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.

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