I have made a conscious effort to read just about everything that I can get my hands on that covers the Battle of New Market Heights and the men who fought there. Books, magazine articles, and primary documents are all excellent sources of information. Reading such materials can sometimes also help open new areas of inquiry, investigation, and discovery.
Recently, I purchased a little book titled, Combat: Union Infantryman Versus Confederate Infantryman, Eastern Theater, 1861-1865, and published by Osprey Publishing in 2013. This slim volume focuses primarily on three battles: First Manassas, Gettysburg, and Chaffin’s Farm/New Market Heights. In the chapter on New Market Heights the author mentions two brothers killed in the fighting, Joseph and Robert Bantum from Companies G and H, respectively of the 4th United States Colored Infantry. Unfortunately, the author does not provide a citation for where he found this information, although he does use citations for other accounts about the battle.
Curious to see what I could find out about these supposed brothers, I went to Fold3.com to dig a little deeper. Well, the first thing I noticed was that there were eight Bantams listed for the 4th USCI. Interesting! So, I made a little chart to keep track of what I found. Luckily, only two of them had the same first name. In my chart I also wrote down their pre-war free or slave status, heights, ages, enlistment dates and places, home county and state, complexions, and, of course, their fates.
What I found when I analyzed this collected information gives me a good deal of confidence in saying that more than two of these men were likely related. They may have been cousins, but there are enough common variables to make even the most skeptical person say, hmmmmmmm. By the by, their last names are spelled in various ways throughout their service and census records; Bantum, Bantam, Bantom, etc. I will go with Bantum to maintain a consistency, and because it appears to be used most often.
Let’s start with an alphabetical list of the men:
Edward Bantum, Co. G, 22 years old, 5-6 tall, enlisted 8/11/63 in Baltimore, free man, dark brown, Talbot Co., MD
Franklin Bantum, Co, K, 20 years old, 5-7 tall, enlisted 9/2/63 in Baltimore, free man, black, Eastern Shore, MD
John Bantum, Co. F, 21 years old, 5-4.5 tall, enlisted 8/4/63 in Baltimore, enslaved, brown, Talbot Co., MD
John Bantum, Co. H, 24 years old, 5-7.5 tall, enlisted 8/11/63 in Baltimore, free man, mulatto, Talbot Co., MD
Joseph H. Bantum, Co. G, 18 years old, 5-6.5 tall, enlisted 8/11/1863 in Baltimore, free man, brown, Talbot Co., MD
Perry Bantum, Co, K, 42 years old, 5-8.5 tall, enlisted 9/2/63 in Baltimore, free man, black, Talbot Co., MD
Richard Bantum, Co. K, 39 years old, enlisted 9/2/63 in Baltimore, free man, black, Talbot Co., MD
Robert Bantum, Co. H, 26 years old, enlisted 8/11/63 in Baltimore, free man, brown, Talbot Co., MD
The first thing that stuck me, other than two outliers (Perry-42, and Richard-39), were the similarities in ages. All the other men were between 18-25, a common age range for Civil War soldiers, whether they be white or black.
The second thing that stood out to me were their enlistment dates. Although it is certainly not a definite, it stands to reason that relatives, whether they be brothers or cousins, might want to enlist together. The two older Bantams, Perry and Richard, along with Franklin, all enlisted on September 2, 1863, and interestingly, the same company.
However it is the four men who enlisted on August 11, 1863, who really caught my attention. Edward (22), John (24), Joseph (18), and Robert (26) all signed up on the same day, and their ages are spaced almost perfectly to be brothers. Looking at other similarities between these four men, one finds their heights quite similar, 5-6, 5-7.5, 5-6.5, 5-8.5, and their complexions (dark brown, brown, brown, and with John, a mulatto, being different), too; although complexion is a very subjective variable. Another common denominator is that the four were assigned to the same two companies (Edward and Joseph – Co. G, and John and Robert – Co. H). Companies G and H are obviously next to each other alphabetically, and could have been filled as such.
I thought I could simply confirm these four men’s relationship by looking up the 1860 census and seeing if they were together in the same household. Alas, I found the four, but they were all living in different homes. Some of them were living with white households working as “farm laborers.” The youngest, Joseph, appears to still be at home with his mother Ellen (40). Apparently, the older one had already left home and gone to work for other people, although they still lived in the same Trappe District, Talbot County, Maryland area. My next thought was to go back to the 1850 census and see if the family was still intact a decade earlier, but unfortunately, my search was inconclusive.
Moving back to these four men’s service records, I found that regardless of whether they were brothers, cousins, or mixture of brothers and cousins, they certainly left a legacy of sacrifice to the United States, the cause of freedom, and citizenship. Of these four men, only one would survive the war. All four were either killed, wounded, or mortally wounded in combat actions. I’ll provide a little information about what I discovered for each man.
Pvt. Edward Bantum, apparently a sailor before enlisting, was wounded in action during the initial attacks on Petersburg on June 15, 1864. A gunshot wound to the right hand cost him his fore and middle fingers and was severe enough to warrant a discharge, as he left the service on November 28, 1864, after a recovery at Grant General Hospital at Willets Point, New York City. Edward holds my only hope of ever finding out if these four men were indeed brothers. Perhaps he received a pension for his disability, and if I am so fortunate, perhaps he mentions enlisting with them in his application. I will have to see if a pension exists, and then get to the National Archives to read it. Edward died on July 14, 1914. Today, he rests in peace at the Hampton National Cemetery.
Pvt. John Bantum is listed as a “laborer” before his enlistment. Always present for duty, John was court martialed on June 12, 1864, for what probably seems to modern readers an insignificant dereliction of duty, but at the time was considered quite serious. It happened on May 17, 1864, at the 4th USCI encampment near Broadway Landing (between Petersburg and City Point on the Appomattox River). It appears that John was posted as a picket with the instructions to not let anyone pass in or out of the lines, “neither officers nor men, Citizens nor soldiers.” However, he allowed the 4th USCTIs Major Augustus S. Boernstein and two other officers through the picket line without stopping them. John was found guilty and fined $5.00, deducted from this pay.
During the fighting at the Battle of New Market Heights, John was wounded in the left leg. Apparently evacuated from the battlefield, he received treatment, which included amputation at the thigh. John ended up at the General Hospital at Fort Monroe, where he died on October 4, 1864, from the effects of his wound. I was unable to locate the grave for Pvt. John Bantum.
Pvt. Joseph H. Bantum was a “farmer” before his enlistment. Joseph’s records state that he deserted from Camp Yorktown on April 3, 1864. However, he was “arrested” about three weeks later. It appears that he spent about four months in “confinement,” as he returned to duty on August 11, 1864. The next muster card, that of September and October 1864 reads: “Killed in action, September 29, 1864 at New Market Heights, Va.” No effects were listed on his death inventory. I was unable to find where Pvt. Joseph H. Bantum is buried.
Pvt. Robert A. Bantum, the oldest of the four that I suspect were brothers, or at least cousins, was also a farmer before enlisting. Robert appears to have been the model soldier; always present. He did receive hospitalization for an undisclosed illness sometime between May and June 1864, but was back present in July and August. He, too, was at New Market Heights, and that battle would also take his life. “Killed in action” is such a tragic thing to read while researching soldiers. One always wonders what future potential was snuffed out by the fate of war.
The other Bantums in the 4th USCI all survived the conflict, but they likely suffered ill health effects long after leaving the service. 42-year old Perry Bantum was discharged on June 26, 1865, in Goldsboro, North Carolina for disability. His records show he was sick and hospitalized often. He also suffered from rheumatism. Franklin Bantum was wounded in the right hand, which required an operation, and that he received in action at Fort Fisher, North Carolina on February 11, 1865. He was discharged from service on June 26, 1865, due to his disability. The formerly enslaved John Bantum mustered out with the 4th USCI on May 4, 1866. At the end of his army career he received a promotion to corporal. In his records are papers from his former owner, Thomas Leonard, claiming loyalty to the United States, staking title to John, and seeking compensation for his enlistment and thus freedom. Leonard received $300.00. John apparently died in Wilmington, Delaware, on March 28, 1928. He rests in peace there at the Mount Olive Cemetery. 39-year old Richard Bantum seems to have had a relatively incident free service. He was hospitialzed at one point, but otherwise was always present for duty until he mustered out on May 4, 1866.
With all of these men coming from the same county there is certainly some family relationship between at least some of them. As stated above, I believe that at least four of the men were very close kin. Further research will hopefully confirm that that suspicion. Regardless of their true family connections, it goes without saying that the Bantums from Talbot County, Maryland deserve special recognition for their service to the United States. I am truly happy do my little part to share their amazing record of service and sacrifice.