Another Mystery Solved

Our Civil War Project began in 2002, and has been going strong for almost 10 years now. Volunteers have searched the grounds for anything (an inscription, a marker, a symbol) indicating the interment of a Civil War veteran. We have compared 172,000 names of men who enlisted in Brooklyn or New York City against the cemetery database. In all, we have identified over 4,800 veterans, written a biography for each of them, and gotten 2,000 gravestones from the Veterans Administration for those in unmarked graves.

We continue to identify veterans. And we continue to add to their biographies with new genealogical and historical research. In particular, two great and skilled volunteers, Sue Ramsey and Patty Stephens, are reviewing the existing biographies for accuracy and searching for additional information. It is truly amazing what they find!

Recently, we confronted a bit of a mystery. Sue was working on the Ds and came across this in our biographical dictionary:

DOREMUS, THOMAS J. (1835-1870). Captain, 25th New York Infantry, Company F. Doremus enlisted at New York City as a captain on May 11, 1861, was commissioned into the 25th Infantry on June 13, 1861, and resigned on October 31, 1861. His last residence was in New York City. Section 117, lot 10975, grave 129.

Sue identified three men with that name who had served in the Union Army, but none of them seemed to be a match to the Thomas J. Doremus who is interred at Green-Wood. She even found a photograph on Find-A-Grave of the gravestone of the Thomas Doremus who had served with the 25th New York Infantry–at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York:

This is Thomas Doremus's gravestone at Forest Lawn.

Seeing this gravestone, I was convinced that we had made a mistake–often our identification of Civil War veterans is as much art as science–based on the rarity of a name, the year of birth of the interee matching that of the soldier, the widow’s name, etc. So, if the Thomas Doremus who served in the 25th New York Infantry had a gravestone at Forest Lawn, we had only one choice, it seemed: admit our mistake and delete the Doremus biography from our dictionary.

So, I e-mailed Susan Rudin, our editor extraordinaire, and asked her to remove Doremus from our biographical dictionary. Susan  did so. I also asked Terry Svensen, our amazing volunteer who has gone out to each of the 4,800 grave sites of our Civil War veterans to photograph their gravestones or determine that their graves are unmarked, to check his records to see if we had obtained a VA gravestone for Doremus; if we had, we were obligated to destroy it.

Well, much to my surprise, Terry responded with this photograph:

Captain Thomas J. Doremus's gravestone at Green-Wood Cemetery.

Well, that was quite a shock–how, given the photograph from Forest Lawn, could that be?

There were only three men named Thomas Doremus among the 3 million plus men who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. That makes it a rare name–the proverbial “one in a million.” Here is the service record for the Thomas J. Doremus who served in the 25th New York Infantry:

Historical Database Systems, an online subscription data base, has this information on Thomas J. Doremus.

And here is the record for another Civil War soldier named Thomas Doremus:

The service record of the Thomas Doremus who served in the 25th New Jersey Infantry.

Of course, the coincidence is remarkable: of the three men named Thomas Doremus who served in the Union Army, one served with the 25th New York and another served with the 25th New Jersey! What are the odds of that?

And notice that the man who served in the 25th New York served with Company F–and that is the information that appears on the Green-Wood gravestone. Now notice that the man who served with the 25th New Jersey did so in Company C–and that is the company that is inscribed on the gravestone at Forest Lawn. Conclusion: it looks like someone along the way, used to writing or carving “NY” rather than “NJ,” made a mistake on that Forest Lawn gravestone. If we only had Correcto-Gravestone to fix such mistakes!

Now note that the man interred at Green-Wood is listed in the cemetery records as Thomas J. Doremus–as is the soldier. Middle initials are often important in these identifications–here we have a match of middle initials. Finally, the man who is interred at Green-Wood was 35 years old when he died in September 1870–so he was likely born in 1835. That closely matches the age of the captain who served in the 25th New York–he was 28 at the time of his enlistment in 1861, which would mean he was born in about 1832 or 1833 (depending on when his birthday was)–pretty close to 1835.

So, bottom line: Captain Thomas J. Doremus, veteran of Company F of the 25th New York Volunteer Infantry, who proudly served his country, is at Green-Wood and is now back in our Civil War biographical dictionary. Another mystery solved!

If you would like support our efforts to honor our Civil War veterans by buying a copy of our latest Civil War biographical dictionary, the proceeds of which will support the issuance of our next edition, please click here.



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