After I discovered why my husband’s second-great-grandfather changed his name, his incredible story poured off the pages of his pension record. Harry Coad (aka Henry Thompson) led a full and interesting life prior to, during, and after the Civil War. Reading his pension file drove home the knowledge that these files can truly contain a goldmine of information for the family and historians.
This file was unique, as he had to prove to the United States government who he was more than other people did. He did not legally change his name: he assumed a new identity, which led to questions and suspicions as to why. Was he on the run? Did he commit a crime? Was he lying about who he was supposed to be? There was a large number of Henry Thompson’s who fought in the war, and he had to prove which of those he was and was not. Questions like this had to be answered by the special examiner on the case before the pension would be granted. The fact that he did not apply for the pension until 1915 made them leery of his request. When asked why he never applied before, Harry simply explained they didn’t need the money. He could work up until then and he felt it was dishonest to apply for a pension if you could still provide for your family.
They interviewed well over a dozen people in the course of the three year investigation, mainly family members and as many living soldiers who served with him as possible. There were only a few living soldiers who were able to give any detail as to who he was. In the file were nearly a dozen returned questionnaires that had been sent out returned informing the government that the person they were looking for had died.
Harry saw many battles with his units. Initially he was in the Birge’s Sharpshooters, which became the 14th Missouri Infantry, and then the 66th Illinois Infantry. He was at Shiloh, Corinth, and on Sherman’s March to the Sea to name a few. Harry even participated in the Grand Review in Washington, DC before mustering out in Louisville, Kentucky.
His list of occupations was fascinating. Before the war he stated that he had started training to be a tin smith. After the war he became a teamster and drove mule trains across the plains from Leavenworth, Kansas to Denver, Colorado. It was after this he changed his name and moved to Dickson County, Kansas, where he worked as a logger and met his wife, Nancy Cody. She was the daughter of Button Gwinnet Cody, whom I have written about before. They made their way to Grand Pass, Missouri where he was a farmer.
From the moment I read the reason he changed his name, I wondered if his mother also harbored any ill will toward her son over what had happened. It was a relief to know that she didn’t. Nearly 30 years after the last time his mother had seen him, they were reunited in the parlor of his sister Sarah Elizabeth’s house in St. Louis. The entire family had believed he was dead, killed while driving the mule trains west. Upon seeing him, his nephew Frank Maple (Sarah Elizabeth’s son) told the special examiner that his grandmother’s reaction was the following:
There was a joyful recognition. As the aged mother folded “H.M. Coad” in her arms she exclaimed, “My long-lost boy has come to life again!”
That was the last time they would see one another. The deposition goes on to state that he never visited St. Louis again and his mother died at his sister’s home in February 1903.
Harry only benefited from his pension for a few short years. It was granted June 1918, and he received back pension from the time the claim was filed in 1915. His wife Nancy died on Oct. 22 of that year, and he followed her two years later on June 15, 1920.
Photo from the Library of Congress
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