally, Missouri. All the data is crazy. And the DNA tests show lots of high-level family relations from the same town in the same state, but without any officially existing marriage relationship. I have spoken to historians about this, and they say there was lots of hankey-pankey and adultery among pioneer families going west. It was crazier than a soap opera. She said it was like kids going off to college for the first time, free from the social mores of the east.


You need to be a member of Our Salon to add comments!

Join Our Salon


More Notes To Self

Posted by Robert B. James on May 18, 2019 at 7:32am 2 Comments


Posted by Steel Breeze on May 18, 2019 at 5:31am 6 Comments

Spun Dry

Posted by Robert B. James on May 17, 2019 at 7:00am 0 Comments

© 2019   Created by lorianne.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Privacy Policy  |  Terms of Service