Sunday, September 01, 2013

Antietam: 'Shot through the head and died instantly'

Killed at Antietam, 8th Connecticut Private Thomas Mason was buried in
 East Cemetery in Litchfield, Conn.

In a three-page letter home to his friends three days after the Battle of Antietam, Sergeant Seth Plumb described in detail the deaths of two soldiers from his hometown of Litchfield, Conn. Like Plumb, George Booth and Thomas Mason served in the 8th Connecticut, which advanced farther than any other regiment on the Union left flank at Antietam before it was turned back with heavy losses near Harpers Ferry Road. A member of the regiment's color guard, Booth died from a wound in the right arm and side about 3 a.m. on Sept. 18, 1862, the day after the battle. The end came much more quickly for Mason, who was "shot through the head and died instantly," according to Plumb. (Click here for my downloadable Excel spreadsheet of Connecticut Antietam deaths.)

In a letter to friends, 8th Connecticut Sergeant Seth Plumb wrote of the death of Thomas Mason.
 (Litchfield Historical Society) CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.

At 41 years old, Mason was 16 years older than the average Civil War soldier, but he wasn't even the oldest soldier in the regiment. Claiming he was 44 when he enlisted, 54-year-old Private Peter Mann of Enfield, who was mortally wounded in the groin at Antietam, was by far the oldest. In details gleaned from Mason's Civil War pension record and the 1860 Federal census, we know that he was married and employed as a day laborer before the war. A 7-year-old child named George, perhaps the Masons' son, lived with Thomas and Mary Mason in 1860, but there's no mention of him in pension records. Perhaps George died shortly before or after the Civil War began in April 1861. Thomas and Mary were married on May 3, 1847 in a ceremony in Litchfield, once described as a town of "hard, active, reading, thinking, intelligent men who may probably be set forth as a pattern of the finest community on earth."  Founded in 1719, Litchfeld was home to the first law school in the United States.

In June 1860, the Federal census taker noted that there were three persons in the
 Mason household: Thomas, Mary and a 7-year-old boy named George. The value
 of Mason's real estate was $700; his personal estate was valued at $100.
Mason was mustered into the 8th Connecticut, a three-year regiment, as a private in Company E on Sept. 25, 1861. Less than a month after her husband was killed, Mary applied for a Civil War widow's pension, and in February 1863, she was granted $8 a month. When she died on Dec. 13, 1893, Mary's monthly pension check was $12, a pittance for losing her husband on a western Maryland battlefield. Only 37 years old when Thomas died, she never remarried. Mason was buried in Litchfield's East Cemetery, not far from the final resting places in the town's West Cemetery for Booth and Plumb, who also was killed during the Civil War.
I placed this penny, Lincoln side up, atop Mason's gravestone to honor the soldier.

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