Marcus Witkowski - Immigrant entrepreneur, Confederate soldier, music publishing pioneer
By Steve Scroggins
Marcus Witkowski was born in 1834 in Prussia, the son of a prominent contractor who died in a cholera epidemic in 1849. Revolution and political upheaval in Germany led Witkowski and his siblings to seek their fortunes in America. Two of his brothers (David and Simeon aka Simon) had settled in Fort Gaines (Clay County) in southwest Georgia, one in Eufala, Alabama and they wrote of their success and adventures in America. In 1853, Marcus arrived in New York harbor on July 4th according to his son's book. According to his obituary, he arrived at age 21 which would have made the year 1855.
Marcus moved to Fort Gaines, Georgia and started a business as a peddler selling goods from a wagon. He quickly had retail success and opened a store, and then another. He acquired a home and started farming in cotton and acquired slaves to work the farm. He invited his sister and her husband to join in his business ventures.
When the war started, and his brother-in-law decided to enlist, Marcus convinced his brother-in-law to run the businesses while he enlisted instead. A family history authored by his son, Isadore, suggested that Marcus equipped and raised a company of his own. Military records state that he was elected Second Lieutenant of Company E of the 59th GA Infantry, known as the Cotton Planters Guards, out of Clay County, on May 22, 1862 after mustering out of Company D, 5th Regiment of Georgia State Troops (as a sergeant).
Both of his brothers, David and Simon, served in Company I of the 51st GA Infantry, also of Clay County Georgia. The brothers are listed on the Clay County Georgia federal 1860 Census as merchants, ages 25 and 27.
The 59th Georgia Infantry regiment formed in May 1862 and served in Georgia, North Carolina and eventually Virginia until early 1863 when they were assigned to George T. "Tige" Anderson's brigade, a part of Fields' Division in Longstreet's Corps in the Army of Northern Virginia. The 59th's first major combat engagement was Gettysburg and there they lost heavily. Of 525 men on the field, 37 were KIA, 75 wounded and 30 missing or captured. Anderson's Brigade (composed of the 7th, 8th, 9th, 11th and 59th Georgia Infantry Regiments) lost 671 total at Gettysburg. Some of these dead ended up in the Gettysburg Section at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. (See sidebar below.)
Lt. Marcus Witkowski - oil painting by Brown Bros. NY
Lt. Marcus Witkowski was wounded at Gettysburg and captured. He was treated and restored to health in New York and then transferred to the POW Camp in Sandusky, Ohio. Records indicate he was elected First Lieutenant (while a POW) July 10, 1863 and released from Fort Delaware, on May 22, 1865.
When he returned home after the war, he found his business ventures and farm in ruins. His slaves had remained in the area. But to his great fortune, a friend had secured $60,000 worth of cotton in a hidden barn, which Marcus sold to settle his affairs and seek to start over. He had determined to start over in New York.
His former slaves, now freed, followed him to New York, but according to the book by son Isadore, they were "not welcomed" in New York, people there being hostile to "plantation hands" and they soon returned south.
In New York, Witkowski renewed friendships with many people who had come from his native home in Prussia. Marcus married a German woman from his Prussian home in October 1866 and started a large family. He tried a number of business ventures with modest success, including cotton cloth, eventually selling wines and liquors.
In 1873, court records show that Marcus and two of his brothers, David and Simon, changed their names legally in the State of New York from Witkowski to Witmark. So the brothers evidently decided to move to New York together, or David and Simon followed Marcus at some later time before 1873.
Marcus Witmark, 1834-1910
Marcus was musically inclined, had always sang in church choirs, and learned to play the guitar and piano accordion. His sons turned out to be musical prodigies which he encouraged. As teens, Marcus and composer sons started a music publishing business in 1886. With the changes in copyright law in the 1891 and treaties with Britain, France and Germany, their business model was wildly successful in the famous Tin Pan Alley in New York and they became internationally known publishing sheet music.
The creation of the music empire of M. Witmark & Sons is documented more fully in the book entitled FROM RAGTIME TO SWINGTIME (PDF) by Isadore Witmark.
Marcus died March 29, 1910 and is buried in Bayside Cemetery in Queens, New York. Sons Jacob "Jay" Witmark (d. 1950) and Julius P. Witmark (d. 1929) are also buried at Bayside according to Find-A-Grave. According to his obituary, Marcus lived at 57 West 88th Street in New York when he died at the age of 76. This home was purchased for Marcus and his wife by his sons. His mausoleum at Bayside (2014 photo below), according to its markings, was evidently purchased and erected in 1903, well prior to his death in 1910.
The cemetery fell into disrepair and was overgrown, vandalized and looted. Local volunteers have been working to clear, restore and repair the cemetery, and one in particular, Anthony Pisciotta, contacted Camp 1399 because its website had information on the 59th Georgia Infantry in which Marcus Witkowski (later Witmark) served. Pisciotta wanted to see their military service was properly recognized and their graves marked and in order. He had contacted some descendants, and they were not especially interested in the efforts.
There was reference to Marcus singing in church, but there was no mention of synagogue or matters of faith in known writings. Descendants have verified that the Witkowskis were of Jewish faith. The choice of cemetery selected seems to confirm that. The articles (links below) written on the Bayside Cemetery cleanup/repair efforts indicated that the cemetery was almost exclusively Jewish.
In that same Bayside Cemetery, the grave of Simon Witkowski (Company I, 51st GA) is beside the mausoleum of Marcus Witmark. Despite the legal name change of record, this cannot be a coincidence. Apparently, the descendants or relatives of Simon wanted his grave marked with his native German/Prussian surname or perhaps Simon had legally changed it back to Witkowski after 1873.
The Witkowski brothers came to America and fully engaged their economic freedoms to earn their way. When war came, they served their communities, their state and their country to defend against an invasion. After the war, they endured their losses and started over making the most of their God-given talents. The Witmark family used their music and business talents to pursue the American dream.
The occupation and economic destruction of the south drove many to seek their fortunes in the north or the American west. Millions of Americans are descended from Confederate heroes who defended their homeland against the invaders and though it's said that the Old South is "gone with the wind," the blood, the spirit and the memory of those heroes lives on in Americans in every state. The Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) achieves part of its mission by presenting the true history of the South to future generations.
- "Index to session Laws of the State of New York" compiled by William Henry Silvernail… on page 496 there is a record that a Marcus Witkowski changed his name to Marcus Witmark (p. 1412) in 1873. See image below.
- Obituary, New York Times, March 30, 1910 - Marcus Witmark obituary (PDF)
- imslp.org - M. Witmark & Sons - imslp.org/wiki/M._Witmark_%26_Sons
- Wikipedia - M. Witmark & Sons - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._Witmark_%26_Sons
- The New York Jewish Week, "A Cemetery's Righteous Gentile", by Julie Wiener - July 3, 2012
Author's Note: Our THANKS go out to Mr. Anthony Pisciotta of New York for his work to restore and preserve the Bayside Cemetery at Queens and for his efforts to properly honor military service.
- CBS New York - The Gentle Gentile: Local Catholic Man Volunteers His Time To Fix Up Jewish Cemetery - July 10, 2012
- waltercosand.com - Witmark, Isadore - FROM RAGTIME TO SWINGTIME (PDF)
- 1860 Federal Census Clay County Georgia - David and Simon Witkowski listed as merchants, ages 25 and 27
- Find-A-Grave.com - Memorial Julius P. Witmark - died 1929
Rosters of Military Units
- Company I, 51st Georgia Infantry - usgwarchives.net
- Company E, 59th Georgia Infantry - usgwarchives.net
- Company E, 59th Georgia Infantry - SCVCamp1399.org
- Company I, 51st Georgia Infantry - SCVCamp1399.org
Marcus Witmark's vandalized mausoleum at Bayside Cemetery, Queens, NY - photo courtesy Anthony Pisciotta, 2014
Gettysburg Section at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia
The U.S. Government relocated only union soldiers from the Gettysburg battlefield to the National Cemetery there. Confederate soldier's graves remained mostly hurriedly and haphazardly buried, unmarked and unattended. The remains of 2,935 Confederate dead were removed from mass graves at Gettysburg where they were buried immediately after the battle and reinterred at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond by the Hollywood Memorial Association of the Ladies of Richmond in 1872. They were reinterred near the ninety foot granite pyramid which the women raised $26,000 to build.
General George Pickett, for whom the famous Gettysburg charge was named, was buried near these Confederate Gettysburg dead at Hollywood Cemetery when he died in 1875. See the brief video tour of the Gettysburg Section at Hollywood. A number of Gettysburg Confederate dead were taken to other cemeteries in the southern states.
There are over 18,000 Confederate dead interred in Hollywood. This list preceded the relocations from Gettysburg in the early 1870s. Register of Confederate Dead Interred at Hollywood Cemetery (PDF) - published 1869, 134 pages.
Among those Confederate dead relocated to Hollywood were a number of men from Anderson's Brigade of Georgians. While walking Hollywood Cemetery searching for familiar names in the Confederate section, the author spotted a Simeon B. Theus in the Confederate Gettysburg section. While the author's seven Theus ancestors from Taylor County Georgia were in Company C, there were a number of Theus cousins listed in Company F, and records indicate they were born in Crawford County (a portion of Crawford County was incorporated into Taylor County after the birth of these veterans). The three Theus men from Company F of the 59th Georgia Infantry were:
The author's direct ancestor was among the seven Theus brothers who served in Company C, the Arthur Greys, of the 59th Georgia Infantry from Taylor County Georgia and a Sizemore ancestor in Company K, 59th Georgia. Two of those Theus brothers are buried in Hollywood Cemetery, but not in the Gettysburg Section. One is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond where some 17,000 Confederate dead rest.
Alfred Russell Theus who died of typhoid pneumonia January 3, 1863, and Septimus Theus, who was mortally wounded at Spotsylvania May 13, 1864 and died May 27, 1864 in a Richmond Hospital are buried at Hollywood. John B. Theus, the elder brother, died of typhoid January 13, 1863, but he's buried at Oakwood Cemetery (not to be confused with "John C." of Company F, who survived the war). The fourth Theus brother from Company C who died in the war, William H. Theus, is buried at Spotsylvania Confederate Cemetery.
The other three Theus brothers from Company C of the 59th Georgia survived the war. James Jasper Theus (1831-1906) and Thomas B. Theus (1841-1918) are both buried in Taylor County Georgia. Richard A. "Dick" Theus (1839-1926) moved to Texas after 1880 where two of his younger siblings lived. He's buried in Eastview Memorial Park near Vernon in Wilbarger County Texas.