Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mystery Veteran F. A. Whitehead - Not Quite as Mysterious

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Remember last week when I by happenstance discovered a Civil War veteran's tombstone at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery? I wanted to find out who he was and how he found himself in Hollywood in the early twentieth century. I poked around on the Internet for a bit but quickly grew impatient -  so I turned to my fellow Civil War bloggers for assistance. They got back to me in short order. So thanks Robert Moore and Andy Hall!

Here is what they found: According to the 1920 census, New Yorkers Frederick A. Whitehead and his wife, Agnes were residing in Los Angeles - most likely on Carlton Way, what is now an affluent neighborhood north of Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood. I am not yet certain what he was doing in L. A., but I now have a pretty interesting wartime story.

It seems that Whitehead enlisted in Co. B of the 1st New York Mounted Rifles in October 1861, which means he would have seen plenty of action in the Virginia theater of war. By January 1863, Whitehead was listed as a deserter...but turned up as a masters mate in the Navy the following year, serving aboard the U.S.S. Narragansett. He resigned in March, 1865.

Was Whitehead a deserter? It may just be a matter of interpretation. In 1891, he successfully had his name cleared of any wrongdoing through an act of congress. He claimed he had been a minor at the time of enlistment and thus discharged. This was actually not true - he was 18 years old. But one thing suggests that at least he thought he was in the clear to "leave" the Army and transfer to the Navy - he enlisted in the Navy with his real name. Could allegations of desertion simply have been a paperwork mix-up?

After the war he spent some time in Fort Meade, Florida and is noted in a book on Polk County:

Capt. F. A. Whitehead, one of Fort Meade’s leading and most active and influential citizens, has a delightful residence amid towering oaks and a fruitful orange grove, in the heart of the village. He also has a variety of pleasing growths, such as Japanese plums and persimmons, Peen-To-peaches, lemons, limes, pine-apples, strawberries, bananas, mangos, sapadillos, grapes of numerous kinds, flowers in great variety, and other things too numerous to mention. He also has large number of acres of the choicest citrus fruits in grove. A native of New York City, he has made good use of his thirteen years in Florida. Resigning his position in the navy at the close of the war, he made a thorough acquaintance of California, and has been in the fruit and stock business ever since, yet having a farm in Delaware. He prefers Florida to any State, has large tracts here and is doing a very extensive real-estate business.

The whole "captain" thing appears to be a post-war self appointment, as was practiced by many veterans (think of all the ex-Confederate "colonels" running around!). And it was more than likely the citrus business that brought him to California. In the early-twentieth century, the motion picture industry was still in its infancy - Hollywood was covered with lemon and orange groves!

So my next step is to begin searching locally, to see what I can find out about the Whiteheads and their work here in Southern California. His tombstone clearly indicates that he was proud of his service in the Army and Navy - if he was involved in veterans' affairs in L.A., he may very well have had some interesting things to say about being a Yankee westerner. Time...and a lot of digging...will certainly tell. So stay tuned as the story unfolds.




  1. Who said that Southern California is a cultural wasteland??? I don't know that this falls into the catagory of "culture" but it is history for sure. The Beach Boys and Frederick A. Whitehead!

  2. I have come across another Union Veteran who is buried in Los Angeles at the Veteran's Cemetery: Duane LeGrange Tyler was in both company H and company M of the 2nd PA Heavy Artillery. He died 22 April 1934 and is buried in the Los Angeles National Cemetery.He married Emma Rosalee Buchanan born 15 Jun 1845. He applied for a pension 14 Oct 1884. In 1920 he lived in Luna NM with his son Arthur.

    Company M is the same company in which my g-g grandfather, William Beynon Phillips served at Fort Delaware and Fort Lincoln. I plan to visit the grave and take a photo or two.