By Adrienne Usher and Alexandra Skerry
This is the first in a series of “Behind the Scenes” reports on the Shapell Roster Project Team’s collaborative research process. Adrienne Usher and Alex Skerry explain how instincts, attention to detail and team work can transform two names in a database into a story about a post-war death and the woman who connected two soldiers, illustrated with beautiful historical documents.
PART I: Adrienne
As the Lead Researcher for the Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s Roster Project, my responsibilities include administrative duties, database management, and research. While our primary goal at this stage of the project is to confirm the Civil War service of the names included in Simon Wolf’s 1895 The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen, we are constantly adding new names. Periodically, I discover new resources, and when I do – it’s like winning the lottery! Such was the case in March of 2014, when I realized that the New York based newspaper, the Jewish Messenger, was included in our subscription to GenealogyBank – a subscription database of searchable historic newspapers. I stopped what I was doing and immediately began searching for the names of soldiers appearing in the newspaper. My assumption was that if they were written about in the Jewish Messenger, they were, presumably, Jewish, and all I needed to do was figure out their Civil War service to be able to add them to our roster. For every name I found, I had to cross-check the information in the article (if there was any) against ancestry.com and fold3.com. Once I was able to confirm his Civil War service, I then checked the database to see if we already had him. Most of the time, they were in Wolf’s roster, and so not a new name. But, here and there, I struck gold. Such was the case with Justinian Alman.
A search of the Jewish Messenger for the keyword “Cavalry” from 1861-1865 yielded 31 results. #2 in the list was an article dated January 23, 1863 entitled “Virginia.”
Luckily, Captain Alman had a unique first name, which always makes things easier, so I went to the CMSRIs (the Compiled Military Service Record Indexes) on fold3.com. The good news was that I found only one hit – the bad news was that it wasn’t for a New York regiment, as the newspaper article stated. Next stop was to check ancestry.com for a Pension Record Index, and there it was, confirming that there was only one Justinian Alman (or any variation thereof) who served in the Civil War and that his widow applied for and received a Pension on the basis of her late husband’s service. Best news of all, the Pension file was already scanned and online at fold3!
A secondary search of the Jewish Messenger resulted in 3 additional mentions of Alman, including the news of his untimely death. I was confident that Justinian Alman was Jewish and served in the Civil War, so I created what we call a “shell record” for him into the database, including his name, regiment, and links to the supporting documentation. We have two very dedicated researchers who spend Monday through Friday at the National Archives in Washington, DC, reviewing the military records for each name in our database. I knew that at some point, one of them would turn their attention to Justinian Alman, so I moved on to the next discovery…
PART II: Alex
My favorite aspect of the Roster Project is watching the soldiers’ stories unfold and begin to fit into greater, more comprehensive narratives. Not only were these soldiers men with individual personal life stories, but they were part of a company and a regiment during the war, and a larger community before and after. When two lives connect, we usually find that these soldiers directly influenced each other in some way. We often find soldiers that were brothers, friends, coworkers or even neighbors but sometimes it takes some digging in the records at the National Archives (NARA) and some additional online research to discover more complicated connections.
Justinian Alman is a soldier who I keep coming back to over and over again. His story continues to intrigue me as it has evolved through a small connection from a seemingly singular history to an expanded, wider narrative. Every time I think our team has exhausted our knowledge of Alman—learning of his tragic death, reviewing his interesting documents, and finding out about his connection with another soldier in our database—additional bits and pieces of his story seem to emerge.
When I began my research on Alman, all I had to go off of was what Adrienne had entered into the “shell record” she had created for him. I had his name, his Compiled Military Service Record Index (CMSRI), his Pension Record Index (PRI) and the article she had found in the Jewish Messenger. I was able to fill out a “Request for Military Records” pull slip based off of the information on Alman’s CMSRI and submit it in order to receive Alman’s files at NARA.
With this pull slip, Alman’s Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR) was retrieved for me to review. Each volunteer soldier has a CMSR for each regiment in which they served during the war. The CMSR generally contains basic information that was taken from original muster rolls about the soldier’s military service. A CMSR will usually contain dates such as enlistment and discharge, record if the soldier was wounded in action or became a prisoner of war, and may report on a soldier’s age or place of birth. Some CMSRs contain more information than others, depending upon the thoroughness of the original record-keeper.
By reviewing Alman’s CMSR at NARA, I was able to confirm that Alman enlisted in the 1st PA Cavalry on September 9, 1861 as a 2nd Lieutenant, transferred to the 2nd PA Cavalry Co. K, which subsequently became the 5th PA Cavalry Co. K. Transfers, detachments, and re-enlistments were very common during the Civil War. Luckily for us, all of Alman’s records were compiled into one envelope, his record for the 5th PA Cavalry.
Alman was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and was mustered out as such on December 16, 1862 to accept a commission as a Captain in the 5th PA Cavalry. He was commissioned as a Major on April 4, 1865. Alman served in the 5th PA Cavalry until the end of the War when he was discharged on June 6, 1865.
Many soldiers and their widows, minor children, and parents applied for a pension after the Civil War. Pension files often contain additional information about what the soldier did during and after the war which could include information such as specifics on the soldier’s military service, medical history, place of residence, dates of birth and death, proof of marriage, etc. The extent or the amount and kind of information available varies greatly from case to case and depends on the relationship of the person who is applying to the soldier.
According to Alman’s PRI, his wife Augusta applied for a pension.
A widow’s pension file often includes proof of marriage (such as a marriage certificate) as well as information about family and children. Since the pension record was online, there was no need to submit a second pull slip at NARA.
From Augusta’s pension, I discovered Justinian’s additional military service after the Civil War, details concerning the circumstances of his death, information about family, and some very fascinating newspaper articles submitted by the soldier’s mother, Alicia Marks (formerly, Alman).
According to the PR, Alman continued his military service after the Civil War by enlisting in the 4th US Cavalry. While on duty with his regiment, Alman was killed on March 17, 1868, while on board a small boat crossing the Black Cypress Bayou in Texas. He was struck by the wheel of the steamboat “J.M. Sharp” when his boat collided with the vessel, and drowned.
Despite the pension being a “Widow’s Pension,” the bulk of the documents included were from and about the soldier’s mother. Included in Alman’s pension record was an inquiry from Alicia asking the Pension Bureau if she was also eligible to receive benefits. Alicia’s letter included dates and locations from Alman’s letters home, as well as transcriptions from newspaper clippings she kept concerning her son.
Letter from Alicia Alman on Justinian Alman’s service.
Two of the clippings are from the Jewish Messenger. Alicia writes: “I have framed & hung near his full length likeness in uniform. It was copied from the “Jewish Messenger” of New York by a communal paper dated Feb 20, 1863.” The article she transcribes states that Alman received a promotion for bravery.
An article from the Jewish Messenger reads: “One of the most gallant achievements of the present campaign was the recent capture of prisoners, commissary stores, &, at the White House on the Pamunkey River. The affair has been warmly commended by the Press. We learn that the officer who captured the train loaded with stores, &, was a young coreligionist, Justinian Alman a Captain in one of out New York Calvary Regiments—Capt Alman entered the service as a private and won his way by simple merit to his present position. He was highly complimented for his handsome conduct on the ‘White House’ expedition. His command [sic] were out for two days and nights, and penetrated to within fifteen miles of Richmond. Capt. Alman will ‘make his mark’ promoted from the ranks he has already distinguished himself on occasions demanding the exercise of true courage and presence of mind.”
“In the death of Major Alman the service has lost a most useful and efficient officer and his many friends a warm hearted and true companion. Although Major Alman had been with us for a short time he had made hosts of friends by his high toned conduct and was the life of the social circle.”
At the conclusion of her letter, Alicia discusses a drawing she includes in the packet she mails to the Secretary of War that depicts a colored lithograph of a soldier’s memorial. She writes:
“Should it be necessary to substantiate any statement to any member of the American Legation in this country I shall be most pleased and ready to submit to their inspection the originals of what I have herein copied as well as letters and the beautiful colored lithograph of the ‘Soldier’s Memorial’ presented to my son of which I have endeavored to give some idea whilst at the same time particularising [sic] individuals in the regiment.”
Alicia painstakingly recreates the lithograph in order to send it to the Pension Bureau so she could keep the original. This is by far the most interesting document I have ever discovered in a PR at the National Archives!
Each week I write up any interesting stories, significant findings, and questions I have to Adrienne, who reads over and responds to my reports. So, on May 31, 2014, I reported on Justinian Alman and all of the really cool documents in his Pension record, and his tragic story.
PART III: Adrienne
Upon reading Alex’s update about Justinian Alman two months later, I admit, I’d forgotten all about finding him in the first place. I was particularly excited about Alicia’s painstaking facsimile of the memorial she submitted, and asked Alex to inquire if NARA would permit her to access the original to scan it in color. Once pension records are digitized and available online, the records themselves are closed, to preserve these 100+ year old documents. NARA only permits access to the originals if a special need is shown. She was granted permission, but once she saw the condition and size of the document, she felt that attempting to scan it in color would cause additional damage, so she did not.
As I reviewed Alman’s record, something was bothering me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Nothing bad, mind you, just something odd. But, the record was more complete than most in the database, so I moved on to the next item in my to do list. Sometimes, history reveals itself when we least expect it.
Fast forward to October, 2014: Alex and our other researcher at NARA, Caitlin, were finishing the review of the Pennsylvania soldiers, while Adam, our Pennsylvania-based researcher, and I were focusing on a soldier from Wolf named “Ullman,” no first name. According to Wolf, he supposedly served in the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry, but we had not yet found evidence of him doing so. As I tried to find evidence of anyone named anything even close to Ullman in the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Justinian Alman’s name appeared in one of my searches. I wondered, was “Ullman” Alman? I studied the details of Alman’s life closely and nothing about him matched what we knew about the mythical Ullman, so that was a dead end, but in doing so, I realized what was bothering me about his record! When a soldier dies, his wife or mother can collect a pension, but not both. Why would Alman’s mother attempt to collect a pension when it was already granted to his widow? I re-examined the Pension Record and realized that the Pension Bureau dropped Augusta Alman from their rolls as “unclaimed.” Had she died? I ran her name through my usual gauntlet of searches and no, Augusta Alman hadn’t died, she just kind of disappeared… However, an Augusta Davidson, with the same information as Alman’s widow, re-appeared in the historical record. Strange, but not really germane to the project, or was it?
Per the copy of the marriage certificate in his Pension record,
Justinian Alman Marriage Certificate copy
Justinian Alman married Augusta Davidson at the residence of the bride’s father, Dr. J. Davidson. Augusta’s application for a Pension was witnessed by Esther A. Davidson. In 1870, two years after Alman died, Augusta is back living with her family in Philadelphia, including father, Dr. Julius Davidson and sister Esther. My next stop was to look for the Davidson and Alman families in the most comprehensive published Jewish genealogical resource: Malcolm Stern’s First American Jewish Families. The only result I found was in one of the Hyneman family trees which had Civil War soldier Jacob Ezekiel Hyneman listed with two marriages: first to “Alman” and then to “Augusta Davidson.” What, I wondered, were the chances that there were two, unrelated Augusta Davidsons in Philadelphia, born circa 1846? Even though Hyneman’s Pension record had been previously reviewed, I asked Alex to request it again and see if there was any mention of Justinian Alman in it – if so, what started out as a sense that something was odd would turn into a connection between two seemingly unrelated Civil War soldiers! I couldn’t wait to hear what Alex would discover…
PART IV: Alex
There was the proof of the hunch! Included in Hyneman’s PR is a Questionnaire provided by the Pension Bureau asking the soldier to fill out information such as: “State your wife’s full name and her maiden name” and “If your present wife was married before her marriage to you, state the name of her former husband, the date of such marriage, and the date and place of his death or divorce, and state whether he ever rendered any military or naval service, and, if you, give the name of the organization in which he served….” Hyneman lists “Justinian Alman,” that he was a Lieutenant in the 4th US Cavalry, and that he drowned while in the service. We also see from this document that Augusta was married to Hyneman on May 7, 1877, three days after the Pension Bureau dropped her from the rolls of receiving the widow’s pension for Alman. Augusta died on January 15, 1912.
This discovery lead me to equally interesting documents in Hyneman’s Pension Record. Hyneman received an inquiry from the pension department about his date of birth on file. Apparently, the pension department claimed that Hyneman listed both August 5, 1843 and August 15, 1843 as his date of birth on different forms.
To clear up the error, Hyneman writes: “I know my birthday to be August 5th, 1843 as that day is impressed on my mind for many years. I am enclosing birthday cards mailed principally August 4th, received August 5th….” There are seven beautiful, brightly colored birthday cards included in Hynman’s PR.
The discovery of the connection between these two soldiers untimely lead to stumbling upon some of the most interesting and colorful (literally) documents I have reviewed thus far during the roster project!
Part V: Adrienne
The Shapell Roster Project’s database is full of amazing stories just like this one, and for every story we’ve uncovered, we know there are many, many more. If you have a Jewish ancestor who fought in the Civil War, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact us via the Shapell Manuscript Foundation and share your stories!
As of October 2014, of the 7100 Union soldiers in our database, we have identified and confirmed the service for 6000 of those men. To date, our team has added 646 new names to Simon Wolf’s original roster and continue to add new names every week.
Interested in staying updated with the latest research news and discoveries? You can follow the research team’s progress as it’s made at the Shapell Manuscript Foundation Facebook Page and Roster Project Album, or by following @ShapellManu on Twitter,#ShapellRoster, or check back at our blog for more interviews and news from the archives.