GLOVERSVILLE - In 1864, Bruce Anderson, a black man, enlisted in Gloversville to serve as a private in the Union Army. Fighting with the 142nd New York Infantry Group K in the Civil War, one of the few mixed-race regiments of the time, he distinguished himself as a hero and earned a medal.
Just recently, local resident Ambrose Anderson Jr. - himself is a decorated veteran - learned he is Bruce Anderson's grandson.
Bruce Anderson was born around June 1845 in the town of Mexico, Oswego County, according to Montgomery County Historian Kelly Yacobucci Farquhar, whose research uncovered the family link between the two veterans.
Ambrose “Cowboy” Anderson Jr. is shown at his Johnstown home this week with the medal he earned for his service in World War II. He recently learned he is the grandson of a decorated Civil War
soldier. (Photo by Levi Pascher/The Leader-Herald)
The records are not crystal-clear, however. According to census records from 1860, Bruce Anderson (or someone with the same name) was living in Gloversville with a white household and was 14 years old.
It remains unclear what exactly he was doing in a white household or how he got there, Farquhar said.
Anderson enlisted in Gloversville in August 1864 and would go on to become a hero during the attack on Fort Fisher, N.C., in January 1865. The second battle of Fort Fisher was a joint assault by the Union Army and naval forces to capture the last major coastal stronghold of the Confederacy. Anderson's 142nd Infantry was the last unit in the first brigade under the command of Bvt. Brig. Gen. Newton M. Curtis.
According to the New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center website, the soldiers from both the North and South reported the Fort Fisher battle involved "savage" hand-to-hand combat, some of the fiercest of the war.
Curtis asked for 12 men to volunteer, making them aware that death was inevitable, to advance to the palisade so the unit could break into the first traverse, said Farquhar. Anderson was not one of the 12 men originally called upon, but one of them was an acquaintance of Anderson's who was married and lived in Gloversville with his two small children. Anderson, thinking he had less to live for, stepped forward and volunteered to take the place of his companion from back home, Farquhar said.
Anderson and 11 others walked into certain death and accomplished what was asked of them, but out of the dozen who stepped forward, only two came back alive. One of those men was Bruce Anderson.
"Those men knew they didn't stand a chance, but he came out of it alive," said Farquhar. "He was in the jaws of death and was just fortunate enough to survive it."
She said Gen. Adelbert Ames recommended all of the 12 men, including Anderson, receive the Medal of Honor, but his recommendation report was misplaced.
Anderson did receive the medal - America's highest military decoration - in 1914, almost 50 years after the battle, said Farquhar.
Anderson was discharged in Raleigh, N.C., in 1865 and returned to New York to continue life and start a family. He married his first wife, Adelia Anderson, and according to a 1870 census, they lived in Johnstown with six children from Adelia's first marriage and had one child together named Ambrose Anderson, who then was 2 years old.
By the next census in 1880, Bruce and Adelia had divorced, leaving Adelia to raise the kids in Gloversville. According to the census, the couple had a total of three children: 12-year-old son Ambrose Anderson, 9-year-old son Life Anderson, and 7-year-old daughter Clara Bell Anderson.
"The day he was granted his divorce from Adelia, he married his second wife, Julia James," Farquhar said. "From what I found, once he married his second wife, he had little communication with Adelia or the children."
Farquhar said Bruce Anderson went on to have four other children with Julia and lived in Amsterdam before he passed away in 1922 at the age of 77. He is buried at Green Hill Cemetery in Amsterdam.
The story of Bruce Anderson took an unusual spin recently after Farquhar discovered he may be the grandfather of World World II veteran Ambrose Anderson Jr., a Gloversville resident who received a congressional medal for his service with the Marine Corps.
"I am about 90 percent sure that he is a descendent of Bruce Anderson," Farquhar in an interview earlier this month. "I am still trying to find ways to prove the lineage, but it would be truly amazing to discover that both grandson and grandparent received a medal for their service."
A few days later, Farquhar found evidence solidifying the link in the form of a 1936 item in the Gloversville Leader, an obituary for Ambrose Anderson Jr.'s aunt Clara Bowman. The obit names her half-siblings, who were the children of Bruce Anderson and his second wife.
Known by his childhood nickname, Ambrose "Cowboy" Anderson Jr. is now is his 80s. As a young man, he was one of 20,000 black Marines integrated into the U.S. Marine Corps after Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a presidential directive giving black Americans the opportunity to serve as Marines.
The black Marines who enlisted between 1942 and 1949 earned the nickname "Montford Point Marines" after being segregated from their white counterparts, who trained in Parris Island, S.C. Ambrose and his company trained with others at Montford Point, at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Nearly 70 years after Cowboy Anderson first set foot at Montford Point, he finally received recognition from the nation he served. He went to the nation's Capitol this June to attend the Congressional Gold Medal Award Ceremony for the Montford Point Marines. He is one of more than 400 living members of the Montford Point Marine Association.
Anderson, along with the other Marines, was awarded a bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal at the ceremony.
Anderson, who now lives in the town of Johnstown just outside Gloversville, grew up in the city near Washington Street and Thompson Avenue. His father, Ambrose Anderson Sr., was the son of Bruce and Adelia Anderson. He worked for the for the city's Department of Public Works, Cowboy recalls.
He says growing up, he never heard anything about his grandparents from his father. He said after talking with Farquhar and a Leader-Herald reporter, he is almost certain Bruce was in fact his grandfather.
"I think he most likely is my grandfather," Anderson said, with a look of astonishment on his face. "I mean, I never even thought about looking into ancestry, but these facts point to him being my father's dad."
The facts Ambrose is referring to are the census records provided by Farquhar, with the highlight being the 1880 census that shows his father had a sister named Clara Bell. Anderson pulled a collage off a shelf in his home and pointed to a picture of himself when he was about 12 years old, standing between his Aunt Clara and Uncle Elmer, who lived in Schenectady, at a family event.
The 1936 obituary for Clara stated her brother Ambrose Anderson lived in Gloversville and that she had a grandson named Perry Vedder Jr.
Cowboy recalled communicating with Vedder and enjoying the nightlife in Schenectady with him when he came back from the war. However, Anderson said, after he was married, he lost contact with him.
"I can't express how much of a pleasure this is to find out," said Anderson. "It honestly makes me feel even more pride for the medal that already meant a great deal to me."
He planned to have his daughter bring him to the cemetery so he can see his grandfather's gravestone in person.
"In my time, I didn't really spend time on education and doubted myself," said Anderson. "We didn't have any heroes to study or follow, so this would have been really something to know growing up, but even now it brings joy that the two of us have left our mark in the service."
Farquhar said looking into things like this is important because it lets everyone know what happened in history locally and how connected the local community really was years ago.
"Finding information like this is kind of like a big web," said Farquhar. "You start in one place and go to another based on what the next lead gives you. Just getting into the records you can learn so much about families and history, the only difficulty is connecting the dots."
Levi Pascher covers Gloversville news. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com.