Monday, September 24, 2012

The Demise of Van Rensselaer McOmber

For roughly 12 years now, I have been working on my genealogy, starting with my paternal grandmother's Polish ancestry and working into the well documented (and sometimes not so well documented) lines of my maternal grandparents. However, in those 12 years, I have never experienced the amount of contact from extended family and cousins as I have over the course of the last two months; that contact coming from my maternal grandfather's line. The wealth of information and photographs that I have received recently is astounding, and of course, greatly appreciated.

I believe I can contribute the recent volume of communication to a post I made on this blog a while back regarding my maternal 5th Great-Grandfather, Van Rensselaer McOmber. That story relayed his rough life as a hard drinker and a soldier with the 8th N.Y. Cavalry who enlisted at an age well past his prime. There are still many questions which have yet to be answered, but even though the progress is slow, it is still progress.

The ultimate question which remained was regarding the death of Van Rensselaer, inscribed on his headstone as "6 May 1864" an noting that he was a member of the 8th N.Y. Cavalry. At first glance, it might be assumed that Van Rensselaer died while serving during the Civil War. His attempts to gain an invalid's pension in 1863 and 1864 show that he had been discharged due to disabilities acquired in early autumn of 1862.

The laundry list of disabilities and physical ailments that plagued Van Rensselaer following his service in the cavalry became another hypothesized cause of death. Factoring in the servere case of rheumatism throughout his hips, legs, knees, ankles and into his back and shoulders combined with kidney disease and other ailments would lead one to believe that these issues could have caused his untimely death. Unfortunately, there is no death record or certificate in existance to show us whether or not these conditions were even the slightest bit of a factor in his death.

Instead, one vital piece of information exists to give us some insight into what caused Van Rensselaer's unfortunate death. A death which came days after his oldest son was taken prisoner by Confederate forces at the Wilderness; a death, according to his headstone, which occured only the following day. Meanwhile, his "only" other son, serving with the "Orleans Battery" at Washington, D.C. (only to die himself in early August of that same year); his wife having left him, returning to Ohio with atleast one of the other sons (Elbridge Gerry) and their daughter, Ellen.

This "obituary" reveals the cause of Van Rensselaer's demise:

DROWNED - On Friday afternoon last, Mr. Rensselaer M'Comber of Carlton was drowned in Oak Orchard Creek, at the Two Bridges. Deceased went out in a boat between 5 and 6 o'clock after a log which was drifting down the creek, fastened a rope to the log, while in some way his boat swung round and capsized. The affair was witnessed by persons on the shore, but before assistance could reach him, he was drowned. He was about 50 years of age. His family consists of two sons, both in the army.

This article appeared on May 18, 1864 in the Orleans Republican on page 3 in column 2 of the newspaper. The newspaper incorrectly lists his age as "about 50" when he was actually 56, having been born on September 2, 1807 in Saratoga County, New York. Van Rensselaer had been a resident of Carlton since 1833, when he and his brother Richard purchased 61 acres from Section 7, Lot 1 of the Holland Land Company's tract within Township 16 on October 3 of that year. The following January 6, 1834, the brothers purchased 100 more acres from Lot 2. It's likely that this property was located in the vicinity of Two Bridges in Carlton, south of Point Breeze and near what is now the Brown Farm. It's difficult to say, but it's possible that the land owned by Van Rensselaer was passed to his son Otis upon his return from the war, being the only local, surviving son.

This newspaper article, appearing on Wednesday, May 18, 1864, states that he drowned "Friday afternoon last" making his date of death actually May 13, 1864. However, one week prior would have been May 6, 1864, the date on his stone. Perhaps the story of his death ran a week late, or maybe his stone is incorrect.

No known photograph exists of Van Rensselaer and very little information exists to paint an accurate picture of his life prior to 1861.

Otis McOmber - Photo appearing in newspaper for his 65th Wedding Anniversary

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Murder of Cpl. Stanley Zyglarski

Cpl. Stanley Paul Zeglarski

1894 – 18 May 1898
6th Machine Gun Battalion – U.S. Marine Corps – World War One
Stanislaus Paul Zeglarski was born on __ ___ 1894 in Albion, New York and was the youngest of five siblings born to Paweł and Marianna. Little is known about his mother and father’s ancestry, who they were, where they are buried and where they came from. As with most Polish men at the time, Paweł Żeglarski toiled as a laborer in the sandstone quarries of Orleans County and his mother, a housewife. As with most immigrant families, Stanley came from humble beginnings and was raised as the only son at 71 Moore Street, now the address 621. Very little is known of his childhood, but it is clear that Stanley was not drafted into service with the Marine Corps during The Great War, as most men were, but instead entered into the service as a young man at the age of 21. His date of entry into the service would have been around the year 1915.

Without his military service record, it would be hard to say what this young man saw throughout his time in the armed forces, but what is known is that his life was cut short in the line of duty. However, the term “line of duty” meant something far more tragic than “killed in action.” It is important to tell the story of a young Polish-Albionite whose death was much more than his family was led to believe.

On June 2, 1918, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported that Cpl. Stanley P. Zyglarski, aged 24 years, was wounded while serving with the 77th Company of the U.S. Marine Corps. The final stages of the German Spring Offensive were coming to a conclusion in Belgium. His mother, Mary, received a telegram from the Commanding General of the American Expeditionary Forces announcing that her son died on the 18th of May in the year 1918 as a result of gunshot wounds. According to the telegram, his body was to be interred abroad until the conclusion of the war.

At home, Cpl. Zyglarski left his widowed mother and four sisters, Mrs. Frances McCabe, Mrs. Antonina Avino, Mrs. Anastasia Furmanski and Miss Martha Zyglarski all to mourn his death. According to all reports, he was only the second man from Orleans County to be killed during the war. Upon the time of his death, it had been nearly 7 months since Mary had last heard from her son.

On the 5th of June, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported a memorial service which was held for Stanley Zyglarski at his home parish of St. Mary’s Assumption. Rev. John Szmytkowski presided over the service in which a decorated catafalque was draped with an American flag and adorned with floral arrangements to represent a casket in the absence of Cpl. Zyglarski’s body. Company N of the New York State National Guard was present to conduct the ceremony and the company’s Captain, John Beckwith, was present to speak words of sympathy to the family.

At that point, the church had displayed a service flag containing forty-one blue stars, each one representing a young man who was currently serving the nation. Following the service, one star was changed to a gold star, denoting Cpl. Zyglarski’s death in the service.

The death of Stanley Zyglarski would have been extremely difficult for the Polish population of Albion, especially for those who has sons, brothers, uncles, nephews and fathers serving. The saddest element of Cpl. Zyglarski’s death was the set of circumstances which led to the gunshot wound he received while on duty.

A published book entitled At Belleau Wood with Rifle and Sketch Pad highlights briefly the death of Cpl. Zyglarski, or “Cpl. Burk” as he was referred to. According to this book, Zyglarski was never mentioned in the battalion’s Roll of Honor, which would be contributed to the fact that Zyglarski was not killed or wounded in combat. In a diary written by Sgt. Peter Wood of the 81st Company of the 6th Machine Gun Battalion, he writes that “Sgt. Massa of 23rd Company shot and killed a corporal of 77th Company.”

Luckily, the 77th Company muster rolls provide an accurate account of Cpl. Zyglarski’s gunshot wound and subsequent death. The rolls tell this story;

“On the 17th [May], he was shot and fatally wounded (while in the execution of his office as Cpl. Of the guar and [affecting] the arrest of an enlisted man for creating a disturbance) by an enlisted man of the 23rd Co. 6 MGB, died in Field Hospital at Ravignay France at 12:00 noon, May 18, 1918, death in line of duty. Personal effects forwarded to Effects Depot A.E.F., place of burial not given by medical authorities. Recommended for Character Excellent on decease.”

The muster rolls of the 23rd Company tell us a similar story but from the end of the alleged shooter, Sgt. Clarence L. Massey:

“…tried by General Court Martial. Found guilty…To be reduced to ranks, to be dishonorably discharged the service, to forfeit all pay and allowances due or to become due, and to be confined at hard labor at such place as the reviewing authorities may direct for the term of his natural life. The sentence is applied and will be duly executed, U.S. Penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is designated as the place of confinement to which place the prisoner will be sent under proper guard. Character given on discharge “Bad.” Court published 7 Sep 1918.”

 The company’s muster rolls from May state that Sgt. Massey was confined prior to his Court Martial due to the crime committed, in violation of the 92nd A.W. Sgt. Massey was charged with the willful murder of Cpl. Zyglarski, in which Sgt. Massey shot Zyglarski in the chest with his .45 service pistol. Sgt. Massey appears on the 1920 Census at Fort Leavenworth as a prisoner but not on subsequent census records. According to a 1924 Rochester Democrat & Chronicle article, the case of Sgt. Massey was being reviewed by an Army Grand Jury as it was believed that Massey was not properly represented with a defense attorney at the Court Martial. More research will be needed to determine the fate of Sgt. Massey.

Cpl. Stanley Zyglarski’s body was laid to rest at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery in France, Plot D, Row 27, Grave 15; it was never returned home.