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September 2008



According to our visitor's page, Michelle Cinch, another descendant of great-great-grandad Mike, is looking for other Blongers with MySpace pages. Hers is here:

Also, Kristin Rose Fagenbush is wondering if she might be descended from "Baron" Charles Fegenbush, the only man known to have swindled Lou, the big swindler himself.


Vi Tarpy and the California Gang

Jeff Smith informs of of yet another link between the Smith gang and the Blongers — Violet Tarpy, headmistress of the California Gang.

In Denver, the Blongers were bailbondsmen to the gang, a group of men and women who made their living as pickpockets — more specifically, by luring unsuspecting lotharios into compromising situations, then extorting cash in return for their silence.

It seems there was a "Vie Torpy" with the soap gang in Skagway after Soapy made his way to Alaska. After Smith's death, Vi was among those encouraged to leave town, though Jeff reports that "at the last minute "Vie" refused to leave town with her husband Mike. Interesting..."

Jeff says his book is getting closer to print.


The Bucket Shops

As we all know, Lou was arrested in 1922 for facilitating an operation wherein victims believed they were, in part, making stock deals, or sports bets, in small trading offices in various Denver office buildings. In fact, the offices and betting parlors were complete fictions — the phones weren't even connected.

Denham Exchange

Suckers believed they were guaranteed to make money because their companion had an inside source — often, a confederate working for Western Union, who could delay the transmission of stock quotes or sports results, allowing the sucker time to make a bet or trade before the results were officially posted.

If you've seen "The Sting," you've seen the con.

This scam was highly successful circa 1922 because most folks were unaware that Western Union had long since instituted measures to ensure that this was not, in fact, a possibility. But it seemed plausible enough — because in the recent past it had been quite possible, and, in fact, quite common.

Which brings us to the so-called bucket shop.

At this point we know a fair amount about the Blonger brothers Sam and Lou in Denver of the 1890's. The were running brace poker games, policy shops, paying bonds for various miscreants like the California gang, and helping Soapy Smith's men cash checks. By the turn of the century they were well known as kings of the Denver bunco scene.

But the next two decades are fuzzier. The boys apparently learned their lessons well, and were evidently quite successful at staying out of print, for the most part. So far, we've found no reports of impropriety between 1902, when Lou was said to be "in charge of the wholesale bunco operations in this city" — and Sam and Lou reportedly tried to swing the election that year — and 1915, when Lou Blonger was implicated in a swindling scheme uncovered by carpenters remodeling his office building in Denver. Sam died in 1914.

But make no mistake, the Blongers were busy boys.

David Hochfelder, author of Where the Common People Could Speculate: The Ticker, Bucket Shops, and the Orgins of Popular Participation in Financial Markets, 1880-1920, has been researching Chicago Board of Trade files investigating the bucket shop phenomenon, spanning the years 1900 to 1922. The files include notes on investigations in numerous American cities. Although the Blongers are not specifically mentioned, there can be little doubt they were instrumental in the Denver operation.

Wikipedia defines a bucket shop as "a brokerage firm that 'books' (i.e., takes the opposite side of) retail customer orders without actually having them executed on an exchange. These brokerages are also often called boiler rooms." Transactions were not executed on any actual exchange, instead going "in the bucket."

The term reportedly arose in England, where seedy saloons sold the dregs from other establishments by the bucket.

So what do the CBOT papers have to say? In reference to Denver, the Denver Times reported that the shops were tapping the wires to get their quotes. The Secret Service evidently had men take positions as telegraph operators in 1911, and they reported that there were "one or more in almost every office building in the city." Further, "Govt agents believe that 'quotations which are furnished bucket shops all over the West are obtained in Denver and carried over the country by Western Union wires...'"

And why not? Colorado was one of only two states without a bucket shop law, West Virginia being the other, which may go a long way toward explaining how Colorado was considered bunco central in the early years of the twentieth century. Might the Blonger political influence have explained this in part?

Many thanks to Mr. Hochfelder, who, in addition to his own volume, recommends John Hill's Gold Bricks of Speculation.



Mike and the Battle of Antietam

As we've seen, there is some confusion as to just when Mike was finally hospitalized with the heart problem that plagued him throughout his adult life. Was it during Banks' retreat from the Shenandoah Valley (about June 20, 1862)? About the time of the Battle of Cedar Mountain (August 9, 1862)? Prior to Antietam (September 17, 1862)? Or after?

Let's take a comprehensive look at Mike's Combined Miltary Service Record and his pension file, and what they have to say.

Pertinent entries from his CMSR:

June 29, 1861, Company Muster-in Roll: "enlisted May 8 at Shullsburgh, age 20, period 3 years"

Oct. 1862: "absent sick in hospital since Sept. 20/62 place unknown"

That would be three days after Antietam.

Dec. 1862, Company Muster Roll: "absent sick in hospital place unknown since Sept. 15 1862"

That would be two days before.

Oct. 1863, Company Muster Roll: "discharged for disability January 28 1863 vide D & D R."

Mike's pension file is a full 110 pages, including numerous requests for an increase, and many affadavits filed on his behalf by physicians and acquaintances. His requests were mostly denied. The pertinent entries:

Jan. 1, 1863, Original certificate of disability: "I have carefully examined said Michael Belonger of Captain Vandergriff Company and find him incapable of performing the duties of a soldier because of Valvular disease of the heart contracted in the service."

Jan. 30, 1863: First claim for invalid pension ($6): "That while with his Regiment on or about the 20th day of June A.D. 1862, on the retreat from Winchester, Virginia, under General Banks, he contracted the heart disease by heat exposure, and overexertion, which rendered him unfit for further duty, and from which he has never recovered, and which wholly incapacitates him from earning his subsistence by manual labor."

May 20, 1864, Surgeon's certificate declaring Michael disabled for life: "[S]aid to have been, and supposed to have been produced by, much exertion in the retreat of Banks from Winchester from which time applicant dates his illness and has not been well since."

May 28, 1880, Affidavit of Michael Belonger detailing his disability: "While in said service, and in the line of his duty as a soldier, at Culpepper Courthouse, Va., or near there, in August or September, 1862, the command in which he was, was cut off from communication with its base of supplies, and for want of food & nourishment he was for several days nearly starved, by reason of which he incurred disease of heart and rheumatic affection of the entire left side. For this disease he was taken to Columbia College hospital in September or October, 1862, where he remained until about the first of January, 1863. He was removed from said Hospital to Convalescent Camp at Alexandria, Va., from which he was discharged."

The 3rd was near Culpeper Courthouse at the time of the Battle of Cedar Mountain.

Mar. 10, 1886, Surgeon's certificate recommending a total pension: "That he first noticed a severe pain in his heart at battle of Antietam, Vir. 1862. He was sent to hospital where he remained over 6 weeks."

Despite the other entries, we see here he did indeed claim to be at Antietam.

Sept. 8, Surgeon's certificate recommending a pension: "Claims he incurred disease of the heart from exposure, hunger & hard marching in summer & fall of '62 near Winchester, Va. He once marched 35 miles in 5 hours & again marched 3 days without a mouthful of food. Was disabled & sent to a hospital at Washington for 2 or 3 weeks & discharged on account of disability."

Dec. 15, 1886, Affidavit of Michael Belonger protesting reduction in pension: "I received my breast trouble during Banks' retreat from Winchester. I was sent from Culpepper to the hospital at Washington with the same trouble in my breast. It was Columbia College hospital, from there I was sent to Convalescent hospital near Alexandria, and was discharged as I believe for my breast trouble."

Yet here he claims to have been sent to D.C. from Culpeper Courthouse, which would be at the time of, or prior to, Cedar Mountain.

June 20, 1888, Surgeon's certificate recommending a total pension: "In 1862 at Williamsburg, Virg., got disease of heart, later was sent to Columbia College hospital, there about 6 weeks. On his request to be sent Regiment he was sent away [sic]. Did not find Reg and was sent to Convalescent Camp in Md. and was discharged 10 days after."

As far as I can tell, the 3rd Wisconsin was never at Williamsburg. Probably meant Winchester.

Mar. 23, 1890, Surgeon's certificate recommending a 10/18 pension: "Contracted heart disease near Winchester, Va., on Gen. Banks retreat - did not go to hospital then but did in September November following and remained there until discharged for disability in January 1863."

Jan. 28, 1891, Surgeon's certificate recommending a 12/18 pension: "Contracted heart disease summer of 62 in Va. near Winchester not in hospital at that time afterward in Columbia College hospital - for six weeks - then went into Convalescent Camp and discharged on account of disability."

Dec. 6, 1893, Surgeon's certificate making no recommendation: "Had diarrhoea in Va. in 1862, September went to Col. College Hospt., Wash. D.C., & has left me with chronic constipation."

This last entry is an odd addition, to say the least.

What to make of it all? Did Mike attempt to pad his record to incur sympathy from the military when he went asking for money? He states that he was indeed at Antietam, but contradicts this elsewhere on numerous ocassions.

At this point, I am inclined to believe Mike was severely taxed during the retreat from Winchester, and about the time of the Battle of Cedar Mountain he was sent to Washington, never to return to his regiment.

But in deference to his claim to have been at Antietam — and because we recently visited the battlefield — next we'll have a look at the 3rd Wisconsin's role in that battle.



Mike at Antietam

As illustrated previously, we just plain don't know if Mike made it to Antietam. Undoubtedly, he first suffered a heart problem at Winchester, and apparently made it to Cedar Mountain. Perhaps he soldiered on until shortly after Antietam. We just don't know.

Antietam cannons

But if he did — what a day. Private William Goodhue gives voice to his fellows:

It was in the grey of early morning when the Sergeant Major, walking rapidly along the line of sleeping men, awakened us with a gruff voice to roll call. I arose from my greensward bed with a feeling of numbness in my left side, caused by the pressure of my cartridge box against it all night, for we had slept accoutred for the battle which we were certain would occur with the daylight.


It was the morning of September 17th, 1862, at a place called Antietam. Still suffering from their fight at Cedar Mountain, the Third Wisconsin Infantry had been reduced to 340 men. As a part of General Gordon's brigade, they spent the night on the Poffenberger's farm field. Even as the roll call was being read, the sputtering of muskets could be heard coming from the front . . .there would be no time for breakfast that morning.
"The Division general and his staff came galloping along the line in front of the colors," writes Goodhue, "stopping a few moments to speak to our Colonel, then continuing on."
The Wisconsin soldiers witnessed something they had never seen before . . . Colonel Ruger dismounting his horse and putting it in care of a servant. The Colonel had always gone into battle mounted. Instinctively, Corporal Chauncey S. Beebe unfurled the Flag of the Third, and all know that there will be serious work ahead. The soldiers were then ordered into a column of fours. A grim Colonel Ruger placed himself in front and gave the command, "Forward!"
As they stepped off, a slight breeze picked up the folds of the Flag, accompanied by the general clanging of canteens and tin cups. Marching across an open meadow, the regiment soon ascended up a gentle rise of ground and entered a strip of large oaks and chestnut trees.
"Glancing back as we entered," recalled a soldier, "I saw other regiments and batteries following in good order, moving across the meadow just passed, and compact squares of infantry dimly visible through the mist which dimmed the brightness of the flags hanging limp and motionless against their staffs and concealed banners."
The regiment was halted and the welcomed command of "unsling knapsacks" was given. The knapsacks were soon passed along the line and piled up in heaps.
"Here, a captain from one of the companies stepped from the line and, approaching the Colonel, saluted him," noted Pvt. Goodhue. "A few words passing between them, unheard by others. The Colonel turned abruptly on his heel, taking his place at the head of the column, while the captain, with downcast face, walked to the rear, so very far to the rear that the regiment knew him no more."
Bullets began to hiss among the tree branches and Colonel Ruger ordered the column forward. In a short time, shells began to burst among the tree-tops. Branches, twigs and the colorful autumn leaves rain down among the broken ranks of the Third. Some of the mighty oaks cracked and shivered from the pounding shells, and the chestnut trees burst into splinters.
"Most of the missiles come high above our heads," writes a soldier. "One, however, comes low enough to kill a member of Company D, mangling him horribly!"
At the edge of the woods, the Third Wisconsin came upon their picket line. A misty curtain of fog covered the view in front, as the regiment emerged from the timber and was deployed into a battle line, with the Twenty-seventh Indiana on their left and the Second Massachusetts on their right. Shells continued to burst overhead, but the line was not visible to the rebel artillery and they were unable to get the proper range. Under the shell fragments, the Third continued onward. "A soldier near the colors was bruised by one of these fragments, causing a break in the line for a minute," wrote Goodhue. A few yards further and the regiment was ordered to halt.
Toward the right was the Dunker Church, which could be seen dimly by the men in the ranks. Lying scattered around their feet were a few black hats from the Iron Brigade, and in the front was a cornfield.

Dunker Church

"Our position was in a stubble-field," noted an officer. "The ground in front of us sloped gently downward, so that we were fifteen or twenty feet higher than the enemy. About a hundred yards in our front was a rail fence, beyond which lay another open field."
As the morning sunlight appeared, the fog soon vanished; but the smoke from the artillery hung heavily over the fields. From the ranks of the Third, a soldier cried out, "Here they come!" Goodhue wrote:
"Our attention was drawn to the cornfield in which we saw several conical shapes dancing above the tasseled stalks. Eagerly we watched them as they came, when suddenly as if by magic, the corn disappeared and a long line of Confederate grey covered our entire front! The conical forms we saw in the cornfield were the tops of Confederate battle flags, now plainly seen, scarcely a hundred yards away. Amid the deafening roar about us, I heard a voice behind me shouting, 'Ready! Aim! Fire!'"

The Cornfield

It was the Texans from General Hood's division that received the full volley of musketry from the Wisconsin line. Large gaps appeared in the grey line, but the Texans closed ranks and continued on. A Wisconsin officer noted that, "a portion of these stern fighters reached the fence, none came further. They there stopped and opened fire on our lines." The Texans' volley was terrible. Corporal Charles Beebe stumbled backward and was quickly caught by a comrade. He passed the Flag to Corporal Charles C. Chubb, then fell to the ground. Wounded, Beebe crawled toward the rear. Lieutenant Alexander Reed from Company I spun around and fell to the ground, dead. A bullet skimmed the forehead of Colonel Ruger, sending him a few steps backward, but the colonel remained on his feet. Within seconds, his forehead began to burn. Walking steadily behind the ranks of his men, Colonel Ruger gave but one command..."Load and fire!"
In Company D, Private Clinton Page was hit in the right ankle, but continued to fight. Page had just returned to the regiment two days previous after recovering from a wound he had received at Cedar Mountain. In Company C, the Thurlow brothers (Isaac and Albion) stood side by side.
"As one of the Thurlow boys (Isaac) turned partly around to load his piece, a bullet struck him in the temple, going through his brain," recalled Lieutenant Warham Parks. "I caught him as he fell and his brother carried him to the rear. In a few moments, he came back saying his brother was dead, picked up his musket and resumed firing...but his courage never failed."
A few minutes later, Lieutenant Parker fell to the ground wounded.
Above the clouds of musket smoke, the Flag of the Third Wisconsin was clearly visible. Standing firm, Corporal Charles Chubb was hit by a ball, which killed him; but before the flag fell to the ground it was caught by Corporal William A. Kimberly.
"The Third Wisconsin was in a very exposed position," wrote Lieutenant Bryant, "and it's lines thinned rapidly. It stood on higher ground than the Confederates, 'the sky behind it', in good musket range and close line — a good target."
Corporal Kimberly was soon hit and he passed the Flag over to Corporal Henry C. Isbel (right), then hobbled toward the rear. In Company D, Private Clinton Page received a second wound, a bullet hit his knee, shattering the bone. The pain was too great and the plunky soldier gave up. Using his musket for a crutch, he tried to hobble to the rear. A third bullet hit him in the spine, and the soldier fell. He was carried to the rear where his leg was eventually amputated. In the ranks of Company H, the Agnew brothers (David, James and John) stood close together, blazing away at the enemy. Suddenly, a Texan volley knocked all three brothers down. Corporal Richard C. Notting was also hit in the neck.
The ranks of the rebel line were beginning to thin out as well. The fire coming from Gordon's brigade was deadly.
"At length, the Confederates had been reduced to a mere handful," noted Hinkley. "It was hopeless to hold on any longer, and they fell back towards the woods. But before they had reached there, another of their brigades was coming up behind them. The new-comers, however, halted and opened fire at nearly double the distance that their predecessors had taken."
This fresh brigade of rebel infantry opened with a vicious fire. Corporal Henry Isbel feels a thud against his chest, passed the Flag to Private John M. Green, then weakness set in and he fell to the ground. A soldier wrote:
"Private Murray Green, as he was called by his comrades, held the colors but a short time while the firing was very heavy. His clothes were riddled with bullets and he received no less than seven flesh wounds, one only of the seven was severe enough to cause him to leave the field."
Private Green passed the Flag to the last remaining member of the color guard, Corporal James G. Savage. Over in Company A, Private Nathan Tuttle cooley reloaded his musket, at his feet lay his dead brother, Daniel. There had been four brothers in the beginning, but Franklin had been killed at Bolivar Heights and Elijah was taken prisoner at Winchester. Nathan was the only one left. Standing alone, he continued to aim and fire. Private George A. Rickeman, a recent immigrant from Germany, had not yet mastered the English language. When a bullet hit him in the thigh, the young soldier threw down his musket and began to shake his fist and yelled at the cursed enemy in Deutsch!
Many of the companies no longer had officers present, either being wounded or dead. Over in Company D, a spent ball hit Captain Hinkley in the ankle, which bruised him badly. A few minutes later, he was approached by a limping Corporal Savage, still carrying the Flag of the Third.
"He did not drop the Colors and run, but brought them to me, as I was the officer nearest him and told me he had to go to the hospital. I took the Colors from him and asked Joseph E. Collins, a private of Company D, to carry them, and he did so for the rest of the day," writes Hinkley.
Bringing his cap box to the front, Collins placed the end of the staff inside and firmly held the Flag of the Third Wisconsin high. He was the seventh soldier to carry the colors that day.
In front, the rebel brigade began to waver from the murderous fire coming from GordonÍs three regiments. Suddenly the rebel line broke and the grey-clad soldiers raced for the woods to their rear. Only forty minutes had passed and the Third Wisconsin had been reduced to a mere company. Hinkley wrote:
"...when the firing on our front had ceased and the reaction from the excitement of battle set in, Collins became so weak he could not carry the Colors. I got some whiskey from Colonel Ruger and gave him a drink, which revived him that he was alright again in a few minutes."
In the stillness, General Hooker was seen galloping up, blood dripping from his boot. He ordered the Wisconsin men to fix bayonets and pursue. There are only 60 men left! Joining them was the Twenty-Seventh Indiana, which increased the number to about 150.
"With a whoop and hurrah, our regiment and the Twenty-Seventh Indiana started down through the cornfield," continued Hinkley. "General Hooker himself leading like a captain."
At charge-bayonets, the two western units advanced across the cornfield. The flags of Indiana and Wisconsin flapped wildly in the breeze. The ground was strewn with the bodies of the Confederates. Towards the woods, at the edge of the cornfield, they marched. Suddenly a staff officer gallopped up and ordered the small attacking line of blue to halt and get out of the way. A division was advancing towards that position from the east.
"This was all that prevented us from assaulting a position with about a hundred and fifty men," reported Hinkley, "which a few minutes later Sedgwick's division, with five or six thousand, failed to carry."
The two regiments moved back across the cornfield to their old positions. Minutes later, they heard the heavy volume of musketry of Sedgwick's attack. They witnessed, in silence, the repulse of that division. There would be no rest for the Third Wisconsin now! The regiment was ordered forward to support the 1st New York Artillery and to meet the counter-attack. Only two officers remain fit for duty... Captain Julian Hinkley and Lieutenant Joseph T. Marvin, a school teacher by trade. They were now in command of the little handful that remained of the Third Wisconsin Infantry.
Out of the timber advanced a huge line of Confederates, their yells echoing loud across the fields. The powder-stained faces of the Third glared at their advancing enemy. Soon the deafening roar of artillery drowned them out. It was canister rounds that repulsed this attack. By noon, all was silent. An officer reported:
"Soon after noon, the ground was occupied by fresh troops and the brigade of Gordon was withdrawn a little to the rear. A rail fence gave fuel and soon the men were making coffee and preparing breakfast."
The next day, the men of the Third improved their opportunity to exchange arms. They threw away their state-issued Belgian muskets and picked up, off the field, the new Springfield rifles of a better pattern. This would later cause record-keeping problems in the State-Adjutant's office. For the time being, however, the men prepared themselves with their new rifles for a renewed conflict, but the battle of Antietam was over.
Today, if you visit that battlefield you will find nothing that tells the world what the Third Wisconsin did. Except for the Iron Brigade, Wisconsin has always been overlooked by the average historian. If you want to know where the Third stood, then look for the small plaque of the Twenty-Seventh Indiana. On the right you will find the silent rise of ground. There they stood and fought, but only a few know what they did there. Someday, we pray, we can change all that.

Of 335 men in 3rd Wisconsin Infantry, over half (173) were wounded and 27 were killed. If Mike was truly in the thick of it, he was one of the lucky ones. His affliction tormented him the rest of his days, but he lived a long life, and had ten kids, including great-grandma Braley.

This map shows the 3rd in the thick of things, heading straight for Hood's men in the Miller cornfield at 8:20 on September 17, 1862.

Maybe Mike told stories of the battle that we've never heard; maybe he never spoke of it. His friends and neighbors surely knew the facts. At any rate, he isn't mentioned in any accounts of the battle we've read, though there is a great book about the 3rd, With the 3rd Wisconsin Badgers: The Living Experience of the Civil War Through the Journals of Van R. Willard, edited by Steven S. Raab, which is a first-hand account.

Some company histories, compiled many years afterward, list Michael as "wounded," some even placing the wound at the Battle of Antietam. It's our judgment that this was a false assumption; there is nothing in his pension file that even remotely indicates that he was ever wounded in battle.

Abraham Looney was a young man in New Diggings, a stone's through from Shullsburg, when the war broke out. At twenty-three years of age he joined Company I, Mike's unit, when the 3rd Wisconsin was formed. The following is from a site about Lafayette County"

He became a soldier at the outbreak of the Civil war, enlisting in Company I, 3d Wis. V.I., July 19, 1861, under Capt. Howard VANDERGRIFF, of Shullsburg. He was mustered in at Fond du Lac, and the regiment was assigned to the Army of the Potomac. Its first engagement was at Charlestown, Va., and it was also at Winchester, after which battle our subject was part of the force that arrested the Legislature of Maryland, while it was in session for the purpose of joining the Southern Confederacy. Mr. LOONEY was in the battle of Strasburg, and also at Cedar Mountain, in 1862. He participated in the second battle of Bull Run that same summer. In September of the same year he was a soldier in the terrible battle of Antietam, where his regiment lost heavily in killed and wounded.

Other figures of interest known to be at Antietam include purported family friend U.S. Grant, purported acquaintance of Joe George Armstrong Custer, angel of Mercy Clara Barton, foe of the Denver gamblers Thomas Tarsney, partner in the Forest Queen mine Neil Dennison and Denver cop Perry Clay.

The Dunker Church

It's curious to note that our Uncle Roy, seen below with Scott in the old Dunker Church is a long-time pastor with the Brethren Church, which is to say — the Dunkers, who were so called by outsiders for their practice of full-immersion baptism. Congregants referred to the church as the Mumma meetinghouse of the Manor congregation, named for the landowner, Samuel Mumma.

Dunker Church


September 2008



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