Posted in HistoryNet
April 13, 2022

How An Obscure Photograph Triggered A Search For the Fate of 5 Union Soldiers

Soldiers of Company H of the 7th New Jersey Infantry

Editor’s note: The Civil War is well-plowed ground. This article, however, proves there are new discoveries to make if one only looks. Every headstone of a Civil War veteran; every image of a stiffly posed soldier, civilian, or enslaved person of the era; every document in an archive, museum, or historical society holds a unique story waiting to be unlocked by curiosity and research. And the Jersey Boy who wrote this article is not much older than the men he researched when they enlisted. That’s a good sign for Civil War history.


In early December 1861, a group of newly minted infantrymen walked into a Washington City photographer’s studio dressed in their freshly issued sky blue overcoats and arranged themselves to have their likeness taken. The five men were either directly related to each other or were friends before they answered Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers and enlisted about a month earlier. Their overcoats were unstained from the rigors of any campaign and their cloth forage caps were stiff from the warehouse. As they waited for the photographer to lift the cover off his lens, they made last-minute adjustments to those coats and caps, the position of their hands, and the expression on their faces. None of these men had any idea of the trials and tribulations that lay ahead during the course of their three-year enlistment.

The green soldiers were a part of Company H of the 7th New Jersey Infantry, a regiment recruited out of Cumberland and Gloucester Counties in southern New Jersey. Cedarville and Fairton, where these men hail from, are small towns close to Delaware Bay. The area is interlaced by tidal rivers and streams, and many buildings from as far back as the 1750s to the turn of the early 20th century remain. The vacation destination of Cape May is not far away.

Some 160 years after it was taken, that image would send me on a quest to learn all I could about these men. The journey started in the spring of 2017 when I moved to Cedarville with my wife and son to start a new chapter in our lives. After the first few days of settling and organizing the house, we started to explore our new little town. It didn’t take long at all for me to find the historical society, surrounding cemeteries, and fall in love with the dozens of old homes that we walked by.

I would quickly find out that Cedarville and Cumberland County have a rich and proud Civil War history. On my first exploration around the cemetery behind the handsome First Presbyterian Church, I kept my eyes peeled for Grand Army of the Republic insignia that mark the graves of Civil War veterans. I started out just walking down the rows and snapping photos of headstones of these veterans and was immediately moved by what I was reading.

The First Presbyterian Church in Cedarville can trace its roots back to the late 17th century, when White settlers moved to the area from Connecticut. Because of the town’s location close to Delaware Bay, a number of men in the 7th New Jersey made their living on the water. (Photo by Dan Casella)

“Died of Typhoid,” “Killed at Williamsburg,” “Musician,” “Assistant Surgeon” were some of the designations on the grave markers. I’ve been passionate and interested in history my whole life and knew the inscriptions on those aging stones were going to send me down some research rabbit holes. Shortly after, I shared my findings with some friends online and started down the path to try to find who these soldiers were.

One friend alerted me to findagrave.com, and another sent me a link to the New Jersey state library website, which has the official record of almost every soldier, sailor, marine, and member of the U.S. Colored Troops to come from the Garden State. The sites would become key tools in my search for answers to what these men had seen and done.

And then I really got involved. In January 2020, the Lawrence Township Historical Society had its yearly elections. I gave a little speech about some ideas I had and a plan to get the people of Cedarville involved with the society, such as preservation, fundraising, and networking in the historical community. A member nominated me as president and I was elected to that role. I was taken aback to say the least.

To learn more about my new home and better prepare me for my role with the society, I followed a link and found a book called The Historic Days of Cumberland County. I was going through the book online when I found, on page 53, the photo of those five soldiers with fresh uniforms accompanied by the words “Group Fairfield Boys Co. H, Seventh N.J. Reg. Inf. Vols.” And then it stated their names: “Joseph H. Diver. Benjamin F. Ogden. Joseph Burt. Elmer B. Ogden. Lorenzo D. Paynter.”

I was captivated by the faces staring at me, and the name Benjamin Ogden also seemed familiar. I followed my hunch and went back to the Brick Church Cemetery, and there was his stone. It read:

Capt. Benj. F Ogden,
Aug 27th, 1839-Dec 20th, 1915
Co. H. & Regt. N.J. Vol
3rd Corp 2nd Division
He fought a good fight 

This was the start of an incredible journey. I brought my findings to the next historical society meeting and the members were delighted by my discovery and went on to inform me that all the family surnames mentioned in the photo still had living relatives in the immediate area, including one of the attending members.

The national flag of the 7th New Jersey bears the battle honors the regiment won during three years of hard campaigning with the Army of the Potomac. (Courtesy of the New Jersey State Museum)

A few short weeks after our February meeting, Covid-19 brought a temporary end to visiting archives. Fortunately, I still had the Internet. So, with free time and the keys to the Historical Society building, I was eventually able to dig through the Francis A. Stanger Civil War Collection. It didn’t take long to find an important primary source.

Sitting on a shelf was a piece of paper encased in glass, and written in faded pencil, I was able to make out the words:

“Washington D.C. Campe
Cassee, Meridian Hill
October 22th 1861”

This was a letter from the very beginning of the war, when no one knew what the next four years held for the nation. It was signed, “Joseph Burte.” A light went off! Joseph Burt was one of the names in the photo. I sat down, and after a few hours learning this man’s handwriting and spelling habits (e.g., putting extra letters into words that shouldn’t have them, particularly “e” and “n”) I was able to transcribe the whole thing. Burt’s letter to his Aunt Susan talks about missing home, and mentions two more men in the photo: Elmer B. Ogden and Lorenzo Paynter.

Burt wrote his Aunt, “[W]e have started a prayer meeting in oure tent and have good meetings…we hold them foure times a week and they are very well attended but we can heare them onn each side of us…some swareing and some playing cards and all other kinds of wickednefs that was ever thought off.” The 7th was in Brig. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s division, and Burt described going on parade and being inspected by “Olde Abe and his Lady.”

Shortly after I finished Burt’s letter, I went looking for his grave on Find a Grave, and saw he had a stone in town. After a short walk to locate it, I found it snapped in half and lying on the ground. It was originally put up by Burt’s oldest son, William, in the 1880s and broken in the late 1980s.

In the days that followed, I continued my search in the historical society for more information on the five area men and came across a pile of “scrapbooks.” These books, however, are in fact ledger books from the 1820s and ’30s in which someone in the 1980s started gluing newspaper articles from two local papers, The West Jersey Pioneer and The Bridgeton Chronicle. The Pioneer has most of its issues online and many existing originals are housed in the library of the Cumberland County Historical Society in Greenwich, N.J.

Alfred Waud drew Union General Phil Kearney leading troops at the May 5, 1862, Battle of Williamsburg. (Library of Congress)

I found more information in these ledgers than I expected. There were dozens of firsthand accounts from local South Jersey men during the early part of the war, especially about the May 5, 1862, Battle of Williamsburg, fought during Maj. Gen. George McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign. Right away I found an obituary of Elmer Ogden, another of the men in the photograph.

As I flipped the pages, I found that these men and several others from Cedarville had received a box from home while at a place called Camp Revere in Lower Potomac, Md. Further along in the book I found an article published in the Pioneer by the first man I found from the photo, Benjamin Ogden. Here are some of the quotes from his letter titled “Camp Correspondence,” dated May 18, 1862, in which he described the engagement at Williamsburg, which was fought in a rainstorm from daybreak until nightfall. By the end of the day, every man in the 7th was soaked, and most had lost their knapsacks. They had been engaged for so long they had fired every cartridge they were issued.

The 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th New Jersey formed the 3rd Brigade in Hooker’s 2nd Division of the Army of the Potomac’s 3rd Corps—a unit that went by the nickname “Second New Jersey Brigade.” At Williamsburg, Hooker’s men attacked a strong line of Confederate redoubts anchored by Fort Magruder guarding the eastern approaches to Virginia’s colonial capital. The battle would be one of the worst fights of the war for the 7th and other Jersey Blue regiments—a rude awakening of what the war was like.

“I must speak of our contest,” Ogden wrote, “although it makes me feel sad every time, I mention it; for it renews the recollection that one of our number still lies beneath the battle ground…when the battle commenced, six of us Cedarville men were in the front rank. At night, one lay dead on the field, and two in hospital wounded. Three came out without a scratch, although I had three bullet holes in my overcoat cape….”

The map below shows the location where Brig. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s division incurred heavy casualties while attacking Fort Magruder. (Library of Congress)

He continued: “I had not seen any of them except Jos. Burt. He told me that Elmer B. Ogden had been killed, for he saw him fall; and that A. Bateman was wounded before he fired a gun and L. Paynter was also wounded….Sergeant Stiles and myself dug the grave and buried [Elmer]. This was hard to do. The rebels had taken everything out of his pockets and even the rings on his fingers. The only thing they left was a pair of gloves, which I sent to his mother.”

Ogden, however, finished the letter on a resounding note: “General Hooker says we were whipped three times yesterday but did not know it; he says we are not Soldiers, but Bulldogs! We do not stay in one place long but keep closing on Richmond.”

To continue my search, I decided to look through the Library of Congress to find old maps of Cedarville and Fairton, and located some that were updated every 10 years or so. I was able to find most of the homes these men owned. Many are standing to this day. Along with that, I bought a subscription to ancestry.com to try to find as much out about the men and their families as I could. Here is what I was able to come up with about each man.

Joseph Diver was born in Maryland in 1843 and moved to Cedarville with his father, a Presbyterian minister, and Amanda, his mother. The 1860 census lists Joseph as 17 years old and the oldest of seven children. He served with the regiment through its formation in September 1861 to the end of his enlistment in October 1864. Diver was present at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the Wilderness. After he mustered out of service, records trace him to Salem, N.J., where he would marry Sarah Stretch and settle down. They would go on to raise three children together. Diver passed away in 1892 at the age of 49.

Benjamin Ogden, the first name I recognized from the photo, was born on August 27, 1839, to George and Mitilda Ogden. He was the youngest son listed in the family’s 1850 census record. His father and older brother Joseph are listed as laborers while Benjamin is listed as attending school. An original copy of his account of Williamsburg is housed in the collection of the Lawrence Township Historical Society. He and his friends would see more than two dozen engagements including one on his 23rd birthday in 1862, the little-known Battle of Kettle Run, Va., just prior to the Second Battle of Bull Run. Benjamin would survive the war and in the 1880 census would be listed as “Head of House” who worked as a “Waterman.” The census also lists his wife, Martha, and their five children.

Ogden passed away December 20, 1915, at the age of 76. He is buried in the Brick Church Cemetery in Cedarville. It is unclear why he has the rank of “Captain” on his headstone, for he was a private during his term of service. A
mystery yet to be solved. 

Joseph Burt was born sometime in 1831 in Fariton. He wed Mary Ogden on March 11, 1852, and by 1860 they had six children together. The 1860 census lists Burt as a “House Carpenter.” His handywork still likely exists to this day in the local area. He would be promoted twice during his service. On February 10, 1863, however, Burt passed away in camp from disease. It is doubtful that his body was ever returned to Cedarville. His oldest son, William, placed a cenotaph on his own headstone to honor his fallen father. 

Elmer Ogden was one of eight children of David and Martha Ogden of Fairton, and was born in 1841. Elmer and Benjamin were cousins. Elmer was struck in the forehead and killed instantly at Williamsburg while standing in the front rank, shoulder to shoulder with his friends. He would be buried on the field, and it is unlikely his body was ever brought home. His father would pass away in 1866 and had a cenotaph for Elmer on his own headstone in Brick Church Cemetery. Elmer was 22 years old when he died.

The Lawrence Township Historical Society raised more than $1,700 to repair the broken grave marker that honors Joseph Burt. The stone will be replaced, and the original displayed at the society with Burt’s letter. (Photo by Dan Casella)

Lorenzo Dow Paynter was born in 1842 to Lemuel, a shoemaker, and Susan Paynter. Known as “Lore,” he was probably named after the Evangelical minister Lorenzo Dow, who wrote a very popular religious tract and who gave a sermon at the Historic Stone Church in Fairton and again in Bridgeton, just up the road from Fairton. In the 1860 census, he was 17 years old and had only one sibling, Susan. Lorenzo was wounded in the arm at Williamsburg, and participated in every fight of the 7th. In 1877, he married a woman named Lynda, became a waterman, and fathered two children. He is last recorded in the 1910 census as “Head of House” at 67 years old. He passed away in 1912 at the age of 69 and is buried at the Old Stone Church in Fairton.

To quote The Historic Days of Cumberland County, “Cumberland County rose as one man in unison with the people of other States to aid the Government to the last man and last dollar for the suppression of the rebellion. No county in the republic furnished more volunteers for the Union Army in proportions to its population than did this good old commonwealth named in honor of the Duke of Cumberland for his heroic conduct on Collondon Field.”

I’m glad my move to a new home helped lead me to retell the stories of five of those brave volunteers. The Lawrence Township Historical Society is currently building a display to showcase this story in full details to share with the community and the world at large.

Dan Casella April 13, 2022 at 08:57PM

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