2,500 words

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 O’Harra, sent 16 grandsons to fight in the American Civil War.  Two were killed but others came home wounded or with serious war-related ailments. Sam was among the latter.

The story of Sam Brantner’s Civil War service, return to his home in Pickaway County, Ohio, his years of wandering, and his deteriorating physical condition is told through his pension application records – and the pension application of Priscilla Brantner.  Ms. Brantner was Priscilla O’Harra’s youngest daughter and Sam’s mother.


Priscilla’s Application


On August 1, 1893,  Priscilla Brantner filed an application for Civil War pension benefits as the mother of Samuel Brantner, deceased, a veteran without wife or children.


The soldier’s mother, now 65, wrote that she has been living inSpringfield, Illinois, for 23 years, but prior to coming to Illinois, she had raised her family near Circleville,Pickaway County, Ohio.  Her son Sam had served, along with his brothers, as a soldier in the War.


“The regiment to which Samuel belonged was sent home fromTexas in hog-cars in the fall of the year in bad weather,” his mother wrote.  “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 nearerColumbus… At my brother's…Sam lay sick for three months before we got him home.” 


The year was 1865.  Sam was 19 years old.  He stayed with his family at Circleville for a year.


“During this year… Samuel had chronic diarrhea,” his mother writes. “I knew this for I waited upon him.  The spells of diarrhea would last five or six weeks. He would have a dozen or more operations a day”, she explained delicately.

Sam Brantner worked around the Circleville area as a farm laborer.  The diarrhea was a constant companion.  Samuel was a healthy boy before he left for the army, his mother recalled. 

Samuel leftOhio forIllinois in about 1868 or 1869 to join up with his brother John.  He went toSpringfield first and then to Riverton, where he lived for about six years, working “in the coal shaft.”   From Riverton, it wasFort Scott,Kansas, “looking for better health and maybe something to do.”  He failed to get work atFort Scott and kept moving, this time to LaCrosse,Wisconsin.


ToPine Bluff,Arkansas?


“From LaCrosse, maybe, my son went toPine Bluff, Arkansas,” Priscilla writes.   “I wrote him 16 letters toWisconsin at different times, but finally received them all back in the same mail with the information that Samuel had moved 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 atPine Bluff.


WhyPine Bluff?


While visiting his brother inSpringfield, a gentleman named Barton came to call on the Widow Brantner.  Barton was clerk at the Pacific Express Agency atPine Bluff.  He came to tell Priscilla that her son Sam had died there.  Priscilla asked that when he returned home would he inquire more into the circumstances of her son’s death.  Through Barton, she obtained several affidavits of people atPine 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 orCommercial Hospital atPine Bluff, I don't know which,” she recalled.  (We learn of different circumstances later.)

From Samuel's brother


On August 5, 1893, John D. Brantner provided an affidavit in the pension application of his mother.  Among other information, John offers:


“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 toSpringfield 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.”


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 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.



From Others Who Knew Sam Brantner


"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 theAtlanta campaigns and suffered from diarrhea.

Thomas B. Whitehead was acquainted with young Brantner for 10 or 12 years before enlisting with him atSouth Bloomfield, Ohio. Whitehead remembered that his friend suffered from diarrhea at intervals during the campaign fromChattanooga toAtlanta in June and July of 1864, and was hospitalized for a time with the condition.

Michael D. Brantner, a cousin, recalls attending a funeral with his father atSouth Bloomfield.  The funeral was for Sam's youngest sister who was buried the day after his return from war.  Samuel was so sick with diarrhea that he could not attend.


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


A very much alive Samuel Brantner ofAitkin,Minnesota, filed a petition for a pension three years prior to papers filed by Priscilla Brantner.  This Sam Brantner began his quest for Civil War pension benefits in February 1890.  He would struggle with the federal government until his death in 1920.  A string of communications tell the tale.


In papers filed February 19, 1890, we learn that this 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, for a period of three years. He was mustered out atVictoria,Texas by order of War Department on the third day of October 1865.  Thus, he would be one and the same with Priscilla’s son.


Sam files documents in 1897 and 1898 fromAitkin,Minnesota, stating that he married Ida F. Scriven atRedwood Falls,Minnesota in either 1880 or 1881.  The couple had four children, Fred, Arthur, Abbie A., andFlorence A.  He gives his age as 51 which would make him about 17 years of age when he 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 include rheumatism, eczema, scurvy, impaired hearing, general debility, rupture of left side, and weakness of heart. 


By 1907, Sam is living at Tenino,Thurston County, Washington state. Still working on his pension, Samuel F. Brantner files an affidavit on February 20, 1908 stating that his brother John Brantner, whom he had not seen in thirty years, died in 1894, and his father had died in the "first battle ofBull Run in the last rebellion".


At one point in 1908, Sam’s pension application was rejected on the grounds that he had not yet attained the age of 62 years. Sam’s given birth year changes, it seems, with each document filed.  Perhaps, this eligibility date is the reason for the discrepancies. Eventually, he receives a pension of eight dollars per month.


In 1910, he is living inTacoma,WA. Later, he becomes a resident of the Soldiers Home, Orting, Pierce county,Washington state. 

Sam Loses An Arm


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 inOhio; four years inIllinois; two years inTexas; two years inKansas; 22 years inMinnesota; 12 years inWashington; two years inNorth Dakota; and four years inIdaho.


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


One of the last documents in the files is a handwritten note from Samuel F. Brantner to U.S. Commissioner for Pensions,Washington. D.C., datedApril 24, 1916.  It begins, "I have the honor to report to you that I reached the age of seventy  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.”


Samuel F. Brantner was dropped from the pension rolls onApril 6, 1920.  He had died atRetsil,Washington.

But Hadn't Samuel Brantner Died Back in 1881?


Did Priscilla Brantner somehow attempt to fake her son's death?  Did her son fake his own death?  Did some other Samuel Brantner actually die atPine Bluff? Was theWashington 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 inWashington State was the real Sam Brantner - but why did he not contact his mother for more than 30 years?  I wonder if the federal government ever notified the two applicants of each other’s existence? 


Back toPine Bluff


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


"There never was a hospital inPine 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...


In an August 18, 1893, affidavit of John W. Smith, we learn:  "I was on the police force here (Pine Bluff) fifteen years, having been off for ten years.  I remember very well the death of Samuel Brantner, who was … 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…


“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 got to be nothing but skin and bones before he died.”


In an August 19, 1893 affidavit of William Cole:  "I have been here inPine Bluff ever since the surrender.  I worked as assistant sexton of the cemetery here for many years 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 hair was sort of a brown, was not right black and not red. 


“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 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…

So What Did Happen to Sam Brantner?


Perhaps, enough is enough 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. (4Battalion 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 likeArkansas?  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, to the best of my knowledge, 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.)