Friday, July 7, 2017

A distant connection to the Battle of Gettysburg

On a recent vacation, we visited Gettysburg National Military Park. In the visitor's center, there was a computer kiosk where you could look up relatives who may have served at Gettysburg—a perfect toy for a genealogist and computer nerd! Unfortunately it wasn't of much use to me; none of my direct ancestors served in the Civil War.  A number of distant cousins served, and a couple died in the war. So far as I know, however, none of them were at Gettysburg. But Gettysburg is famous for more than the battle. It was also the site of President Lincoln's famous address at the dedication of the Soldiers' Cemetery at the battle site. And that provides a tenuous family connection to Gettysburg.

Alfred Van Dyke Arnold Obituary.

My 3rd great uncle, Charles Arnold, lived in Springfield, Illinois for many years during the mid- and late 1800s. I never really gave any thought to the fact that Abraham Lincoln also lived in Springfield for part of this time until I found the obituary for one of Charles Arnold's sons, Alfred Van Dyke Arnold. The article states that he "was taught to swim by Abraham Lincoln" and "was one of President Lincoln's pupils and was a playmate of the emancipator's son, Robert Lincoln."

I am a natural skeptic, so I immediately wondered if perhaps everybody who had lived in Springfield in the 1850s had some story about how they had known Lincoln, with most of them being fabrications.  But there is more evidence to support the idea that the Arnold and Lincoln families knew each other.

In researching Charles Arnold, I found him listed in several Springfield town directories. The oldest of these was from 1857–58. It lists "Arnold Charles, gentleman" living at the southeast corner of 8th and Jackson. Returning to that directory, I looked up Abraham Lincoln and found "Lincoln Abraham, lawyer" living at the northeast corner of 8th and Jackson.  In other words, Charles Arnold lived across the street from the future president.

Living across the street it seems more probable that the two families would have known each other, especially since they had boys of similar age.  Lincoln's son Robert was born August 1, 1843. Alfred Arnold was born in May of 1842.

So that's my connection to the Battle of Gettysburg. My first cousin, three times removed was taught to swim by Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln visited Gettysburg several months after the battle and delivered the Gettysburg Address. It's almost as if I was there!

Charles Arnold was my 3rd great uncle. His son, Alfred Arnold, was my 1st cousin three times removed. The heavy lines in this figure show the relationship between us.


Alfred Arnold's obituary: "Arnold, Once Rural Carrier Here, Dies in California," The Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), June 13, 1919, p. 6; via

Springfield Directory: "Springfield City Directory, for 1857---'58" (B. Winters & Co., Springfield, Ill.,  1857); via "U.S. City Directories, 1822–1995" (Illinois > Springfield > 1857 > Springfield City Directory, 1857-58), online index and images, Charles Arnold listed on p. 34 (image 41 of 186). Abraham Lincoln listed on p. 64 (image 91 of 186).

Alfred Arnold's birthdate as listed in 1900 United States Federal Census for Springfield, Sangamon County, Illinois.

Robert Lincoln's birthdate from Wikipedia (, citing Jason Emerson, Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln, Southern Illinois University Press (2012).

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