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Stephen G. Trass Civil War Pension File

Original documents from the National Archives

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[Bureau of Pensions]

When Stephen G. Trass was drafted into the Union Army in 1863, he stood 5 feet 9-1/2 inches tall, was fair complected, and had brown hair and blue eyes. He fought in a number of battles, including the Battle of the Wilderness, Virginia, May 1864, and the Battle of Five Forks, Virginia, April 1865. He was honorably discharge on 3 July 1865.

In 1889, he applied under the General Law for a pension provided to Civil War veterans who suffered disability as the result of being wounded during service and in line of duty. Over a period of decades, he applied for other pensions as they were approved by Congress. Each one of these pension applications required that he substantiate his own service and his medical claims.

His first application was filed some twenty four years after the end of the Civil War. He apparently kept no records and his memory was unusually flawed. Where he could not provide correct information, he appears to have made it up, much to the frustration of examiners from the U.S. Pension Office.

[Battle of the Wilderness]

The greatest discrepancy between Trass and the pension examiners was his account of where and when he incurred a wound to the left hand resulting in the loss of his third finger. According to Trass, It happened while he was with Company "G", 76th Regiment of the New York Volunteer Infantry (G-76NYVI) at the Battle of the Wilderness, Virginia, in early May, 1864. As the Union line was advancing on the enemy, Trass stopped to reload his rifle. He was holding the gun barrel in his left hand when a ball hit it, glanced into his hand, damaged the second finger and took the third finger cleanly off between the first and second knuckle. According to Trass, he remained on duty, wrapped his hand in his own handkerchief and kept it soaked in cold water. The hand healed in two or three weeks. A surgeon looked at it afterwards and opined that his hand was healing, but since his missing finger was taken off between the first and second knuckles, he advised Trass to have it amputated up to the second knuckle to prevent future problems. Trass ignored him.

The War Department and some witnesses had a different story. According to War Department records, Trass' was wounded at the Battle of Five Forks, Virginia, in April, 1865, while he was serving with K-147NYVI. He was taken to the Regimental Hospital and the finger was amputated.

Many soldiers who had served with Trass at the Wilderness were contacted, and none recalled Trass being wounded. His tentmate in the 76th, and later in the 147th, one Andrew Jackson, testified he was certain Trass had been wounded at Five Forks, the day Sheridan relieved General Warren of his command. He had been standing next to Trass and when it happened, remarked, "Steve, you really catched it!" to which Trass responded that he had lost a finger. Trass went to the rear and Jackson did not see him again until after Lee had surrendered. At the end of the War, Trass and Jackson traveled home together as far as North Norwich, New York.

Trass continued to insist he had lost his finger at the Wilderness. In the end he was pensioned for the injury. Many other details given by Trass in formal depositions turned out to be wrong (or at least in dispute), including the units in which he served, people he served with, ailments for which he was treated, places where he lived, and his own birth year.

Curiously, and in Stephen's favor, medical examinations showed that his ring finger was terminated half way between the first and second knuckle joints. If it had been amputated in the Regimental Hospital as the Army claimed, one might expect it to have been amputated at the knuckle.

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