I’ve toyed on and off for years with genealogy and finally got to the point of paying Ancestry.Com for some help. With more and more and records being made digital it has proven to be a good move thus far.
Ironically, I have been more successful in tracing my wife’s ancestry than my own.I attribute this to the simple fact that one half of her family has been in the US or Canada since the time when all of it was ruled by the various American Indian tribes!
My family on the other hand and the other 1/2 of hers can only trace back roughly three generations with the bulk of our ancestors arriving in America in the later part of the 19th century.
So, it was not all that big of surprise when I discovered on my wife’s English\Scots\French Canadian side a transplanted Scotsman named James T. Robinson served in the 42nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.
James was born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1834 and may have lived at one time in Liverpool, England although I cannot verify that. The name “James Robinson” is quite common in the British records and I do not have a reliable record of whom James’ parents might have been. My sole lead however does say he lived in Liverpool.
Whatever the case James immigrated to the US in 1851 and settled in Wisconsin in the Oshkosh area. At the age of 30 he answered another call from Abe Lincoln and joined the 42nd Wisconsin in 1864.
Wisconsin had just become a State in 1848 and was still relatively underpopulated. The 42nd was raised toward the end of Wisconsin regiments raised (50 Infantry Regiments raised in Wisconsin during the Civil War).
So James joined up and was part of Company G or possibly E company since I’ve found a James Robinson in both. My best guess is that he transferred from one to the other or it’s a clerical error.
This next part in italics is pure speculation and so must be treated as such.
It’s interesting to me that James enlisted at age 30 in 1864 rather than 1861 when he would have been 27. James did not marry until 1865 after his Civil War service so it’s not like he was held back by family concerns in 1861. In other words, why the sudden burst of patriotism? I don’t know but do know the draft started in 1863. Many Americans thought it shameful to be drafted so to avoid it they might enlist instead and be a legitimate volunteer.
I also find it interesting that James was a private implying no previous military experience either in the militia or in the British Army. If James had British Army experience he certainly would have held a higher position in a volunteer infantry regiment. In and of itself this is not a big deal. I’m sure many British\Scots immigrants did not serve in Her Majesty’s Army (Queen Victoria).
The one lead I do have that possibly places James in Liverpool at age 18 is from a 1851 British (not Scots) census. That is the same year he immigrated to the US, apparently alone on a ship called the Universe. I find it odd that he came to the US alone at the age of 18. It implies a couple of things.
He probably knew someone in Wisconsin (in 1848 there was not much here) or he was escaping something in England and wanted to be as far away as he could from major cities. Interestingly, James came through the Port of New York and did not first land in British Canada.
Another possible intriguing part of the story is a certain James Robinson in the British records serving six months in prison for larceny.
As I look at the various possible leads (but can verify few) I theorize that James T. Robinson who was born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1834 and immigrated to America in 1851 might have led a colorful teenage life in Britain.
It is possible that James was convicted of larceny, served his time, and was supposed to enlist in the British Army. Judges on both sides of the Atlantic would sentence wayward teenage boys to military service. I further speculate that James for one reason or the other decided he had enough of Britain and took the first ship he could to get the US to either hide or escape his past and start a new life.
As I said, this is all conjecture but a great deal of fun. Most people imagine their ancestors were some sort of European royalty but the fact is most were poor and not a few probably on the run.
To further complicate my story and give a little more evidence for my theory I need to note that James T. Robinson is really or was James T. Robertson and for some reason the name was changed.
So having gone way of course with my theory let me pick up James’ verifiable paper trail in 1864 when he is part of the 42nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry.
The 42nd was a bit unusual in that it did not see any combat. I’m sure the soldiers of the 42nd didn’t mind this at all.
The 42nd did its entire length of service (about a year) stationed in Cairo,IL, a river port and supply base for the Union Armies of the West. The 42nd was a Provost Regiment, meaning they did military police duties. Surviving records show that comparatively speaking, service in the 42nd was not all that bad and the soldiers could supplement their military rations with food purchased from the good citizens of Illinois.
From what I can tell thus far, James served his year and was discharged when the regiment was disbanded in Milwaukee in 1865. Shortly thereafter, James married Jessie Despins (the French Canadian connection to my wife’s family), a gal fifteen years his junior. Together they had a number of children including Frances Alverno Robinson who became my wife’s grandfather.
I find James T. Robinson or Robertson to be a very interesting person. Later records show him employed in various jobs and raising a good size family. But there is a significant gap period between 1834 when he was born and 1851 when he arrives in the US. It would be fun to know what James T. Robinson did for those 18 years and where he was with a degree of certainty.
Until I find some more clues I am left with speculation and conjecture.
- Just a Farmer, Civil War Soldier, Husband, Grandfather and Great Grandfather (broeder10.wordpress.com)
- Great Human Interest Mystery Story from the Civil War (broeder10.wordpress.com)
- The Sharps Rifle (broeder10.wordpress.com)
- 100 years later, Camp Randall Civil War memorial stands tall (jsonline.com)