The phrase a “player to be named later” is familiar to baseball fans as so many trades have included that phrase throughout the years, but here is a human-interest story about a “soldier to be named later.”
It does seem appropriate to post this during October, which is German-American Heritage Month and is the month in which the newspaper reported this story.
This article came from the Cincinnati Enquirer of October 3, 1861
An Interesting Incident at Camp Wade. A Soldier who was stolen from Home when a Child discovers his Parents
In Company I, Capt. Steele, Wade and Hutchins’ Regiment of Cavalry, is a private, nineteen years of age, who enlisted in Medina County where the Company was formed, under the name of John Cruff. His history is a little peculiar. He remembers that he was stolen from his home and parents when about ten years of age, but where that home was, or who were his parents, he was totally ignorant up to yesterday. He remembers being taken away several miles by a man from whom he escaped. While wandering about, not knowing where, he was taken up as a vagrant and sent to a poor-house. A man by the name of Briggs, of Westfield, Medina County, took him from the poor-house and gave him employment. He worked for several persons subsequently, remaining for five years in the employ of one Dean, in Lafayette, Medina County. How he came by the name of John Gruff he can not tell. He thinks it was given him at the poor-house. He enlisted in the above regiment and came to Camp Wade. Yesterday morning while wandering about on the Hights (sic) in the neighborhood of the Oak Grove House he remarked that the locality was strangely familiar to his eyes; and yet he did not know he had ever been there before. The more he looked about the more familiar every thing appeared. Suddenly, as if by force of association, a name that he had not thought of in years occurred to him, and as he pronounced it aloud and it reverberated through the cells of memory it awoke echoes that had long been dormant, and caused a thousand old recollections to rush upon his mind. The name that occurred to him in so singular a manner was that of Thomas Strooska - the name his parents gave him - and the conviction that he was in the neighborhood of his native home became too strong to admit of a doubt. Whether his father and mother still dwelt there or were in the land of the living he would endeavor to ascertain. He entered a house to make inquiries of the inmates. While in conversation with them an old lady, a neighbor, dropped in. She could only understand German, and the neighbor on whom she had called interpreted to her the story of the young soldier.
The old lady scanned his features earnestly and tremblingly for a moment, and then, tottering towards him with eager, outstretched arms, exclaimed “Mein Sohn! Mein verlorener (apparently means lost, missing or forlorn) Sohn!” and mother and son were locked in each others’ arms. The parents of Thomas are both alive and live opposite the Oak Grove House. They desire that he may remain with them, but he will doubtless go with his company. He is a fine, stalwart youth, and will make a good soldier.
The first mention of his “new” name appears to be “Cruff,” but the second one looks like “Gruff,” though it could be “Graff.” I even tried “Groff.” His “remembered” name might also be “Stropska.” The scanned image of the newspaper is mostly legible, but those few words are not perfectly clear - see the image at the end of this post.
I have searched on the Soldiers & Sailors Database, Fold3.com, and the FindAGrave app, but cannot find his alleged names, even trying those multiple spellings.
My guess is this story refers to the 2nd Ohio Cavalry, since it organized at Camp Wade and was the creation of Benjamin Wade and John Hutchins. This roster of Company I of the unit does include a Captain Allen P. Steel, but not either of the names (or variants thereof) of the soldier from the story.
Despite not confirming this man was an actual soldier, I thought this story was interesting and unique enough to share, as one of those obscure events that happened during the war. It may even include insight into daily life, especially for immigrants and those, including children, sent to “poor-houses.” Did the family’s German heritage motivate the kidnapper? Was this an instance where the “Know Nothing” or nativist movement caused or contributed to the incident?
Society was different then, but a kidnapped child still should have been major news in the neighborhood. How can a child be kidnapped and perhaps trafficked so easily? I guess in the age when slavery was legal in the country this was not a huge issue or surprise. Still, I wonder how thorough of a search - if any - was made for him and did the poor-house accept him without question or investigation? What about the employers - did they treat the poor-house as a source for cheap (or free) labor?
What bothers me about this even more is that if this soldier was ten years old when kidnapped, how did he forget his name, his hometown and/or his parents? That seem unfathomable in modern times, at least to me. Did the kidnapping cause him some head trauma, such as a concussion, that affected his memory? If he was raised in a house where only German was spoken, did his lack of speaking English contribute to this incident? Am I underestimating the impact of being kidnapped, especially possible psychological effects? If any of these affected his memory, how did he remember his age? Otherwise, it seems like a ten-year-old should know such information, but maybe that was not the case so many years ago.
How true is this story? It is hard, though I suppose not impossible, to imagine a newspaper - even in the nineteenth century - fabricating such a detailed story, though perhaps someone told a tall tale and the newspaper fell for it. It seems more likely to me that this, or something similar, happened, but the soldier’s records were destroyed, lost or filed under another name or spelling. Perhaps the basic story is correct, but its author received or printed the wrong names somehow.
Assuming this story is true, I wonder about the young man’s fate. Did he survive the war? Which name did he use going forward? Which name ended upon documents that might prove his existence? Did he change his name with his cavalry unit? What kind of relationship did he forge with his parents? Did his life end more happily than it began?
Those answers, and more, may be lost to history, at least for now, but if he was in the 2nd Ohio Cavalry and remained part of it for the entire war, he saw service in several well-known battles and campaigns, including John Morgan’s “Great Raid” in 1863, Phil Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign in 1864, and the Appomattox Campaign during 1865.
Even with uncertainty over his identity and the various unanswered questions, this anecdote captivates me, a reminder of how much history does not make it into books and of how even little-known incidents can be so interesting.