Civil War Soldier Samuel Brantner:

A Strange Case of Identity Theft?


By Dianne O’Connell

(Sam’s first cousin, four times removed)

Sam Brantner’s grandmother Priscilla sent 16 grandsons to fight in the American Civil War. 

Old Priscilla O’Harra came to the Ohio country with her husband John O’Harra in the early 1800s. During the War of 1812, the couple conducted a hotel at Franklinton (now Columbus). Shortly thereafter they established the family a bit to the south in Pickaway county where they farmed, multiplied and prospered for several generations.

Priscilla was the daughter of Revolutionary War veteran Jacob Slagle of Frederick county, Maryland and Hampshire county, (West) Virginia.  Priscilla was the mother of ten children, the youngest of whom was a daughter, also named Priscilla, born in 1821.

The younger Priscilla married Daniel Brantner August 1, 1836 at Pickaway county. The couple had five sons, three of whom whose names we know:  John D., born about 1844; Samuel F., born December 4, 1846; and Charles, born about 1851.  Priscilla said she sent three sons to war, but young Charles would have only been about 15 at the war’s close.  It is possible that he served. He had two brothers and more than a dozen cousins in the fighting, why not?

The father, Dan Brantner, was said to have died at the First Battle of Bull Run, which would have been July 21, 1861.  This from his son’s pension application.  The wife, however, in her pension application notes that her husband died in 1859.  This is not possible because he is listed as a living head of household in the 1860 census.  It would be one of several family inconsistencies. Regardless, we believe three of Dan’s five sons survived childhood to serve in the Union Army.

Brother John went first.  He served in Company E, 85th Ohio Volunteers from May to September 1862.

“I was wounded accidentally by a revolver dropping from a man's belt and going off, while I was on duty guarding prisoners,” John recalled.  The wound was in his right leg.

The next year, December 11, 1863, Brother Sam enlisted as a private in Company A, 90th Regiment, Ohio Volunteers, Infantry.  He was mustered out at Victoria, Texas by order of War Department on the October 3, 1865 as corporal.

Eventually, young Charles and 13 cousins, all from Pickaway county, went away to war. Two cousins were killed and others came home wounded or with serious war-related ailments.

The story of Sam Brantner’s service, return to Pickaway, and his years of wandering is told through his pension application records – and the pension application his mother filed on her own behalf believing that her son had died many years before.

Priscilla’s Application 

On August 1, 1893, a strange saga begins with the application of Priscilla Brantner, filed at Springfield, Illinois, where her eldest son John had re-located after the war.  Widow Brantner is applying for Civil War pension benefits, as the mother of Samuel Brantner, deceased, a veteran without wife or children.  In the records, we learn of the wanderings of this one soldier and the on-going physical traumas and challenges he suffered years after the war itself.

The soldier’s mother, now 65, writes that she has been living in Springfield for about 23 years. Prior to coming to Illinois, she had raised her family of five boys and five girls  near Circleville, Pickaway county, Ohio.  Three of the boys were in the Union Army, all in Ohio regiments.

Her son Samuel served in Co. A, 90th Ohio and 57th Ohio Volunteers, she writes.  Sam died about September or October in 1881 at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, from disease contracted in the service about nine or ten months before his discharge. 

“To the best of my knowledge my son Samuel was never married and has no widow or minor children; had he been married, I should have known it,” the mother states. 

Sam came home from the army in 1865 a seriously ill young man of about 19 years.  He stayed with his family at Circleville for about a year.

“During this year from discharge, Samuel had chronic diarrhea,” his mother says. “I knew this for I waited upon him.  The spells of diarrhea would last five or six weeks and he would have a dozen or more operations a day.

“The regiment to which Samuel belonged was sent home from Texas in hog-cars in the fall of the year in bad weather.  When Sam got home he was too weak to stand up.  He went first to my brother's a mile from South Bloomfield, which was nearer Columbus where Sam was discharged then Circleville.  At my brother's, Benj. (this would be Benoni) O'Harra, Sam lay sick three months before we got him home. 

In about a year, Sam began to feel a little stronger and went to work on his Uncle Joe Brantner’s farm at Lockburne. The mother recalled that she did not received letters from her son during the five months he was in Lockburne but had heard from him through others.  Sometimes he was pretty well and sometimes it was reported that the diarrhea had returned.  Sam came home for a while to Circleville, and the next fall went back to the farm.

Sam Brantner worked around the Circleville area as a farm laborer until 1868 or 1869.  The diarrhea was a constant companion.  Samuel was a healthy boy before he left for the army, he mother recalls.  He was never “very fleshy”, but was particularly thin when he came home.  Dr. Jesse Thompson of South Bloomfield, the family physician, had said that the least excitement might “carry him off.”

Samuel left for Illinois in about 1868 or 1869, probably to join up with his brother John.  He first went to Springfield and then on to Riverton, where he lived for about six years, working “in the coal shaft.”   From Riverton, he went to Fort Scott, Kansas, “looking for better health and maybe something to do.”  He failed to get work at Fort Scott and kept moving, this time to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where his mother believes he did not stayed long.

To Pine Bluff, Arkansas?

“From LaCrosse, maybe, my son went to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, but I did not know it,” Priscilla writes.   “I wrote him 16 letters to Wisconsin at different times, but finally received them all back in the same mail with the information that Samuel had removed from LaCrosse.  For years I had no news from my son and don't know where he was during the following years unless he was at Pine Bluff.”

Why Pine Bluff?

Priscilla finally received a letter from Sam “about three months before his death.”  He told his mother that the diarrhea was still plaguing him and that as soon as he was able to travel he planned to return home to Springfield.  She did not keep the letter.

“He never told me in his one letter where he worked or what he worked at in Pine Bluff, Arkansas,” Priscilla said.  

The way she heard of Sam’s death was through a gentleman named Barton.  Mr. Barton was visiting his brother in Springfield when he brought the news of Sam Brantner’s death to Sam’s mother.  Barton was clerk at the Pacific Express Agency at Pine Bluff, Arkansas.  Priscilla asked that when he returned home if he would inquire more into the circumstances of her son’s death.  Through him, she obtained several affidavits of people at Pine Bluff who had known Sam Brantner.

“I think that a letter I got from people there stated that my son died either at the Commercial Hotel or Commercial Hospital at Pine Bluff, I don't know which,” she recalled.

“My son's body, I understood, was kept three days while efforts were made to find his family.  But these efforts being fruitless, the body was buried at Pine Bluff.  There were two doctors at Pine Bluff who treated my son, but both are said to be dead.

“My son never made application for pension for chronic diarrhea because he told me that he scorned the idea of being a pensioner as long as he could earn his own living.  While in the army my son Samuel sent me some money pretty nearly every payday, sometimes more, sometimes less.  He would, after his return from the army, give me money whenever he could earn enough, but he was not always able to work. 

Priscilla added, “Ever since my husband's death in 1859, I have been dependent upon my own manual labor for support;  my son and daughter at home have helped me some; they give me a home and I work to earn it; and my son in Kansas once in a while remembers me.  Otherwise, I am dependent on my own efforts; have no property and no income, and nothing to fall back upon except my prospective pension....."

And from Samuel's brother

On August 5, 1893, John D. Brantner provides an informative affidavit in the pension application case of his mother.

In it he states that he is 53 years old, a carpenter, making his home with his mother and sister at Springfield, Illinois.  He notes that his mother is applying for the pension as a dependant mother of the soldier Samuel Brantner.  Sam, he says, was his brother.

John notes his own war service and states that he came home from the war in September of 1862, immediately going to work at Bloomfield, Piqua (sic) county, Ohio.  After

about a year, he states he “came west to Riverton (Jimtown), Illinois about seven miles from Springfield” where he ran the rectifying house.  When the distillery was running, he also acted as time keeper.  John stayed at Riverton six years going back to Ohio only for one weeklong visit.  He married at Riverton.

“I was not at home in Ohio when my brother Sam came out of the service and what I know about his physical condition at that time, namely at discharge, is only from what mother wrote me and what my brother himself afterward told me,” John writes.

“When the coal shaft at Riverton was opened, about 1865 or 6, I was a pit boss in the mine and gave employment to my brother Sam.  My folks had come from Ohio to Riverton, Illinois, and after living there four or five months lived at Springfield where they have been ever since.

“When I first saw my brother Sam at the coal mine, he was in pretty fair health, but he complained to me after that of chronic diarrhea frequently.  I do not know how long he had had it.  I was not at home when he entered the service or when he came out of it; but I had his word for it that he got it in the army.  I would not swear that there is where he got it, but he told me he contracted it in the army.  I never saw any letters he wrote from the army in which he complained of any sickness he had there or any wound or injury.  My mother told me of his sickness right after he came home.

“My brother Sam while with me at Riverton after 1865 was a drinking man.  He would not drink steadily but go on sprees.  He did not drink hard until after I left Riverton.  I never saw him after that.  He came to Springfield to bid me goodbye when I was deputy sheriff here about 1872 or 3, on his way west.  He said to me that he had been running with a clique that would never be any good to him, and the only way to get rid of that crowd was for him to leave.  My mother told me after that of having received letters from him in which he stated that he had quit drinking.  Whether he had or not, I do not know.  I never again saw my brother after the meeting in Springfield."

And from Brother Charles

Charles Brantner of Cherokee, Kansas, completed an affidavit on behalf of his mother's claim on August 28, 1894

"I was in the lumber business with Samuel Brantner my brother in the summer and fall of 1876 and know he was sick nearly all of that time with chronic diarrhea.  I also know he was sick with chronic diarrhea when he came home out of the army.  For a long time afterwards he was confined to the house.  I know this because I was younger and was at home and had on several occasions to go after different medicines for him.  Once I remember I had to go in the country and dig roots of blackberries for tea for him."

And from Others Who Knew Sam Brantner

Let's review a handful of the many affidavits filed in this case:

"There was no better boy soldier in the service," states Henry Shannon, first sergeant of the regiment where Samuel Brantner came as a recruit in the winter of 1863-64.  Young Brantner, all of 17 years of age, served through the Atlanta campaigns and suffered from diarrhea.

Thomas B. Whitehead was acquainted with young Brantner for 10 or 12 years before enlisting with him at South Bloomfield, Pickaway Co., Ohio, February 1, 1864 for Company A, 90th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Whitehead remembered that his friend suffered from diarrhea at intervals during the campaign from Chattanooga to Atlanta in June and July of 1864 and was hospitalized for a time with the condition.

Ann O'Harra, Sam’s cousin, recalls that when Sam came home he was so weak he could hardly walk and was suffering from chronic diarrhea.

Michael D. Brantner, another cousin, recalls attending a funeral with his father at South Bloomfield.  The funeral was for Sam's youngest sister who was buried the day after his return from war.  After the funeral, the family went to the home of another uncle, Ben O'Harra, for dinner.  Samuel was so sick with diarrhea that he  could not attend the funeral of his sister.

But Then We Have Sam’s Own Application -- Alive Not Dead!

Crossing paths with Priscilla’s application was an application filed by a very much alive Samuel Brantner of Aitkin, Minnesota.  This Sam Brantner began his quest for Civil War pension benefits as early as February 1890.  He would struggle with the federal government until his death in 1920.  A string of communications tell the tale.

19 FEB 1890:  Adjutant General's Office:  Samuel Brantner was enlisted as a private in Company A, 90th Regiment, Ohio Vol. Infantry on the 11th day of December 1863 at South Bloomfield, Ohio, by W. D. Hudson and was mustered into the United States service as such for the period of three years; on the third day of February 1864 at Columbus Ohio, by Lt. Nelson, U.S.A. Mustering Officer, and that he was mustered out at Victoria, Texas by order of War Department on the third day of October 1865.  He was enrolled as a recruit and was appointed corporal June 1, 1865.  Transferred to 51st OVI (date not given.)

Sam files documents in 1897 and 1898 from Aitkin, Minnesota, stating that he married Ida F. Scriven at Redwood Falls, Minnesota in either 1880 or 1881.  The couple have four children, Fred, Arthur, Abbie A., and Florence A.  He gives his age as 51 which would make him about 17 years of age at his enlisted in 1863 and about 35 years of age at the date of his supposed death in 1881.

A Surgeon's Certificate dated December 5, 1900, lists Samuel Brantner as 58 years old, 5'9 1/2" tall.  Weight 155 pounds.  Causes of disability:  Rheumatism, eczema, scurvy, impaired hearing, general debility, rupture of left side, and weakness of heart.  (Details are not pleasant.)

By November 23, 1907, Sam is living at Tenino, Thurston county, Washington State.

His residency since leaving the army is listed as 15 years in Aitkin, Minnesota; and 12 years in Washington.

Still working on his pension, Samuel F. Brantner files an affidavit on February 20, 1908 stating that his brother John Brantner of Springfield, Illinois, died in 1894; that his father had died in the "first battle of Bull run in the last rebellion"; and that he had not seen his brother for 30 years (1878).

In a June 24, 1908 letter to Senator Knute Nelson, United States Senate., we learn:

"My dear Senator:  In response to your undated communication, received the 23rd instant, relative to the pension case, certificate number 947,873, of Samuel F. Brantner, who served in Co. A, 90th Ohio Vol. Inf., and whose post office address you give as Tenino, Washington, I have the honor to advise you that his claim for pension under the act of Feb. 6, 1907, was rejected March 18, 1908, on the ground that from the evidence on file it appeared that he had not reached the age of sixty-two years at date of execution of his claim.  He is now pensioned under the act of June 27, 1890, at the rate of $8 per month.  He has no claim now pending before this Bureau.  Very respectfully, Commissioner."

Never a man to quit easily, Sam Brantner files additional paperwork on April 26, 1910.  In it he declares that he is 64 years of age, born December 4, 1845, and a resident of Tacoma, Pierce Co., Washington.  His residency since leaving the service is listed as 1865 to 1868 in Ohio; 1868 to 1871, Springfield, Illinois; 1871 to 1879, Fort McAllister, Indiana; 1877 to 1879, Denison, Texas; 1879 to 1893, Aitkin, Minnesota; 1893 to 1910, Washington.

On August 3, 1912, Samuel declares that he is 68 years of age - making his birth year 1843. He lists his birth date, however, as December 4, 1844 - whatever.

Samuel is now a resident of the Soldiers Home, Orting, Pierce county, Washington state. 

Sam Loses Arm

Later on in August of 1912 we learn that Sam has only one arm.  His left arm is "off at the shoulder having lost it while working in the woods through carelessness of others."

His residency since leaving the service is listed as:  one year in Ohio; four years in Illinois; two years in Texas; two years in Kansas; 22 years in Minnesota; 12 years in Washington; two years in North Dakota; and four years in Idaho.

Sam is admitted to the Battle Mountain Sanitarium, National Home for D.V.S., Hot Springs, South Dakota on May 2, 1913 (transferred from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.) He is discharged June 27, the same year.

Next we have a handwritten note from Samuel F. Brantner to U.S. Commissioner for Pensions, Washington. D.C., dated April 24, 1916.  It begins, "I have the honor to report to you that I reached the age of seventy (70) years on the 4th day of December 1915.  On and after that date, I believe that I am entitled to a raise in my pension which was not received in my regular check on March 4, 1916…."  (This would, of course, make Samuel's birth year 1845.)

Samuel F. Brantner was dropped from the pension rolls on April 6, 1920.  He had died at Retsil, Washington.

But Hadn't Samuel Brantner Died Back in 1881?

An inquiry to the National Archives and Records Administration resulted in a packet of extraordinary materials related to the pension application on behalf of Priscilla Brantner,  mother of soldier Samuel F. Brantner. Priscilla believed that her son Sam had died in September 1881 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

However, as we have already noted, this application was complicated by the pension application of a man claiming to be this same Samuel F. Brantner living in the state Minnesota, and later Washington State. Same birth place, same unit in the Army, a few different details in residency over the years -- but the materials do seem to indicate that this Samuel F. Brantner was the same as the Samuel F. Brantner buried at Pine Bluff back in 1881.  The Washington State Sam Brantner had married and had issue.  Sam's mother swore he had never married nor had he had children. The Washington Brantner lived until the spring of 1920.

Did Priscilla Brantner somehow fake her son's death?  Did her son fake his own death?  Did some other Samuel Brantner actually die at Pine Bluff? Was the Washington state Samuel F. Brantner a fraud, an "identity thief"?  The Washington state Brantner was eventually awarded the pension -- so the U.S. Government was convinced he was "authentic." After reviewing the materials for many hours, I, too, am convinced that the sick, old man in Washington State was the "real" Sam Brantner - but why did he not contact his mother for more than 30 years?  Surely it would have cleared up a great deal of confusion.

Back to Pine Bluff

The affidavit from the "special examiner" Joseph Neely from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, provides interesting information regarding community services during this time period:

"There never was a hospital in Pine Bluff.  The city has made a practice of boarding its sick paupers with whoever would take them...

"J. H. Scull and Brothers, druggists, furnish drugs for city paupers, but their books show simply "pauper" and in no case is a name given...

"It is the same with McFadden, the only undertaker of Pine Bluff ten years ago.  His books show charge against city for coffin, furnished for pauper October 22, 1881, another December 4, 1881, none for September 1881.  I examined his books covering several years from 1879 and in only a very few instances are the name of the pauper given....

Neely continues with further listing of Pine Bluff's lack of official records.  He then states, "It seems rather remarkable that all three of the witnesses who have been found having a knowledge of the soldier should be Negroes." He then attests to the "good reputation" of the three men, but adds that "I do not believe it can be established that soldier's death was due to his army service."

In an August 18, 1893, affidavit of John W. Smith, we learn:  "I am 62 years old, a carpenter here in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.  I was on the police force here fifteen years, having been off ten years.  I remember very well the death of Samuel Brantner, who was a sparr (?) made man, middling tall, sandy hair, between 30 and 40 years old, wore a moustache, I think.  It was about 12 or 15 years ago he died.  I did know the exact date, but have forgotten.

“He worked here for several months in the blacksmith shop of Buck McKinney, who is now dead. He appeared to be a very healthy, strong man when I first got acquainted with him.  Later he commenced complaining of the running of the bowels and went to the city poor house and as deputy marshal I was there every day and saw him.  He had fever and running of the bowels and got to be nothing but skin and bones before he died.

“I know he died in the fall because I remember his body was held several days trying to get word from his people.  He had no family here and I do not know where he came from or anything about his having served in the army.

“He did not go on sprees here for I would have been sure to have arrested him if he had done that."

And in an August 19, 1893 affidavit of William Cole:  "My name is William Cole, am going on 64 years old, a laborer here in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.  I have been here in Pine Bluff ever since the surrender.  I worked as assistant sexton of the cemetery here for many hears and till about seven years ago.  I remember a young white man named "Sam Brantner who died here about twelve or fifteen years ago.  I am no reading man and have no way of putting down a date, so I can not tell exactly.

“This Brantner was a young man about 33 or 35 years old, middling build, not very tall or heavy, his fair was sort of a brown, was not right black and not red.  I don't remember anything peculiar about him.

“I do not know now long he lived here, but I knew him for about six months before he died.  He was helper for Buck McKinney in his blacksmith shop.  McKinney is dead and I do not know of any one else who would know him.

“This Brantner had no family here and I do not know where he came from or anything of his having been a soldier.  While he was working at McKinney's he did not seem to be crippled up or unhealthy in any way.  He looked to be a strong, healthy man and worked regularly.  He did not make a practice of getting drunk but would take a little spree once in a while.

“After I had known him about six months I was passing the old brick house down in the lower part of town where they keep the paupers who are sick.  I saw him lying there on a cot before the door, sick and these people were so neglected, I stopped to speak to him and after that went several times to see him.

“He had the flux and in two days it weakened him down as fast as a common sickness would in a month.  He got very weak and thin and died in just about a week.  I am sure it was the flux from the way he suffered.  I know the difference between the flux and diarrhea.  He passed blood.  I would maybe not have remembered so well about his name if it had not been for my visiting him while he lay there sick and so neglected.  I think it was in the fall of the year.

“I helped to bury him; he was buried as a pauper by the city.  There was no service, no friends of his at his burial.  He was just hauled out on a drag. I made a statement in this case several months ago, but am unable to say now how I fixed on September or October 1881 as the date of Brantner's death."

And then the February 18, 1895 affidavit of William H. Thomas: "I was city policeman of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, during the year 1881 and as such a man by the name of Samuel Brantner was reported to me as a pauper and sick out in town in an outhouse by himself.  I took charge of him that being a part of my business and found him, as he informed me that he was suffering with chronic diarrhea and had been he said for a long time.

“He informed me that his name was Samuel Brantner.  I took him to the city poor house and in a day or two, he died of this complaint.  He died in year 1881 and was buried here in the Bellwood Cemetery.  From all appearances of the man when I found him, he was totally helpless, could not even stand up and was unable to perform any manual labor whatever."

So What Did Happen to Sam Brantner?

Perhaps, this is enough information concerning this very sad case.  I can certainly understand why the mother believed that her son had died in the fall of 1881 of chronic diarrhea, flux, running of the bowels, or more politely, dysentery.

Priscilla had every reason to believe her son had died.  But this had to be the wrong Samuel Brantner. 

I did a little Internet research.  And sure enough there was another Civil War veteran by the name of Samuel Brantner. This one served in Company D, 10 Batt'n Virginia Reserves. (4 Battalion Valley Reserves.)  The Pine Bluff Sam Brantner could very well have been this Confederate soldier.  This would make a little more sense.  Why would a Union soldier, just a few years after the War of Rebellion re-locate to a Confederate state like Arkansas?  Our Samuel Brantner moved to several western states after the war, but he steered clear of the South (with the exception of Texas). 

This is a case of mistaken identity, not identify theft.  There is more than one sad story here. One story of two soldiers, one from the north and one from the south, both trying to take hold and live their lives after the Conflict, beleaguered with the continuing ravages of wartime disease. 

And yet another story of two mothers, one in Illinois and another we suppose in Virginia, neither one of whom ever really learned what happened to their son Sam Brantner.

(For those who want to explore this case for themselves, there are two Civil War Pension applications to request: one for Priscilla S. Brantner, mother of veteran Samuel F. Brantner, filed in Illinois 6 DEC 1890, application 483.3116. And one for Brantner himself filed in Minnesota 8 DEC 1896 application 1183.506 Certificate 947873.)

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