Doubting Thomas – Part 3

The Whittle Family Tree

Part 3 of Doubting Thomas will deal with the departure of Thomas from his home and his enlistment in the Federal Army in Kentucky. This has really been the stumbling block for the story of Thomas with the family. I was greatly interested in the family story regarding Thomas Whittle, and in who might have started the story. Stories like this come down in every family and pinning down where they begin is usually near impossible. The undated news article that I posted Saturday may at least help us narrow down where the story came from. The article (in part) said

“In the early part of the late war he left Towsontown for Pittsburgh and the last heard of him was that he had left that city and had enlisted in a Kentucky regiment of the Federal Army and took part in the battle of Shiloh. A letter afterwards received from his captain stated that he was seen before entering the battle, but that his regiment had met with great loss and it was not known whether Mr. Whittle was killed, captured, or had deserted. As nothing more was ever heard of him there is no doubt that he was among the unknown dead. The deceased [unreadable] three children – E. Dorsey, Joshua T. and Mrs. William H Hoffman. Joshua T. Whittle is the well known ice-cream manufacturer in Glyndon. W.M.R.R.”

Who gave the reporter the story? The death of an older female resident rarely elicits much more then a short paragraph, but this reporter wrote something closer to a story on Thomas. Sarah was gone, so who told the story? The options are her brother, one of her two sons, or her daughter. I am doubtful it was her daughter Annie as she lived in Baltimore at the time. Her brother Edward Flayhart was about 70 when the article was written and had been a pump maker in Towsontown, but this would hardly make him a newsworthy man. Edward Dorsey Whittle had been a Constable in Towsontown1 and Joshua T. Whittle was the former Sheriff of Baltimore County.2 Both men would have been well known in the community and would also have been considered “newsworthy”, so my money is on one or both of the boys.

Why is it important to know who told the story? It’s about level of knowledge, perspective, and distance from the event. When Thomas left “in the early part of the late war”, how old would these people have been and what type of memory would they have of the event? In 1861 Edward Dorsey would have been about 14 and Joshua T. would have been about 5. Edward would have had very clear memories of the departure and becoming the man of the house, while Joshua’s would have been the memories of a child. They are no less valid than Edwards, but a young child’s memories are often based on hearing a story over and over, while an older child’s memories are of the event itself.

I think in this case it would be wise to utilize a time line for Thomas Items in brackets {} are the items from the news story that are unproven.

1820 – Birth of Thomas Whittle in Maryland
1842 – Marriage to Sarah Flayhart
1844 – 1849 Birth of son Andrew Jameson, son Edward Dorsey, daughter Sarah Rebecca
1850 – Census Towsontown Baltimore County
1852 – 1856 Birth of daughter Ann E., death of son Andrew Jameson, birth of son Joshua T.
1856 – Builds a small home in N.E. Towsontown (the stone house Sarah would sell)
1860 – Birth of son Robert
1860 – Census Towsontown
1861 – {Early in war departs for Pittsburgh}
Feb 1862 – Enlists in Kentucky Infantry (from military records in Ruth’s possession)
1862 – {Participated in the Battle of Shiloh}
1863 – Military Records list him as deserted (from military records in Ruth’s possession)

The time of the event now becomes a larger piece of the equation. “In the early part of the late war” is a pretty open time frame. The war began with the bombardment of Fort Sumter 12-13 April 1861 and ended 9 April 1865 at Appomattox, Virginia. What does the early part consist of? In February 1862 the war would have been less than a year old, but 30 years later it could have been seen as the early days of the war.

We will probably never know why Thomas Whittle left Baltimore and wound up in Kentucky. There are loads of reasons you can try to apply to the situation – search for work, land and opportunity away from the war or escape from family obligations. Baltimore was not a fun place to be during the Civil War, and it truly was a city of divided loyalties. Perhaps Thomas was simply going to look for a better place for his family. There are no Whittles in Pittsburgh on the 1860 census, but there are numerous Whittles in Kentucky. Regardless of why he went, we can look at the route he would have taken. The natural travel route in 1861 or 1862 to Kentucky would have been through Pittsburgh, Pensylvania, as the direct route to Kentucky would have been through Virginia, which was controlled by the South. His first major stop would have been where the wagon road ended in Pittsburgh. “… he left Towsontown for Pittsburgh and the last heard of him was that he had left that city …” If you break this down it makes sense that the last heard of him was that he left that city. It would have been the last opportunity to mail a letter prior to his departure for Kentucky. He would have boarded a river boat of some type in Pittsburgh and gone down the Ohio to Kentucky.

February 1862 he enlisted in the Union Army in Kentucky according to the records Ruth received from the National Archives.3 His nephews Samuel and Charles are in the Maryland Regiments – if you were simply going to enlist why would you leave and go all the way to Kentucky to do it? As Arwen pointed out to me when we reviewed the news article – not every man enlisted where he lived. However, the enlistment somehow does not seem like the reason for the trip. Regardless of the reason behind it, there is documentation that a Thomas Whittle of the correct age and place of birth enlisted in the 18th Kentucky Infantry in February 1862 as a private in Company F run by Capt. William H. Littlejohn.

This is the only Thomas Whittle on the Soldiers listing by the National Park Service. Ancestry has 5 listings in the Civil War records. There is one that matches the NPS listing and the family paperwork. There are four other Thomas Whittles in Kentucky listings that are thrown in just to confuse us:

26 Sep 1861 1st Lt Company Creighton Police Guard Regulars
10 Oct 1861 Mustered out of same

23 Oct 1861 Private – Company Robersons Police Guard Regulars
3 Dec 1861 Mustered out of same

9 Dec 1861 Private – Company F 18th Infantry (Falmouth Kentucky)
5 Jan 1864 Mustered Out of same

4 Sep 1862 2nd Lt – Company D 41st Militia Regulars
4 Oct 1862 Mustered out of same

I’m not having a lot of luck figuring out the Police Guard units – as near as I can tell it’s the equivalent of the Home Guard or what is now National Guard. Now, whether any of the above Thomas Whittles, are our Thomas Whittle is unknown, but I’m sure we can all play with the dates and make a few of them work.

Let’s stick to our 18th Kentucky Infantry Whittle and the dates provided by the records that Ruth and National Park Service has. If he was a member of the 18th Kentucky Infantry, as shown by all the records, then he could not have fought or died at the Battle of Shiloh. The Battle of Shiloh occurred 6-7 Apr 1862 – a quick check of the History of the Kentucky Infantry for the 18th Infantry dispels this story as the Regiment was not in the battle. Perhaps the Shiloh battle became a “confuser” based on it’s location of Pittsburgh Landing – even if it is in Tennessee. There were a lot of Kentucky units in the Battle of Shiloh, but not this one. Is it possible that he was attached to one of the other Kentucky units that did participate in this battle? The records for Thomas Whittle of the 18th Kentucky do not indicate that he was attached to another unit during this time.

If we look at the battles the 18th Infantry participated in prior to the listed desertion in 1863, then perhaps Thomas could have gone missing in a different engagement and the family simply got it wrong with Shiloh. The Battle of Richmond in August 1862 was a mess with 52 killed, 115 wounded and almost the entire remainder of the command captured and then paroled. Or it could have been on 23 Jun 1863 when it participated in the battle of Chickamauga. Those are the two major campaigns the 18th participated in during 1862 and 1863, and the best opportunity for a soldier to die and not be identified or for a soldier to wander away.

It is possible that he died in the war and was never identified, or he may have been in the war and deserted, simply wandering away, leaving his wife and family. I am unable to find an appropriate Thomas Whittle in any census records for 1870 or later. With Thomas listed as a deserter, it would not have been possible for Sarah to get a pension. I find no application for a Survivors or Widow’s Pension in any of the regular places. It remains unknown whether Thomas was actually dead or if he had just disappeared during the war.

Further complicating the issue, it appears that in the Civil War there was not a category for Missing In Action. Apparently, a man was either identified as dead or if he was unidentified, he became one of the many “unknown dead” that were buried where they were found on the battlefield. When he failed to appear for roll call, he became Absent With Out Leave, and then finally his status was changed to deserter. I don’t know if they have ever tried to correlate the unknown numbers against the deserted numbers. The category for “missing in action” does not appear until World War I. A document from The Department of Veterans Affairs lists the numbers for Prisoners of War and died in confinement, but nothing on the missing for the Civil War.

So after I don’t know how many days of reading and researching – I don’t believe I know anything more about Thomas Whittle than I did before! Fortunately I enjoy reading about history, as now I know a lot more then I did about Baltimore and Kentucky in 1861-1865. The bottom line is Thomas left home and never came back. Could his Captain have written a letter to Sarah and described him going missing? Sure he could have, but it would not have been about the Battle of Shiloh. Did he die in the confusion of battle, or did he desert his unit, change his name and keep walking? Arwen and I are still pointing and tsking at the line in the article that says, “As nothing more was ever heard of him there is no doubt that he was among the unknown dead.” No doubt at all if you are Sarah. What would you tell your children, family, and friends? Would you tell everyone that Thomas was being declared a deserter (although they do actually mention the possibility in the article) or do you tell everyone that he has become one of the glorious unidentified dead that gave his life to preserve the Union? I’m sure young Joshua preferred the unknown dead story as a boy in school and when running for election.

As always the Whittle men leave us with many more questions than answers.

1. “Affairs in Baltimore County,” The Sun, 24 Dec 1879, p. 4; digital images, ( : accessed 14 Dec 2008), Historic Newspapers.
2. “Miscellany,” The Sun, 16 Nov 1898, p. 7; digital images, GenealogyBank ( : accessed 15 Dec 2008), Historical Newspapers.
3. Military Records of Thomas Whittle; privately held by Ruth Brooks Wilmington, Delaware.

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