A Collector’s Conundrum: James Young of the 6th New Jersey Infantry

Emerging Civil War welcomes back guest author Jon Tracey

As someone raised in South Jersey, I fell into the trap many Civil War collectors face – trying to collect local units! In doing so I have hunted down various veteran memorabilia attributed to units raised in New Jersey during the course of the war. Reunion ribbons and veteran medals always held my interest; they’re less expensive than wartime relics and were deeply important to the men that owned them. Over time, I collected the items pictured here in separate transactions: a disconnected bottom half of a medal issued to New Jersey veterans, and the top pin of another state veteran badge, numbered merely “4286.” Researching that top pin led me deep down a rabbit hole and into quite a confusing situation.

A fellow collector was kind enough to check their copy of Brandon T. Wiegand and Peter J. Eisert’s New Jersey’s Civil War Medals recently and told me that medal 4286 was issued to James Young of the 6th and 8th New Jersey Infantry. In August 1861 James enlisted into Company G of the 6th New Jersey. According to his service card on Fold3, he ended up in Company A at some point as well. He re-enlisted on December 27, 1863, and on October 12, 1864 was transferred with the rest of the veterans into the 8th New Jersey Infantry. He finished the war serving in Company E of that regiment, mustering out on July 17, 1865. Young had a remarkable service record of practically the entire war!

James Young’s Medal (Authors Photo)

Company G of the 6th, according to several sources, was recruited primarily in Camden County. I had nothing but a somewhat common name and a possible county association, and I went from there. However, it is after this point that things get complicated. I spent hours pouring over Fold3, Ancestry, and Find A Grave, desperate to track down who exactly James Young was. I expected to have a lot of trouble, but I did not expect what happened next.

Young’s Record from the Disabled Soldiers Home (Ancestry)

I located a James P. Young in the “U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938” file collection.[1] This extremely helpful document listed the proper dates for his various enlistments and discharges in the 6th and 8th New Jersey regiments. It included various biographical information, noted his pension amounts, and specified that during his admission to the Sawtelle, California, home he suffered from asthma and rheumatism. Interestingly, he requested to be discharged in 1913 only to be readmitted in 1915.[2] Working from that, I found his burial in the Los Angeles National Cemetery on Find A Grave. This headstone listed his 8th New Jersey service on it, and also included what is attributed as a photo of him.[3] He lived until October 29, 1915, when he died of heart disease.[4] I was content with this information, but kept digging in hopes of uncovering a little more about him.

George R. Prowell’s 1886 History of Camden County, New Jersey had a very different record of a James P. Young. Within its record of attorneys, it states:

JAMES P. YOUNG was born in Camden County, in 1842, was educated in the schools of that county and at the Philadelphia High School. He read law in the office of Hon. Thomas P. Carpenter, and was admitted to the bar in 1869. He was a comrade of Thomas H. Davis Post, G.A.R., No. 53, of Haddonfield, and for three years served in Company G., Sixth New Jersey Regiment. He practiced in Camden for fifteen years, and was accidentally drowned in the Delaware River.[5]

Very different indeed! I poured back over the roster – there was only one James Young in the 6th New Jersey. Yet, here we are with two men, both attributed to service in Company G! Find A Grave helpfully lists this man’s headstone in Haddonfield, New Jersey, and notes his death in November.[6] A local newspaper (I used to read the modern version of it!) ran an article with more details of the drowning.[7] It stated that other than his disappearance, there were no definitive indications of cause of death, though the body had been in the water “probably about four or five days.”[8] Still, another more sensational article had claimed that the body appeared to have been beaten in a severe struggle. Though that body was identified as Young by the coroner, the article interestingly notes that another body was found that day that bore many similarities and “had not the body been discovered this morning as it was, the other unknown corpse might have been buried under a mistaken identity.”[9] Newspaper accounts of his death did not mention any prior military service, but the county history was very clear on service in Company G of the 6th.

As you can see, I had quite the conundrum! The New Jersey Veteran Medal was not issued until 1909, meaning it was almost certainly issued to the James Young who died in California.[10] That leaves the question, though, how did two seemingly separate men both lay claim to the service of only one “James Young” in Company G of the 6th New Jersey? At first I thought that the James Young of the 6th and the James Young of the 8th were two different people, but the Record of Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Civil War, 1861-1865 is very clear that it is the same man.

James Young (Findagrave)

What happened here? Was there confusion or errors in the records? A mistake by George Prowell? Identity theft for veteran benefits? Did someone take James Young’s records after foul play? Did he flee from his career as a lawyer and move west, but not change his name? (Admittedly these last two explanations are potentially overdramatic.) Perhaps I just made a mistake somewhere along the line. I don’t know! What do you think?

Jon Tracey holds a BA in History from Gettysburg College and is currently pursuing a MA in Public History and Certificate in Cultural Resource Management from West Virginia University. He has worked as a park ranger for three seasons at Gettysburg National Military Park, and previously worked at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, and Eisenhower National Historic Park. His primary focuses are historical memory, veterans of the war, and Camp Letterman.

[1] For more on these homes for soldiers, see Suzanne Julin’s “National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.” http://npshistory.com/publications/nhl/special-studies/national-home-disabled-vol-soldiers.pdf

[2] U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938 [database on-line] (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007), File 9184.

[3] “James P. Young,” Find A Grave, March 2000, Accessed October 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/3766968/james-p.-young

[4] U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938 [database on-line] (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007), File 9184.

[5] Prowell, George R., The History of Camden County (Philadelphia, PA: L.J. Richards & Co., 1886), 229.

[6] “James P. Young,” Find A Grave, November 2016, Accessed October 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/172202042/james-p.-young

[7] “Found Drowned,” Camden Daily Courier, November 3, 1883.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Murder Most Foul,” Camden Daily Courier, November 2, 1883.

[10] “Records Relating to Civil War Veteran’s Medals, 1907-1923,” New Jersey State Archives Collection Guide, https://www.nj.gov/state/archives/guides/sdea4051.pdf

3 Responses to A Collector’s Conundrum: James Young of the 6th New Jersey Infantry

    1. Mike,

      I agree with you. I am leaning towards the idea that Prowell made a mistake and the lawyer James Young was a separate individual from the one who served in the regiment.

  1. I find myself (all too often) in similar situations when tracking down soldiers and their history either before or after the war. But that’s what makes it fun and intriguing. Most of the time, I’m spinning in circles on Ancestry comparing census records. My mind leans more toward the dramatic in this case, that he faked his death and moved out west, but that’s just the romantic in me and I wouldn’t bet money on it. Though, crazier things have been done. It’s far more likely that it’s an error on Prowell’s part. I’d be more willing to trust official records.

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