A Soldier’s Sacrifice: The Story of Andrew J. Phelps
The Civil War brought hardship and heartache to every soldier, from both North and South. Those who were fortunate to survive the war sometimes lived out their remaining lives in pain and great difficulty. Such is the case of Andrew J. Phelps, my third great grandfather.
Andrew Jackson Phelps was born January 12, 1824 in Connecticut, one of the older children born to John and Clarissa Phelps. It is quite reasonable to assume he was named in honor of Andrew Jackson, hero of the War of 1812 and later the seventh president of the United States. Old Hickory’s victory against the British in the battle of New Orleans (January 8, 1815) is often considered one of our nation’s great military victories.
About 1831, the Phelps family moved from Connecticut (possibly the town of Somers in Tolland County) to the town of Seneca in Ontario County, New York. Andrew was about seven years old at the time. Here begins a lengthy gap of more than twenty-five years in the life history of this man, without any accessible public records. This lack of information lasts until he is about thirty-four years old.
About 1858, Andrew married Janet (Harris) Lamphier and they made their home in Geneva, New York. Janet had been married to John Lamphier, but he evidently died by 1857, leaving Janet and at least three young children (Josephine, Charles, and Harris). Charles was later adopted by Andrew.
In 1859, Andrew and Janet had their first child. Isabella Janet was born in December 1858. Later, Andrew Jackson, Jr. was born in March 1861.
Just a month later, on April 12, 1861, the Civil War began, an event that would greatly impact Andrew and his family. On August 27, 1862, for reasons that are unknown, Andrew enlisted in the Union Army at Geneva, New York and was mustered into service at Potter, New York on September 14, 1862 as a private in Co. I of the 148th Infantry Regiment. He was to serve a term of three years or for the duration of the war.
Days later, on September 22, 1862, the 148th departed Geneva for Suffolk, Virginia. There, the assignment was to provide garrison and guard duty to protect Norfolk and the strategically important Chesapeake Bay and other waterways. Much of the early service given by the men of the 148th was likely routine without heavy action against the Confederates. That would change beginning February of 1864, as the 148th participated in a series of small engagements, followed by several well-known battles including Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and Fair Oaks. At the close of the war, the men of the 148th were present at Appomattox when General Lee surrendered.
However, it is unclear if Private Phelps was able to participate in all these events, having been hospitalized in December 1863. According to company muster rolls, Private Phelps was hospitalized in Hampton Hospital, Fort Monroe during the months of January and February 1864. In addition, he was noted as absent between May 1864 and April 1865. He had spent significant time in a series of hospitals, including Hampton, Virginia, Buffalo, New York, and David’s Island (New York Harbor). Eventually, he was listed on the Co. I Muster-out Roll at Richmond, Virginia on June 22, 1865 and was honorably discharged. Andrew’s military and pension files provide some interesting details about his service, including a deposition given in his own words:
Some time in December 1863, (my) regiment was sent out from Yorktown, Virginia where then (sic) located on a raid, that (we) were absent from camp three days during which time it stormed and rained severely. (I) was with (my) regiment on this raid and in consequence of the severe exposure to the rain and storm and the fatigue of marching, being without tents or blankets, (I) caught a severe cold in the head. (M)ore particularly and after (we) had returned to camp, about four or five days (later), (my) left eye became very much inflamed and about three days afterwards, (my) right eye became likewise inflamed. (Then I) was sent to regimental hospital where (I) remained about ten days, (then I was) sent to McClellan Hospital at Hampton…
– Andrew J. Phelps (August 19, 1867)
The deposition of Andrew Phelps was given at the Yates County, New York courthouse with supporting depositions including a former captain of Company I, Martin S. Hicks. The result was that Andrew was granted a disability pension for the loss of his eyesight. The disability had led to the surgical removal of his left eye and near total blindness in his right eye. In a later deposition, Andrew stated that he, “could see but little out of his right eye,” and… that he, “could not go out in the evening without some person to lead him about.” Also, as a result of his near blindness he, “can do but little work” in his normal occupation as a blacksmith.
Because of his disability, Andrew’s application for a military pension was approved for the amount of eight dollars per month beginning June 1865. Later he received increases in his pension of four dollars monthly effective June 1878 and an additional eight dollars monthly beginning August 1878.
In April of 1870, Andrew’s wife Janet died at the age of 45 of ovarian cancer. She is buried in the Washington Street Cemetery, Geneva near her daughter Josephine and her mother Margaret Harris. Andrew was left with his two children, Isabella and Andrew, Jr. ages 11 and 9 respectively.
Less than a year later – on February 5, 1871 – Andrew married Mary J. Barton (1836-1914) in a ceremony conducted by Rev. A. F. Morey of the Methodist Church. Later, Andrew and Mary had a son, Frederick H., born in April 1877.
Andrew’s son, Andrew, Jr. died in 1892. At the time of his death, he was a resident of the State Asylum for the Criminally Insane in Ionia, Michigan. Further research is needed on this, a fact discovered in the Ontario County courthouse some years ago.
Andrew, Sr. passed away February 6, 1904 at his long-time home – 16 Grove St., Geneva. The obituary notice in the Geneva Daily Times stated:
Andrew J. Phelps, an old resident of this city died Saturday evening at his home, 16 Grove Street, aged 79 years. The deceased was born in Connecticut and came to this city in early life. During the Civil War he enlisted as a private in Company I, of the 148th New York volunteers. He served throughout the war and received an honorable discharge. Since the war he lived a retired life…
Andrew is buried at the Washington Street Cemetery in Geneva. His headstone simply states his name and gives reference to his service:
148 REG’T N.Y. VOL’S
As a result of his service in the US Army, Andrew J. Phelps lived the second half of his life – more than 40 years – essentially blind and unable to work. Hundreds of thousands of men on both sides of the conflict sacrificed at least that much, or more, and their service should be honored and highly respected.
© Jeffery J. Michaels / Plain English Publications 2019
(Quotations allowed with attribution to this blog)
Federal census records:
~ 1820 Somers, Tolland County, Connecticut
~ 1860 Benton, Yates County, New York
~ 1870 Geneva, Ontario County, New York
~ 1880 Geneva, Ontario County, New York
~ 1900 Geneva, Ontario County, New York
State census records:
~ 1865 Seneca, Ontario County, New York
~1892 Geneva, Ontario County, New York
Personal papers of Andrew J. Phelps
(in possession of Jeffery Michaels)
Civil War service file of Andrew J. Phelps
Civil War pension file of Andrew J. Phelps
History of the NY 148th Infantry Regiment
(NY State Military History Museum online)
Death certificate of Andrew J. Phelps
Obituary of Andrew J. Phelps – Feb 8, 1904
(Geneva Daily Times)
Records of Washington Street Cemetery