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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Another Civil War Walton & The Case of the Confusing Obituary

Last week's Blog featured an obituary on Alexander Walton, a Tuckerton native who grew up in the Nugentown neighborhood in Little Egg Harbor, eventually moving to Toms River in Ocean County. He was particularly interesting in that he was involved in shipping and supply aspects of the Civil War and claimed to have personally known Lincoln and McKinley.

The 1860 census of the Walton family lists the family members who lived on the Walton homestead on Stage Road. Alexander's parents, Joel and Margaret, had six children ranging from 8 to 18 years old. Here we see Richard as a 10 year old brother of Alexander.

Just as Alexander's obituary highlighted his Civil War era experiences, Richard's March 28, 1941 obituary did not disappoint in this regard. However, there are caveats.

The obituary states that Richard fought at Gettysburg. 

Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863

While it is true that his regiment was at Gettysburg where it lost 150 killed, wounded or missing, Richard was not part of the regiment at that time. The "Record of Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Civil War, 1861-1865", Vol. 2, p. 1175 documents that Richard enrolled in New Jersey Company I, Fortieth Regiment as a private on February 28, 1865 for a one year enlistment period. This was two years after the Battle of Gettysburg, so his obituary was clearly false on that point. He was mustered out of service on July 13, 1865, having served about 4 1/2 months of his one year term.

The obituary also has other inconsistencies with the facts. It states that he was 18 when he enlisted. If he were 10 years old at the 1860 census, he would be 18 years old in 1868, three years after the end of the war. He actually joined the service when he was about 15, probably lying about his age which was not unusual in the Civil War era. It also states that he served for three and a half years when New Jersey records list him as serving 4 1/2 months.

Also, the obituary places Richard in the 4th NJ regiment when he actually served in the 40th. 

Finally, the 1941 date of the obituary does not jibe with his death at 98 years of age. His tombstone in Riverside Cemetery in Toms River lists his birth date as September 4, 1851. If we add 98 years to that, we would have a death year of 1949, not 1941. Unfortunately, the tombstone does not have a death date to verify the death year. It does; however, verify that Richard fought in the N.J. 40th Volunteer Regiment.

Richard Walton's tombstone
Courtesy of

Richard must have had one fantastic memory. His obituary says that he remembered the organization of Ocean County from Monmouth County. Ocean County was formed from land taken from Monmouth County by the New Jersey State Legislature on May 1, 1850, just a year and a half prior to his September 4, 1851 birth. I can't remember what happen last week, let alone what happened when I was a year and a half old!

Ocean County was formed from Monmouth County in 1850

The one good thing I can say about the obituary is that  Richard's name was spelled correctly. It just goes to show you that you can't take all items placed in an obituary as fact. They merely reflect the information provided by family members who may be mistaken or prone to embellishment. So, all you genealogists out in the Blog-O-Sphere, beware, and be sure to cross check your sources!

Upon his passing at his grandson Burley's home in South Toms River on March 28, 1941, Richard had the distinction of being the last surviving Civil War veteran in Ocean County. 

Hopefully, I'll come across more Civil War obituaries from the Little Egg Harbor-Bass River area, as we are still celebrating the war's sesquicentennial anniversary . . . so, all you Civil War buffs, stay tuned!

Pete S

PS- After reading Richard's obituary, I'm enthusiastic about writing my own. It might go something like this: "Pete Stemmer, a cousin to John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a member of Mensa, who traveled on the third trip to the moon, an economic advisor to President  Obama  .  .  ." Oh well, you get the idea! Wouldn't that drive future historians and genealogists crazy!

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