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.

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