The Midshipman Who Wasn’t There – Thomas Theodore Turner

The Midshipman Who Wasn’t There T T Turner

I have researched 400 plus candidates who came to the Naval Academy between the years of 1857 and 1861, (both those who were accepted and those who failed either the academic or the medical exam).

In the course of running down what had happened afterwards to the successful candidates, I ran into numerous instances of obits and histories (family ones, written years later) that claimed such and such an individual graduated from the USNA. But according to government records, he hadn’t. Assumptions had been made that since ‘he’ was there – ‘he’ was a graduate.

The instances are almost too numerous to tally (a project for another day, perhaps). I was surprised then to come across a claim by an historian that one midshipman had not been there, whom I knew to have been there.

It happened early on when I was trying to winnow down the details behind the life of Thomas Theodore Turner.  Turner was appointed to the US Naval Academy from the first congressional district of Missouri in 1859.

One of my online researches turned up a reference in a book edited by Terry L Jones – “Campbell Brown’s Civil War: With Ewell and the Army of Northern Virginia.” The explanatory footnote for the individual mentioned in the diary on page 63 reads:

“Thomas Theodore Turner, of Baltimore, was eighteen years old and had received some military training in European schools and the Virginia Military Institute.  He accepted an appointment to the US Naval Academy when the war began but never attended. Turner also refused an offer by Brigadier General William T Sherman, a close friend of Turner’s father, to secure him a lieutenant’s commission in the 7th US Cavalry.  Instead, Turner apparently joined the Confederate navy but then resigned his naval commission and joined Ewell’s staff in the fall of 1861 as a volunteer aide.  Upon the recommendation of Ewell, Johnston, and Stuart, Turner was appointed first lieutenant on April 29, 1862, and was assigned to Ewell as aide-de-camp.  He stayed with Ewell for most of the war, was wounded at Spotsylvania in 1864, and was captured along with Ewell and Campbell at Sayler’s Creek on April 6, 1865.  In October 1865, Turner married Campbell’s sister, Hattie.”

This flummoxed me. The only detail that appeared correct was his age when examined. Through further research I was able to ascertain that most of the information could be tied back to my T. T. Turner from Missouri, but not the Baltimore reference, nor the statement that he did not attend.

What I could tell for sure, Thomas Theodore Turner of St Louis MO was at the USNA. I have the date that he appeared before the examination boards and was accepted (11/24/1859), and the pages from the Register of Demerits for 1859-1860 in which his infractions are listed. Then there was all that correspondence from Superintendent Blake about Turner’s dabbling in alcohol in the spring of 1860. The first instance was overlooked and not reported to Isaac Toucey, the Secretary of the Navy, predicated upon a promise from the guilty middie that he would not touch it again. The second time he crossed the line, the report went all the way to the top with details about the first, and much details about the second (which was tied to a third). Evidently Thomas sought to excuse his behavior (to Superintendent Blake’s obvious annoyance) in a sea lawyer fashion by claiming that he had not broken his promise.

“I once gave you my word of honor Sir, that I would never have any thing more to do with liquor on board the ‘Plymouth’ & I have not-“

To his thinking, since he had been found drunk on a cutter “stowed away in her sails,” just hoisted from the water, and NOT on the schoolship Plymouth, his honor was intact.

A subsequent search gave me the answer to the confusion of identity in the Jones book footnote. Here another diary (In the Shadow of the Enemy: The Civil War Journal of Ida Powell Dulany) contained a footnote about the cousins Turner, all with the given name of Thomas (to honor their mutual grandfather). To distinguish them within the family, each one’s locale was appended to their names – ‘Baltimore’ Tom, ‘Kinloch’ Tom (the Virginia family plantation), and our middie – ‘St Louis’ Tom.

Originally Blake had recommended ‘St Louis’ Tom’s dismissal based on his flagrant disregard for the regulations – and for the fact that he should have known better given his age – (at 18 he was one of the oldest members of the plebe class).

Turner had two uncles, both holding the rank of commander in the Navy. One Charles Cocke Turner then posted to the Washington Navy Yard may have lobbied Toucey upon his nephew’s behalf. Toucey wrote Blake and instructed him to supply a fuller explanation about the matter, Thus prompted to take a closer look Blake uncovered a possibility that Turner had not been intoxicated in the first instance.

The upshot was Turner remained in the class completing his plebe year in June, and went on the summer cruise as a member of the Third class. But almost immediately upon his return from the cruise – with the permission of his father, ’St Louis’ Tom Turner tendered his resignation from the naval academy – almost a year after his entrance.

Tracking Down a Marine Fifer

Tracking Down a Marine Fifer

I recently had the fun of running down information about a US Marine who had been assigned to the USNA in 1860. Or to be more precise, a marine who had been attached to the USS Plymouth, the naval academy’s school ship for their cruise the summer of that pivotal year. It was a convoluted task, that commenced with only the slimmest of leads.

My jumping off point was the US census for Annapolis for that year. I was scrolling down through the names of the superintendent, the professors and officers, and the midshipmen – and sandwiched between those midshipmen and some US sailors was a short list of seventeen names. All listed as ‘US Marines.’ And all with places of birth listed as ‘Unknown.’ I used their names as the springboard for my online searches.

So, I went through four names –

1- John Rossman age 25

2 – George Rymes age 30

3 – A. E. Clark age 40

4 – R. Hamilton age 37

– before I got a hit with number 5:

5 – L Reinburg age 34

I was using Ancestry.com which has an excellent database of scanned military documents.  My meagre ‘L Reinburg’ search returned a couple pages worth of US Marine muster rolls.

(I like the US Marine muster rolls. With them I have been able to trace the entire service career, month by month, of one of the midshipmen I have been researching – he had switched from the Navy to that branch).

Four of these records outlined Reinburg’s presence on the USS Plymouth, June through September of 1860. And gave me his first name – Louis. I input this new information and the year 1826 (calculated from his age in the census), a mistake as it later turned out.

Two different ‘Louis Reinburgs’ popped up. One born in Saxony, Germany seemed to be the one for whom I was looking. But he was a good deal older, having been born around 1819. The other had been born in Philadelphia, but twenty years younger than he should have been if the 1860 census was correct. It was obvious that they were father and son with the same names. But which was my marine?

I was leaning towards the older Louis until I found naval lists with this native of Saxony listed as a landsman, a naval rank. Since there were marine records for the second Louis in the same years as this navy man, I switched my hunch to the younger Louis.

But how was I to resolve the “age” issue?

A Google search did point to a Louis C. Reinburg who died in 1903, and had a career in the marines. But he had switched to the navy sometime in 1864. This was starting to get more confusing.

The Marine muster rolls proved to hold the key.

I compared all four muster rolls for the USS Plymouth. The names were the same on each one. I then compared them to the names in the census. They were all the same. Or almost all the same. (The census taker as you will see had some issues).

The first five for the USS Plymouth:

John Bauman – Orderly Sergeant, enlisted March 30, 1857 (not Rossman, whoever wrote out the name did not close the bottom of the “B,” wrote an “a” that looked like an “o” and the peaks of his “u’ looked like a double “s.”)

George Byrnes – Corporal, re-enlisted May 20, 1858 (not Rymes, the same issue with the “B”, plus an “r” and an “n” that looked like an “m.”)

Elisha A Clarke – Corporal, re-enlisted June 6, 1858 (not A. E. – perhaps dyslexic?)

Robert Hamilton – Musician, enlisted Feb 23, 1860

Louis Reinburg – Musician, enlisted Aug 29, 1856

The rest of the names on the muster lists are all privates, and match, in order, and almost exactly (save one), the names on the census. Tracing Reinburg back to his enlistment I found him on a muster roll for August 1856 at the Marine Barracks in Washington DC.  But his rank was delineated as “Boy.” (His comrade Robert Hamilton is on the same roll with the same rank).

I had to look up this rank to see what light it might shed on my marine. And I came up with this quote:

“’Boys,’ the lowest rung on the rating and pay scales and one
traditionally reserved for young men under the age of eighteen.”

     This Louis Reinburg was born in 1846, so he was the ripe old age of ten when he enlisted in the marines. Following forward he became a fifer in 1857, and was serving as such on the Plymouth. His fellow marine, Robert Hamilton, was a drummer.

     The two had served together in the same capacities on a cruise in the USS Jamestown between 1858 and 1860, just before their time on the Plymouth. So no doubt they were a team.

     Reinburg took his honorable discharge from the marines in 1864, and then enlisted in the Navy as an Acting Master in the Volunteer Navy. He served the rest of the war and beyond, taking his honorable discharge from that service in 1868 at the age of 22, having given twelve years of his life in service to his country. A service that he continued as a clerk in the Pension Office of the United States.