The Illusive Midshipman Charles Polhemus

The Illusive Midshipman Charles Polhemus

Probably the most difficult midshipman to get a bead on was Charles Polhemus. I first looked him up back in 2009, with nothing but the slimmest of clues. I had no indication, where he had been born or from what state he had been appointed.

I concentrated on the censuses for 1850 and 1860 and got a hit on a Charles G. Polhemus of NY. Though each census showed a different NY county, I knew him to be the same individual in both because the other family members’ given names were the same in each instance, with a corresponding increase in ages. And the ages listed for Charles was on track to be my midshipman, but there was nothing else that confirmed that he was the actual person for whom I was looking. I noted down the details from the two censuses, hoping to track down some links that could corroborate his identity.

Many people with the name Polhemus popped up for the state of New Jersey, and in particular Burlington County, but no one there matched my midshipman. So, Charles G of NY was looking more and more plausible. Besides I learned that “Polhemus” was of Dutch origin which again can fit nicely with the Knickerbocker state. Further research revealed that this Charles Polhemus served in the Civil War in a New York Regiment, the 13th Heavy Artillery – a fact that would not be unusual, as other midshipmen had switched from webfeet to landlubbers, especially those middies who had resigned from the Academy.

But it was all a false trail.

When I found the list of the candidates for examination for the Naval Academy, I filled in some important details for my illusive Charles Polhemus. He held an appointment from the 2nd Congressional District of New Jersey (which includes Burlington County) and  passed his examinations on 9/26/1857. The possibility that the Charles G from NY was my midshipman began to dim. (Not totally, as I had come across appointments that originated from one state even though the candidate lived in another – especially when the appointing Congressman was a relative).

And so things sat for several years.

With the inclusion recently of the naval hospital records on Ancestry.com, I was able to zero in on the right Charles Polhemus.  For three days in November 1857, Charles was admitted to the naval academy hospital for bronchitis.  As with all the Acting Midshipman admitted, their place of birth was recorded. C. Polhemus was born in Chile. This “rare” tidbit combined with the other data that has accumulated on the internet in the intervening years gave me the breakthrough I needed.

This Charles Polhemus was related to the New Jersey family that I had run across earlier. His father was John Hart Polhemus sr., who was a grandson (and namesake) of John Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. John moved down to South America sometime in the late 1820s and entered into business.  In Lima Peru he met and married an English woman Marianna Dean on August 28, 1836. My Charles was born to the couple in Valparaiso, Chile on December 27, 1841. Some sources state that President Andrew Jackson had named John, the American consul in Valparaiso.

As you can guess, there was a very good reason then for the family of my midshipman not to show up in my earlier searches of the US census for 1850.  They were out of the country. The future midshipman returned to the US from Valparaiso on February 8, 1851 entering through Baltimore, with two of his brothers (their mother had died in Peru in 1849).

And there is another good reason why my midshipman is missing in the 1860 census.

Charles’ naval career was very brief. Having entered the Naval Academy in the fall of 1857, he resigned six months later – though  not through overindulgence in demerit worthy activity. His demerit total stood at 108 for that time period, half of what would have called for dismissal. (He did have a notable doozy, receiving 6 demerits for throwing a fellow midshipman down the stairs. And he evidently had a problem keeping his room clean, being cited a total of ten times for a dirty room – I have a suspicion he relied on servants at home for that chore). As the saying goes, he bilged (i.e. failed) in the February academic exams. The family genealogy shows that Charles died at sea on December 2, 1858, nine months after leaving the Academy.

I am in the dark about the circumstances behind his death. Had he gone to sea in the merchant marine? Was he out on a pleasure craft, or merely taking passage on a commercial carrier? Was he lost overboard or did he go down with his ship? I can only speculate.

For now, this final detail about Midshipman Charles Polhemus remains illusive.

The Puzzle of Midshipman Morgan Lewis Ogden jr Part 2

The Puzzle of Midshipman Morgan Lewis Ogden Jr. Part 2

A second puzzle related to Midshipman Morgan Lewis Ogden jr. surfaced in the results of one of my Google searches with his name as the subject. The link led me to a page in a book (A Civil War Soldier of Christ and Country by John Rodgers Meigs, edited by Mary A Giunta, and published in 2006 – Univ of IL Press) and the following quote:

“Morgan Ogden I am sorry to tell you is turned away from the Naval School.  Mary says for drunkenness.”

It is from a letter written by Ann Minerva “Nannie” Rodgers Macomb to her nephew John Rodgers Meigs dated 10/7/1859.  And by the dates indicated, the news travelled fairly fast (his dismissal letter was dated 9/23/1859).

The names of Meigs and Macomb I had encountered before. They are famous in the history of the US military. Other midshipmen I have researched have ties to these two families, but their connections were obvious. Why were they writing about Morgan Ogden? What was his connection to these two illustrious family names?

I tried one avenue after another to find the connection. There were no intersections in the ancestors of either Morgan’s parents. And I saw no connection to any Ogdens in the Meigs or Macomb lines. I decided to look sideways at the problem, and finally found it, by performing a genealogical do si do, so to speak.

Morgan’s mother was Eliza Glendy McLaughlin. She had an older brother named John Thomas McLaughlin. I was surprised to learn that he was an US naval officer (and thus possibly an inspiration for Morgan to enter the navy). John entered the navy in 1827, and was in charge of all the naval forces during the Second Seminole War in Florida. His wife, Salvadora, came from another illustrious American military family – the Meades (one of her brothers was George G Meade, the victor of Gettysburg). Salvadora lost her husband John in 1847, remarried in 1852 and was living in New Jersey at the same time that the Ogdens were in New York City. Eliza probably visited her sister-in-law, for many of the Ogdens lived and worked in that state.

Another of Salvadora’s brothers was naval officer Richard Worsam Meade II. He was married to Clara Forsyth Meigs, a cousin to army officer and engineer Montgomery C Meigs. He is the father of the John Rodgers Meigs mentioned above, to whom his aunt was conveying the news about Morgan.

In 1860 the Montgomery C Meigs and the John N Macomb families were living in the same residence in the second ward of Washington DC. Each had married a daughter of senior naval officer, Commodore John Rodgers; Macomb, the Ann Minerva Rodgers mentioned above, and Meigs, her sister, Louisa Rodgers. The house may well have been that of the deceased Commodore, whose widow was then living with her daughters’ families.

Since the Ogdens were also in Washington DC from perhaps as early as 1855, they were probably aware of the Meigs and Macombs, either through the salons of Washington society or the rather roundabout familial connections that I’ve traced above.