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Two Texas Brothers at Antietam

Discussion in 'Battle of Antietam / Sharpsburg' started by AUG, Mar 13, 2018.

  1. AUG

    AUG Captain Forum Host

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    William H. Gaston 1.jpg Robert H. Gaston 1.jpg
    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. Alexander 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 survived but Robert was missing. The Federals held the field, so many of the Confederate dead and wounded could not be reclaimed.

    Below is a letter William wrote to his father a couple months after the battle concerning the fate of Robert.

    Fredericksburg, Va.
    November 28, 1862

    Pa
    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


    Their 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


    Lt. William E. Barry of Co. G, 4th Texas, believed Robert Gaston 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.)​

    1st Texas Infantry 2.jpg
    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, its 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.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2018

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  3. AUG

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    In 1863 William Gaston applied for and received a transfer to the Trans-Mississippi Department. He was stationed at Galveston for the remainder of the war as aide-de-camp to Alexander T. Rainey, his former company and regimental commander who was wounded at Gaines' Mill.

    He returned to Anderson County after the war ended, married and eventually had six children. William later moved to Dallas and was instrumental in the city's development and industrialization. He died January 24, 1927, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

    More on William's postwar life can be read on his Find A Grave page: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/5318038/william-henry-gaston
     
  4. AUG

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    In Lt. Col. Philip A. Work's official report he explains the loss of the regiment's colors.

    During the engagement I saw four bearers of our State colors shot down, to wit: First, John Hanson, Company L; second, James Day, Company M; third, Charles H. Kingsley, Company L, and, fourth, James K. Malone, Company A. After the fall of these, still others raised the colors until four more bearers were shot down. Not having seen plainly who these others were, I am unable to give their names in this report, but will do so so soon as, upon inquiry, I can ascertain.

    It is a source of mortification to state that, upon retiring from the engagement, our colors were not brought off. I can but feel that some degree of odium must attach under the most favorable circumstances, and although such are the circumstances surrounding the conduct of this regiment, the loss of our flag will always remain a matter of sore and deep regret. In this connection it is but proper to state, in addition to that detailed in the above and foregoing report, the additional circumstances and causes which led to its loss. When the order to retire was given, the colors began the movement to the rear, when the color bearer, after moving but a few paces, was shot down. Upon their fall, some half dozen hastened to raise them, one of whom did raise them and move off, when he was shot down, which was not discovered by those serving.

    While falling back, and when we had nearly reached the clover field hereinbefore alluded to (being still in the corn-field), I gave the order to halt, and inquired for the colors, intending to dress upon them, when I was told that the colors had gone out of the corn-field. Then I gave the order to move on out of the corn and form behind the crest of a small ridge just outside of the corn and in the clover field. It was when I reached this point that I became satisfied our colors were lost, for I looked in every direction and they were nowhere to be seen. It was then too late to recover them. There was no one who knew the spot where they had last fallen, and, owing to the density of the corn, a view of no object could be had but for a few feet.

    By this time, also, the enemy had moved up and was within some 35 or 40 yards of my left (proper) and rear, and another force was following us. No blame, I feel, would attach to the men or officers, all of whom fought heroically and well. There was no such conduct upon their part as abandoning or deserting their colors. They fought bravely, and unflinchingly faced a terrible hail of bullets and artillery until ordered by me to retire. The colors started back with them, and when they were lost no man knew save him who had fallen with them.
    Perhaps Robert Gaston was that last man to pick up the colors.


    "Lone Star" by Don Troiani, depicting the 1st Texas in Miller's Cornfield.
    194672_361439853930755_776143642_o.jpg
     
  5. James N.

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    The Gaston's goofy-looking uniforms bear an uncanny resemblance to those also adopted at the beginning of the war by members of Good's Texas Battery or 1st Texas Light Artillery raised in Dallas and Tyler. The artillerymen seem to have worn either what appear to be shell jackets like these or an overshirt of the same basic pattern with the triple rows of buttons on the fronts as on the man pictured at right.
     
  6. TerryB

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  7. TerryB

    TerryB Major

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    If I remember correctly, W.H.Gaston was the first millionaire in Dallas, maybe even the whole state. How he came by all that money at such a young age is a mystery to me. If I recall, he held an important post for the CS govt in Texas from 1863 on. There may be a connection. Handbook of Texas Online says he was a CS purchasing agent for the Trans-Mississippi Dept.
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2018
  8. TerryB

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  9. AUG

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    Forgot to mention, Pvt. J. P. Cook of Co. D "Star Rifles," 1st Texas, left a good account of the battle and his telling of how the colors were lost matches up with Lt. Col. Work's.

    San Antonio Daily Express, March 29, 1908.

    Historical Reminiscences
    A Review of Times that are Past but Live in History
    Prepared by J. B. Polley, Floresville, Texas.

    We had intended in publishing Col. P. A. Work's report of the part taken by the First Texas Regiment of Hood's Texas Brigade in the battle of Sharpsburg, in which he accounts for the loss of its flag, but have been anticipated by Colonel Phelps. It appeared in last Sunday's issue of the Express. Mr. J. P. Cook of Harper, Tex., writing of the same battle, but before seeing Colonel Work's report, has this to say:

    I have been reading W. E. Barry's and General Hamby's reminiscences of the battle of Sharpsburg, and having been a member of Company D of the First Texas and taken part in that battle, I can vouch for the truth of all they say concerning it. We made the charge with the rest of the brigade and, having driven back the first line of the enemy, went on to their second line, charged it and did not stop as long as there was a Yankee in sight. They ran through the cornfield and we had nearly gone through it when Colonel Work called a halt to reform our line and await the arrival of the balance of the brigade. While thus halted a Federal battery some 250 yards distant from us got our range and began making it hot for us. The boys wanted to charge and capture it, but Colonel Work objected.

    We began firing at the men around the battery, and after we had given them a couple of rounds they abandoned their guns and took to flight. Just as they did so a body of Federals who lay behind a rock fence fifty yards away, and partly hidden from our view by the standing corn, poured a volley into us. Turning our eyes in this direction, we began firing at them, taking the precaution however, to lie down and do our shooting. You can imagine how brisk the firing was from both sides when I tell you that within five minutes not a stalk of corn was left standing between us and the rock fence. But we stayed there and continued the fight until most of our men were killed or wounded, and then, ordered to retire, fell back and got in touch with other regiments of the brigade. Of my company only Captain Connally and myself were left.

    While ramming the thirty-fourth cartridge down my gun it stuck about half way. Just then the order to fall back came, and having no time to tinker with a choked gun I picked up that of one of my wounded comrades. Getting back to where we had routed the first line of the enemy. I found a comrade named Dixon – we called him Dixie – lying down and severely wounded. He asked me to help him off the field, and I did, and although for 150 yards the air was full of lead fired at us by the Yankees, neither of us got scratched. About this time other troops relieved our brigade and we went back to the camp we had occupied the night before. When Captain Connally learned that he and I were the sole representatives of Company D he said that as we did not need any officers for so small a squad he would get a gun and fall in with me, and that we two would do the fighting for Company D as long as we lived. Captain Connally was one of the bravest men in the army. He was in the last stage of consumption and had to be hauled to the battle field that morning. But the day overtaxed his strength. He was sent back to Richmond and thence went to Georgia, where he died a few months later.

    The last I saw of our regimental flag that day was at the time we were ordered to retire. I saw the flag fall, its bearer being killed, then I saw it grasped and raised by another man, who started back with it, furling it around its staff as he walked, then I lost sight of it, and am sure that this last man I saw in possession of it must have been killed in the retreat. Anyhow, the flag was not captured and was not secured by the Federals in any way of which they had a right to be proud.

    Not one of the regiments that composed Hood’s Texas Brigade ever had its flag captured in battle. The man who got credit for capturing the First Texas flag picked it up as it lay beside its dead or mortally wounded bearer, after all the fighting of the day was over. No doubt, however, he told his superiors that he had wrested it from the hands of its bearer. It put a feather in the cap of a Federal soldier to be credited with the capture of a Confederate flag, for in most cases not only was his name mentioned in general orders, but he was likely, if at all qualified, to receive promotion. The Confederate soldier, though, was offered no incentive of that kind; his regiment got all the credit, no matter what the risk he took. The best that the Confederate authorities did to encourage gallantry was to offer gold medals to the bravest man of a regiment. But as these superlatively brave were usually selected by the vote of the regiment, personal popularity had much to do with the awards.
    In his comment about the gold medals at the end, Cook's probably thinking about the nine gold stars awarded to selected members of the Texas Brigade in January 1865; however, it was not usual for Confederate soldiers to be awarded medals. Those gold stars were sent by an unidentified woman in Texas with the request that they be awarded to the Texas Brigade.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2018
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  10. James N.

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    Your post reminds me of Gaston Avenue in Sanctuary City Dallas; however last year there was a move by the current city administration to replace all streets named for former Confederates with those of suitable persons of color. I don't remember if Gaston was included or not, but I do know that at least one was missed; no doubt they were too ignorant to know the difference!
     
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  11. AUG

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    A day late, but I'll give this a BUMP in remembrance of all the Texans who fell at Antietam/Sharpsburg.

    There were also the two pairs of Perry brothers in Company E "Marshall Guards" of the 1st Texas - 2nd Lt. Clinton E. Perry and Pvt. Sidney F. "Bose" Perry, and their cousins, Cpl. Howard E. Perry and Pvt. Eugene O. Perry - all of which became casualties on that day. Clinton and Howard were killed and Eugene and Sidney were wounded. Eugene was later wounded again at Chickamauga and killed at the Wilderness, leaving only Sidney to be paroled at Appomattox and return home to Harrison County, Texas.

    Photo of Howard Earle Perry.
    Cpl. Howard E. Perry.jpg

    Howard's brother, Eugene Osceola Perry in Kentucky Military Institute uniform.
    1st Lt Eugene Osceola Perry Marshall Co E 1st Texas Infantry.jpg

    Obituary of Sidney Franklin "Bose" Perry in the Confederate Veteran.
    Sidney F. Perry, Co. E, 1st Texas Infantry.jpg


    [​IMG]
    Heart of Texas by Mark Meritato.

    Millers Cornfield 5.jpg
    Miller's Cornfield today.
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2018 at 3:25 PM
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