Sunday, October 9, 2016

Black Sheep Sunday - The Lies of Philip Hammer

Now that things have calmed down a bit, I can finally begin to talk about Philip Hammer's second, and much more serious, episode of...misrepresentation of the facts, shall we say. In my beginning stages of research on Philip, I found he was born in Norway in 1848, and immigrated to the US sometime in the 1860s as he married his first wife Christine Steenson in Wisconsin in 1869. I couldn't find him in any 1860 or 1865 censuses, but I did find him in various federal and state censuses in 1870, 1875, 1880, and 1885, and various other documents I came across for him along the way. Through the help of distant cousins I connected with over the years, I received copies of a record Philip's son Peter Hammer made in 1940 as part of a historical data project on early North Dakota pioneers. The information from this record was apparently all provided by Peter, with no original documents (at least there were none in the copy I received), just a typescript of Peter's answers to various questions about when the family entered North Dakota, what they brought with them, where they lived, and so on. As part of the record, there was a typewritten document written by Guy M. Chance, the field worker who documented Peter's father's story, that told the story of Philip's life. Interestingly, the first full paragraph of the story is all about Philip serving in Civil War - that he was a member of Capt. H. M. Stocking's unit in Co. G, 48th Wisconsin Regulars, and that he even marched with General William T. Sherman on his march through Georgia to the sea. My first reaction was "wow, my ancestor was right there in Sherman's famous march!"

When I asked my cousin about it, she said that Philip probably never actually served in the Civil War. I asked how she knew that, and she said she had a copy of the pension file created for Philip's second wife Mathilda Kruger, and that his service was disputed in the file. At the time, I didn't go any further, and sort of let it sit there for a couple years. I attribute the wait to my genealogy ADD, where I get sidetracked on another line, and revisit things years later when they randomly pop in my head again. That happened with Philip earlier this year - I got hit with the "whatever happened to him?" bug and started digging.

I noticed on the 1885 Minnesota census, Philip was marked positive for the column "Served as a soldier in Federal army during rebellion." So he apparently said himself that he'd served in the Civil War. That was interesting, and led me to wonder whether Philip would appear in the 1890 Veteran's schedule. I went looking, and found him. By that time, he was living in New Rockford, North Dakota. He told the census taker that he did serve in the Civil War as a private in Company C, 15th Regiment of Wisconsin Infantry from 27 November 1861 to 2 July 1865. Pretty detailed information, right?

Philip Hammer in the 1890 Veteran's Schedule

So I went looking for information on the 15th Wisconsin Infantry, to see if there was any record Philip having served with them. It turns out, this regiment was known as the Scandinavian regiment, as almost all the soldiers in it were Norwegian, with some Swedes and Danes thrown in. Company C, where Philip allegedly served, was mostly from Racine County, at the southeastern corner of the state. Philip was living in Pierce County, in the far west of the state, in 1870, though he could easily have moved over the years since the war's end if he did serve. So if Philip was going to serve, that would be the perfect unit for him. Luckily, the FamilySearch Wiki has a link to the roster of Company C, so I went looking, and guess what?
No Philip Hammer. No Hammers at all. Not even a single Philip.
So I asked my cousin if she could send me the pension file she mentioned. It turned out to be about 100 pages of various documents - depositions, statements, inquires, letters, all kinds of stuff. Some of it was hard to read, and it wasn't in chronological order. So I started going through and transcribing it, and putting my transcriptions in chronological order, to make easier sense of all the documents. What I found surprised me.
Apparently Philip told Mathilda that he served in the Civil War, but never told her any details about the company he supposedly served in. Mathilda also recalled that he had a military discharge that was framed, but had been lost in all their moves. She also recalled visits from a man named "Big" Peterson and a man named Christianson, who she said were war buddies of Philip's. With that information, I went back to the roster of Company C, and was blown away. There was indeed an Ole Peterson, Sr., as well as an Ole Peterson, Jr., who both served in Company C. The senior Peterson could easily have been "Big" Peterson. What's more, there was a Christian Peterson as well. Could Philip have indeed served in the war, and the roster somehow missed him?
Since I couldn't find Philip in any Civil War rosters from this Company or Regiment (I searched various databases, as well as the entire 15th Regiment manually - no Philip Hammer), I figured the only way to answer this definitively was to look for him in Norwegian records. If I could prove he was still in Norway during the Civil War, that would put this to bed once and for all.
I went back to the files I had on Philip, and found that one record that I had labeled as a birth record for Philip wasn't that at all. I don't know if someone told me it was his birth record and I just noted it as such, or if I just guessed because the first couple columns are information about his birth. But upon closer inspection, it not only noted his birth date and place, it also noted the place and date of his confirmation in the Lutheran church - Domkirken parish, Bergen County, Norway, 4 October 1863.
Military lottery book for Bergen, 1850-1875
Here was proof that Philip not only did not enlist in Company C in 1861 (as he told the census taker in 1890), it was physically impossible for him to have done so, as he was still in Norway.
I later found out that this was a record of entries in the military lottery for Bergen, 1850-1875. Men were noted in this book, and (if I'm remembering correctly) were randomly selected for military service, kind of like a random draft. Kind of ironic that the first confirmation that Philip did not serve in the Civil War was a military record from Norway.
So then I wondered, did Philip come to the US before the Civil War ended at all? I went looking in the 1865 Bergen census to see if Philip was listed in it. It tallied all the people living in Norway as of 31 December 1865, 8 months after the end of the Civil War. A few mouse clicks, and I had my answer.
Philip Hammer in the 1865 Bergen census
I found Philip living in the household of Nils Bessesen, working as an uhrmagerlærling, or watchmaker's apprentice (along with Nils' apparent son Johannes). As an aside, the name Nils Bessesen was very interesting, because on the death certificate for Philip's first wife Christine, her father's name is listed as Nels A. Bassens, not Steenson as was given on the marriage record for Philip and Christine. Makes me wonder if he lived with his future father-in-law before emigrating to America, where he married his former landlord's daughter. But there we go with my genealogy ADD again.
So Philip was indeed in Norway throughout the Civil War, and immigrated sometime between the beginning of January 1866 and May 1869, when he married Christine in Wisconsin. He definitely did NOT serve in the Civil War in any capacity, because he was an ocean away when it happened. So how do you explain his listing of Company C, 15th Regiment of Wisconsin, the fact that the 15th Regiment was the Scandinavian Regiment, listing specific dates of service, and receiving visits from veterans of Company C? What about the framed discharge?
My guess is while living in Wisconsin, he met "Big" Peterson, Christian Peterson, and other war vets. He learned from them the units that they served in, and the dates that regiment was put together and mustered out. Then he, for whatever reason, at some point began telling others that he was a veteran of that war. The earliest mention I have of him putting himself forth as a veteran is in 1885, 9 years after the death of his first wife, who may have known him back in Norway, due to his probably living with her father, and would thus have known that he did not serve in the war. Philip's second wife Mathilda maintained that Philip told her he was a Civil War veteran, though she did not know the details of his service, and I wonder if Philip ever told her he was from Company C like he did that census taker. If he did, she didn't remember as she stated repeatedly in her depositions in her pension file that she did not know where and when he served, only that she believed that he did serve. As for the pension, I don't have any other record or mention of a framed document being kept or lost by the family, so I can only guess that it wasn't a discharge (since he never served) but some other document, perhaps from Norway, so Mathilda wouldn't have been able to read it.
After Philip's death, Mathilda, in good faith, applied for a pension. Since she didn't know the details of her husband's service, she was initially rejected, and told to come back with more information. A friend and neighbor of hers, James Patch, did some research for her, and found mention of a Philip Hammer who had served from Wisconsin, but from Company G of the 48th Regiment of infantry. Believing this to be his neighbor, Patch passed on the info to Mathilda, who updated her application and resubmitted it. Imagine her surprise then, when she was told Philip Hammer of the 48th already had a widow drawing pension on his service!
Upon learning this, the pension department launched an investigation as to why there would be two widows claiming service from the same soldier. They sent out special examiners who interviewed Ricke Hammer, the widow already receiving the pension, as well as people who knew her, and then did the same for Mathilda and her neighbors. They compiled detailed records of the ages, birth dates, and birth places of the children included in the two pension applications, and contacted the midwives and doctors who helped deliver those children. It was a pretty big deal, and a lot of effort was put into the investigation.
The end result was this - the Philip Hammer who did serve from Wisconsin had died back in the 1880s, and his widow had filed for a pension soon after. Mathilda's husband had died in 1899 in California, after being struck by a train. There was ample evidence that though they shared similar names, they were not the same person (so no bigamy here, thankfully!). But the inquiry was launched primarily to determine whether Mathilda had intentionally sought to draw pension on someone she had never been married to, and determined that she did not do so. Mathilda mentioned how Patch had gotten her the information, and that's why she used the service info she did, as she had no other details to go on. Patch likewise stated Philip had told him he had been in the war, but did not get any details of service from Philip.
My heart goes out to poor Mathilda in all of this. She trusted her husband's word, and applied for a pension in good faith, believing that she was indeed the widow of a veteran. She stated several times in her depositions that she was not well off at all, only getting a little income from some property she owned. So the pension wasn't meant to fatten her wallet - it was meant to help her survive. Sadly, she did not get it. I can only guess and hope that her children stepped up and helped her get by until she passed away in 1932.
Philip Hammer, his wife Mathilda, and two sons in 1884
I try not to judge my ancestors too harshly, but I really am left shaking my head at Philip on this one. He repeatedly misrepresented himself, to his friends, to his poor wife and kids, and to the federal government. I can't help but wonder why on earth he took this story to such great lengths. Did he have something to gain? Something to hide? Was he just jealous of those who were veterans? He never applied for a pension himself. Mathilda is quoted as saying "My husband never applied for pension. Blanks were sent him but he said he was able to make a living." So if it wasn't for financial gain, then why? Maybe one day I'll find the answer. But for now, it's at least an object lesson on the consequences of not telling the truth, one that I can pass on to my kids, and encourage them to be honest. You never know what the end result of your actions will be, and how long the aftershocks will continue to ripple.


Gibson Family said...

Cool story, Brandt. So is this Grandma Katherine's dad or grandfather?

ironhide781 said...

This is your Grandma Katherine's grandfather.