A couple of months ago I was trying to determine whether or not Oscar Rogan, a lefthanded semipro pitcher in Indiana in the late 1910s, was related to Wilber “Bullet” Rogan, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the 25th Infantry Wreckers and Kansas City Monarchs. I was able to establish that Bullet Rogan’s family history could be traced back to Sumner County, Tennessee, which was where Oscar Rogan was born. Going back to the 1870 census, however, I couldn’t find any solid evidence showing whether or how their two families were related. And then we run into the slavery line. Prior to the Civil War, the census did not record the names of individual slaves. The slave schedules merely listed the owner’s name along with only the slaves’ ages.
That doesn’t mean you can’t figure out anything in the slavery era. The 1870 census shows 49 African Americans surnamed “Rogan” living in Sumner County, along with 10 white Rogans. In the 1860 census, Francis Rogan of Sumner County owned 71 slaves (and William Rogan 5 more). In the 1850 census Francis Rogan owned 57 slaves. It seems very likely that the black Rogans of post-war Sumner County were largely the same people (or their descendants), meaning that the Rogan name can be traced back to the Francis Rogan family.
The Rogans were major landowners and the most prominent Catholics in an otherwise heavily Protestant area; some of the buildings on their property still exist (including the original stone cabin built around 1800 by Hugh Rogan, Francis’s father and an Irish immigrant). You can read about their slaves and their families here—though it appears that the researcher hasn’t realized that a descendant of the Rogan slaves became a Hall of Fame ballplayer.
The Francis Rogan house (right; 1827) and Hugh Rogan house (1800), from the Middle Tennessee State University site on the Rogan family.
Let me stop here to point out one historical celebrity among the Rogans of Sumner County, someone who’s probably related to Bullet and Oscar: John William “Bud” Rogan (not to be confused with Bullet’s grandfather, also named John Rogan). Bud Rogan never stopped growing during his life, eventually reaching the height of 8 feet, nine inches before his death at the age of 37 (roughly) as a result of complications from his condition. At one point he weighed as much as 300 pounds, though he had wasted away to 175 by the time he died.
Bullet Rogan stood 5’7” and weighed 160 pounds; Oscar Rogan was almost exactly the same size, 5’6 ½”, 160. According to military records, their grandfathers were, respectively, 5’ 4 ¼” and 5’6”. The Rogans were fairly small men, even for the times. And yet they may have been related to the second-tallest human being in recorded history.
Anyway: Bullet’s father, Richard Rogan, was born in either 1862 or 1863 (the 1900 census says March 1863). It’s certainly possible that he was born into slavery, as the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863) did not cover Tennessee, which was already largely in Union hands by that time, and the pro-unionist state government did not outlaw slavery until it ratified the Thirteenth Amendment in April, 1865. So I can’t say for sure whether Bullet was the son of former slaves, or the grandson.
But Tennessee’s military governor, future president Andrew Johnson, freed his own slaves on August 8, 1863. It’s possible that Francis Rogan followed a similar path, and emancipated his slaves around this time. Union forces occupied Sumner County in February, 1862, and the county seat, Gallatin, became an important logistics hub for federal forces (and target of Confederate raids). Here, on October 1, 1863, six men named Rogan enlisted in the 14th United States Colored Infantry—including both John (aged 39; Bullet’s grandfather) and Wesley (38; Oscar’s), as well as Benjamin (25), Jacob (25), Page (24), and Titus (18). A seventh, 22-year-old Clinton Rogan, joined on November 1.
Although I still have no idea what their actual relationship was, it’s easy to imagine the two older Rogans as brothers. John spent the war as a cook for Company A, while Wesley was a cook in Company D. During their service the 14th Colored Infantry served as garrison troops and railroad guards and saw action at the Second Battle of Dalton, Georgia (August 1864), the siege of Decatur, Alabama (October 1864), and the decisive Battle of Nashville (December 1864). Young Clinton Rogan died of “bilious pneumonia” at the post hospital in Chattanooga on December 2, 1865, but John and Wesley and, as far as I can tell, the rest of the Sumner County Rogans survived the war.
In the end we still don’t know exactly how Oscar Rogan and Bullet Rogan were related, though I’m pretty sure someone out there (particularly someone in the Rogan family) knows a lot more about all this.