Sunday, October 20, 2013

"Resting awhile but not left alone:" Thomas H. Eaton and the 72nd Pennsylvania in the West Woods.

Phoenixville April 1st 1905.

Gen E. A. Carman_

Dear General

In answer to your favor of the 29th inst. In looking over my Diary in relation to the 17th of September 1862_ I find that there is so few remarks in regard to this great battle that it looks as if it was a mere outline of a lecture to be filled out at any time and not twice alike⁠1.[1] 

The Cope/Carman 1908 map showing action
around the Dunkard Church at approximately
9 to 9:30 a.m. The worm fence mentioned
by Eaton may have been the one running
adjacent to the Smoketown Road [at 1] which
veers northeast from the church [at 3] to the upper 
right corner of this image. The road that runs
west from the church [at 2] is the trace that
connects Hagerstown Pike to the Alfred 
Poffenberger farmstead. Library of Congress.
Wednesday Sept 17, 1862. Up at 2 a.m. Coffee 80 Rounds Cartridges. Took our shelter tent down. Shelling from the Confederates. Started at 7 a.m. crossing a creek, but just filled Canteens (with water). B[rigade]  movement over fields &c_ brought in line of battle, 34 NYI⁠2 broke through our lines throwing us into great disorder. Pvts. Diackery⁠3, Wm Prior⁠4 both of my company H, one of the 71st, and myself went on our own luck (I might say here that we recrossed the Hagerstown Pike North of the Dunker Church up to this time[,] near noon[,] had not seen the Church it was on our left.) W Prior’s leg broken by a party⁠5 that were laying in the Pike. I judge to the South of the Church. Put Prior on my back and[,] strange to say[,] took his Haversack and placed it on my should the strap like my other (now had two). Took him to the rear of two pieces of Artillery that must have been left by the Confederates, as they were pointed towards our lines and were roughly mounted.

Resting awhile but not left alone by the enemy who kept firing at us from there to a Road which I noticed afterwards runs nearly West from the Dunker's Church and to the North of which our artillery brass pieces were firing upon the enemy⁠6. The fence was a worm fence and as Prior said[,] [“]let me down I am about to faint,[“] did so in an angle formed by this kind of fence. Now and then a row would be knocked off near us from Confed Batteries, so I went to short distance and found our stretcher Carriers who at once took Prior to the Hospital. 

I being now free[,] returned to the West Woods and through the Dunker Church noticed how the windows were broken and particularly a section of stove pipe was in the end of the room held together by fragments that had not yet been perforated. I noticed the Church had never been used for the wounded as a hospital (This section of pipe my father in Law Angus N. MacPherson⁠7 Esq secured as a souvenir of the battle). 

From memory and my diary I am positive that we were[,] as a regiment[,] had been close to the church but to the front of it. Col C. H. Banes says on page 112 History of the Philad Brigade the formation of our brigade was 106⁠8 on the right then 69⁠9 then 72⁠10 and left was the 71st⁠11. My diary fails to state it but my memory fills the gap by knowing this. Capt. I MacBride⁠12 of Co. B was on our extreme left then came Co. H my Company under Command of Ct. J Neal⁠13 and as we being left of the colors I could have seen the Dunker's Church had we got in sight of it. The officer I mentioned with other Capt. Frank MacBride⁠14 were often in the front of the line tearing away obstructions that presented as we kept so long marching in line of Brigade. History of the Second Army Corps Francis A. Walker ⁠15page 106 speaks of the 72nd Pa being on the left of the line and had entered the West Woods but a few yards [left] of the Dunker Church when Hookers men who were in possession of that part of the field were driven out &c. The Maryland Campaign by Geo Hess16 on page 30 says the 34th New York_ which had broken at a critical moment while attempting a maneuver under a terrible fire, was nearly cut to pieces. The best or plainest map that I have looked at I think not showing the position of troops is that in Walker’s book page 103⁠17_ I send you the remarks that were made in Sharpsburg Sept 17 1904_ which may be of interest and if they meet your approval just enclose it and return if you pleas as it is the only type written copy in my possession_ Thank you for your approval of what was written before.

I remain, Yours Sincerely, Thomas H Eaton
Co. H 72nd Pa I.


Source: Ezra Carman Papers, Box 3, Folder 2, New York Public Library. Thanks to Tom Clemens for supplying the photocopy of the manuscript transcribed and annotated here.


1 This was a fairly common phrase in the mid to late 19th Century. The meaning Eaton is trying to convey is that each “lecture” ought to be different from the one before it. See, for example, Francis Thompson’s poem “To the Sinking Sun.” Describing the variety of sunsets, Thompson wrote: “Here every eve thou goest down/Behind the self-same hill/Nor ever twice alike go’st down/Behind the self-same hill/Nor like-ways is one flame-sopped flower/Possessed with glory past its will.” Thompson (1859-1907) published three works of poetry between 1893 and 1897. Retrieved from

2 This is the 34th New York Volunteer Infantry located on the Cope/Carman map adjacent to and south of the Dunkard Church.

3 This is Private Joseph Diackery. Company H. He survived the war and was mustered out with his unit on August 24, 1864. Samuel P. Bates, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, Vol. II (Harrisburg, Pa., B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869), p. 855.

4 This is Private William Pryor. Company H. He was discharged on January 11, 1863 for wounds he received at Antietam. Samuel P. Bates, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, Vol. II (Harrisburg, Pa., B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869), p. 855.

5 These pieces have not be identified.

6 The only road running west and north from the Dunkard Church is a farm trace that connected the church to the Hauser, Nicodemus, and Poffenberger farmsteads.

7 There is no MacPherson listed in Bates nor in the 72nd Pennsylvania roster at the Penn State Population Studies Database. The 1860 Federal Census shows Angus MacPherson (44) and Emeline Macpherson (38) and their seven children living in Philadelphia’s Second Ward. One of his daughters, Margaret, later married Thomas Eaton. How MacPherson came to be on the battlefield is not clear. Simple Online Data Archive for Population Studies, Pennsylvania State University, 72nd Pennsylvania roster.

8 This was the 106 Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

9 The 69th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

10 The 72nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

11 The 71st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

12 This is Captain Isaac McBride, Captain of Company F of the 72nd Pennsylvania. He received a “gunshot wound of the knee-joint” and was carried off the field where he was treated on Sept. 23 at the Smoketown Army Hospital north of the field. National Archives, RG 94, Box 35035.

13 This was Captain John E. Neall, Company H. He was discharged on December 28, 1862 for causes unknown. Simple Online Data Archive for Population Studies, Pennsylvania State University, 72nd Pennsylvania roster.

14 Frank McBride would take command of Company F after Isaac McBride left the field.

15 Francis A. Walker, History of the Second Army Corps in the Army of the Potomac (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891).

16 George Hess, The Maryland Campaign (Hagerstown: Globe Job Rooms Print, 1890). Hess was the superintendent at the Antietam National Cemetery. He served with the 28th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry mustering in on January 23, 1864 and was wounded at the time of the unit’s muster out. Simple Online Data Archive for Population Studies, Pennsylvania State University, 72nd Pennsylvania roster.

17 Francis A. Walker, History of the Second Army Corps in the Army of the Potomac (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891), page 103.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"We now cross the Hagerstown Pike into the West Woods...the men in the best of spirits:" Thomas H. Eaton and the 72nd Pennsylvania in the West Woods

Detail from the Cope/Carman 1908 map,
9 to 9:30 a.m. view.  The map shows
the positions of the 125th Pa. and
Monroe's Battery and includes
a notation "9 to 9:20 AM" for both positions.
Remembrances of the Civil War as told by Thomas H. Eaton, [1] Co. H 72nd Pennsylvania Volunteers [2] Sept 17 1904 [3] in Sharpsburg Md on Pennsylvania Day. Page 4, Sept 17. 1862 [4] 

It rained quite hard during the night. Roll call at 2.00 in the morning. 80 rounds of cartridges were distributed, shelling from the Confederates at 7.00. Gen. Hooker had opened the fight at daylight, Gen. Mansfield going to his support had met with such a severe fire that a movement to the rear was inaugurated. Hooker was wounded & Mansfield killed. At this time the Second Corps which had been prepared to move at daylight, started [5] from Keedysville toward the right through some woods, then down a hill to the Antietam Creek which the men waded, taking care to keep their ammunition above the rushing water. The point of crossing was at the first ford above bridge No. 1. On the other side of the stream we ascended a hill then through the open country to the right until Miller’s house was reached, when the line of battle was formed by the left flank while marching.[6] From this point to the point of attack was one mile.

As Col. Banes [7] gave such a graphic account I will use his language. 

“All of this distance was moved was in battalion front, the movement hurrying us through pieces of woods, across fences, through barnyards and other obstacles which continually threw the line into confusion. In addition to this we were subjected to a heaver artillery fire from the enemy, but in spite of all the opposition the advance never stopped until the fatal Cornfield was reached, &c. Here Gen Sedgwick gave the command “Push into the woods” _ ["]

We now cross the Hagerstown Pike into the West Woods. Inclined as we were to the left of the Dunkard’s Church, the men in the best of spirits when on our flank and left were seen the colors of the Confederacy a mighty host. It was a bad position, and the fact of our flanks having no support we were ordered to retire. It was at this time when the 34th NY fell back. I wrote Gen Howard in relation to this critical movement. His[8] reply was

"My dear Sir_ I commanded Sedgwick’s Division after his wound, when the Division gave way to the
The same map without the 125th Pa. and Monroe's 
Battery positions and associated notations 
removed. The Left Wing and Right Wing notations 
associated with the 72nd Pennsylvania have been
 also removed. The resulting image 
without these features produces a much 
different view of the 72nd's position 
adjacent to the Dunkard Church.
rear, its flank was already turned. It only went from one piece of woods to another about a quarter of a 
mile. There was considerable confusion in the retirement, but I believe the movement was necessary to prevent annihilation or capture. What was true of the division was true of the Brigade."

I find as we grow older our ideas of the different battle fields change, and but very few are alike. If however this will do you any good in any way I am pleased that I was in any way of some service and will gladly answer at any time as to any information there may be in my possession. I kept a diary for three years but find that the [word not deciphered] kept was so restricted[.] [H]oping some day to write it out in full but this day will never come_

Yours truly, Thomas H. Eaton


Source: Ezra Carman Papers, Box 3, Folder 2, New York Public Library. Thanks to Tom Clemens for supplying the photocopy of the manuscript transcribed and annotated here.

1. Twenty-four year old carpenter Thomas H. Eaton enlisted as a Corporal in Company H, Pennsylvania 72nd Infantry Regiment on August 10, 1861. He was promoted to Sergeant on July 4, 1863 and mustered out on 24 Aug 1864 at Philadelphia, PA. At the time of his enlistment, Thomas lived in Philadelphia’s Ward 2 with his father, Thomas Francis Eaton (52) an English-born grocer, his mother Rebecca Negley Eaton (42) a Pennsylvania native, two sisters, a boarder, and an 18-year-old female Irish servant. Following the war, he married Margaret MacPherson and relocated to Bordentown, NJ where two daughters Mary and Emeline soon joined the family. His carpentry business was profitable enough to allow the family to keep a 21 year old Irish domestic servant, Allice Hopkins. The effects of the war began to show its toll on him and on April 21, 1879 he applied for an invalid pension. Thomas and Margaret eventually moved in with their daughter Mary’s growing family in Phoenixville, Chester County, Pennsylvania. By 1910 Thomas and Margaret established residence at 4925 Larchwood Avenue, Philadelphia. Sometime during the next decade Margaret died and Thomas, then 83, began to take boarders into his Larchwood Avenue home. He died in Philadelphia on December 22, 1920. 1860, 1870, 1900, 1910, 1920 Federal Census; General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., T288, roll 546; Eaton, Ritchie, and Winn Family Trees maintained on

2. The 72nd Pennsylvania was organized in Philadelphia.

3. This is the date of the manuscript.

Google Maps view of 4925 Larchwood
Avenue, Philadelphia. Eaton lived here
from 1910 to 1920.
4. This notation may be a reference to Eaton's diary that he mentions at the last paragraph of this letter.

5. From this point to footnote 6. Eaton's account is nearly verbatim to the account published by Charles Banes in his History of the Philadelphia Brigade Sixty-Ninth, Seventy-First, Seventy-Second, and One Hundred and Sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co, 1876, at page 112. Eaton quotes, with attribution, from Banes in the next paragraph [See footnote 7]. In the Preface to his book, Banes states: "In preparation of this History, the author has had access to official documents, as well as journals and reports in the possession of members of the Brigade." [Italics added] Whether Banes was drawing on Eaton or Eaton on Banes cannot be determined. Clearly there was a lot of correspondence back and forth between those that eventually published accounts of the battle and those that kept diaries, journals, and preserved their correspondence to friends and family. In the 19th Century historiographical style, not all sources that made up published monographs were attributed. 

6. See footnote 5 above.

7. The quote is from Charles Banes, History of the Philadelphia Brigade Sixty-Ninth, Seventy-First, Seventy-Second, and One Hundred and Sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co, 1876, at page 112.

8. Eaton inserted the following at this point “Aug 3d 1883.” Letter from Howard to Eaton not found.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"There were very few points of the Confederate line that these batteries could not reach:" Twenty Pounder Parrotts and the West Woods

Each colored segment equals 1,000 yards. The vector illustrated here is drawn
 on the Cope/Carman Map (1908 edition) for 9:00 hr. and shows range
vectors for Taft's battery of four 20lb Parrotts set at 15 degrees elevation.
At 15 degree elevation, Federal Parrotts could hit most anything within 4,400 yards. This capability is sometimes forgotten and in many sources, the "maximum range" for the 20 pounders is listed as less than 2,000 yards. This is a correct figure for a five degree elevation but ten more degrees made all the difference for many on the field on September 17. The fields adjoining the West Woods were no exception. 

From Ezra A. Carman's manuscript: 

"At daybreak [on September 17] an artillery duel began across Jackson's front between Doubleday's and Stuart's guns, and soon after daybreak a stream of round shot and shell came from Matthews' and Thompson's batteries on the Miller farm; and from the heavy guns beyond the Antietam came a fire which enfiladed Jackson's Division and took it in reverse. Poague's and Brockenbrough's guns replied to the guns on the right front, but Brockenbrough was soon ordered to retire through the West Woods." [1]

"From Taft's, von Kleiser's, and Weed's positions one could look to the right, through the open space between the East and West Woods, and see Hood's men as they advanced to meet Hooker, late in the day, and their guns were brought to bear upon them, as also, upon Jackson's men as they took position near the Dunkard Church, about sunset [on September 16].

"From the bluff north of the Boonsboro road the gunners could look down the Sunken road, and it appeared but a stone's throw to Piper's cornfield in and around which were the men of Rodes' Brigade.

There were very few points of the Confederate line that these batteries could not reach, and on many they had an enfilade and reverse fire. "[2]

There were 22 twenty pounders in the Federal arsenal. [3]


[1] Ezra A. Carman, The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, Vol. II: Antietam. Thomas G. Clemens, ed. (California: Savas Beatie, 2012), p. 68. Emphasis added.
[2] Ibid., pp. 22-23. Emphasis added.
[3]  Curt Johnson and Richard C. Anderson, Jr., Artillery Hell: The Employment of Artillery at Antietam (College Station, Texas A&M University Press, 1995), page 129;