Brothers, William H. and Robert H. Gaston, Co. H, 1st Texas Infantry, Hood's Texas Brigade.
(Photos published in Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Texas in the Civil War, attributed to the Dallas Historical Society.)
Both William and Robert were born in Prairie Bluff, Wilcox County, Alabama - William in 1840 and Robert in 1844 - the second and third child in a family of five brothers and two sisters. The family later moved to Anderson County, Texas, in 1849 where their father, Robert K. Gaston, held extensive land holdings and served two terms in the Texas legislature. William and Robert, along with oldest brother George attended the nearby Mound Prairie Institute. In 1860 the family moved again to Tyler, Smith County, Texas; leaving William to manage the old homestead.
At the outset of the war in spring of 1861, Robert joined William in Anderson County and both boys enlisted in the locally raised company, the Texas Guards, organized by Capt. Alexis T. Rainey. William was 1st Sergeant and Robert 4th Corporal. The company was later organized as Company H of the 1st Texas Infantry after the regiment was formed in Richmond that summer. In fall of 1861 William found himself elected captain of the company at only about 21 years old, and from then on he was known as the "Boy Captain."
Robert wrote the following in a letter home, Oct. 26, 1861:
Billy has been elected Captain in Rainey's place. John Spencer ran against him. Billy has now a considerable responsibility resting upon his shoulders, but I think he is fully able and capable to discharge the duties that will devolve upon him. He has been studying military tactics tolerable closely for some time & is very well versed in them. The company is in fine spirits. We have no fussing nor quarreling in our company.
Robert was later elected 3rd Lieutenant in May 1862.
Fast forward to September 1862, the Gaston brothers having fought throughout the Peninsula Campaign, Seven Days and Second Manassas, they then participated in the Maryland Campaign. It is well known that in the bloody fight for Miller's Cornfield at Antietam the 1st Texas suffered an outstandingly high casualty rate, with 186 killed and wounded out of 226 present, or 82.3%. The Gaston brothers' Company H, according to one source, lost 19 out of 22 engaged. The regiment's two battle flags were left lying in the field among the dead - held up until there was almost no one left, lost in the chaos and later picked up by a Union soldier. William was lucky enough to make it out unscathed, although brother Robert was missing. The Federals held the field, so many of the Confederate dead and wounded could not be reclaimed, leaving William to only wonder whether his brother was still in the land of the living.
Below is a letter William wrote to his father a couple months after the battle concerning Robert's fate.
November 28, 1862
I received your letters of the 5th Nov_ a few days ago but have not had opportunity of writing until now. I am surprised at you not receiving my letters written after the Sharpsburg fight. I cannot see why my letters should not reach home as soon as others. I wrote you soon after the fight & gave you all the information I could about Robert. I have been inquiring and hunting for him ever since he was lost. I can hear nothing from him. I feel that he was slain although I cannot give him up yet. There is some chance for him to be alive yet. He may have been badly wounded and still in the hands of the enemy. There have been some of my boys sent back from Maryland that I thought was killed. They saw nothing of Robert but say he may be there somewhere as our boys were scattered all over Md. I hope he may turn up someday. I have felt miserable since he has been gone and it is with deep regret that I have to communicate his loss to you. I hope you all will not think hard of me for not giving you all the particulars of his fate when it was out of my power and as my letters failed to reach you. We were overpowered by the Enemy and compelled to give up the battlefield leaving behind our killed and wounded with some prisoners & were not permitted to go on the field after the fight. Consequently I cannot tell the result of the missing. We are now lying in sight of the Yankee tents. Only the Rappahannock River between us. May expect a fight any day but I do not think they will attempt to cross this winter. The weather is very cold but we stand it very well. Have plenty of clothes. Some shoes wanting. Our boys are in fine health and our army is in good condition. We expect to go into winter quarters shortly. I intend to come home this winter if I can. I may have to resign to do so but I want to come. My health has not been good for some time & I think I have tried it long enough to satisfy me. You spoke of coming here. I would advise you not to come as you cannot accomplish anything by the trip. If Robert can be found I will find him before I come. If killed, we will have to give him up for a time. I'm glad you sold Jake as Negroes are cheap. I think it my duty to come home awhile at least. Excuse my writing with pencil as ink is scarce in camp. Write to me often. I will do the same. I close,
This from your Son,
W. H. Gaston
Sadly, at only 17 or 18 years old, Robert was one of the dozens of Texans killed in Miller's Cornfield.
Lt. William E. Barry of Co. G, 4th Texas, believed he was left lying dead on top of the 1st Texas's state colors.
I was captured that morning of September 17th, 1863, in a lane that ran in front of the cornfield in which your regiment fought so long and desperately, and was delivered by my immediate captors to some cavalry under command of a major. While standing by the side of a public road, I saw approaching from the Federal front a party of infantry soldiers, one of whom was waving a flag that I immediately identified as that of the First Texas. When the party came up, the major asked what flag it was and where it had been captured. The reply of the man who held it was: "I did not capture it, Major—I found it in the cornfield." The major then asked me if I knew the flag. "Yes," said I as the soldier handed it to me, "I know it well; it is the flag of the First Texas regiment." And kissing it reverently I returned it to the soldier and asked him where he got it. He repeated his statement that he had found it in the cornfield, and then told me that thirteen men lay dead within touch of it, and that the body of one of the dead lay stretched across it. From the description he gave of that body, and from subsequent information, I have not a doubt that it was the corpse of Lieutenant R. H. Gaston, a brother of Captain W. H. Gaston, of the First Texas.
(Hood's Texas Brigade: Its Marches, Its Battles, Its Achievements by J.B. Polley, pp. 128-29.)
State colors of the 1st Texas Infantry, aka the "Wigfall flag."
A few other postwar accounts by Texas Brigade veterans claim that Robert's body was found lying farthest in the Cornfield and was accordingly buried in a separately marked grave by Union troops out of respect. However, his final resting place is unknown. Along with other Confederate soldiers killed at Antietam, it's possible that his remains were later reentered in one of several surrounding cemeteries, like the Washington Confederate Cemetery in Hagerstown, MD; though many Confederate dead were still left undiscovered on the battlefield.
The Gaston brothers' letters were later published in "Tyler to Sharpsburg" edited by Robert W. Glover, which can be read online here: http://rootseekers.org/?page_id=9062