Another American Civil War Soldier in the Family

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.

Union Infantry 1861

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.

Wisconsin State Flag. Wisconsin became a state in 1848 thirteen years before the Civil War.

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.

I’m going to America and you can’t stop me!!!!

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.

This has nothing to do with the story and everything to do with my fascination with the Highland Regiments and the pipes!


13 comments on “Another American Civil War Soldier in the Family

  1. I have an uncle and cousin in my step family names James Robinson : )

    • Hi Nichole,

      I was amazed at how many James Robinsons I found. What was more amazing was how many we’re married to Mary Thompsons, Liz”s great-grandparents (3). Thanks for the comment.

  2. Hi Bruce!
    The James T. Robinson you speak of is also my Great Great Grandfather. He was in Co. D, 3rd Regiment, Kentucky Cavalry – I came across your blog while looking for additional information on the regiment. I’ve done genealogical research on him periodically and sometimes hit a wall, so I thank you for the extra clues from his past. =)

    • Hi Dawn,

      Thanks for the encouragement and glad the blog was a help to you.

      How do you know if my wife’s James T. Robinson is the same as your James T. Robinson? If they are the same it would mean he served in the Kentucky Cavalry Regiment prior to the Wisconsin Infantry Regiment in 1864 to the end of the war.

      Also, I assume it was a Union Cavalry unit since Kentucky had units on both sides.

      I have been unable to prove who his parents were. All I know from the Wisconsin records is that he was born in Aberdeen, Scotland and immigrated to the US in 1851 at the age of 18. He married Jessie Despins in 1865 after the war.

      Any info you could share regarding his life in Kentucky would be great. Thanks again.


  3. Hi again,
    Well, I’m a life-long resident of WI, and the James T. Robinson in question was my father’s father’s father’s father – Francis Alverna Robinson was my Great Grandfather. 😉
    I’ve done a lot of research over the years (library microfiche and genealogical records, old city directories, census reports, city hall and courthouse records, records at UWO, etc), but I only recently found out about his military stint in KY – it was very brief, maybe a year or so. I have copies of James and Jessie’s marriage certificate and their newspaper obits, James’ Declaration of Intent and a few other incomplete odds and ends, but have yet to find his naturalization papers.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if your wife and I are distantly related, as Robbies tend to have A LOT of kids! FYI: Per the marriage certificate, James’ parent were named James T. and Maria Robinson. Please let me know if I can assist. Thanks!

  4. […] Another American Civil War Soldier in the Family (broeder10.wordpress.com) […]

  5. Great that you found a member of your family from the Civil War, in time for Memorial Day – it’s beginning.

  6. Very interesting. My wife and I each have an ancestor who served in the Union army… but last year I discovered she had one who was a sergeant in the Colonial Army! The gaps in their lives will likely remain mysteries, like your wife’s ancestor. And, if they were “too” colorful, perhaps that’s for the best.

    • Do you know their units? Lots of interest in the ACW and the Inet has a lot of free info on units. My State (WI) has full rosters for each regiment and are pretty good. It would be fascinating to track down your wife’s colonial!

      Might be a colorful rogue or country preacher or both 😉 Thanks for stopping by.

  7. My wife is descended from James Thompson Robinson.
    I was able to find more info on James’ after getting his Civil War Pension Application.
    He was born on 14 July 1834 in the Parish of Forgue, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. His parents were James Robertson and Mary Thomson, both unmarried. He was baptized on 20 July 1834.
    He was living in the village of his mothers birth, Ashalloch, Parish of Forgue with John and Helen Thomson. They were probably an aunt and uncle.
    He was still with them in the census of 1851 along with a half brother, John Smith, a product of his mothers later marriage.
    James’ father and mother later married other people and lived in the area through at least 1851.
    James stated on the 1900 Census (in WS) that he emigrated in 1857.
    Although his birth name was Robertson, he was always known as Robinson in the USA. It was common for names to be changed upon arriving in America by the clerk mis-hearing or poor handwriting.
    James enlisted in Co. D, 3rd KY Cavalry in Owensboro, KY on 01 Oct 1861 and was discharged as a corporal on 06 Oct 1862 in Nashville, TN. He spent the month of Sept in the hospital there.
    He enlisted in Co. E, 42nd WS Infantry on 02 Sept 1864 and was discharged on 20 June 1865. This unit was recruited from Green and Dodge Counties, WS.
    In 1889 he applied for a pension for disabilities. He suffered from a hernia, chronic diarrhea, nervous prostration (possibly PTSD?) He did receive a pension until his death on 25 April 1915.
    My wife and I plan to go to WS next summer to fill in details about his life there.

  8. My wife is descended from James Thompson Robinson.
    After getting his Civil War Pension application, I can add more to his story.
    He was born James Robertson to James Robertson and Mary Thomson (both unmarried) on 14 July 1834 in the Parish of Forgue Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
    In the census of 1841 he was living as a 6 year old in the home of (probably) an aunt and uncle, John and Helen Thomson. He was still there in 1851. They were living in the village of Ashalloch, the birthplace of his mother. His parents later married other people.
    He was born as James Robertson but was always known as Robinson in the USA. This was a common error either due to a clerks mis-hearing or to poor penmanship.
    In the 1900 US census James stated that he emigrated in 1857.
    He enlisted in Co. D, 3rd KY Cavalry on 01 Oct 1861 in Owensboro, KY. He was 5′-81/2″ tall, with fair complexion and grey eyes. After spending the month of Sept 1862 in the hospital in Nashville, TN he was discharged as a corporal on 06 Oct 1962.
    He enlisted again, this time in Co. E, 42nd WS Infantry and served time in Cairo and Springfield, IL. He was discharged on 20 June 1865.
    He applied for a disability pension in 1889 and eventually received one due to his medical problems. He had a hernia, chronic diarrhea and nervous prostration (PTSD?).
    James died on 25 Apr 1915 and is buried in Green Bay, WS.

    George Mullins

    • Thank you for the information. Since I posted that first blog on James I did become aware of his service history that included the 3rd KY (US). James’ Scottish birthplace, his parents and aunt and uncle were all new information that my wife found very interesting. Her grandfather’s name was Francis; one of James’ sons. What is your wife’s connection? thanks again for filling in some blanks!

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