Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Mother's Pension Application

I've covered the story of Captain John Thornhill in several posts this year (Military Monday, From the Desk of the President, 1866). Last week at the National Archives I had the chance to see the mother's pension application of Mary Gass Thornhill, submitted based on the service of her son, John Thornhill, in the Civil War. Mary was the sister-in-law of Elizabeth Thornhill Jones, my 4th-great-grandmother.

Elizabeth's pension struggles were sad to read, but the file of Mary Gass Thornhill is equally frustrating and unfortunate. Her son John was murdered at the hand of fellow Union soldiers on 24 June 1865. Subsequent investigations and indictments lead the case to the US Supreme Court in 1870, ultimately to be sent back to the courts in Tennessee. There's no dispute that Captain Thornhill served in the 9th Tennessee Cavalry in the Union Army in 1863, but it appears that his superiors struck his name from the rolls (or at least, from the rolls that the Pension Office was reading) after a dispute over command.

Mary's application was submitted in January 1869, and witnessed by John and E.E. Gass. Her proof of dependence form was submitted in February 1869, witnessed by my third-great-grandfather, Joseph Jones. This was after the case had been in the press, and letters had been sent to superiors in the Army demanding punishment and court martial for the men involved.

Mary's claim was resubmitted in 1890, and included an affidavit from Margaret Bowers, who states she was present when John Thornhill was killed.
The Pension Office rejected the claim "on the grounds that the record of the War Department fail to show that your son rendered any service to the United States either as an enlisted man or as a commissioned officer."
That's appalling, and Thomas W. Thornhill thought so too, since he wrote back on the bottom of the letter in 1893 (see above). There are over 20 pages of documents related to Captain Thornhill in the Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General files on Fold3, along with his service record from 1863 (see below):
I don't understand how the Pension Office could find no record of Captain Thornhill in the 25+ years that they had the file.

It's interesting to see the file included a certification from the clerk of the Jefferson County Court that Joseph Thornhill and Mary Gass were married on 31 August 1830 in Jefferson County. I've previously noted that Thomas Jones appeared as a surety in the bond case of Mary Gass and Joseph Thornhill (see Mary gave birth to son Thomas W. Thornhill in March 1829, before she and Joseph Thornhill had married in 1830.
Thomas W. Thornhill later married Leah Warren Hart, sister of Joseph Thomas Jones' third wife, Martha Cordelia Hart. Thomas also pursued his mother's pension claim on her behalf in July 1891.
The claim was stamped "rejected" and "abandoned". As far as I can tell, Mary Gass Thornhill never received a pension or compensation in the case of her son. She passed away in Hamblen County, Tennessee on 17 June 1892.

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