Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 28 September 2012 00:00
Mr. Hammond spoke about Oyster Bay and the Civil War and six local residents attended whose relatives served in that war, Linda Mohlenhoff Bruder, Edward Mohlenhoff, Peg Wanser, Leslie Wheeler Nielson, David Layton and Elizabeth Roosevelt. They are by no means the only local families who have been here long enough to have participated in the Civil War and the Revolutionary War.
Mr. Hammond himself is one of that esteemed group. He has been studying his family genealogy going back to 1653, the year the Town of Oyster Bay was founded and to John Dickinson the captain of the first boat that brought the first settlers to Oyster Bay. Captain Dickinson was from the Barnstable and Sandwich areas of Cape Cod.
“But of course the Indians were here before and other settlements, but that was the first legal purchase of the town spot,” he said.
Mr. Hammond in his role as Town of Oyster Bay historian has put together a book of Oyster Bay’s records of the Civil War. He said the town has an extensive collection of Civil War records but added, “When you look at the town minutes you hardly know the war took place. Only when they went to pay the bounties to families for relief is it mentioned.”
The Town of Oyster Bay had to pay $250,000 in bounties to the families of Civil War veterans over the course of the war. At the time there were only 8,000 residents in the township. The town went out to bond for the payments at that time, something that may sound familiar to today’s town residents. The Town of Oyster Bay currently has $674 million in bond debt, according to financial reports.
Mr. Hammond said the Town of Oyster Bay has been very helpful to him in his research, making town records available and willing to publish some of his findings. He said while organizing the town records he discovered 1862 and 1864 enrollment records — lists of the residents and information about whether they served or were exempt. He has put them together with some photographs and personal stories about Oyster Bay and the Civil War in a book entitled Civil War Records: Town of Oyster Bay, available free by request. He said, “When the war broke out municipalities had to register everyone living in their area. It is a good resource for genealogists since it tells who they were, where they lived, and what they did. The 1852 lists did not include blacks because they were not allowed to serve in the war. In 1864 they were allowed to serve.”
“You also couldn’t serve if you were aliens, not American-born,” he said.
The interesting thing is that the records indicate why people were exempt from serving in the war, including if you were a postmaster. “They were all exempt from the military so now we know who they were,” said Mr. Hammond.
When the Civil War began, there were bounties paid to enlistees of $25, and in Queens County they added an additional $75 but as casualties started to mount during the war, by 1863, the bounty was $300 and by the end of the war it went up to $400.
He said that at the time the Town of Oyster Bay, with a population of 8,000 had 600 men who served in the Civil War. “It was an incredible number,” he said. There was the 2nd NY Cavalry, and the Harris Light Cavalry in which 124 men from Oyster Bay served.
Oyster Bay is also connected to the 20th and 26th Regiments created of all “colored troops.” Mr. Hammond said much of the story of the U.S. colored troops, as black people were then called, is told in the movie Glory. Black men were not allowed to serve in the Civil War originally. Horatio Seymour, NYS governor said black people couldn’t fight in the war. Massachusetts was allowed to raise a colored regiment earlier, he said.
The Union League in NYC petitioned the U.S. secretary of war to create a black unit. They paid to outfit them. The Oyster Bay Historical Society has documents that include the amount of money raised by the members of the Union Club by Elizabeth Roosevelt’s great grandfather.
Mr. Hammond said they raised the 20th Regiment in October and by around Christmas started signing people up. There were 28 black young men from Oyster Bay who signed up very quickly. Mr. Hammond said the black regiments didn’t have an easy time in the war as the movie Glory tells.
The saddest comment on their fate was that the 20th and 26th Regiments were kept in the army long after the war was over, working in the cemeteries. They were given the job of exhuming bodies for identification and burying bodies. They were jobs the white soldiers refused to do, said Mr. Hammond.
One of the most riveting stories about the Civil War told by Mr. Hammond is the story of Charlotte Aurelia Winder Townsend of Oyster Bay, whose brother was the designer and commander of Andersonville, the Civil War prison infamous for the way it treated Union soldiers. John Henry Winder was Charlotte’s older brother, an 1820 graduate of West Point. In 1861 he joined the Confederate Army and was appointed commander of the military prison at Danville, Virginia. Mr. Hammond says in his book, Oyster Bay Remembered, “General Winder built a solid reputation for cruelty.” The Confederate Inspector of Prisons petitioned he be removed and “someone more humane” replace him. Instead, he was promoted to Prison Commissary General in charge of all Confederate prisons.
He designed the Andersonville prison. When asked if they could keep some trees for shade, General Winder said, “No! I am going to build the pen so as to destroy more Yankees than can be destroyed at the front.” He died of a heart attack before the war ended or might have been tried as a war criminal afterwards as was his successor.
As for sister Charlotte, she was a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Oyster Bay. Mr. Hammond said the Presbyterians had split into a south and north-supporting church. As a result, it appears that Ms. Townsend was “thrown out of the church,” for her absences or “excommunicated” as he said when talking informally at the Oyster Bay Historical Society.
On the evening of Jan. 7, 1884 Charlotte and her husband James C. Townsend were murdered in their Lexington Avenue home.
Mr. Hammond made the story come alive as he said she didn’t die immediately, and told people, “It was Simon.” The Simon she named, was assumed to be a black man, Simon Rappalyea, whose wife did the laundry for Charlotte. Mr. Hammond said the Rappalyeas lived on Poverty Hill Road (Pine Hollow Road). Simon was arrested for the crime but it turned out the real murderer was a serial killer, Charles Rugge, who murdered seven people before he was found. This killing was his first.
Townsend Society Director Allison Putala said that Charlotte and James C. Townsend wrote the Townsend memorial anonymously. It is actually called A Memorial of John Henry and Richard Townsend and Their Descendents and is information about the family. It was published by the Townsends themselves and later it was discovered who actually wrote the history. Ms. Putala said, “I am doing an update of the Townsend memorial and I’ve added many thousands of people to the family line. She said, “Genealogy is never finished being written.” She said looking at her list, the printout is over 700 pages long. “Looking at it you can see there is definitely information missing.”
A reason is, “It was not a time when people had only one or two children. They most commonly had between six and 10 and more. And some had multiple marriages after deaths in childbirth, diseases and influenza. Very often cousins married each other. The children left behind by one or both parents dying were adopted by family members.”
If you too are interested in genealogy, and would like a copy of Mr. Hammond’s book on Oyster Bay and the Civil War, you can leave a message for him on his voice mail at town hall at 624-4971 and he will send it to you.