Finding Theodore Abbott and the twists and turns that lead to this graveside reunion began with a serendipitous discovery at the National Archives. Viv and I were scrolling through microfilms of Civil War Service and Veteran's Pension records for a number of ancestors, including my great-great grandfather Nathaniel Abbott (1844-1910) who family tradition held was a drummer who beat the roll at Lincoln's funeral procession. He did indeed turn out to have briefly served as a drummer in Company K of the 133rd NY (2nd Metropolitans) but was left behind with typhoid fever when his unit sailed south to New Orleans. He was discharged with 1/3 disability in the Spring of 1863 but subsequently reenlisted in Company A of the 10th Infantry Regiment, Veteran Reserve Corps, which was part of the Washington garrison at the time of Lincoln's assassination, so perhaps he did play his drum after all.
Viv decided to look through the census records for the Abbott family in New York City to see what else she could learn - there was a maddening gap between known and suspected generations that we dearly wanted to close - and much to our delight we found them enumerated in the 1860 census living in the 5th District, 21st Ward. The head of the household was Nathaniel Abbott (age 45), a policeman born in Massachusetts. His wife Arelineus McGrath (age 39) had been born in Maine and her mother Catherine, a domestic also living with the family, had come from Ireland. Their son Nathaniel was fifteen years old and had five younger siblings, but he also had an older brother Theodore, who was seventeen years old and an apprentice machinist. Figuring that there might be a service record for the older brother, I searched the files and found that Theodore Abbott had enlisted in May, 1861 in Company A of the 9th New York Infantry, the celebrated Hawkins Zouaves, and served for the full two year enlistment.
A month before 1st Manassas or Bull Run, Hawkins Zouaves helped cover the retreat of the Union forces after the fight at Big Bethel on the Yorktown Peninsula. They sailed to Hatteras and participated in Burnsides North Carolina Expedition in February, 1862. Theodore Abbott's pension record indicates he was one of 13 wounded in his regiment on February 8th, 1862 in their first engagement at Roanoke Island where they made what was possibly the first bayonet charge of the war. Evidently his wound was not serious as he is listed as present in the regimental returns for March/April of that year. On April 19th, the regiment fought at Camden or South Mills, N.C., where they engaged with the 3rd GA infantry, a unit which they were to face on several other occasions during their service. Veterans of both regiments participated in each other's reunions after the war.
It was at South Mountain and Antietam, MD where Hawkins Zouaves saw their hardest service. Two of its companies were detached from the regiment and only 373 men present for action at Antietam when they charges the Confederate left and advanced the closest of any northern regiment to the village of Sharpsburg, before A.P. Hills division arrived to hold the line and blunt the Union charge. Regimental historian Matthew Graham of Theodore Abbott's company writes:
"I was lying on my back supported on my elbows, watching the shells explode overhead and speculating how long I could hold up my finger before it would be shot off, for the very air seemed full of bullets, when the order to get up was given. I turned over to Col. Kimball, who had given the order, thinking he had become suddenly insane."
Private David L. Thompson of Company G wrote that:
"The mental strain was so great that I saw at that moment the singular effect mentioned, I think, by Goethe on a similar occasion - the whole landscape turned slightly red."
The blasts of artillery tearing through the advancing Zouaves reminded Lt. Graham of "a saying of Lannes, when describing the battle of Austerlitz: 'I could hear the bones crash in my division like glass in a hailstorm.'"
Somehow, Theodore Abbott survived the charge, which drove the Confederates back into Sharpsburg. In the face of Hill's reinforcements, however, Hawkins' men were recalled to nearly their original position. They suffered 54 killed, 158 wounded (8 mortally) and 28 missing, or an appalling 64.5% casualty rate.
The 9th went on to serve in a supporting role at Fredericksburg and finished out its service on the Yorktown peninsula at the Siege of Suffolk until its 2-year men returned to New York and were demobilized on May 20th, 1863.
Theodore Abbott came home a broken man. According to his first pension application, he tried to obtain work in the Metropolitan Police with his father but was rejected by the police physician because of varicose veins, piles and rheumatism. He worked as a mechanic in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and New York Freight Yard in 1863 and 1864, but sometime thereafter he drifted West. In 1881 in Grant County, New Mexico territory, he filed unsuccessfully for a veteran's pension due to disability. His old Lieutenant, George W. DeBevoise, who later served with his brother Nathaniel Abbott in the 10th V.R.C., wrote a letter in support, and so did his parents and brother, who testified in New York City:
Nathaniel B. Abbott Jr., Nathaniel B. Abbott Sr.: Arelineus E Abbott of said city, each being duly sworn Each for themselves, say, That Theodore F Abbott the claimant herein was at the time he enlisted Co "A" 9th Regtt (sic) NY Vol: free from varicose veins of the leg, and all other deaseases (sic) and sicknesses of any kind or nature, and at the time of his discharge from said Regiment he was afflicted with Varicose veins, piles and Rheumatism which has existed ever since said discharge. Sworn before me this 23rd Day of April 1884..."
In this manner I learned that my Gr-gr-great grandparents were still living in 1884 and that New York State would therefore have death certificates on record for them (having kept nothing prior to 1880 in the state archives). Arelineus signed her name with an "X".
In 1897 he reapplied for a Veteran's pension, this time from the soldiers home in Columbia Falls Montana. The references provided in support of his application, testifying that he was of sober habits and genuinely disabled, show that he was a light laborer on a ranch near Kalispell but so infirm that he often could not bring in his own firewood. A fellow resident at the soldiers home testified:
"Any kind of continued physical exertion even the climbing a stairway causes palpitations of the heart and at the same time interferes with the action of the lungs."
Theodore Abbott was admitted to the Montana State Soldiers Home July 25, 1897. I discovered this not from his pension records but while visiting friends around Flathead Lake in Western Montana back in 2002. I looked up the Soldiers Home and asked if they had any record of my ancestor. After a brief pause they cheerfully told me the date of his admittance and death and the location of his grave. The next day while driving to Glacier National Park, we took a slight detour to the veterans home and walked among the the small, white tombstones to the grave of T. F. Abbott, Co. A 9th NY Inf.
Theodore Abbott died on August 19, 1903. He never married, and passed out of family memory between 1884 and 2000, when we found him in the files at the national archives and reacquainted ourselves with this old soldier, buried far from home but no longer forgotten.