(1832 - 1909)
Home State: New York
Branch of Service: Infantry
By the late 1840s he was working in circuses, becoming the "boss animal man" for Barnum's New York Menagerie by 1861. Then age 29, he enlisted 27 May 1861 in New York City, and mustered as Private, Company G, 83rd New York Infantry (9th NY Militia Regiment). He was promoted to Corporal on 14 August 1861 and Sergeant on 1 June 1862.
On the Campaign
He was wounded by gunshot through the elbow in action on 17 September 1862 at Antietam.
The rest of the War
He was treated at a hospital in Frederick, MD and was discharged for wounds there on 17 December 1862. He was a liquor dealer in 1863, but enrolled as 2nd Lieutenant, Company D, 39th New Jersey Infantry on 29 September 1864 (mustered in 3 October), and mustered out with his Company on 17 June 1865 in Alexandria, VA.
After the War
He and his son Charles Henry worked for the Barnum, Thayer & Noyes, and other circuses in the 1860s-1880s. He often used the stage name Professor Charles White. Initially a lion tamer, he was mauled by lions in 1867 and 1870:
[T]he management [of James Robinson's Great Circus and Animal Show] determined to produce something novel in the way of a band chariot, and conceived the idea of mounting the band upon the colossal den of performing Numidian lions ...He then turned to training other animals, and was an agent for P.T. Barnum. By 1883 he was living in New York City and receiving a Federal pension of $12 per month for his elbow wound. In 1884 he bought a white elephant in Asia and brought it to the US for Barnum. He was with the Barnum and Bailey Circus until shortly before he died.
[During a circus parade in Middletown, Kansas, Thursday 9 June 1870] The driver lost control ... the fore wheel of the cage coming in contact with a large rock with such force as to cause the braces and stanchions which supported the roof to give way, thereby precipitating the entire band into the awful pit below ... The awful groans of terror and agony which arose from the poor victims who were being torn and lacerated by the frightful monsters below was heartrending and sickening to a terrible degree ... the side doors were quickly torn from their fastenings, and then a horrible sight was presented to view. Mingled among the brilliant uniforms of the poor unfortunate victims lay legs and arms torn from the sockets and half devoured, while the savage brutes stared ferociously with their sickly, green-colored eyes upon the petrified crowd.
Professor Charles White arriving at this moment, gave orders in regard to extricating the dead and wounded, he well knowing that it would be a difficult and dangerous undertaking to remove them from the infuriated monsters. Stationing men with forks and bars at every available point, he sprang fearlessly into the den amid the savage monsters, and commenced raising the wounded and passing them upon the outside to their friends. He had succeeded in removing the wounded and was proceeding to gather up the remains of the lifeless, when the mammoth lion known to showmen as Old Nero, sprang with a frightful roar upon his keeper, fastening his teeth and claws in his neck and shoulders, lacerating him in a horrible manner. Professor White made three herculean efforts to shake the monster off, but without avail, and gave orders to fire upon him. The contents of four Colt's navys [revolvers] were immediately poured into the carcass of the ferocious animal, and he fell dead; and the brave little man, notwithstanding the fearful manner in which he was wounded, never left the cage until every vestige of the dead were carefully gathered together and placed upon a sheet preparatory for burial.
... The lions are the same ones which nearly cost Professor Charles White his life two years ago, while traveling with the Thayer & Noyes party, and were known to be a very dangerous cage of animals ...
References & notes
Service information from the States of New York1 and New Jersey.2 Casualty and hospital detail from Nelson.3 His pension from the Pension Office.4 His gravesite is on Findagrave. The quote above from a piece in the Middletown (KS) Banner of 14 June 1870, as reprinted in the Sacramento Daily Union of 23 June [online]. His picture from an 1864 photograph kindly provided by descendant Kip A. Lindberg, source also of details of his circus career, many from a 1950s autobiography by his son C.H. White. Charles Henry White left circus work in the 1880s and afterward worked on railroads.
01/21/1832 in NY
03/29/1909 New York City, NY; burial in Fairmount Cemetery, Newark, NJ
1 State of New York, Adjutant-General, Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of New York [year]: Registers of the [units], 43 Volumes, Albany: James B. Lyon, State Printer, 1893-1905, Issue 30 (for 1901) [AotW citation 7464]
2 State of New Jersey, Adjutant-General's Office, and William S. Stryker, Adjutant General, Record of Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Civil War, 1861-1865, 2 volumes, Trenton: John L. Murphy, Steam Book and Job Printer, 1876, pg. 1136 [AotW citation 17611]
3 Nelson, John H., As Grain Falls Before the Reaper, Hagerstown: John H. Nelson, 2004, pg. 435 [AotW citation 17612]
4 US Department of the Interior, Pension Office, List of Pensioners on the Roll January 1, 1883, 5 volumes, Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1883, Cert #23341 [AotW citation 17613]