Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Hard Drinkin' Man


Orange McOmber 8th N.Y. Cavalry



Richard McOmber 8th N.Y. Heavy Artillery



I was recently contacted by a woman from Arlington, Virginia about my 5th Great Grandfather Van Rensselaer McOmber. It isn't uncommon to receive correspondance regarding the McOmber family from Orleans County; Van R. had 6 children with 5 of them being sons and his son Otis had 15 children. The family was huge and the descendants are numerous to say the least. Unfortunately the woman was not a relative but a fellow genealogical research on an allied McOmber line. She has spent a lot of her time in the National Archives (very lucky) researching Civil War pension files of anyone with the name McOmber, trying to find connections to her family.

Of course V.R. was one of these pensioners and she offered up his pension files. I had requested the file about 2 years ago from the National Archives however, they were unable to locate the file. I assumed that a pension was never applied for as he was discharged in 1862 and died two years later. Though I was disappointed, I suppose things happen for a reason. The National Archives now charges approx. $75 for a full pension file from the library. I have already forked over $150 for pension files and another $75 for partial service records, I was happy I didn't have to pay anymore but disappointed that I couldn't get the information. The woman has offered to send me a copy at $.25 a page and $3 shipping. There would have to be around 300 pages for the file to be worth $75. At this rate, I can't complain at all.

Van Rensselaer appears to be a rather interesting character to say the least. He was born September 2, 1807 in Saratoga Co., New York to Richard McOmber and Olive Andrews. He was one of five known children, his siblings being named Richard D., Philip H., Abiel and Mary Ann. V.R. had purchased with his brother Richard, upwards of 500 acres in the town of Gaines/Carlton. They had settled close to their distant cousins Pardon and Enoch McOmber. Records show that the males were masons by trade and by ties to the fraternal organization. Enoch arrived in Orleans County after having worked on the Erie Canal around Lockport.

V.R.'s father Richard was a teacher and a very good one at that. It was noted that many teachers in the Gaines area would turn to Mr. McOmber for advice and knowledge on various subject. He was respected highly amongst many. This was interesting regarding the drinking habits of Mr. McOmber. In the late 1820s, Richard was sent to debtors prison for not repaying debts which have been linked to his terrible drinking habits. He was allowed to retain the family's bedding and the children's clothing but everything else was used to repay his debt. It was after this that the family moved to Orleans County. Richard died in 1838 at the age of about 51. Rather young considering his wife lived for another 20 years after that. This would be most likely contributed to his drinking.

The apple didn't fall too far from the tree in this case. V.R. went on to partake of the same habits his father had. He married Angella Olsen sometime prior to 1835. They had 6 verifiable children but at least two others have been listed as possible offspring. These 6 children included; Otis, Lorenzo, Charles W., Nelson, Elbridge and Maria Adelia. It appears as though in the late 1850s Angella left V.R. due to his drinking habits. She took her oldest son Elbridge to Ohio, where her family lived and remained there until her death.

September 18, 1861 V.R. enlisted with the 8th New York Cavalry at the age of 54. At that time he claimed he was 41 years old. He stood 5'7" tall, skinny with brown hair and blue eyes. He served under Col. Davis and Capt. Bell in Co. F of the regiment. Unfortunately V.R. only saw action at Antietam where afterwards he was removed from duty due to injuries suffered during the battle.

Van Rensselaer did not suffer injury from disease or wounds but suffered from long rides on horseback. When the regiment was surrounded at Harper's Ferry, Va. after the Battle of Antietam, the regiment was able to evade the enemy by galloping for 10 hours, a distance of 46 miles to Greencastle, Pa. This was September 14, 1862. The following day, the regiment attacked a convoy of 71 supply wagons in a small skirmish. It was after this skirmish that V.R. began to complain about pains. He complained frequently of pains throughout his right leg and hips and also complained of pain across his back in the region of his kidneys. He was removed from duty and sent to a hospital in Belle Plains where he was later discharged. While staying in the hospital he was put on cook and nurse duty as well.

It appears as though V.R. would not recover from his illness. Dr. Noble of Orleans County, who examined V.R. after he returned home stated that he was pretty well used up, a hard working and pretty hard drinking man. There was no way he would ever be in better condition again. Two years later, V.R. died possibly a result of Kidney Failure.

V.R.'s five sons all served in the war as well. Otis served with the 76th New York Infantry and was taken prisoner at The Wilderness on May 5, 1864. He was later sent to Andersonville where he spent a year before being parolled and exchanged. Lorenzo serve for several month in 1864 with the 17th N.Y. Light Independent Artillery from Orleans County before he died from disease. He is buried in Virginia. Charles served with the 23rd New York Infantry and was killed at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, he was buried on the battlefield. Nelson's service is unverified and Elbridge served with the Ohio National Guard for several months at the end of the war.

V.R.'s nephews also served. His brother Richard's sons Richard and Orange also served. Orange served with the 8th N.Y. Cav. for the last few months of the war and Richard served with the 8th N.Y. Heavy Artillery. Richard was wounded at the Battle of Cold Harbor.