Thomas David Godman (ca. 1847-1896)

  • In the disastrous defeat of Gen. Custer on the [Little] Big Horn he belonged to Benteen’s command and helped bury the dead the next day.
  • Semi-weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, Kentucky, 9 April 1895.
  • The above sentence in a late 19th century Kentucky newspaper immediately caught my eye as previously I had not even heard of Thomas D. Godman let alone suspected he was with Captain Frederick Benteen at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. However, thanks to an article by Dan Bird, entitled ‘Answering an old Question,’ I soon discovered that while Godman’s enlistment dated from 3 February 1876 he wasn’t transferred from the General Mounted Service to the 7th Cavalry until 12 July 1876 and didn’t join Company A in the field at the Rosebud Camp until as late as the twenty-ninth of the same month.  That being said, unlike so many other Little Big Horn imposters he certainly proved to be no ordinary trooper.
  • The self-styled ‘Captain’ Thomas David Godman was a direct descendant of the appropriately-named Rembrandt Peale, who painted probably the best known portrait of George Washington; a grandson of Dr. John Davidson, the early 19th century author and naturalist; and son of Major Stuart Adair Godman, adventurer, author and editor of the innovative South Carolina weekly journal the Illustrated Family FriendBorn in Abbeville, South Carolina, in 1847 or possibly a year earlier, to a slave-owning father, Thomas was orphaned at six years old and raised by an aunt and uncle in Louisville, Kentucky.  He enlisted in the 15th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry (Union) at the age of 14; wounded at the battle of Resaca, Georgia in 1864; discharged on grounds of disability; served no less than seven enlistments in the regular army, twice deserting and three more times being discharged on disability. Godman was wounded in the fight with the Nez Perce at Bear Paw in 1877; discharged with the rank of sergeant in January 1878; styled himself as Captain; served four years as the Superintendent at the Vicksburg National Cemetery; co-authored an illustrated guide book to Vicksburg, Mississippi; and for two years was clerk to fellow Civil War veteran, Kentucky U.S. Congressman, Colonel Silas Adams. He married a girl of Irish descent from Vicksburg in 1890; moved to Washington, D.C. where they had six children; only two of which survived infancy; before he died in his sleep of a heart attack in 1896 at the relatively young age of forty-nine. This is his remarkable story.

Abbeville, South Carolina, has the unique distinction as being the ‘birthplace and deathbed of the Confederacy.’ On20 December 1860, following a meeting on a site in the town since called ‘Secession Hill,’ South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union and it was on 2 May 1865, in the last official cabinet meeting in what is now known as the Burt-Stark Mansion, that Jefferson Davis officially acknowledged the dissolution of the Confederate Government.

Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860), great-grandfather of Thomas D. Godman. A self portrait painted 1828.

President George Washington (1732-99) - a portrait by Rembrandt Peale

  • The Timeline of Thomas D. Godman
  • 1847 (or late 1846) – Thomas David Godman, son of Stuart Adair and Anastasia Rebecca Godman, born Abbeville, South Carolina.
  • 28 July 1847 – DIED, at the Court House, Abbeville, on the 28th ulti mo, ANASTASIA REBECCA, wife of STUART ADAIR GODMAN, in the 21st year of her age (Banner, 4 August 1847)
  • 5 December 1848 (George A. Custer’s birthday) – Major  S. A. Godman married Ms. Margaret E. Watts both of Laurens District, officiated by Rev. S. B. Lewers (Laurensville Herald).  Margaret, born 23 October 1830, was daughter of James Watts and Nancy Miller.
  • 7 March 1850 – Died. Stella Margaret Godman four months and six days old daughter of S. A. and Margaret E. Godman (Laurensville Herald, 15 March 1850).
  • 1 September 1850 – Laurens County, South Carolina, S. A. Godman, age 28, Editor & Publisher, born Ohio; Margaret, his wife, age 20, born South Carolina; Thomas, son, age 3; Dr. H. R. Godman, age 24, born Pennsylvania (Federal Census).
  • 3 September 1850 – S. A. Godman, from Ohio, in Laurens District, South Carolina, owned three slaves.
  •  24 January 1851 – “S. A. Godman advertised he was looking for a partner in publishing the Laurensville Herald. The paper is flourishing; the subscribers are prompt in their payments; circulation of the papers 2000, Laurensville Herald 7/12/1850, page 2; his last issue of the paper was 8/30/1850; J. D. Wright & R. M. Stokes took over the paper, Laurensville Herald 8/30/1850, page 2; advertised to be sold on February 13 at the home of Major S. A. Godman by public outcry to the highest bidder all the personal property: a slave called Cary who is 40 years old and splendid gardener, good house and body servant and of a unexceptionable habits and disposition; a slave named Violet who was a first-rate cook and good washer and understands managing a dairy; household furniture; kitchen utensils; 1000 pounds of bacon; 100 to 200 pounds of lard, etc. The village property for sale consisting of 20 acres, 14 of them cleared and ready for cultivation and 6 in woods with a large and commodious dwelling house with all necessary outbuildings; a spring of excellent water. Two new stores opening with splendid stock of goods –  one at Milton and the other at Spring Grove to be run by S. A. Godman. (Laurensville Herald).
  • 15 August 1851 – S. A. Godman to launch a newspaper called the ILLUSTRATED FAMILY FRIEND, Laurensville Herald. page 2.  It was “A new paper for the Fireside, the Parlor, and the Leisure Moment. TO BE PUBLISHED in Columbia, S. C., on the first of November next.  S. A. GODMAN, Late Editor of the Laurensville, S. C. “Herald,” Author of “The Slaver,” “For’ard and Aft,” “The Ocean Born,” &c.. Priced at $2 a year, payable in two instalments, it failed to attract a sufficient number of subscribers and ceased publication the following year. The Ocean-Born: A Tale of the Southern Seas (Paperback) was republished by Abe Books on 1 May 2015, price £10.16, including postage within the UK.
  • 25 June 1852 – Steuart (sic) A. Godman reported to have been the Founder Worshipful Master of a new Masonic Lodge in Columbia, South Carolina. He had previously been Worshipful Master of the Palmetto Lodge, Laurensville. His brother, Dr. Henry A. Godman, who was appointed Founder Junior Deacon, died in the 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Hinds County, Mississippi (Camden Journal, S.C.).
  • 25 July 1853 – The New York Times – Major S. A. GODMAN, the Editor of the Illustrated Family Friend published at Columbia, S.C., died at the residence of E. W. HENRY, Charlotte County, Va., on the 12th inst. He was born in Cincinnati on the 8th September 1822, and was nearly 31 years of age. Major GODMAN was at one time a midshipman in the UNITED STATES NAVY, and had been in the merchant service.
  • 14 June 1857 – Dr Nathaniel Hart of Cartersville, Georgia, married Margaret E. Godman (nee Watts) of Laurens, South Carolina, by Rev. W. B. Telford (Banner, 16 July 1857). Hart served as an assistantant surgeon with the 1st South Carolina (Orr’s) Rifles from 1861; transferred to the 14th Georgia Infantry Regiment for a few months in 1864; was mustered out with Orr’s rifles in 1865.
    1 June 1860 – Louisville, Kentucky Thomas Godman, age 12, was living with his aunt, Elleanor (aka Elizabeth Peale Godman (daughter of John Davidson Godman), and her husband, Dr. William Winter Goldsmith, 1824-1885 (Federal Census).
  • Civil War – 1861-65
  • October 1861 – Enlisted in 15th Kentucky Voluntary Infantry, Company A. Discharged on disability (after) 14 May 1864 at Jeffersonville, Indiana. Wounded at Battle of Resaca, Georgia.
  • U.S. Army – Enlistments 1865-67
  • 1.  30 August 1865 – Under the name of Thomas D. E. Godman,, Louisville, Kentucky, age 19, born Abbeville, South Carolina. Occupation: Soldier. 18th Infantry. Deserted 5 September 1865.
  • 2.  29 April 1866 – Louisville, Kentucky, age 19, born Abbeville, South Carolina. Occupation: Clerk. 13th Infantry, Company G. Discharged 20 May 1866, having been a deserter from the 18th Infantry.
  • 3.  27 August 1867 – Under the name Thomas D. E. Godman, St. Louis , Missouri, age 22, born Yonkers, New York. Occupation: Clerk. Engineers, Company E. Deserted 1 September 1867. Note false place of birth.
  • 4.  13 December 1867 – Louisville, Kentucky, age 22, born Yonkers, New York. 2nd Infantry, Company K. Discharged 30 June 1869, a private.
  • 23 June 1868 – W.W. Goldsmith, a former act. asst. Surgeon, Louisville, to USG. ”I have the honor to most respectfully invite your kind attention to the following statement in regard to my Nephew T. D. Godman and request if possible that he be given an appointment to the Military academy at West Point. Thomas D. Godman is a great Grand Son of Rembrandt Peale, the artist late of Philadelphia and also a great grandson of Dr John D Godman the naturalist. Mr Godman enlisted in Oct. 1861 in Co. a, 15th Regt. KY Infty when only 14 years of age serving with gallantry with that Regt. Until May 14th 1864 when he was admitted to the U S Gen Hospital at Jeffersonville Indiana, for a wound received at the battle of Resacca (sic) Georgia May 14th 1864. Subsequent to the battle of Chickamouga Mr Godman was recommended by Col M C Taylor for an appointment to the Military academy but never received it. While at the Hospital he went before the board of examiners for commissions in the US  Col Troops of which Major J Ham Davidson was president and was recommended and found qualified for a 1st Lieutenancy in the 12th US Col Heavy Artillery, but as the Regt. was shortly after Mustered out of Service he did not receive his appointment. He is at present a private in Co. K. 2nd U S Infantry and clerking at the Head Quarters of Genl  Burbank at Louisville Kentucky. He is temperate intelligent and has ever been active and prompt in the discharge of his duties, of good social standing in Society and as he has served faithfully during the war, and is well recommended, I respectfully submit the above,” – ALS, DNA, RG94, Unsuccessful Cadet Applications. (The Papers of Ulysses Simpson Grant, October 1, 1867-June 30 1868, by John Y. Simon – 1991, p.591)
  • U.S. Army – Enlistments 1869-76
  • 5.  6 October 1869 – Jeffersonville, Indiana, age 22, born Yonkers, New York. Occupation: Clerk. 14th Infantry, Company E. Discharged on disability 5 May 1871, a private, at Camp Stanborough, Wyoming Territory.
  • 6.  28 July 1871 – Louisville, Kentucky, age 23, born Westchester, New York. Occupation: Soldier. 15th Infantry, Company E. Discharged at Lancaster, Kentucky for disability 1 July 1873, a private, at Lancaster, Kentucky.
  • 7.  3 February 1876 – Cincinnati, Ohio, age 26, born Washington, D.C. Occupation: Clerk. 7th Cavalry 29 July 1876. Discharged for disability 26 January 1878, a sergeant, at Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory. Note a second false place of birth.
  • Godman was variously described as having blue eyes, brown or black hair, fair, a ruddy or dark complexion and being 5′ 9″ to 5′ 10″ tall.
  • 30 September 1877 – Sergeant Thomas D. Godman; gunshot wound; left hand and left shoulder; slight wound (Nez Perce Summer 1877: The U.S. Army and the Nee-Me-Poo Crisis, by Jerome A. Greene).
  • 26 January 1878 – Discharged for disability, a sergeant, at Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory.
  • Returns to Civilian Life
  • 17 April 1878 – Applies for an Invalid Pension, which was not successful (U.S. General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934, Application No. 253.234).
  • From June 1886 to July 1890 Thomas Godman was Superintendent of Vicksburg National Cemetery, Vicksburg, Mississippi.
  • 20 October 1890 – Thomas D. Godman married Frances “Fannie” Harrison Quigg, daughter of James Quigg, a baker, and Catherine Mahoney Quigg, in Davidson County, Tennessee. Frances was the daughter of first generation Irish-Americans. The newlyweds set up home in Washington, D.C. where they had six children, of which only 2 survived infancy.
  • 1890 – With joint author, Lee Richardson, published In And About Vicksburg: An Illustrated Guide Book To The City of Vicksburg, Mississippi (see image right).

  • 20 October 1890 – Thomas D. Godman married Frances “Fannie” Harrison Quigg, daughter of James Quigg, a baker, and Catherine Mahoney Quigg, in Davidson County, Tennessee. Frances was the daughter of first generation Irish-Americans.
  • 18 March 1891 – Stewart Adair Godman born Washington, D.C.
  • 22 June 1892 – Lynn Quigg Godman born Washington, D.C. He died there 5 July 1892. Buried in Mount Olivet (Catholic) Cemetery, Washington, D.C.
  • 1893-1895 – Clerk to U.S. Congressman, Colonel Silas Adams, Kentucky.
  • 18 July 1893 – Twins Mary Ellinore and Rebecca A. Godman born Washington, D.C. Rebecca died 24 August and Mary died 10 August 1893. Both buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery.
  • 31 July 1894 – a male child born Washington, D.C. His name and fate are not known.
  • 14 September 1894 – Capt. T. D. Godman, wife and two interesting little boys arrived here several days ago from Washington, D. C. and are putting up at the Exchange Hotel. Mr. Godman is Col. Silas Adams’ Congressional clerk and is a man of intelligence and much information, His war experience is extensive. Entering the army in the late war at 15 years of age, he served through his enlistment and afterward was for a number of years connected with the regular army. He belonged to Benteen’s command in the Big Horn affair with Sitting Bull and immediately afterward viewed the tragic scene of Gen. Geo. A. Custer and his ill-fated but heroic men. Mr. Godman is here in the interest of his chief, Col. Adams (The Interior Journal, Stanford, Kentucky).
  • 9 April 1895 – From a late letter from Captain Thomas D, Godman, now staying for a short time in Memphis, Tenn., we learn that he has gone into partnership with Mr Griffin, of Somerset, who lately distinguished himself in the train robbery affair, in the claim agency business. All in this and surrounding counties remember the captain as the energetic clerk for Col. Adams, while a member of Congress. Captain Godman has had a varied experience in life’s thrilling drama. He was a soldier for 18 years. Entering the volunteer service in the late unpleasantness [Civil War] at the age of 14, he climbed all the way up from private to the captaincy in the regular army. This is difficult for anyone to do in time of peace, except a West pointer. In the disastrous defeat of Gen. Custer on the [Little] Big Horn he belonged to Benteen’s command and helped bury the dead the next day. He is a man of affability and his superior ability, various accomplishments, and untiring industry will enable him to be successful in anything he undertakes. He will soon return and make his headquarters at Washington, D.C. (Semi-weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, Kentucky).
  • 29 July 1896 – Melissa Godman born Washington, D.C. She married Clyde H. Calvert. Was living in Memphis, Tennessee in 1930 and had two daughters.
  • 11 November 1896 – Thomas David Godman dies Washington, D.C.
  • 12 November 1896 – DEAD IN BED – Thomas D. Godman’s Slumber Was That Which Knows No Waking – “Thomas D. Godman, forty-nine years old, was found dead in bed at 6 o’clock yesterday morning at his lodgings, No. 607 F street northwest. Coroner Hammett, who investigated the case, decided that death resulted from heart failure, and gave a certificate to that effect. Mr. Godman, was a native of South Carolina and had been engaged in newspaper work in this city for several years. He was a member of the G. A. R., and the funeral will’ take place under the auspices of the order today at 2 30 o’clock. The burial will be in Arlington Cemetery” (The Morning Times, Washington, D.C.)
  • 1 June 1900 – Madison Street, Memphis, Frances Godman and two children, Stewart A. and Mellisia (sic) were living with Frances’ elder sister, Mary Quigg (Federal Census).
  • 25 June 1900 – Laurens Township, South Carolina, M. E. Hart (formerly Mrs S. A. Godman), widow, age 69, had 6 children of which 4 were living (Federal Census).
  • 4 August 1914 – Stewart (or Steuart) Godman married Martha Eva Kinney in Arkansas.
  • 7 February 1919 – Margret (sic) Elizabeth Hart died age 88 at 1735 Ionia Street, Jacksonville, Florida (Florida Deaths, 1877-1939).
  • 2 June 1933 – Frances Quigg Godman, born Vicksburg, Mississippi, dies age 66 at 393 Angelus Place, Memphis, Tennessee. Buried in the Calvary (Catholic) Cemetery there (Tennessee, Death Records, 1914-55).
  • 18 March 1981 – Stuart Adair Godman, son of Thomas D. Godman died in Memphis, Tennessee.
  • 17 May 1991 – Melissa Calvert (nee Godman), daughter of Thomas D. Godman, died in Riverside, California.

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