Friday, July 1, 2011

"Dead, Yet He Liveth:" The Peculiar Case of William H. Lewis

"William H. Lewis"
This entry was suggested back in May by contributor Michael O'Brien who posted a note on Private William H. Lewis of Company F of the 34th New York which stood in the West Woods near the Dunkard Church. Michael's entry was in response to a post on William A. Salisbury, also of the 34th whose headstone, but not his remains, is at the National Cemetery. In Salisbury's case, soon after the battle a relative gathered his remains and returned them to Herkimer County, New York. In Lewis' case, he was severely wounded but survived the battle and went on to a long life. In both instances, headstones with their names on them are at the cemetery but neither man was ever interred there. Michael points us to an article that describes the peculiar case of William H. Lewis published in the Amsterdam Evening News, May 17, 1904 [1] which is excerpted below.

"Herkimer Citizen: William H. Lewis [2] of this village, a veteran of the war of the Rebellion, had a peculiar experience and for upwards of five years was to all interests and purposes a dead man. His grave and the marker which indicate where he was buried can still be seen in the national cemetery at Sharpsburg, Maryland. ..."

"Lewis went through the campaign without a scratch until the bloody battle at Antietam, when he was shot five times, twice in the legs and once in the face. He was left on the field for dead and for two days and nights laid out in the open, suffering untold agonies, worms and magots invading the wound in his face, and should Lewis live to be 100 years old, he will never forget the hours spent on that battle field."

"He was among the dead reported Sept. 17, 1862, and his body was supposed to have been removed from the battle field and placed In grave number 844 In the national cemetery at Sharpsburg, Md., the headstone bearing that inscription. Instead, however. Lewis was removed to a shed, where he remained a prisoner for seven days, when he was exchanged and transferred to Washington, being honorably discharged for surgical disability March 22. 1863."

"The wound in the face was a peculiar one and never since he was shot has he been able to open his mouth wide. In 1868, when he made application for a pension, Mr. Lewis was promptly Informed by the pension department at Washington that he was killed at the battle of Antietam and that there was no such man as William H. Lewis, a member of Co. F,  34th regiment. He had no trouble in securing affidavits from his captain, Charles Riley, and his colonel. James A. Suiter, establishing his identity, and his pension was soon forthcoming. Lewis enlisted at 23 years of age and tomorrow [May 18, 1904] he celebrates his 66th birthday."

After the war, William Lewis became a nurse, married, had children and was active in Post 604 of the Grand Army of the Republic (Herkimer County Post). Four years prior to the publication of this article, Lewis boarded in the household of Jonathan and Mary Saltsman. He listed his occupation as "nurse." Six years after this article, on October 12, 1910, Lewis applied to the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (Bath, New York branch). In his application he reported that he was widowed, stood 5 foot 7, dark complexioned, blue eyes and gray hair. He listed his occupation as a nurse and his religion as Protestant. He identified his nearest relative as Miss [V]. H. Morrison, 409 Mohawk Street, Herkimer, New York.

William H. Lewis died on January 16, 1916. [3]

[1] "Dead, Yet He Liveth: William H. Lewis, A Herkimer Veteran, Was Officially Dead for Six Years." Amsterdam Evening Recorder, May 17, 1904, page 6. Retrieved at this location.

[2] William H. Lewis mustered in as a private with Company F of the 34th New York Volunteer Infantry on May 1, 1861.  He was discharged on March 17, 1863 "at Albany, N.Y. for wounds received at Antietam, Md." New York State Archives, Cultural Education Center, Albany, New York; New York Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, 1861-1900; Archive Collection #:13775-83; Box #:116; Roll #:973-974 and retrieved from New York, Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, 1861-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.

[3] Abstract of General Orders and Proceedings of the Fifty-first Encampment, Department of New York, G.A.R., Held at Saratoga Springs, June 26, 27, and 28, 1917, Albany: J. B. Lyon Company, Printers 1917. Retrieved at this location; 1900 Federal Census, New York; U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007. Original data: Historical Register of National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1749, 282 rolls); Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

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