Carlton Neal was born on August 4, 1820, in New York, the son of New York native Jesse (1800-1870) and Agnes and probably stepson of Connecticut native Miranda or Marinda (1807-1884).
Carlton’s parents settled in Michigan by the late 1830s, probably around 1837 and by 1840 were living in Cambridge, Lenawee County. In 1841 Carlton had reportedly left for the western side of the state and settled in Grand Rapids, Kent County. By 1845 and 1850 Jesse and his family were living on a farm in Madison, Lenawee County. Jesse eventually settled his own family in Grand Rapids as well.
Carlton married New York native Anna M. (1823-1856), and they had at least three children: Oscar (1843-1904), Orrin M. (b. 1846), and Emily (b. 1848).
By 1850 Carlton and his wife and three children were living on a farm in Grand Rapids; also living with them was the family of John Church (b. c. 1820 in New York).
According to a report in the Grand Rapids Enquirer on March 21, 1856, Carlton, who lived just at the city line, had recently interred his first wife Anna M. on his own property as apparently there was no room in the existing (Fulton) cemetery; she was subsequently reinterred in Fulton cemetery.
In the mid-1850s Carlton took an active interest in the growing militia movement in Grand Rapids, and on December 1, 1856, he was elected Third Lieutenant of the “Light Company” of Grand Rapids Light Artillery, first under the command of Lucius Patterson and then under Stephen Champlin (who would become Major of the 3rd Michigan in 1861). When the “Light Company” was reorganized as the “Ringgold Light Artillery” on February 10, 1858, under John Jay as Captain, Neal was elected Second Lieutenant.
By 1860 Carlton was a widower and wealthy farmer living with his parents in Grand Rapids’ 1st Ward.
In the spring of 1861, as companies were forming in Grand Rapids in preparation for being organized into a Second or Third Regiment of Michigan Volunteers for U.S. service, one company, which would become Company K, “already has 38 men enlisted as privates,” wrote the Enquirer on April 30, “with new recruits constantly coming it. Byron R. Pierce is the captain; Alfred B. Turner, First Lieutenant; Carlton Neal Second Lieutenant.” However, when the company was fully organized by late May, Almon Borden was First Lieutenant, Robert Collins was Second Lieutenant, and Carlton was 41 years old and residing in Grand Rapids when he enlisted as First Sergeant in Company K on May 13, 1861 (at the same time that his son Oscar enlisted in Company B; he was possibly related to Lucius Neal also of Company B). Collins would soon be appointed Regimental quartermaster, however, and Carlton would succeed him as Second Lieutenant, commissioned on July 1.
Carlton married English-born Virtue Mitchell (1833-1906), in Grand Rapids on June 12, 1861, the day before the 3rd Michigan left for Washington. According to one report, Neal “goes direct from the altar to the field, leaving sad hearts behind [him]. Heaven grants [him] a safe return.” They had at least two children: Nellie E. (b. 1864), Frederick W. (1867-1910) and Gaycues A. (b. 1873).
He resigned on account of disability sometime in late 1861, either on October 28 or November 25.
Carlton returned to Michigan and reentered the service as junior Second Lieutenant of Battery L, 1st Michigan Light Artillery on November 3, 1862. In fact, the battery was not formally organized until the spring of 1863 and was probably mustered into service at Coldwater, Michigan on April 11. That same month Carlton was actively recruiting for the battery in Grand Rapids. On April 22, 1863, the Eagle reported the following incident involving two young men recently recruited by Neal.
Lieutenant Carlton Neal says that the boys, though minors, he was arrested for having enlisted and taken into the service of ‘Uncle Sam’, were large, strapping fellows, either of them over 18 years of age, and not only perfectly willing but anxious to go, and that they did go of their own free will, and were accordingly taken to Coldwater and mustered into the Eleventh Battery [L] attached to the Ninth Michigan Cavalry. The father of Thornton gave his consent, but Rice's father said that his son was a minor and that he should not go; this, however, was after he had enlisted and boarded in this city some time, with other recruits; whereupon the Lieutenant told him to pay back the money the Government had expended for his son's board and he would let him off, but he refused to do it, and the boy still wanting to go, he was accordingly mustered into the U.S. service.
The following month a more serious incident occurred. On May 26, “Two of our citizens were arrested,” wrote the Eagle, “charged with helping a soldier to desert his post, by secreting and aiding him in escaping from Lieutenant Neal.”
The battery left Michigan for Covington, Kentucky on May 20 and remained on duty at Covington until June 4 when it moved to Camp Nelson, Kentucky and then on to Mt. Sterling on June 12. It was involved in the pursuit of John Hunt Morgan from July 6 to the 29th. On or about July 27, 1863, Carlton left to rejoin his command in the Army of the Cumberland, taking some 10 recruits with him, and was promoted to Senior Second Lieutenant of the battery in February or March of 1864. He was absent on furlough from May 10, 1864, and returned to his home in Michigan. The Eagle observed that he was “looking and feeling first rate, and represents everything in good condition at the Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, where his command is stationed. He will pass but a few days here, being called home as a witness in the U. S. Court.” The paper noted that before leaving to return home, “he was presented by the privates in his command with a magnificent sabre, sash and belt, as a testimonial of their esteem. Good for ‘Carlton’, and the brave boys under him.”
Carlton remained in Grand Rapids for about a month and on June 20, he left to rejoin his battery which was then located at the Cumberland Gap. The battery subsequently moved to Knoxville, Tennessee from June 27 to July 1 and remained on duty there until August of 1865. Carlton was promoted to Captain in February of 1865, commissioned on January 14, 1865, replacing Captain Gallagher, and on February 23 the Eagle was informed of his promotion by a member of the 10th Michigan cavalry, then encamped at a camp near Knoxville, Tennessee.
Your former townsman Lieutenant Carlton Neal of the Eleventh Michigan Infantry [sic], has been lately promoted to Captain Battery L. It was one of those rare cases where true merit triumphed over favorites. Captain Neal has been instrumental in recruiting for the service over 100 men, has seen two years of hard service with his battery, and his promotion to Captain is received with hearty congratulations from his numerous friends here, among whom are many able and influential officers. By invitation, in company with Captain Brooks, Lieutenant [Robert G.] Barr, of the Tenth, and a number of officers from other Regiments, we called on Captain Neal, this afternoon, to offer our congratulations, and to partake of a ‘sumptuous feast’ that had been prepared for the occasion. We did ample justice to the chicken, turkey, pies, cakes, tarts, etc., to say nothing of the ‘wine that maketh glad the heart of man’, that sparkled around the board. Being a ‘Good Templar’, of course the subscriber did not indulge in the last mentioned luxury. Captain Neal's battery is composed of a fine looking body of men, and the neatness and order displayed in personal appearance and about their quarters, speaks well for the discipline of the commander.
Carlton was commanding Battery L on March 31, 1865, and on August 15 the battery was ordered to Jackson, Jackson County, Michigan. Carlton was mustered out with the battery on August 22, 1865, at Jackson.
After the war Carlton returned to the Grand Rapids area where he lived and farmed for the rest of his life. In 1867-68 he was living on the northeast corner of Ransom and Bronson (now Michigan) Streets, in 1870 he was living in the 1st Ward and owned a great deal of restate apparently; and in 1875 he was living in the 4th Ward. By 1880 Carlton was keeping a large boarding house and living with his wife and children in Grand Rapids’ 4th Ward; however, his son Oscar is not reported as living with them. Carlton was living in the 7th Ward in 1894.
In 1887 his wife Virtue sued for divorce. According to a story carried in the Democrat of October 2, 1887, Virtue told the court
a pitiable tale of wrong long unrighted. Carlton Neal took Virtue to his bed and board in June, 1861, and they have lived together for nearly 26 years. Virtue bore three children, all of whom are now living, and has always been a loving and affectionate wife to her husband. 12 years ago, Carlton lost his property and since that time the complainant says he has neglected her. He has failed to provide for her, and she was compelled to keep a boarding house to support herself and family. Not only was her husband unmindful of her for years, but he has been abusive to her. He kicked her out of bed and used abusive language on more than one occasion. Since he kicked her out of bed, she has not occupied the same bed with him, though he still stays around her house. She asks for a divorce from Carlton and also wants him enjoined from taking any of the furniture in her house which she says belongs to her personally.
This break in their relationship occurred the year after his son Oscar, formerly of Company B, was admitted to the Kalamazoo Insane Asylum; apparently Oscar had been confined at the Kent County home prior to his admission to the Michigan Soldiers’ Home but he became too difficult to control.
It is unclear whether the divorce was ever granted, and in fact Virtue was buried with Carlton.
He became a member of the Old 3rd Michigan Infantry Association in December of 1890, was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic Custer Post No. 5 in Grand Rapids (he was suspended on June 28, 1893, for reasons unknown), and also a member of the Old Settler’s Association. In 1887 he applied for and received a pension (no. 434635).
He died of asthma at his home in Grand Rapids on July 15, 1896, and was buried in Fulton cemetery: section 5 lot 23, along with his son Oscar.
On July 25, 1896 Virtue was living in Michigan when she applied for and received a pension (no. 434535).