Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Cornelius Godshalk Sellers, My Civil War Ancestor

Cornelius Godshalk Sellers, my great-great-grandfather, was born January 15, 1845, in Doylestown, Buck County, Pennsylvania.  His family was enumerated in Pennsylvania in the 1850 census, but by the time of the 1860 census they had moved to Belvidere, Warren County, New Jersey.  When the call came for volunteers to help fight for the United States in the Civil War, he wanted to enlist.  Because he was underage, his father, Franklin Peter Sellers, had to sign to give his permission, which he did on August 7, 1862.


Cornelius enlisted in the 11th New Jersey Infantry, Company I.  He mustered in on August 8 in Trenton, New Jersey, where he was paid a bounty of $25.


The 11th New Jersey saw action at some important battles of the war, along with several lesser-known battles:
Cornelius was admitted to the hospital at Farfax Seminary in Virginia on June 14, 1863.  There he was treated for anemia.  He was returned to duty on July 2, 1863, just in time for the Battle of Gettysburg.


Cornelius was admitted to the hospital again on March 24, 1864, this time in Alexandria, Virginia.  The stated ailment was epilepsy.


This time, however, he apparently was not truly ill.  The treatment portion of the file states, "Claims to have had frequent convulsions before admission, but has had none here — Evidently shamming."  It's possible he was simply tired of fighting.  He was returned to duty April 20, 1864, having missed no fights involving his unit.


Even with that little incident, he managed to be promoted to corporal on February 23, 1865, having remained a private throughout the previous two and a half years.


The Civil War officially ended on April 9, 1865, with the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House.  Cornelius' unit was mustered out a month later, on June 6, 1865, near Washington, D.C.  He owed the government $5.45 on his clothing account, but he was due a $75 bounty, possibly for fulfilling his enlistment.  The muster card indicates he was wounded at Fort Morton, Virginia, on October 6, 1864, which does not correlate with the battles I know of.  Apparently he did not age during his almost three years in the army, as the card also says he was 18 years old, the same age as listed on his muster-in.


Soon after his mustering out he went to Philadelphia, where he set up shop as a printer by 1865, following the same trade as his father.  He married Catherine Fox Owen, my great-great-grandmother, in January 1870.  They had at least two children — Cornelius Elmer Sellers (who went by Elmer), born November 7, 1874, and Sarah Owen Sellers, born July 26, 1878.

Cornelius was still working as a printer when he died, on December 15, 1877, of acute bronchicitis.  He was only thirty-two years old.  He was buried in Odd Fellows Cemetery three days later, on December 18.


I have just barely scratched the surface of researching Cornelius during the Civil War.  I want to get copies of the morning reports for the unit, which will list his name on the roll and might have more information about the injury at Fort Morton.  I have not yet had the opportunity to check for more hospital records.  I have ordered but not yet received a copy of his payment voucher from June 19, 1865, for $21.46 — and then I will have a copy of his signature.  I don't even know if he had a tombstone or if it survived the destruction of the cemetery.  And I would dearly love to find a photograph of him, whether in uniform or civilian clothes.  But research is always ongoing, and I am happy I can honor Cornelius on Veterans Day this year.

14 comments:

  1. Now THAT's a paper trail! Wow - I am truly impressed that you could find so much information...and that you know where to go to find even more.

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    1. Thank you! I actually have several more documents about Cornelius already, but I didn't want to overload the post. :)

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  2. The Friends of the National Archives, Southeast Region, held a webinar this morning on Civil War Medical records. http://friendsnas.org/webinarSch.htm I really appreciate the opportunity to hear talks like this. I get a much better understanding of the record groups this way. Thanks for sharing your finds.

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  3. Talk about timing! I wish I had known earlier about the Webinar. I'm sure it was very interesting.

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  4. Fort Morton was a Union fort that was part of the siege lines at Petersburg near the site of the Crater. Here's a page from the National Park Service that mentions the fort and shows the site http://cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/hh/13/hh13l.htm
    I would interpret the report about your ancestor's wounding there as that was the place he was at when he was wounded, not that there was a separate battle at the site where he was involved.

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    1. Thanks for the information about Fort Morton. So there's still the question of how he was wounded, if there was no battle there. But that's why I want to get the rest of those files!

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    2. Men were wounded and killed every day in the siege lines from sniper or artillery fire. Your ancestor may just have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and was hit by random Confederate firing.

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    3. That makes sense. Would that be noted in the unit's daily reports?

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  5. Nice bit of research! Have you had any success with the things you mentioned wanting to do at the end of your post?

    Thanks for taking part in the Civil War Blogpost Challenge!

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    1. Thank you, Bill! Unfortunately, so far the only thing I have managed to do is get a copy of his signature. I tried to talk my brother, who lives near DC, into going to NARA to look for more documents, but he's been a little busy. And I now have more incentive to find out what happened to the burials in Old Fellows Cemetery, because I learned I have at least two more relatives who were buried there. But I'm still working on it!

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    2. I was following the Civil War blogs through Bill West.Reading your results is inspiring me to look for more paperwork on my Civil War people.

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    3. Thank you for the wonderful compliment, Magda! I wish you the best of luck in your research. I'm sure you will be able to find more.

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  6. My son and I both have epilepsy...Mine is worse than his, but I never knew of ANYONE from my family to have it.....until now !!!! 36 YEARS LATER !!!!!

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    1. Maybe that means Cornelius wasn't faking it after all, like the nurses in the hospital thought he was!

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