Julia Ann Magill and George E. Minnich – A Civil War Widow and Her Fatherless, Young Son Struggle to Survive

Julia (Kuehner Minnich Ruston) Magill, widow of Captain Edwin Minnich, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, as depicted in an 1899 newspaper illustration of Civil War-era nurses (public domain).

 

At the conclusion of part one of this biographical sketch of the Minnich family, Julia Ann (Kuehner) Minnich had just been widowed by her husband, Captain Edwin G. Minnich, the commanding officer of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry’s Company B. Part two below recounts Julia Minnich’s efforts to soldier on during the years of adversity which followed her grievous loss.

 

At the time of her husband’s death during the Fall of 1864, Julia Ann (Kuehner) Minnich was still residing with her only surviving son, George, at the family’s home in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Just two weeks later, she was forced to put her grief aside, and move forward. Appearing before a Lehigh County Justice of the Peace on 3 November 1864, she declared via affidavit that she was the 27-year-old widow of Edwin G. Minnich, who had been the Captain of Company B, 47th Pennsylvania Infantry when he was killed “whilst in the service of the United States and in the line of duty” during the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia on 19 October 1864.

As part of this pension application process, she was also required by federal and state officials to prove that she had actually been married to Edwin Minnich – a distressing procedure which would have felt tremendously disrespectful to any grieving wife whose husband had died while serving his nation – particularly one whose husband had been killed in combat. In response, she stated that her maiden name before marriage was “Juliann Kuehner,” and that she had been united in marriage with Edwin G. Minnich on 23 March 1856 by the Rev. Daniel Zeller at the German Reformed Church in Allentown – but that there was “no public or private record” of her marriage. She also noted that she had one surviving child under the age of 16 – George E. Minnich – who had been born 15 May 1857 as a result of her marriage to Edwin Minnich, and that this son still resided with her in Allentown.

Rev. Daniel Zeller then backed up her testimony by providing an affidavit attesting to his performance of that wedding ceremony. In addition, William H. Blumer (president of the First National Bank of Allentown and a brother to Jacob A. Blumer, a bank cashier who became the guardian of the Minnich’s child George) and John D. Lawall then also swore under oath that her affidavit was true, noting that they had personally known Edwin Minnich for eight years prior to his death and had known Julia Ann Minnich for the past five years.

No decision was made regarding a pension award; as a result, Julia Minnich was forced to find another way to support herself and her young son.

1865

Harewood Hospital (also known as Mt. Pleasant Hospital, c. 1861-1865, U.S. Library of Congress, public domain).

Sometime in January 1865, Julia Ann Minnich left her home at 30 North 6th Street in Allentown and relocated to Washington, D.C. where, from January to 1 June 1865, she served as a nurse with the Medical Department of the U.S. Volunteers at Harewood Hospital. Just over a month after her service tenure ended, she received word at her Philadelphia home that she had finally been awarded a U.S. Civil War Widow’s Pension of $20 per month – on 21 July 1865. And because U.S. pension bureau officials determined that this pension award should be retroactive to 19 October 1864, she not only began receiving monthly pension payments, but received back pension pay of roughly $180.

It is not presently known whether or not Julia Ann Minnich had taken her son with her to Washington, D.C., or whether she had left him in the care of friends or teachers at a boarding school. What is known is that, by 1866, she did send her only son away in the hope that they both would ultimately have a better life. On September 25, 1866, George E. Minnich was officially enrolled at the Home for Friendless Children for the City and County of Lancaster. One of the first privately run orphanages to receive funding from the state to care for children who had lost one or both parents during the Civil War, the institution was located at 47 South Queen Street and, by January 1867, was home to 130 students.

Less than a year after sending her son to boarding school, Julia Ann (Kuehner) Minnich then remarried – to William Ruston (alternate spelling “Rustin”), a native of England and employee of the Jordan Mill in Allentown who was known by the alias “Bill Yorkie.”

* Note: Although affidavits submitted on behalf of Julia Ann (Kuehner) Minnich early on in her bid for U.S. Civil War Pension support stated that she had relocated to the county of her birth – Carbon County – and was residing in the same community (Weissport) as her future husband, William Ruston, and that she then married him on 19 May 1867 in Lehighton, an affidavit filed by her son George E. Minnich on 29 January 1902 stated that “William Rustin … lived at Allentown, Pa – where he used to work in the Jordan Mill….”

Just over three months later, Julia Ann (Kuehner Minnich) Ruston then received word that she would need to move her son to a different school. On 26 September 1867 (alternate date 7 October 1867), George E. Minnich was transferred to the Paradise branch of the Pennsylvania Soldiers’ Orphans Schools in the Village of Paradise in Lancaster County. Located roughly one mile from Leaman Place and a Pennsylvania Railroad stop in Lancaster County, the Paradise branch of the Pennsylvania orphans’ school network was located at the former Paradise Academy. Arriving at the peak of that school’s operations – when enrollment was at its all-time high of 161 students (101 boys and 60 girls), George Minnich found that the school’s name was most definitely a misnomer. The institution had been in an unstable condition since its opening in 1864, plagued by staffing and supply problems, as well as by substandard classroom and housing facilities. When enrollment began to decline, state officials made the decision to close the school and transfer students to other institutions within the orphans’ school network.

Meanwhile, back home in Allentown, Julia Ann (Kuehner Minnich) Ruston was learning that she had lost her U.S. Civil War Widow’s Pension as a consequence of her remarriage to William Ruston. In response, she filed for a U.S. Civil War Minor’s Pension on behalf of her son, George. As part of this new application, she was once again required to secure support from others to document her fitness for an assistance award. Among those filing affidavits this time were Tilghman H. Martin, M.D. and the Rev. E. A. Bauer. Dr. Martin, the doctor who had served as her physician during her marriage to Edwin Minnich, attested to his May 1857 delivery of their son, George Edwin Minnich, while Rev. Bauer, Minister of the Gospel of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, appeared before Lehigh County Justice of the Peace E. H. Snyder on 7 January 1868 to confirm that he had united Weissport residents “Julie Ann Minnich” and William Ruston (alternate spelling “Rustin”) in marriage in Lehighton on 19 May 1867.

Roughly around this same time, Julia Ann (Kuehner Minnich) Ruston also learned that, once again, her son’s schooling situation had become unstable. On February 9, 1868, George E. Minnich was transferred with 126 other students to the Pennsylvania Soldiers’ Orphans School branch at Chester Springs. Located near the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad’s Pickering Valley stop, the Chester Springs orphans’ school was a co-educational institution managed by Principal C. W. Deans until April 1870 and then by Professor W. E. Caveny until May 1873. Unlike his earlier educational encounter, however, this experience was a far more stable one with access to ample classroom and housing space, a library, play areas, music room, and kitchen and dining facilities. This school also had a far larger staff with 27 teachers (three of whom taught music), three physicians, three nurses, three bakers, a carpenter, five cooks, four farmers, five laundresses, seven male attendants, nine matrons and assistant matrons, a plumber, four sewing superintendents, and two stewards. Among the structures on the historic campus was a building once pressed into service by General George Washington as a soldiers’ hospital.

On 1 July 1868, Julia Ann (Kuehner Minnich) Ruston was awarded a Civil War Minor’s Pension of $20 per month on behalf of her son, George E. Minnich. As before, U.S. pension officials determined that the award should be made retroactively – this time to 13 May 1867, but this time, they also stipulated an end date to the award – 4 May 1873. These pension funds were also placed under the administration of Allentown resident Jacob A. Blumer, a cashier with the First National Bank of Allentown who had been appointed by the courts as a guardian for George Edwin Minnich.

* Note: The timing of this new pension fund’s end meshed with another key date – the date at which George E. Minnich would age out of Pennsylvania’s orphans’ school network. On 5 May 1873, at the age of 16, he was released back into the world.

By 6 July 1870, when a federal employee arrived on her doorstep to conduct that year’s census, Julia Ann (Kuehner Minnich) Ruston was living with her second husband, William Ruston in Catasauqua, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Also residing at the home were Ruston’s two sons, Robert (aged 2) and Alfred (aged 4 months). Her husband, who was employed as a “Heater,” had personal property valued at $200 that year. Her name was shown on that year’s census as “Juliet Ruston.”

Her life continued to be one of turmoil after marrying William Ruston, however, because he stopped working when he became disabled by a venereal disease that he had contracted sometime during or before their marriage. Sometime around 1875, he then also abandoned her. As a result, she began to take on work as a domestic in order to keep a roof over her head.

* Note: In the aforementioned affidavit filed in 1902 by George E. Minnich, Minnich confirmed Ruston’s abandonment of his mother, noting that “Rustin [then left Allentown] about twenty seven years ago and it was said that he had gone back to England.”

Julia Ann (Kuehner Minnich Ruston) Magill also reported via an affidavit at this same time that her second husband had been employed as “a heater in said Jordan Mill,” that he had contracted “a venereal disease known as ‘Pox,’” that his condition had been so severe “that he could not work at his business longer,” that he had died near Yorkshire, England, and that she had “heard nothing of him [after he had abandoned her] until he was reported dead in England.”

Market Street, Philadelphia, 1889 (Philadelphia City Archives, public domain).

In 1880, Julia Ann (Kuehner Minnich) Ruston, was documented by a federal census taker as residing in Philadelphia, where she was employed as a servant with the household of Christ Bohenberger. Before the decade was over, however, she had decided to try marriage for a third time. On 18 January 1887, she wed Philadelphia native and cabinet maker Charles Magill (1815-1889) at the Protestant Episcopal Church in Camden, New Jersey. Their wedding ceremony was performed by the Rev. Thomas Allen Tidball, rector at St. Paul’s Church, and was witnessed by Josephine Tidball and Margaret Doods. The next year (1888), her son George E. Minnich then embarked on his own family journey. After marrying Mary Duffin, he and his wife then made their home in her native state of New Jersey.

Before the rollercoaster decade of the 1880s could end, however, Julia Ann (Kuehner Minnich Ruston) Magill became a three-time widow when her husband Charles Magill succumbed to heart disease in Philadelphia on 10 December 1889. After burying him at Philadelphia’s North Cedar Hill Cemetery, she continued to struggle financially – even though her only son seemed to be achieving a measure of stability. After greeting the arrival in Phillipsburg, Warren County, New Jersey with his wife of children Jennie, Julia, and Edward on 17 May 1890, 26 June 1892, and 14 December 1893, respectively, his Phillipsburg residency was subsequently documented by a New Jersey state census taker in 1895, and by a federal census taker in 1900, who also confirmed that George Minnich was employed as a railroad brakeman at the turn of the century, and that his wife and son were the only two members of his family still living at home by 1900.

Meanwhile, Julia Ann (Kuehner Minnich Ruston) Magill was opting to soldier on in the face of adversity. Upon learning that the federal government had approved a pension program for nurses who had cared for Civil War soldiers (via the Act of August 5, 1892), she applied for aid on 4 March 1896, citing her 1865 service as a nurse for the Medical Department of the U.S. Volunteers. In a letter penned on her behalf, she confirmed that she had performed nursing and other duties for the Union Army during and after the Civil War:

Bureau of Pensions
Dear Sir,

I served as Supt. Of Diet Kitchen in Key West – Florida from Dec. 1863 and remained there until Feb. 1864 in the 47th Pa. Regt.  My husband was killed – Capt. Minnich  on the 19th of October 1864 and it was after this that my service was rendered in Harewood Hospital. Harry Veand 47th Reg.  Com. B Pa. Regt. if living could testify to my duty at Key West Fla. He is possibly living at Allentown Pa. If you could assist me in finding him he would remember me being at that place.

Julia Magill
her mark
No. 1314 Vienna St.
Phila Pa

Camelia Hancock
witness to her mark

* Note: Although a U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Pension’s staffer initially indicated that there was no “Harry Veand” in the bureau’s records, a supervisor later noted that Julia Ann Magill had been referring to “Harrison Wieand,” who had served under her husband in the 47th Pennsylvania’s Company B.

This latest assistance application process proved to be another difficult one with her attorney initially advising her that pension officials had been unable to secure documentation of her nursing service. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of the Interior did find the requisite proof. In a response dated 24 March 1896, an agency staffer confirmed that “Julia Megill, formerly Minnick” had enlisted Feb. 15 1865, “and served as nurse” at “Harewood Hospital Washington DC,” before being discharged on 1 June 1865.

The U.S. War Department then also confirmed her service via a response dated 26 March 1896, which stated that she was listed on the muster rolls of Harewood General Hospital in Washington, D.C. as a “Reg’d Nurse,” and that these rolls also provided the following details about her service:

  • Roll for Jan. and Feb. 1865 – J.A. Minich, Nurse, present; attached to Hosp’l Feb. 16, 65.
  • Roll for Mar. and Apr. 1865. – Julia A. Minnick, Female Nurse, present; attached to Hosp. Feb. 15, 65.
  • Other records show her as J.A. Minnich, Female Nurse; attached to Hosp. Feb. 15, 1865, and Disch’d June 1, 1865. Nothing additional found.

In addition, the U.S. Department of the Treasury stated, via a letter dated 7 April 1896, that “Julia A. Minnick now Megill, late nurse U.S.” was found in their records, and “that she was paid as nurse in Harewood Hospital, Washington, D.C., from Feby 15 to June 1, 1865.” But, despite her documentation via a personal letter that she had also rendered nursing services to her husband’s regiment – the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry – while it was stationed at Fort Taylor in Key West, Florida – officials with the U.S. War Department’s Office of the Auditor were unwilling to confirm that period of service, noting via an affidavit dated 2 September that, for “Julia A. Minnick, late nurse Key West Hospl Florida … no payment has been found.”

* Note: An affidavit clarifying the multiple variants of her name, which was filed by Julia Ann (Kuehner Minnich Ruston) Magill during the early 1900s, sheds light on why her pension applications likely received the high degree of federal government pushback that they did. She stated, via this affidavit that, during her various application processes, her attorneys or other representatives had written the documents for her because she could not read or write English well enough to complete the paperwork required by the federal government. She had, in fact, never actually signed these papers with a formal signature because she was unable to do so. And while, at times, she was called upon to make her mark on the papers that were prepared for her, at other times, someone else made the mark for her – usually her son’s guardian, Jacob Blumer, or that guardian’s father, William H. Blumer, who was the president of the bank where her son’s orphan pension funds had been deposted for safekeeping and management.

A member of the National Army Nurses’ Association, according to the 20 August 1899 Philadelphia Times article, Veterans Who Will Be at the G.A.R. Celebration Owe Their Lives to the Heroic Self-Sacrifice of These Women Nurses, Julia Ann Magill had joined that organization sometime after war’s end, and had risen up through the ranks of the organization’s membership to become an officer before the turn of the century:

…. Shortly after the close of the war the nurses all over the country banded together in an association to commemorate their service upon the field, “to see that none of their number shall ever be in want and to bring as much happiness into their lives as possible.” Their official title was the National Army Nurses’ Association. No one but an actual nurse during the war was allowed to join. They number their membership from almost every State in the Union.

The officers of the present term are: President, Elizabeth W. Ewing, of Phoenixville; secretary, Kate M. Scott, Brookville; senior vice president, Elizabeth Chapman, St. Louis; junior vice president, Della A. Fay, Upper Jay, N.Y.; chaplain, Jeannette M. Morrill, Santon, Mich.; treasurer, Lydia L. Whiteman, Philadelphia; press correspondent, Susanna Kripps, Philadelphia; councillor, Emily F. Woodley, Philadelphia; financial secretary, Mary Aston, Philadelphia; installing officer, Fannie Hagen, Cambridge, Mass.; guard, Julia Magill, Florence, N.J., all of whom will be present at the encampment. On that ocasion [sic] they and “the privates” will be the guests of the Philadelphia army nurses, who are bound together under the name of the Andrew G. Curtin Association of Army Nurses as a representative local branch of the national organization.

The personnel of the association includes in its lists the names of Emily L. Whiteman, Cornelia Hancock, Anna McCahan, M. E. Humphries, C. J. Lampas, E. E. Woodley, M. A. Lescure, Mary A. Aston, Rebecca A. Donnelly, A. J. Poynton, R. Rice, C. J. Dye, Rebecca E. Frick, Julia Magill, Sara A. Lane, Helen A. Millman, Mrs. Tuttle, honorary member, Ohio; Mary Jane Brown, Minerva Reynolds, Mary J. Fox, Mary E. Peck and Mrs. Agnes Korndoffer, an auxiliary member. The president is S. Kripps, and the secretary Cornelia Hancock.

All these and many others will meet together on September 4 to 9 and talk over the hard days of “61” when escape from death was often brought about by a miracle. Many will be the stories that they will tell.

* Note: Although this newspaper article indicated that Julia Magill resided in Florence, New Jersey in 1899, the souvenir program for that 1899 G.A.R. Encampment noted that her place of residence was still Philadelphia.

The Final Years of Julia Magill and Her Son, Edwin Minnich

After all of her jousting with pension bureau officials and county-level judges, Julia Ann (Kuehner Minnich Ruston) Magill finally received good news after the turn of the century – that changes were being made to the federal pension system which would allow the resumption of assistance to Civil War widows who had been stripped of their pensions in the late 1800s after remarrying. Her renewed support of $20 per month officially began on 5 April 1901.

But despite this latest round of aid, her struggle to survive continued. According to a follow-up affidavit filed on 14 February 1902 by Jacob A. Blumer, the former guardian of her son, Julia Ann (Kuehner Minnich Ruston) Magill had been forced by her circumstances to find a job as a domestic in order to support herself; she then later turned to work as a cook, making just $2 per week. By the time she had reached her later years, she “had no property, real or personal, and … had no means of support except her own daily labor.” Blumer also noted that much of this information was from other sources, however, since he hadn’t seen or interacted with her in person for roughly two decades (since sometime before 1880 when she had moved away from Allentown). Adding that, although he had first met Julia Magill in 1858 while working in the same printing office as her first husband, Edwin Minnich, he had never met her third husband Charles Magill.

In a separate affidavit filed around this same time (1902), Sarah Martin, who described herself as a friend of Julia Magill, also attested that Julia Ann (Kuehner Minnich) Magill had been forced to go on working into her later years by her poor circumstances, and confirmed that she was employed as a cook at a hotel in South Bethlehem. She also then stated that, while she had been aware of her friend’s marriage to Charles Magill, she had never been told about Julia Magill’s unsuccessful marriage to William Ruston.

On 11 February 1906, Julia Ann (Kuehner Minnich Ruston) Magill finally reached out for help again. Citing her 1865 service in Philadelphia as a nurse for the Medical Department of the U.S. Volunteers, she re-applied for another round of U.S. pension funding. Researchers have not yet determined whether or not she received the support she sought, or what finally happened to her.

Second National Bank, South Main and Market Street Junction, Phillipsburg, New Jersey (1908, public domain).

What is known is that, by 1920, her son George E. Minnich had also gone through life-altering experiences. A widower who was now employed as a laborer at a brewery, he resided as a boarder at the home of John and Anna Gabert in Phillipsburg, New Jersey.  Still residing at that couple’s home in 1930 when the federal census taker arrived that year, he was documented as a retired railroad conductor. Suffering from kidney disease, he died at the Easton Hospital in Easton, Northampton County, Pennsylvania. Death records showed that he had been widowed by Sarah Duffin, that the informant on his death certificate was Mrs. C. Gallagher of Phillipsburg, and that his remains were removed to Phillipsburg with funeral arrangements handled by Easton undertaker Ray D. Curran.

 

Sources:

1, Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.

2. Capt. E. G. Minnich (obituary). Allentown, Pennsylvania: Der Lecha Caunty Patriot, 25 October 1864.

3. Edwin Minnich, Juliann (Kuehner) Minnich, and George Minnich, in U.S. Civil War Widows’ Pension Files. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1865-1901.

4. Edwin E. Minnick [sic], George E. Minnick [sic], and Mary Duffin, in Birth Records (Phillipsburg, Warren County). Trenton, New Jersey: New Jersey Department of State, 14 December 1893.

5. Henry Franklin Minnich, Edwin G. Minnich and Juliann Minnich, in Gestorben. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Der Lecha Caunty Patriot, 14 August 1861.

6. Jennie Minnick [sic], and Mary Duffin, in Birth Records (Phillipsburg, Warren County). Trenton, New Jersey: New Jersey Department of State, 17 May 1890.

7. Julia Minnick [sic], and Mary Duffin, in Birth Records (Phillipsburg, Warren County). Trenton, New Jersey: New Jersey Department of State, 26 June 1892.

8. Mathews, Alfred and Austin Hungerford. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Everts & Richards, 1884.

9. Capt. E. G. Minnich (verification of service and status as “Killed in Action at Cedar Creek Va. October 1864”). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Adjutant General’s Office, 21 August 1865.

10. Charles Magill. Coroner’s Certificates. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Office of the Coroner, 10 December 1889.

11. Charles Magill and “Julian Ruston” [sic]. Certificate of Marriage. Camden, New Jersey: St. Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Church, 18 January 1887.

12. Minnich, Edwin G. (also shown as “Muench”), in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866 (Company I, 1st Pennsylvania Infantry and Company B, 47th Pennsylvania Infantry). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.

13. Minnich, Edwin G., in Registers of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865, vol. 1 (1st Regiment, Company I). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives (Record Group 19).

14. Minnich, George E., in New Jersey State Census (1895). Trenton, New Jersey: New Jersey Department of State.

15. Mrs. Julia Magill, in “Prominent Army Nurses,” in “The National Association of Army Nurses of the Civil War.” Washington, D.C.: The Evening Times, Wednesday, October 8, 1902.

16. Paul, James Laughery. Pennsylvania Soldiers’ Orphan Schools, Giving a Brief Account of the Origin of the Late Civil War, the Rise and Progress of the Orphan System, and Legislative Enactments Relating Thereto; with Brief Sketches and Engravings of the Several Institutions, with Names of Pupils Subjoined. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger, 1876.

17. Schaadt, James L. Company I, First Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers: A Memoir of Its Service for the Union in 1861, in The Penn Germania: A Popular Journal of German History and Ideals in the United States, vol. 1, no. 1. Lititz and Cleona, Pennsylvania: H.W. Kriebel, editor. Holzapfel Publishing Co., 1912.

18. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1920, 1930.

19. Veterans Who Will Be at the G.A.R. Celebration Owe Their Lives to the Heroic Self-Sacrifice of These Women Nurses. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Philadelphia Times, Sunday, 20 August 1899.

 

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