The Midshipman Who Really Wasn’t There – Joel Welcome Berry

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I am trying to be thorough in my canvassing of the midshipmen at the Naval Academy for the school year of 1860-1861. There are certain statistics I am collecting to include in the history I am writing. To that end I went about gathering the names of the midshipmen that were at the institution in all four classes that fed into that time period. This meant going back to the class that entered in the fall of 1857, ditto for the classes of 1858, 1859, and for the entering plebe class of 1860.

I learned about an annual publication listing the graduates of the Naval Academy, and I found one on eBay that had been published in 1944 and won the bid for it. This gave me a good base from which to start. So I dutifully harvested the names into a database – both those who had graduated, and those who had not. Those were the only two categories included therein.

I eventually realized that I was missing the complete picture. Nowhere had I come across a list of the people that had showed up for the exam, but failed to get in – either for academic or medical reasons. That is, not until I was able to look through the microfilm containing the correspondence of the Naval Academy Superintendent. In them I was able to locate the entire list of candidates that appeared before the boards for the target years I was studying.

I identified the missing ones and added them to the database.  I now had all the candidates listed with a date and a number, which represented the order in which they were examined. And it is this order that I utilized, when going through the names one by one for research.

A few years later when I arrived at Midshipman Joel Welcome Berry of Georgia, the 58th candidate for the class of 1859, I ran into a mystery. Here was someone who clearly had been accepted into the academy but was missing from all the official lists. I found him, no problem, in other documents – the 1850 and 1860 censuses; he was a student at Georgetown College in DC (just prior to his appointment to the academy); and ascertained that he fought in the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy in Phillips’ Georgia Legion.

The mystery was solved by delving further into the correspondence of the superintendent – in which I turned up this letter written to the Secretary of the Navy, Isaac Toucey:

                            Naval Academy
Annapolis Md
Oct 31 1859
Sir
I beg leave to state to the Department
that Mr Joel Welcome Berry, obtained from
the Store Keeper of the Academy the usual
outfit immediately after passing his exami-
nation, but subsequently returned the articles,
& left Annapolis without having joined the
institution.-
I would ask whether his name is
to be retained on the rolls.-
I am respectfully
Your obt servt
G S Blake
Superintendent

I had encountered short naval academy careers before, but none as short as Berry’s – which looks to be at most a single day, and just might possibly be measured in hours.

But why had he walked away?

It may be impossible to decisively conclude the exact reason for his action, but the other records I turned up, reveal specific circumstances that within themselves would give a young man strong impetus to pull away from the naval profession. (And I am not ruling out that it could be as simple as when he stepped aboard the schoolship Plymouth as a plebe, this brief view of what a naval life entailed, turned him off).

His father, Andrew Jay Berry, was a planter, a prosperous merchant and a local political leader in Coweta, the county he helped pioneer and settle. There he met and married Emily Elizabeth Parks in 1830. Their first born, William Byrd Berry, followed in his father’s footsteps. The next, Thomas J. graduated from West Point in 1857 and had a career in the army out west. Joel came next and was to represent the family in that other branch of government service, the Navy.

His mother passed away in 1857, and I surmise that he may have received an inheritance from her. For in the 1860 census (taken 6/8/1860) J W Berry was listed in his own household, right next door to his father and brothers in Newnan, GA. He was quite wealthy for an 18 year old – his real estate holdings of 10,000 ($312,000 in today’s dollars) and personal holdings of 13,000 ($405,000) meant that he did not have to find his way in the world. His occupation was listed as Farmer (in distinction to his father as Planter) and according to the slave schedules for that year, he owned 12 slaves to aid in his farm’s operation. This may have weighed foremost in his mind when after qualifying for the academy on that day in October, he immediately returned his uniform and left.

It was a short life for J W Berry after leaving the academy. As mentioned above he enlisted in Phillips’ Georgia Legion and was fairly active as his unit was sent north from Georgia to the battlefields of Virginia. But when 1863 rolled around he was absent without leave from the muster rolls for months on end.

Drink may have been increasingly the driving factor in his life (his brother Thomas once advised him in a letter “to shun it as you would the most poisonous reptile”). The advice went unheeded, for in one drunken episode in 1864, Joel killed two men in his hometown, and fled northward from the expected retaliation of the slain men’s families – not just to the Carolinas or Virginia, but clear out of the Confederacy, and held up in New York City.

There he remained. He never returned to Georgia, and died in NYC in 1869.

 

Re-fighting the Civil War

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We recently took in the Civil War Re-enactors event down at Fort Stevens near Warrenton, OR put on by the Northwest Civil War Council. It is a three day event that is scheduled for the Labor Day weekend each year. We originally attended it several years ago when our kids were high school age.

This time  around we had our #2 grandchild with us. We arrived early (got a parking space right up front) and stayed through the afternoon battle. We did catch both battles during our day there (skirmishes really), one in the morning (the South won), and the other in the afternoon (the North won).

Following are some of our photos – caught by my wife’s sure hand.

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Some celebrities in the mix.

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Then there was the cavalry.

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Where our grandson –

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…lined up on this rider.

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I saw these guys (Louisiana Tiger Zouaves):

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and wanted to follow up on them – an ancestor of mine was a Zouave in a northern unit. Karen got this great shot – 

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All in all a great day a Fort Stevens.

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E T and Company J

ET and Company J

 I used the roster from the history of the 23rd MVI to create a database covering all its members. I did the data entry for it during my lunch breaks at work.

As I was involved in this task I considered how to go about digging up the same info for the 8th MVM.
Somehow I stumbled across a list of Civil War regiments online referenced with names and e-mails of their researchers. I contacted the individual, Carol Botteron, who managed the list and happened to have an interest in the 8th MVM.  She replied to me with a list of books written about various aspects of the regiment. She also asked if my ancestor was a recipient of the Minuteman of 1861 medal issued by the State of Massachusetts years after the war. It was awarded to all of the soldiers that answered Lincoln’s call out of the state militias after Fort Sumter was fired upon. I replied that I did not know and that perhaps it was in the hands of other family members.
She said that I could find a photo of one in the volume History of the Minutemen of 1861.  So a check with the library led to another order with ILL.
The volume had an entire chapter devoted to Company J. It laid out in sketch form the history of the unit, relating some highly interesting and startling revelations.
As an aside, about a decade later I had a round of e-mail exchanges with a researcher in New Hampshire who adamantly insisted that there was no such designation as Company J in the US Army. He explained that this was to obviate any confusion between the letters “I” and “J,” and had the further pariah status of being a “jinx.” Looking at this assertion and his cited authorities (all of a later date than mine), I chalked it up to a bureaucratic standardization after the fact, or a state versus federal understanding.  Whenever the members themselves wrote about the unit later it was always called Company J, and even the Massachusetts Adjutant General’s official report for the year 1861 called the unit by the designation “J.”
So E T was proud member of an historic unit. He was also that rarity in the Civil War, a Zouave.

The Second Clue

Second clue Salem paper 1960

North and South. Union and Confederate. Slavery and free.  I knew about these as concepts.
I didn’t know much about the Civil War when it came to the details involved.  Sure I knew about the individuals – Lincoln and Davis, Grant and Lee, etc.; and some of the battles.  But when it came to regiments, brigades and other units with state names and ordinal designations, I was in the dark.
And to discover how E. T. fit into all this, I would need to educate myself.  But where to begin?
I thought I had something when I found an old newspaper clipping in one of my grandfather’s volumes. It was from a Salem MA newspaper, I think from the 1960s. The writer of the article was describing a picture with something to do about the first casualty from Salem in the Civil War.  It gave his name as George A Thompson of Company H.  And he died in the first Battle of Bull Run.  It stated further that our mutual ancestor (Herbert is a distant cousin of mine) served with George and was a prisoner of war.
When I was first looking at this it was 1996 or 1997, so there wasn’t a whole lot of stuff on the Internet.  I had dial up at home, but no graphic interface (I went to the library for that).
So, it appeared that ET was in Company H and a POW.
Where to from here?
Stay tuned.

Searching for E. T. – The Beginning

Civil War montage

I had first heard rumors about a relative who was a soldier in the American Civil War, when I was growing up in Salem Massachusetts in the sixties. However, I was more interested at the time in what my Classics Illustrated comics had to say about the conflict. Such titles as the Red Badge of Courage and The Crisis claimed my attention, and in particular the CI giant the War Between the States which became quite worn with use. And if it wasn’t the comics it was my Civil War News bubblegum/trading cards.  The ones with the often gory details.
Thirty years later and on the opposite coast, I remembered that rumor and decided to look into it. I had some books that were my grandfather’s and and as it turned out were his grandfather’s before him.  There was “Sword and Pen” about a cavalryman; another titled “Life in Rebel Prisons”; and a third called simply “A Daring Voyage” by Captain William Andrews.
In the last I found the following inscription:
Searching for ET
“To an intrepid comrade during the dark uncertain years of the Rebellion and ‘misty long ago.'”
(To) Serg’t Edward T Osgood
From Wm. Andrews,
  Boat “Nautilus”
And thus began my search for E. T.