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Lieut. Writes to Eastern Shore Family After Son's Death at Gettysburg

Discussion in 'Battle of Gettysburg' started by Samwisep86, Jan 11, 2018.

  1. Samwisep86

    Samwisep86 Corporal

    Oct 22, 2013
    Fairbanks, Alaska
    William H. Eaton enlisted as a private in the 1st Maryland Infantry (Union)- Eastern Shore on October 14, 1861 for a period of 3 years.

    Most of the 1st Maryland Eastern Shore's duty involved garrison duty on the border between Maryland and Virginia on the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay.

    William wrote home several times to his family in Cambridge, Md during the intervening years, tired of the boring duty in the regiment, but promising them not to worry about money, since his army pay would help pay off of their money troubles.

    In late June 1863, William wrote to his parents that excitement was afoot. Writing that "it is rumard that we will ship for Baltimare", the regiment would ultimately head to its first engagement at Gettysburg, fighting Confederate Marylanders on Culp's Hill.

    When the fighting had ended, William was one of the five killed in the 1st Maryland Eastern Shore.

    After his father wrote asking about William, Lt. James Hooper, commanding William's Co. E, wrote this reply:

    "Point of Rocks Frederick Co Md

    August 29, 1863

    Mr. Eaton

    Dear Sir

    Your letter of a

    late date was received some time since

    and I should have answered it sooner

    but have had a great deal of writing

    to do of late. Stafford & Blades neither

    have been with the company for months

    and consequently all the duties of the

    company devolved on me. I have just

    sent to the Adjutant General at Washington

    Williams account against the Government,

    and if that officer is prompt in the

    discharge of his duty, you will have

    sent to you a check for the money

    due your son, in a short time.

    If I can possibly get an opportunity I will

    find Billy’s remains and send them

    to you free of cost On the day of battle

    I sent after his twice, but the rebel

    shot and shell were raining so fast

    that the party had to return without him


    I should have written to you concer-

    ning Williams death immediately

    after the battle, but I know that it must

    be painful to his mother, and that

    by writing to others she would hear it

    soon enough. You say that you heard

    William fought bravely at Gettysburg

    You were rightly informed, as I am

    a witness to the manner in which

    he behaved in the face of the enemy

    I was not more than six feet from him

    when he fell, the ball which passed

    through his head came near me.

    No man in the Regiment acted in

    a more Corageis Manner than

    the young man whose death

    we all sadly deplore—And I in

    common with—his comrades in arms

    share the grief which his parents

    so deeply feel. Remember me to Mrs

    Eaton and the children I shall be

    pleased to hear from you at any time.


    James R. Hooper"

    William Eaton's body was unfortunately not returned to Eastern Maryland, but interred in a fitting place,
    the Soldier's National Cemetery at Gettysburg (Maryland Plot B-1).

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  3. Doug5861

    Doug5861 Private

    Jul 1, 2013
    I wish we could communicate with such eloquence these days. He deals with a difficult subject professionally and compassionately.
  4. Tom Elmore

    Tom Elmore Sergeant Major

    Jan 16, 2015
    Lt. John E. Rastall of the 1st Maryland Eastern Shore wrote home after the battle, on July 28: " ... The concentrated fire of our own and the rebel batteries for two hours loped over our heads, and the Rebs charged up to within 300 yards of our rear ... We opened terrible volleys upon the poor Rebels and they fell back in confusion. This was in our front, for we did not know what was transpiring in our rear until the attack was repulsed by other troops. ... Not a man or officer in our regiment but was severely shaken in the nerves, and many have not gotten over it yet. Our Major, who is now tenting with me, only the night before last awoke me by his fighting the battle over again. ..."

    PTSD in Civil War soldiers comes to mind when reading the last two sentences. This was the first time these troops had experienced battle, and it was a particularly brutal one at that. From Lt. Rastall's description, he could be referring to the repulse of Col. O'Neal's Alabama brigade on the morning of July 3 on Culp's Hill, which means he was with the left wing of the regiment. At the time, the right companies were roughly about 100 yards further south, opposite the right of Steuart and Daniel. It's not clear which wing William H. Eaton fought in.

    Many, if not most, of the casualties incurred by the Federal infantry who were rotating in and out of the breastworks occurred when they were moving into (or back from) those entrenchments and thus were most vulnerable.
  5. Scott Hann

    Scott Hann Private

    Sep 4, 2015
    Thanks very much for sharing this fascinating letter. I'd be interested in learning more. Would you mind revealing the source of these letters? Thanks, Scott
  6. Scott Hann

    Scott Hann Private

    Sep 4, 2015
    Tom, your research is impeccable. Wish I could find the sources that you do!

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