Oscar Newman Whitney was born on June 29 1842, in Kent County, Michigan, the son of Oscar F. (born 1812 in New York, died 1849 in Michigan) and Electa A. (Bryant, born 1818 in Vermont, died 1886 in Michigan).
Oscar F., brother of Abraham J. who would also serve in the 3rd Michigan, married Electa on November 29, 1837, in Clinton County, Michigan.
After Oscar F. died in 1849, Electa married Vermonter George Warner probably sometime around 1850, probably in Michigan. (George Warner would enlist in Company B, 3rd Michigan Infantry in the spring of 1861.)
In 1850 Oscar was living with Connecticut native Dennis and New York-born Sally Hines in Cannon, Kent County. By 1860, Oscar (listed only as “Newman Whitney”) was a 18-year-old farm laborer who, along with his grandfather 76-year-old Connecticut native Zerah Whitney, was living with the Misner family in Grand Rapids Township, Kent County. “Newman” was also reported as a farm laborer living with his brother 29-year-old Michigan native George Whitney who was a teamster and they were all living with George Warner in Plainfield, Kent County.
During the winter of 1860-61, Oscar was working as a farm laborer in Big Rapids, Mecosta County, for the Green family (also living with the Green family was John Shaw who would also enlist in Company K).
Oscar stood 6’1” with black eyes and hair and a dark complexion and was a 19-year-old farm hand possibly living in Kent County when he enlisted with the consent of his guardian (possibly Dennis Hines from Plainfield, Kent County) in Company K on May 13, 1861. Oscar was reported as a company cook in October of 1862, a teamster in November and December of 1862, and serving with the Brigade wagon train from January of 1863 through July.
He was listed as absent sick in Washington, DC from September 16, 1863, until he reenlisted on March 17, 1864, at Plainfield, was mustered near Culpeper, Virginia and returned to Grand Rapids on a veteran’s furlough in April.
Although he was transferred to Company F, Fifth Michigan infantry upon consolidation of the Third and Fifth Michigan Regiments on June 10, 1864, apparently he never returned from his veteran’s furlough and was reported AWOL as of June 4 and then a deserter on July 19, 1864, while on veteran’s furlough.
In fact, Whitney was still in Grand Rapids and according to one local newspaper, by mid-July had become something of a “hero” around Kent County.
We have been told the following story [a local newspaper reported]which is religiously believed to be true by many of our citizens, some of whom claim to have actually seen the papers and documents proving its truth. We withhold names for the present.
A good looking and brave young soldier of the glorious Third Michigan Infantry, well brought up, who resided in this County, was overcome with fatigue and hunger, after the first Bull Run battle, and strayed from his regiment, with a comrade, on the retreat for Washington. Nearly exhausted, footsore and sick, the two met a Virginian gentleman, some distance from Alexandria, and were invited by him to partake of his hospitality. They accepted his kind offer, and were supplied with supper, a comfortable bed, and a change of rainment. Two or three days after, having somewhat recovered they proceeded to Washington and rejoined their command. But the young man from here had been smitten, during his short sojourn at the house of his benefactor, by the charms of the youthful and only daughter of his host, and frequently after that event called upon her, being always kindly received.
The Virginian was a Union man, a widower, and every wealthy. The war had deprived him of every one of his kindred, who were either in the rebel armies, or had emigrated South. Finding our young soldier a man worthy of his friendship, brave, trusty and sufficiently educated, be allowed matters to follow their natural course, and his daughter became betrothed to our hero.
When the Third returned home on furlough, our hero returned with it, to visit his home and relatives here for the first time since he enlisted. He was himself an orphan, who had been brought up by an uncle.
On his return, he found his betrothed dead -- killed by a fever. After mutual condolence in their affliction, the Virginian told our hero that he had learned to regard him as a son; that he had no other earthly kindred or friend to sustain his old age; and that he must be considered henceforth as a father.
Subsequently, while absent again, our hero received a telegraphic dispatch saying that his benefactor was dying. He hastened to reach his bedside, but was met by another dispatch announcing his death. On arriving in Virginia, he found that he had been made sole heir and executor of his benefactor's estate, by will, which was speedily probated, and which placed him in possession of property valued at over $400,000, including a well-known hotel and other property in Washington, and estate in Virginia, a number of lots in Chicago, etc.
We are informed that Colonel Kellogg is now aiding the young soldier to procure a discharge from the service, by putting several substitutes in his place, in order that he may be able to attend to the business of settling his newly acquired property; and that the young man has offered his uncle, who educated him, the management of the hotel in Washington, rent free, for a term of years.
We tell the story as it is now circulating through the city. If it turns out to be essentially correct, we shall, of course, lay its confirmation before our readers.
But, on August 23 the story took an interesting twist. “On the 18th of July last,” wrote the Eagle,
we published a romantic story, about a Grand Rapids soldier boy being in luck. The story was religiously believed among many of our people to be true, and it went the rounds of the press. It was partially rewritten and claimed as original by the Free Press folks, at Detroit, where it also took another turn among its exchanges. It was a pretty and highly romantic story, and it is too bad that it should, at this late day, be spoiled by coarse, plain facts and figures, and the hero of it be locked up in the jail. As our readers will recollect, this beautiful tale had its foundation with the first battle of Bull Run, where our hero, then a soldier in the Old Third, in the grand panic, wandered from his regiment to the residence of a rich Virginian, widower, with an only daughter, where he was kindly cared for and beloved at sight by the fair daughter. In short, our hero, whose name is [Oscar] Newman Whitney, reciprocated the love showered upon him, recovered from his injuries and returned on a furlough to his home in this city. When next he visited the home of his enamored fair one, he found that a sudden disease had carried her off and that her rich father was in a fair way to follow her, as he did in a short time thereafter, leaving, as he had not kin or relatives, all his vast estate willed to and in the hands of this fortunate young Michigander.
Since this vast amount of property, a the story goes, came into the said young man’s hands, he has quite naturally carried a pretty high head, and ha travel;ed extensively in the spread eagle style, obtaining money to do so upon his reported wealth.-- He has traveled hither and thither, looking after his vast estates, from the time the story started until last evening, when he, together with hi cousin Chas. Whitney, was arrested at the Half Way House, between this city and Kalamazoo, by officers Covell, Parkman and Ferris [formerly of Company A], brought back to this city and lodged in jail, on charges, we believe, of having obtained money upon false pretenses.
How this gilt-edged tory originated and has been successfully maintain as true to this time, is still somewhat of a mystery; but that he obtained money upon its supposed truth, of Mr. J. C. Richardson, of Plainfield, a personal friend of his and the Whitney family, at various times, for the purpose of securing his papers, etc., amounting in all to the snug little sum of $1,900, is no fiction.
When he obtained money of Mr. Richardson -- at various times from $200 to $500 -- young Whitney would place in his hands, for safe keeping and in order to show him that all was right, large envelopes, weighty with papers, firmly sealed with wax, addressed to himself, and filed substantially as followed, upon the various document, to wit: “Deeds of my property in New York”; Deed of the National Hotel in Washington”; “My property in Chicago”; “An account of my personal property”; “Last will and testament,” etc.
Among other quite natural luxuries that young Whitney has recently been indulging in, is that of marrying one of the pretty dancing girls, of the Varieties Theatre, at Detroit, with whom he has been sojourning here, passing the honey-moon for the past week.
Whitney, with several other theatrical chums, had made arrangements for a grand wedding and pleasure tour, along the shores of lake Michigan, and in order to do this handsomely, he must have more money to purchase a vessel, etc., the call upon Mr. Richardson, for which, like the last straw broke the camel’s back. Mr. R. smelled a mice, or rather was fearful that all was not right, and accordingly he came to this city yesterday, with hi huge pack of sealed deeds and mortgages, and placed them in the hands of officer Covell, when the envelopes were opened, and found to contain nothing but blank papers. Whew! didn’t some folk’s eyes elongate lengthwise and widthwise about that time, and did they not discover a “mare’s nest” with nary an egg in it.
Upon this blank discovery, Tom Clark, the theatrical vocalist, was immediately arrested and lodged in jail, as an accessory, followed by the arrest of the hero, Newman Whitney, and his cousin Charles Whitney.
To be continued when the records of the courts reveal further interesting facts.
Two days later, on August 25 the Eagle reported that
the fortunate or unfortunate hero of the romantic story of love and untold wealth, Orson [Oscar] Newman Whitney, was taken with his chums, Charles Whitney, and Tom Clark, before Justice Sinclair yesterday, for examination upon the charge as principal and assistants of obtaining money of J. C. Richardson, upon false pretenses.
The leading offender, and substantial “agony” in the case, waived an examination and was again committed to jail, to await the sitting of the next Circuit court, for want of bail in the sum of $10,000. The examination of the case of the other two young men, Charles Whitney and Tom Clark, was put off until the 21st of September next, and they were committed for want of security for their appearance at that time, in the sum of $5,000 each.
What a wicked world this is to be sure; a world in which wealth is quite fleeting, and true love never did run smooth, and where in beautiful stories terminate so ridiculously as the one whose hero above mentioned is in a common jail.”
The following day, the Eagle wrote that “O. N. Whitney, Charles Whitney and Tom Clark, were taken before E. Smith, Jr., Circuit Court Commissioner, this forenoon, when the amount of security in each case was reduced, bail given and they were set free. O. N. Whitney charged with obtaining property upon false pretenses, was admitted to bail in the sum of $5,000, for his appearance and answer at the next term of the Circuit Court; and Charles Whitney and Tom Clark were held to bail in the sum of $2,000 each, for their appearance on examination before Justice Sinclair, on the 21st of September next, to answer to the charge of conspiracy to defraud. Chas. Whitney and Tom Clark say they have been a greatly deceived as any one in this matter and that they can and will establish that fact on their examination.”
On the morning of the 26th, according to the Eagle, Oscar, who by now was widely known as having deserted from the army, was released from prison
on $5,000 bail, under the charge of having obtained goods upon false pretenses, he immediately left for the East, but was met by an officer at Ionia, who had received a dispatch from Detroit to arrest one O. N. Whitney as a deserter, which little job the officer accomplished, upon the arrival of the train bearing the romancer toward sunrise.
Whitney, finding himself in this unpleasant condition -- weighty responsibilities rapidly accumulating upon his young shoulders, he induced the officer to accompany him to Detroit, instead of the officer inducing him to stop over, whom he assured that all would be right, and that he would pay his expenses. The officer consented to his propsoitions, and off they went upon the flying train. But young Whitney, as it appears, changed his mind ere he reached St. Johns, and when the cars were in full motion concluded to stop in the woods insytead of Detroitm abd thereupon watching an opportunity when the officer’s attention was turned from him, he leaped from the cars and made tracks into the wilds; and that is thge last that has been seen of the hero of romances.
On September 21, 1864, “the time set for the appearance of Tom Clark and Charles Whitney, held to bail for their appearance and examination upon the charge of being accessory to O. N. Whitney in the crime of fraud -- obtaining money under false pretenses -- the parties appeared before Justice Sinclair, where no one appearing against them they were discharged. This is about as everyone supposed the case would result so far as these young men were concerned; no one supposing that they were really guilty of any crime in the case. The real agony and criminal in the affair, if there is one, has fled to parts unknown.”
At this point it becomes unclear what became of “Oscar Newman Whitney,” who served in the 3rd Michigan. There is no record of his having been arrested and tried for desertion. And the story of the fraud in Grand Rapids ends abruptly as well.
Interestingly, though, in 1890 there was an Oscar N. Whitney, living on 3rd Street in Grand rapids, who claimed to have enlisted as a private in Company B, 9th Michigan Infantry on October 14, 1864, and was discharged on July 7, 1865.
Oscar was apparently married to Ohio native Ellen (b. 1853) and they had at least two children: Anna C. (b. 1873) and Frank (1875-1901). In 1880 Oscar (listed as “Newman”) was working as a farmer and living with his wife Ellen and their two children in Ensley, Newaygo County in 1880. Also living in Ensley was his older Frank Whitney and his family as well as his mother Electa Warner (who was living with Frank).
There was also an “Oscar Newman Whitney” who reportedly married Mary Mussy or Muzzy on December 24, 1884, in Macomb County.
By 1886 Oscar was reportedly working as a hoop-maker and residing in Cedar Springs, Kent County. His mother Electa was probably living in Cedar springs that same year when she died in December and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery (section A-121-12). Oscar may have been living in Grand Rapids’ 7th ward by 1894.
In 1899 Annie Louise Newman, widow of one “Oscar W. Newman,” who had served in”Company F, 3 5 Michigan” was living in Michigan when she applied for and received a pension (no. 488176), apparently based on Oscar’s service in Company F, 3rd and 5th Michigan Infantry. (As far as is known, however, no Oscar “Newman” served in a Michigan regiment.)
Even in death the mystery surrounding what became of Oscar Newman Whitney continues.
In Fair Plains cemetery, Grand Rapids, Michigan, block 2, lot 419 are the remains of Oscar Newman Whitney, Jr (1886-1906) as well as Oscar Newman Whitney who died in 1915, aged 72, Ellen Whitney who died in 1906 at the age of 56, and also buried in the same location is Frank C. Whitney (1875-1901). Frank Whitney, who served in the 6th Michigan Cavalry is also buried in Fairplains (section G), as is Charles Whitney (1844-1923 grave location unknown).