Prologue Magazine

A Widow's Plea—And An Inventory

Winter 1995, Vol. 27, No. 4 | "War in an Age of Wonders"

By Michael P. Musick


Civil records will sometimes provide documentation on military subjects not found elsewhere. An example is in Record Group 217, Records of the U.S. General Accounting Office. Within the records of the Pay and Bounty Division of this record group is entry 429, "Records Relating to Claims (old, old Series), February 24, 1832–August 5, 1862." It is arranged numerically, with some files registered in volumes (entry 428), but not otherwise indexed.  The series is generally overlooked, perhaps because it primarily covers only Union soldiers who died in the first year of the year.

Entry 429, which is in general chronological order, contains individual files of claims for the back pay or effects of deceased soldiers. The files have considerable genealogical interest, showing as they usually do the soldier's next of kin.  Now and then they contain other information.

One such case file (file #26,500) is the claim of Hannah Otter, wife of Capt. William Otter of the "1st California Regiment," a unit of Pennsylvanians raised by Senator Edward D. Baker, who represented the land of the Forty-niners. The outfit later became the Seventy-first Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Otter addressed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton on January 28, 1862, from her home in Philadelphia. Her husband, she explained, was missing in action at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, Virginia. "There have been many different reports, but all agree on one fact, that he is no more." She went on to state her case.

Now Sir, my request to you is, that you will give me all the authentic information the Department is possessed of, in relation to my late husband, and also, whatever arrearages or pay may be due him for service in the cause he loved so well and paid so dearly for.

Hereafter, I shall be dependent on my own exertions for the support of myself and two children and an early settlement is desirable so that I may know exactly what to do.

You, Sir, cannot imagine what my feelings have been during the past few months harassed by conflicting reports and not one ray of hope.

You will not turn a deaf ear to the Widow's entreaty.

H. Otter

Conflicting reports meant continuing paperwork. Mrs. Otter needed more documentation, and she sent it in. It included a copy of her marriage certificate, notarized statements regarding her identity, and a letter from her husband's colonel, attesting his conviction that Captain Otter was indeed dead. The widow remarked that the captain's effects had been forwarded to her, and she enclosed a detailed inventory.

The inventory provides a remarkably full picture of what a self-appointed Federal officer took into the field in 1861. Later in the conflict, life at the front became considerably more spartan.

The widow Otter's various entreaties and submissions did eventually bear fruit. On July 25, 1862, Treasury officials approved her claim for $201.85.

Inventory of the Effects and Equipage of Captain William Otter, late commanding Company "C" of the First Regiment of California Volunteers commanded by Col. E. D. Baker.  Capt. Otter is reported missing— killed since the action between this Regiment and the Rebels near Leesburg on the Potomac on the 21st October 1861.

  1 Army bed trunk, 6 Linen Towels, 2 cotton undershirts, 4 Linen shirts, 4 woolen shirts, 1 flannel shirt, 2 pair knit cotton drawers, 2 pair Linen drawers, 1 Blue cloth uniform coat, 2 fatigue uniform coats, 1 Blue uniform vest, 2 pair blue uniform pants, 1 calico dressing gown, 5 Pocket handkerchiefs, 1 Blue uniform & 1 blue fatigue cap & covers, 3 Havelocks, 1 Pair Leather shoes, 1 pair canvass shoes, 6 pair cotton stockings, 1 crimson silk sash, 10 shirt collars, 1 Portfolio, 1 Buckskin sword cover, 8 pair white cotton gloves, 1 Box of Dominos, 2 pairs spectacles & cases, 1 needle book, 1 Box of Sardines, 1 map of Washington & vicinity, 1 Hair brush, 1 Tooth brush—soap, 4 neck ties. Books viz. Gilhams Manual, U.S. Constitution, Army Regulations, Field Artillery, Hardees Rifle Tactics, Scotts Infantry Tactics, Coopers Tactics, U.S. Infantry and Rifle Tactics, 1 Pocket Inkstand, 1 camp stool, 1 India Rubber overcoat, Box Of Seidlitz Powders, 1 pair high black leather gaiters, an India Rubber overcoat.

   I hereby certify that the foregoing is a correct list of the Effects and Equipage of Captain William Otter late commanding company "C," and reported killed in the late action with the Rebels at Balls Bluff near Leesburg, Virginia on the 21st October 1861.

R. A. Parrish, Jr.
Major Comg. Calif. Regt.

Headquarters California Regt.
Little Monocacy— Montgomery Co. Md.
30 October 1861

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