Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Corporal Joseph Bernard Stonesifer

During the Lange Cousins Reunion held at our home last month, my 93-year-old Aunt Katherine asked me to look into her father's family history. She said she didn't know anything about it and would like to learn something. However, if there was anything bad, she didn't want to know! I have more than one murderer in my tree and a few criminals and I've blogged about most of them -- the dead ones anyway. So what would Aunt Katherine consider bad? I'm sure lots of things less awful than murder.

The day after the reunion I started researching her father, Millard Aloyius Walter (1899-1974). Right off the bat, I started chasing the wrong Millard Walter. There were two living in Baltimore, Maryland, at the same time: Millard A. Walter and Millard Walter. The middle initial came in very handy.

It turns out her father's four times great grandfather was Nicholas or Nicola Walter, who was born in 1720 in Rhineland-Platz area of what is now Germany, immigrated to Philadelphia in 1751 and died in 1804. Along the road of discovering Nicola Walter, I "met" a lot of interesting members of the very extended Walter family.

Today, I'd like to introduce Aunt Katherine and readers of this blog to Joseph Bernard Stonesifer, Aunt Katherine's second cousin once removed.

Aunt Katherine's connection to Joseph Bernard
Stonesifer. John William Walter was a son of Nicola
Walter; image courtesy of

Joseph was born on 8 November 1879 in Littlestown, Pennsylvania. The town is about 10 miles south and east of Gettysburg, just north of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. It was originally named Petersburg by German settlers. Joseph's father had moved the family to Gettysburg by 1895.

On 15 February 1898 the battleship USS Maine exploded in Cuba's Havana harbor, killing 260 crew members. News of the disaster splashed across front pages of newspapers everywhere in the country. The United States declared war on Spain and President McKinley called for volunteers.

Typical front page announcing the explosion of the USS Maine;
original source unknown

The 5th Pennsylvania Infantry, a National Guard regiment assigned to the U.S. Army's First Brigade, Eighteenth Division. The regiment's regular soldiers had arrived at Camp George H. Thomas in May. The regiment was ordered to recruit volunteers to enlarge the ranks. Young 18-year-old Joseph Stonesifer responded to the call. He enlisted in July of that year and on 15 July 1898 was stationed at Camp Thomas in Lytle, Georgia.

Lytle is in Walker County just north of Chickamauga, scene of a bloody civil war battle. The volunteers from several different regiments soon numbered over 60,000 raw troops and placed a strain on the Camp. Providing water and enough varied food became problems by the time Joseph arrived. At least two soldiers were shot by irate landowners as they attempted to raid neighboring peach orchards and chicken coops. One soldier wrote:

"Mothers, sisters, and sweethearts did all they could to gladden the hearts of their loved ones at the Park, but their efforts in this line were entirely fruitless, for as fast as the express wagons would deliver the loads of boxes of pies, cakes and pastries, the regimental surgeons would dump it into a sink dug for the purpose." The doctors were attempting to halt the spread of illness but their methods were unpopular I imagine.

Army officers and their tents at Camp Thomas; photograph courtesy
of the Georgia Historical Quarterly

Two days after Joseph arrived at Camp Thomas, Spanish troops marched out of besieged Santiago, Cuba, and the war was over. Hostilities formally ceased on 12 August 1898 and the treaty officially ending the war was signed in December and ratified by the Senate the following February.

The National Guard soldiers were given a 30-day furlough in September but, even though the war was over, Joseph and the other 5th Pennsylvania Infantry volunteers were transferred to Camp Hamilton near Lexington, Kentucky. Joseph was promoted to corporal in October. Camp Hamilton was abandoned about 15 November 1898 about the time Joseph was released from military service.

When the 1900 census was enumerated, Joseph attended college and lived with his parents in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where his father worked as the assistant superintendent of the Gettysburg National Military Park. Joseph moved to Chicago by 1906 when he married Bessie Sadie Novak, daughter of John L. Novak, senior member of the firm Novak & Steiskal, mortgage bankers, dealers in real estate, loans, insurance, and other financial matters. Bessie's father had immigrated from what is now the Czech Republic but was then called Bohemia and part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

When Joseph registered for the World War I draft on 12 September 1918, he worked as a bookkeeper. His physical appearance was described as being of medium height and build with blue eyes and dark hair. He and Bessie had two children by that time.

Between 1935 and 1940 Joseph and Bessie moved to the northern Virginia area and Joseph worked for the federal government as a guard in the Treasury Building in the District of Columbia.

Joseph died in December 1960 and was interred at the Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago.

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