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Shortly before two momentous battles, Private James H. Eager of the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves was fortunate to enjoy supper with his older brother in the camp of the 19th Indiana. A sergeant in the Hoosier State regiment in the Iron Brigade, Ephraim Eager had moved west in 1857, leaving behind his sisters, brother and widowed mother in Lewistown, Pa. In Pennsylvania, the Eager boys had worked as printers at a newspaper published by their brother-in-law.
|This tattered newspaper obituary for Ephraim Eager|
was marked "B" in the pension claim file of his mother.
Elizabeth Eager was granted a Civil War pension at the standard
rate of $8 a month. (National Archives via fold3.com)
On Sept. 14, 1862, the Federals forced the Confederates from the passes at South Mountain, a prelude to much more severe fighting three days later by the banks of Antietam Creek. "We drove the enemy from one of the best and strongest positions they ever occupied," James wrote to his mother about his first battle. "Families were robbed of fathers and brothers on that day." At Turner's Gap, Ephraim led his battle-hardened company against troops from Georgia and Alabama.
At the "desperate fight" at Antietam, the "dread realities of war," James wrote, "were brought to our own door."
In the brutal, back-and-forth fighting near the Hagerstown Pike, Ephraim fell with a bullet wound in his stomach while leading Company A, the Union Guards. Carried from the field by comrades, he died a short time later and was "decently buried by the boys of his company." In battle nearby, James narrowly escaped being maimed himself when a bullet passed over his shoulder and struck Private Henry Couts standing behind him above the eye, killing him.
|Eager was "killed almost|
instantly," wrote 19th Indiana
Captain Alonzo Makepeace,
shown in a post-war image.
Only 25, Ephraim "fell in the cause of his country," the Lewistown (Pa.) Gazette lamented, "gallantly fighting for those rights handed down to us by our revolutionary fathers." In Eager's adopted state of Indiana, the Anderson Union also offered an impressive tribute.
"Among those who have fallen victims to this wicked rebellion," it said, "we know of no one who was more generally regretted, and whose death cast a deeper gloom upon society, than our dear friend Ephraim B. Eager."
"He was a young man of much promise and high social qualities," the Union noted in a finishing touch in the obituary, "kind and generous in his nature, had gained the friendship of a large circle, and was respected by all.
|Marker for Indiana unknown|
at Antietam National
A little more than a month after Ephraim's death, Captain Alonzo Makepeace of the 19th Indiana wrote a brief note to Eager's sister, Marion Shaw. Ephraim was "killed almost instantly while behaving handsomely in command of the Co.," he explained. His marked grave had been visited by his brother, the officer wrote, and "all regret his death."
Perhaps because the marker for his makeshift grave was destroyed by the elements, Eager's remains were never recovered by the family. Instead of a grave in his native or adopted state, the former newspaper printer's final resting place is unknown. He may lie among the nearly 4,800 Union soldiers in Antietam National Cemetery.
NOTE TO SERGEANT EAGER'S SISTER: 'KILLED ALMOST INSTANTLY'
|National Archives via fold3.com|
EPHRAIM EAGER'S 1860 LETTER TO HIS MOTHER
Eager lived in Anderson, Ind., which he described in a letter to his mother Elizabeth in January 1860 as a "rather sickly place" because of the "great many deaths" that had occured there that winter. Of his marriage possibilities, he told his mother, "No prospects of your prodigal getting married – haven’t thought of it yet." This letter was found with his mother Elizabeth's claim for a Civil War pension.
|National Archives vis fold3.com.|
This morning I again assume my seat to write to you. I have been well since you heard from me last. Christmas and New Year’s passed off very quietly in Anderson [Ind.], but not so with it in Lewistown [Pa.] I suppose. I rec’d one very nice gift from a lady friend. It was a gold pencil and pen – cost about eight dollars. There has been a great many deaths in Anderson this winter – rather a sickly place. No prospects of your prodigal getting married – haven’t thought of it yet. I enclose ten dollars $10, which I should have done New Year’s day had it been convenient. Please answer immediately on receipt of this that I may know you rec’d it.
Your affectionate son,
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SOURCES AND NOTE:
For more Civil War condolence letters on my blog, go here.
-- Ephraim B. Eager pension file, National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C., via fold3.com.
-- Lewistown (Pa.) Gazette, Oct. 1, 1862 and Oct. 15, 1862.
-- Eager's obituary in the Anderson (Ind.) Union was reprinted in a Lewistown newspaper on an unknown date.