The Story of Owen Toner.....

began over 137 years ago, when on July 16, 1862 a 37-year-old laborer from Oxford, MA mustered into the 15th Massachusetts Volunteer infantry regiment. Only two months after being mustered in the service he was wounded for the first time, on September 17, 1862 as the 15th was flanked in the West Woods at the battle of Antietam.

The following summer, on July 2, 1863, he was wounded in the hip at the Battle of Gettysburg. On December 20, 1863 he was transferred to the Invalid Corps, most likely because of his wounds. This branch of service was filled by men who because of their wounds or disabilities were not fit for field duty, but who could still perform tasks such as garrison duty, guards, or hospital staff. The military record on Owen Toner closes when he is reported as died in service in Washington, D.C. on February 24, 1864.

During the winter of 1993, I began researching information in order to write a brief history of company E (the Oxford company sometimes known as the Dewitt Guards) of the 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiment. In this document, I listed the name of each Oxford soldier to fall in battle as well as the battle that he fell in. After doing this research for over a year, I came to know each of these men by name.

During the spring of 1995, I was invited by the Oxford Historical Society to present a program on the information that I had gathered. I have since presented this material at numerous local historical societies and have become quite familiar with the records of each of these heroes.

The following winter I received a most interesting phone call from a woman in Dover Delaware who said that she was researching an ancestor whom she believed served from Oxford in the Civil War. In her search, this woman called Mrs. Jeanne OíReilly of the Oxford historical society, and she in turn gave the lady my name to call. When I asked her the name of the soldier she was interested in, I was startled to hear her say, "Owen Toner." My response was, "I know that man." Owen Tonerís name is listed in two places in my brief history of company E. After telling her all of the basic information that I had on him from the muster rolls, I instructed her in the procedure to apply for more detailed information from the National Archives. I also told her that I would try to find his grave.

The following day, I went to see Mrs. Wessell at the office of the Cemetery Commission in Oxford, but we were unsuccessful in finding a burial plot for Owen Toner in town. As I was leaving the town hall that day, I paused as always at the Memorial Tablets, to look at the names of the men from Oxford who died in the Civil war. To my surprise Owen Tonerís name was absent! My immediate thought was, Why? This set me of on a search that has gone on albeit slowly for the past 5 years.

My first instinct was to check in Danielsí History of Oxford. Daniels listed all the members of Company "E" and noted those who enlisted for Oxford with an *. On page 177 of that book is listed, Owen Toner * 37, Irish; 16 July í62; wounded at Gettysburg; on inv. corps, 17 Dec., í63; d. in service. (Note: the name Invalid Corps was changed during 1864 to Veterans Reserve Corps.) This record also states that he was Irish, which is not stated in other records. Finally this record does not mention that he was also wounded at Antietam. This information seems to indicate that Toner was indeed an Oxford man who died during his service in the Civil War. I was still not satisfied with enough information, so my next step was to go to check the roster of company "E" from Fordís History of the 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The preface to the company roster stated that the members of the company were natives of Oxford and were credited on the quota of that town, unless it is otherwise stated in each particular. I then made a list of each Oxford resident who was in company "E" and died during the Civil War.At the same time I checked the company roster and the list of the names on the tablets with Massachusetts Soldiers Sailors and Marine in the Civil War, published by the Adjutant Generals Office, to be sure of each soldierís residence or the town that his enlistment was credited to.After compiling a spreadsheet and cross checking this information, it became apparent to me that only one man who had listed his residence as Oxford and who had died as a result of the Civil War was left from the tablets. Still the question haunted me. Why?

The evidence that Toner was an Oxford resident continue to build as I received photocopies from the Massachusetts Military Division Research and History and Museum. The information that they sent me was a list of Men enlisted into the United States service who are exempted from being drafted as returned to the Adjutant Generals Office from the Town of Oxford prior to October 1 1862. This document included the name of Owen Toner along with 33 others. Oxford selectmen L.B. Corbin and Emory Harwood signed the document on November 13, 1862.

That spring Mike Hackenson gave me a photocopy of some documents that he had acquired. The documents were the town reports ending March 1864 and March 1865. The Town report for 1864 lists under the title of:
"Persons who have Enlisted into the United States Service from the Town of Oxford"
Name Number of Regiment Remarks
Owen Toner 15th Massachusetts Trans. To Invalid Corps
Also listed in this report under the title of "Aid to Families of Volunteers" Patrick Toner 52.14

The Town report ending March 18, 1865 stated the same information. This seems to indicate that although Owen Toner had died over a year earlier on February 24th 1864, people back home in Oxford did not seem to have a record of his death.

This brings me to my theory -- that because of Tonerís transfer to the Invalid Corps, he lost touch with many of the men from Oxford who had been serving in company E. When he died, his next of kin would have been notified, but the muster rolls show him as single at the time of enlistment.

The Town Reports state that, the Town of Oxford had given Patrick Toner aid to families of volunteers during 1864 and 1865. Perhaps Owen Toner was a widower when he enlisted. Perhaps, since he was 37 when he enlisted he had a young son that was left behind with relatives. Could this be Patrick Toner?

Perhaps when the tablets were dedicated in 1873 there was no one around to tell this soldierís story. Had he indeed fallen through the cracks? The name of each soldier from Oxford who died in defense of the "Union" is memorialized on the stone tablets in the entrance to Memorial Hall.Is the sacrifice that Owen Toner has made been inadvertently overlooked? If this is the case perhaps the time has come for us to finally pay honor to Owen Toner.

Later ...

The day that I had been waiting for such a long time finally came. About 3 months ago I sent a request to the National Archives in Washington seeking military information on Owen Toner. They arrived today, and instead of answering my questions they seemed to have added more.

Included in these documents is a copy of Owen Tonerís enlistment papers. This document states that he was born in Ireland and that he was sworn in Worcester on July 16th of 1862. It appears that he probably could not read or write, since in place of his signature his name has been written out alongside an X with the notation "his mark" next to it. (Note: universal education did not become a rule in the British Isles until the 1890's.) Also included in the group of documents is a casualty sheet. This document states that regarding Owen Toner, the nature of his casualty was "wounded". The place of casualty was at Gettysburg, and the date of casualty was on either July 2,or 3, 1863. It lists the source of information as a "list of killed, wounded, or missing, of the 15th Mass. In the 2nd Division, 2nd Corp", not dated, but signed by Wm. Harrow, Brigadier General commanding the division.

A second casualty sheet raises more questions. This second document, is somewhat different form than the first. His name is spelled differently (Tonner), but both spellings were used on the muster roles and he has made his mark next to both. On the line next to "Nature of Casualty" is what appears to be the word "desertion". This document also states that the date of discharge , death &c. was Aug 5, 1863. It lists the place of discharge or death, &c. Germantown Pa. The source of the information was listed as Cuyler Hospital, Germantown Pa.

This is confusing since Captain Princeís reports for the months of Aug. Sept. and Oct list him as "absent wounded". The source of the information was listed as Cuyler Hospital; Germantown Pa. Soldiers who were wounded were frequently listed as deserted until the unit was notified that they were in the hospital. Adding to the confusion is the fact that when we look at the individual receipts of the company muster role for July/August 1863, we find Owen Toner listed as "absent wounded". The same is true for his individual receipts of his company muster role of Sept/Oct. The receipts of the muster roles for the months of Nov/Dec. 1863 list Owen Toner as "Transferred to the Invalid Corps Dec. 17, 1863".

Recently, while I was doing research on "Oxford in the Civil War," I was most fortunate to stumble upon virtually all of the original records of company "E" of the 15th Massachusetts Regiment. Included in these records were the muster rolls, morning reports and monthly returns of Captain Albert Prince. The muster rolls of May- June list Toner as present. Those of July- August, and Sept-October list him as absent wounded. Muster Rolls for Oct. Ė Dec. list him as transferred to the Invalid Corps on Dec. 1863. The captainís returns for the months of July, August, September, and October also lists him as absent wounded. The captainís return of December, and each succeeding muster roll for the company does not list his name. Other soldiers who shared a similar fate as Toner and were transferred to the Invalid Corps and were listed on the muster rolls as transferred to Invalid Corps. Is this the point where Owen Tonerís record was lost? When company "E" and the 15th Massachusetts regiment were mustered out, Tonerís name is listed on the muster-out role which was dated Worcester Mass. July 28, 1864 with Remarks: "Transferred to the Invalid Corps Dec. 20, 63". Is this the reason that people back home did not know that he had passed away?

Owen Toner came forward when the need arose to replenish the numbers lost by the glorious 15th Massachusetts regiment. Recruits were needed to replace those lost at the Battle of Ballís Bluff in the fall of 1861 and again during the Peninsula Campaign in early summer of 1862. Not two months after enlisting, Toner was wounded and listed as missing in action while his regiment suffered 325 casualties in twenty minutes. During this action, the regiment would earn the distinction of having the highest number of casualties of any regiment that took part in the bloodiest single day in American history -- the Battle of Antietam.

Nine months later, Owen Toner was also present at the center of the Union line with the battle hardened 15th Massachusetts as the Second Army Corps repelled the Confederate assault known as Pickettís charge -- at Gettysburg. It was during this fierce struggle that he was wounded in the hip, a wound that would ultimately cause his transferred to the Invalid Corps and his death. Owen Toner had indeed done his share to preserve the Union.The name of each soldier from Oxford MA who died in defense of the "Union" is memorialized on the stone tablets in the entrance to Memorial Hall. Owen Tonerís name does not appear on these tablets. Has the sacrifice that he has made been inadvertently overlooked? If this is the case, perhaps the time has come for us to finally pay honor to him,... "that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain" Abraham Lincoln

October 2000 ...

A few months back I felt that I had enough proof for the Oxford Board of Selectmen that Owen Toner's name should be listed alongside of others from Oxford who gave their life in the Civil War. I sent them a four- page letter, describing how I came to this conclusion. I also sent copies to the Historical Commission, as well as the veteran's agent.

In these letters I outlined how my search came about. I also listed each step that I took, as well as documents that I found to back up my facts. Shortly thereafter, I received an e-mail from them asking that I attend their meeting. So off I went the following Tuesday evening, armed with several copies of a 75- page document that I had put together for them in order to make my case. Each member was given a document with explanations and photocopies from all of the sources that I had found concerning the records of Owen Toner.

After speaking to the board for about 45 minutes I concluded my presentation, whereupon the chairman thanked me for what I had done not only for the community but for Owen Toner as well. He then made a motion to have a plaque placed alongside the original tablets bearing the name of Owen Toner. This motion was passed unanimously. He then read a letter from the Historical Commission stating their request that such a plaque be made large enough so that in case any other names of soldier's who might be found to have been overlooked, could have their names placed upon it also.

Once again I had the sensation that a soldier of the 15th was smiling down upon me. Owen Toner's day, after 136 years, will finally come to pass. The supreme sacrifice that he made will finally be acknowledged.

Message from the Oxford Board of Selectmen to Bob Ducharme...

Please be advised that the following arrangements have been made for the unveiling of a plaque for Owen Toner.

This event will take place on Saturday, November 11, 2000 at 10:00 a.m. in the Civil War Memorial at the Oxford Town Hall.

The Chairman of the Board, Russell Rheault or the Vice Chairman, Greg Anderson, will unveil the plaque and read it to those present at the ceremony.

A prayer will be said, the firing squad will give a salute, Taps will be played and the NJROTC will be in attendance.

Following this presentation, it has been requested that the Chairman or Vice Chairman give a short speech at the World War I memorial. All are invited to gather at the VFW to enjoy refreshments at around 11:30 a.m. The Selectmen would be happy to have you join them, since it was you who brought this matter to their attention.

A final word from Bob ...

We had a ceremony in Oxford where the Selectmen and the family members of Owen Toner's family unveiled a beautiful plaque in his honor. Speeches were made by the State Representative, the selectmen and myself. I was especially thrilled to meet descendants of his family. We had a group of 12 reenactors present who later fired a salute in his honor. All the veterans organizations had members present and the high school had the NJROTC present as well. Afterwards we marched to the W.W.I monument and had a ceremony in honor of Veterans Day. Later everyone was invited to the VFW for a meal where I had an opportunity to speak with Toner's family members. It was a great day and a great culmination to 5 years of research..