Thomas Jefferson Payntar – Records of the Missing Soldiers Office
Originally published in 2014 in the Surgeon’s Call, Volume 19, No. 1
In November of 2012, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine (NMCWM) received a donation of three documents which pertain to the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office. Two of the documents are letters concerning a soldier named Thomas Jefferson Payntar of the 4th New York Cavalry, who was declared missing in action in July of 1864, after the Battle of Trevilian Station in Virginia. The letters were written after the battle by two of his comrades. The other document is the reply from Clara Barton which Mrs. Payntar received after sending a letter to the “Office of Correspondence with the Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army” regarding her husband.
Thomas J. Payntar was born in New York in 1840. He married Mary “Mollie” Allen and they had one child, a daughter named Mary Helen Payntar, who was born March 28, 1863. He enlisted in New York City, August 3, 1863, in Company E, 4th NY Cavalry, and was mustered in as a private. During Payntar’s time of service, the 4th NY Cavalry took part in the Mine Run Campaign and the Overland Campaign.
In the first letter, Sergeant W.J. Crozeir, also of the 4th NY Cavalry, was able to tell Mrs. Payntar about the last time he saw her husband. He informed her that Thomas was missing in action and speculated that he had been wounded or taken prisoner, but that was all the information he was able to give her. His letter follows, and is copied using the writer’s own grammar and spelling.
Athins Landing, James River
June 26th, 1864
I am heartily sorry to have to inform you that in the late Cavalry fight at Trevilion Station (June12th) your husband is one of the Missing. This you will no doubt consider very bad news but it might be much worse for the loss of our own Regt on that day was very heavy. There is no certaintity as to his fate but I and every member of his Company sincerely hope that he is only a prisoner of War and that he will be heard from as soon as he can possibly find means of communicating with you. We were fighting dismounted and this lasted until after dark but just before dark I saw him mount his horse and take his place in the ranks, like the good soldier he always proved himself to be. About half an hour afterwards we halted and I immediately found that he was missing. At the time it was impossible to return to the place where I seen him last as that part of the feild was then in possession of the enemy. I certainly am greatly afraid that he was wounded because I know that he would not be taken Prisoner without a struggle unless he was. I have made all the enquiries that I possibly could but all to no purpose. I am sure that the suspense these few lines will cause you will be almost as bad as worse news and indeed, Madam, I sincerely sympathise with you not only for the affliction it will cause you but also for the loss of a true companion and a brave soldier one of the best in his company.
I will still continue to enquire from anyone or at any place that I may be likely to hear anything concerning your husband and will let you know the result with all possible dispatch and most sincerely hopeing that I will be able to learn some good news for you.
W.J. Crozeir, Sergt
Co E 4th N.Y. Cav
The second document is a form letter, dated July 17, 1865, from the Office of Correspondence with the Friends of the Missing Men of the United States Army, which was run by Clara Barton. It was sent to Mrs. Payntar to confirm that her letter had been received, and to let her know that her husband’s name would be placed on the Roll of Missing Soldiers. It is signed by Clara Barton. Due to the high volume of requests which her office received, Clara sent out these form letters to acknowledge the receipt of inquiry letters.
The dates and name are written into the blanks of this 8” by 5” form letter in dark brown ink, and it is signed at the bottom in dark brown ink. The writing is still very clear. The document has been folded into thirds and is weak along the fold lines. The paper is somewhat yellowed and has several brown stains, one of which is on the signature. Overall, it is in good to fair condition.
The next letter actually mentions Clara Barton’s Roll of Missing Soldiers, which she posted in newspapers in an effort to find the missing men or discover their fates.
Muncy Station, Pa., Aug. 4th/66
Mrs. Thomas J. Payntar,
On looking over the Rolls of missing men that Clara Barton has published I came across the name of my comrad Thos. J. Payntar and feel it my duty for his sake to inform you as near as I can the place and time I last seen him. It was at Travillian Station, Va. on the 11th of June 1864. The Regt was ordered to fight (on foot) and every fourth man hold his own horse and three others and it fell to him to hold the horses. I was riding by his side and gave him my horse to hold. That was the last time I seen him. We were over powered and forced to fall back on our Horses and when we found them they were all scattered through others. I could see nothing of mine although I sucseeded in gettin one and made my escape. His horse was found in the Regt the next day.
Thos. J. was returned as missing in action. I thought he was taken Prisnor, but if he has not been heard of yet it is likely he was killed. Alass did I say killed? It makes my heart bleed when I think of the noble dead that has fallen by the hands of tratars in Rebellion.
I think I have written all that will be of interest to you and hope you will excuse the liberty I have taken.
W.H. McCowan, late Sergt. Co. E, 4 NY Cav.
Clara Barton was not able to find Thomas J. Payntar, but by 1867 when the office closed, Clara had responded to over 63,000 letters and had identified the fates of about 22,000 men. Though undoubtedly she had to report that many of the men had been killed, it at least provided some closure for the grieving families and friends of these men.
When Mary Payntar applied for her Widow’s Pension in 1867, she was finally able to learn what had happened to her husband. An affidavit from his former commander, Major Edward Schwartz, claims that Private Payntar was killed during the battle of Trevilian Station and left on the field for dead. In another affidavit, Private Mortimer Smith, also from the 4th NY Cavalry, claims to have witnessed his death. He states that Thomas Payntar was shot, “….in the line of duty, by a Minié rifle bullet which perforated his side from hip to hip, causing instant death.” He also states that he assisted in making sure that Payntar was “….decently interred, as the time and place would admit.”
The Payntar letters and Barton document were donated to the NMCWM by Thomas Simpson of Lynn, MA. He is the great, great-grandson of Thomas J. Payntar. We are very grateful for their donation. They will most certainly help to tell the story of Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office.