Friday, August 14, 2015

John Watkins: Civil War Veteran; Grave marked 75 years after death

John Watkins
John Oliver Halstead Watkins was born in Mendham, New Jersey on April 28, 1847 to John and Phoebe Pitney Watkins. On January 19, 1873, he married Amelia Augusta Pinney, with whom he had two daughters. His wife died in 1921.

His father was killed in the Burnside Expedition of the Civil War at age 39 in New Bern, North Carolina on December 13, 1864, which the Union Army had taken from the Confederates two years earlier. His brother died in the Battle of Williamsburg under General George McClellan. There were 2,283 Union casualties and 1,682 Confederate casualties. 

Watkins enlisted with Company B of the 37th New Jersey Volunteers at the age of 15 against the protestations of his mother, who had already lost her husband and other son. The regiment was under the command of Colonel Burd Grubb and contained more than 700 men. They were put to work unloading supply trains near the Appomattox River. They were later asked to lend support on the front lines at the Siege of Petersburg where 37 members of the regiment were killed. 

Artillery at the Siege of Petersburg during the Civil War
At the time of his death in 1937, there were only 18 Civil War veterans remaining in Alameda County. His grave remained unmarked until April 28, 2013, when two chapters of the Sons of the Union Veterans, Wright Camp 22 and Pleasanton Camp 24, obtained a marker from the United States government and held a ceremony at Mountain View Cemetery.

Watkins came to California after traveling around Cape Horn aboard the City of New York in 1867. The voyage took 150 days. Upon his arrival, he was appointed to a position in the paymaster's office at Mare Island, where he remained employed for 33 years. He also owned a strip of land in Oakland extending from Piedmont Avenue to Moss Avenue.

His uncle Reverend Isaac Brayton, was a prominent Oaklander, who ran the Brayton School and sold 200 acres to the trustees of Oakland’s newly formed Mountain View Cemetery. Watkins was also the cousin of United States Supreme Court Justice Mahlon Pitney on his mother's side of the family. Pitney authored the majority opinion in New York Central Railroad Co. v. White, which upheld a New York state workman's compensation law and laid the foundation for the expansion of these programs nationwide.

Watkins' health began to fail a year before his death after he fractured his arm in a fall from a street car. The injury was so severe it necessitated his arm being amputated. He was bedridden until his death. His funeral services were led by the Grand Army of the Republic and the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War. 

Sources: Oakland Tribune,, Sons of the Union Veterans, Wikipedia

1 comment:

Anne Tignanelli said...

Fascinating! Thanks so much for your most recent blog write-ups. Good to know you're back at it.