They occupied two distinct periods history spanning 163 years and were veterans of two very different wars. John Whitman, who died last week in Tulsa, Oklahoma aged 88, served as a U.S. Navy radio operator in the Pacific theatre during World War 2. His father, Nathaniel Amos Whitman, born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1849, served as a private in the Union Army during the American Civil War.
Their lives overlapped by just 2 years – John was born in 1924 and Nathaniel died in 1926 – so father and son never got to share their respective experiences of cavalry charges and sword fights, submarines and aircraft carriers. John had to learn what he could about his father from his diary.
He discovered that his father joined the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry at the tender age of 15 in 1864, and that his unit received a congressional citation for its bravery. Nathaniel’s diary also revealed some of the horrors that he had faced. John told a meeting of the ‘Sons of Union Veterans’ group last year, “He wrote on a page, it said, ‘we burned homes today.’ Then the next entry says, ‘we burned homes today and I wept.'” John also contributed stories about his and Nathaniel’s war records for the 2006 book, Civil War Fathers: Sons of the Civil War in World War II. Nathaniel’s experiences may have influenced the religious direction he took in later life. In the 1880 U.S. census, aged 33, his occupation is listed as ‘Minister Of Gospel’. He is recorded as living in Franklin, Pennsylvania, with his first wife Sarah Jane Messner and 5 children. Their oldest child, Emma – John’s half-sister, was born in 1868 and would have been 56 when John was born.
Nathaniel’s first wife died in 1919 and within a year he had remarried, at the age of 71, to 24 year-old Kentucky girl Bessie Boyd Bourland – John’s mother. John was born 4 years later, but 2 years after that Nathaniel was dead aged 77. Bessie outlived her first husband (she later remarried) by 54 years when she died in 1980, aged 85.
John’s death last week further reduces the dwindling band of first-generation descendants of Civil War veterans. He leaves his wife of 65 years, Mary Ruth Whitman, and five children.
Source: Tulsa World