Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Austin Fuller: 'Expired suddenly ... expectedly'

Austin Fuller, a private in Company C in the 16th Connecticut, died at home in 
Farmington, Conn. on Jan. 8, 1865. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in nearby Avon, Conn.

On a late December day in 1864, 23-year-old Austin Fuller, a private in the 16th Connecticut Infantry, received what should have been a welcome gift: a 30-day furlough.

On a typical army furlough, Fuller probably would have enjoyed a visit with his wife, Martha Jane, whom he married in September 1859 when the couple were in their late teens. If it were Fuller's first visit back to Farmington since the Battle of Antietam more than two years earlier, he could have recounted the awful details of a fight that cost his regiment 43 dead and 161 wounded.

After he was exchanged along with other sick and injured soldiers, 
Austin Fuller received a 30-day furlough in late December 1864.
 According to this furlough document, he was expected to return 
to his regiment on Jan. 25, 1865, "or be considered a deserter."
Perhaps Fuller, a wood turner before the Civil War, could have reconnected with family and friends who worked at his trade in Farmington, a manufacturing town of nearly 3,200 about 10 miles southwest of  Hartford.

Or maybe he could have simply relaxed in his home state until he was expected to report back to his regiment on Jan. 25, 1865 -- "or be considered a deserter," according to the furlough document.

But Fuller's return to Connecticut was anything but a normal army furlough.

On April 20, 1864, the 5-foot-8 soldier with a light complexion, blue eyes and brown hair was among hundreds of soldiers in the 16th Connecticut who were captured at Plymouth, N.C., and sent to prisoner-of-war camps in the South. Fuller eventually arrived at Andersonville, the Civil War's most notorious POW camp, where Wallace Woodford of nearby Avon and scores of other Union men from Connecticut suffered from starvation and disease. Henry Way of Bristol, a 19-year-old private in Company K of the 16th Connecticut, was one of 13,000 Union soldiers who died in the squalid camp in southwestern Georgia.

In his excellent book on his imprisonment published in 1865, Robert H. Kellogg, a private in Company A in the 16th Connecticut, described the camp's terrible, crowded conditions.

Martha Jane Fuller received an $8-a-month
widow's pension commencing Jan. 8, 1865.
"I ... wished that the President, under whose banner we had fought, could look in upon our sufferings, for surely the sight would move him to help us, if anything could be done," Kellogg wrote. "Live worms crawled upon the bacon that was given us to eat. 'It is all right,' we said; 'we are nothing but Yankee prisoners, or, as the rebels usually speak of us, 'damned Yankees.' " (1)

When Fuller left Andersonville and was exchanged along with other sick and wounded soldiers in December 1864, he was a shell of the man who enlisted in the Union army on Aug. 7, 1862. In fact, after he finally arrived in Farmington the day after Christmas 1864, he "was taken immediately to his bed, which he never left." (2).

"I was called to attend him professionally and found him greatly emaciated with very severe cough and diarrhea, attended with fever and great prostration," Dr. William Sage recounted. (3)

Never regaining his health, Fuller, his wife likely by his side, died on Jan. 8, 1865. He "expired very suddenly and expectedly," Sage recalled in February 1865, "very much as I am told many of the men died at Andersonville during the last summer." (4)

After her husband was buried, a grieving Martha Jane Fuller filled out the paperwork necessary to obtain a widow's pension. After some wrangling with government bureacracy over such petty issues as her middle name, she was granted an $8-a-month pension, retroactive to the date of her husband's death.

Austin Fuller's final resting place is in Greenwood Cemetery in Avon, just off a busy Route 177 that once was a rural farm road. Near the bottom of his weathered, gray tombstone are these words:
The strife is ended
And he is at rest
(1) "Life And Death In Rebel Prisons," Robert H. Kellogg, 1865, Page 166 
(2) Widow's pension document, Feb. 20, 1865
(3) Ibid.
(4) Ibid.

Weathered U.S. flag at top of Austin Fuller's gravestone.
Close-up of plastic Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) marker next to Fuller's gravestone.

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