Magical Moments with Military Pension Files

charles combs 1812 discharge

Actual discharge certificate given to Charles Combs by Col. Pearson. It is in his pension file at NARA. Taken in March 2012.

As many of you may remember, a few months ago I went to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and looked at military pension files.

Well, I am still reading through all of them. With nine files to go through, and two active kids, it may take a while to read through each one. However, I am completely surprised, and fascinated, by the information that I’ve found. I thought I would share one of my discoveries with you.

Charles Combs, my 4th Great-grandfather, served in the North Carolina Militia during the war with Great Britain. It was amazing what I found, and learned, about him in the small file (small in the sense that it was only 52 pages, not several hundred).

I took digital images of each page, front and back, for my records because digital images are free, and I can then zoom in and out of the image if I want to get a closer look at home. This has proven extremely helpful with some of the handwriting. I took pictures of the backs of the pages because sometimes notes had been written there about the case, or there were dated stamps showing when the item had been filed.

This was not solely a pension file, either. Bounty Land Warrant requests were in it too. Those were a wonderful find, as were the depositions from Charles stating in his own words what he had done. His second wife made the pension request over 20 years after he had died.

From the depositions and other documents provided, I learned that he served in Captain George L. Davidson’s Company, under Colonel Jesse A. Pearson in the 7th Regiment of the North Carolina Militia. He enlisted on Feb. 1, 1814, in Surry County, N.C., at Ryan’s Muster Grounds. Charles served until Sept. 4, 1814, where he was honorably discharged in Salisbury, Rowan County, N.C. While in the service, Charles was stationed at Forts Hawkins and Decatur.

There were also names, dates and places that are going to be extremely helpful in my research. For instance, Charles told his second wife, Anna, widow of John McLaughlin, that he had been born June 30, 1793. Until that moment, I only had an estimated birth year for him, not an actual date. Unfortunately she did not provide a place of birth. In addition to birth facts, she stated that Charles died near Buena Vista, Monroe County, Ind., on February 28, 1866. Best of all, she provided the copy of their marriage license from Greene County, Ind.

To be honest, I kept waiting, nearly holding my breath at times, to find information on his first wife, Abigail. I am descended through their oldest son, and, unfortunately, she died in the late 1850s with no trace of a paper trail (so far). She did make her mark under his signature on the legal documents for the selling of a tract of their Bounty Land on June 14, 1845. On this date, they sold 15 acres to a Thomas Carter, with a full description of the tract in the purchase agreement. I know from future testimony that they sold off all 80 acres from this warrant, and then Charles petitioned for a second 80 acres of land in 1857.

However, the best squeal worthy find of the day came on the second page of the images. In Charles’s first deposition in the file, he states that he was asked to stay on longer than his six months of military service. They were waiting for reinforcements, and when they arrived a little over a month later he was discharged. He tells the court that it was at the request of Lieutenant John Craw. Part of me wonders if the clerk left off the “Mc” on the last name because his son, my 3rd Great-grandfather, was James McCraw Combs. My cousins and I have been wondering where this name came from. Could it be a nod to this lieutenant?

For now, I’m forced to wait and wonder until I can arrange the five-hour trip to Surry County to see what I can unearth. While the information above is certainly juicy, I just found it during a quick read-through. I can only imagine the golden nuggets I may find once I begin the transcription process.


Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Shannon Bennett of Locust Grove, Va.


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