Twenty-five-year-old Private Eason W. Bull of Company D died of disease around noon on February 19, 1863, at the regimental hospital near Stafford Court House, Virginia. The next day Bull’s tent mate, Private Nathaniel S. Brown, wrote to Eason’s brother, Wyman Bull. “It is with a trembling hand and an aching heart that I address you with a silent pen,” he opened. “I have lost a bunk mate and a friend.” Brown then described Bull’s rapid demise. In just a few days he had been struck successively by a bowel complaint, typhoid fever, delirium, and death. The night before he died he called out for his little nephew Willie, Wyman Bull’s year-and-a-half-old son.“He had as good care as could be had,” Brown assured Bull’s brother.“I was with him when he breathed his last.” Brown detailed the location of Bull’s burial spot on the old Wheeler farm, about one mile from Stafford Court House, on a little hill at the edge of a pine grove, with a small pine at the head of the grave. “He has had a good burial [compared] to what the most of the poor soldiers have,” Brown asserted. According to family legend, Bull was originally buried in a hollowed log; he later was reburied in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. 5

Private William Henry Sprague of Company E died on March 2, 1863, two days before his twentieth birthday, at the division hospital at Stafford Court House. Sprague had kept his parents, William S. and Catherine I. (Elwood) Sprague, of Ripley, Chautauqua County, informed of his well-being in a series of letters that began soon after he left home and ended abruptly on February 20, 1863. Two days later, he fell ill. His company comrades “did not take any harm about him at first,” according to Private Truman A. St. John, but on February 23, Sprague's condition worsened. “He was the sickest boy I ever saw,” St. John wrote. “He was crazy as a loon.” Sprague was admitted to the regimental hospital and three of his comrades cared for him through the night. On February 25, St. John wrote to Sprague’s parents and notified them that their son had been diagnosed with inflammation of the bowels, but reported that a doctor predicted recovery. By March 1, however, St. John wrote that “Henry is a great deal worse,” and had been transferred to the division hospital, where he had been re-diagnosed with inflammation of the brain and was laying insensible, unaware of his surroundings and unable to recognize his comrades. St. John and Private James F. Bacon “watched the poor fellow in his sleep,” having been summoned to his bedside. “I have not heard Henry say any thing about you, nor any of his friends since he has been sick,” St. John informed Mr. Sprague, and he closed his letter “hoping that poor Henry will be better by morning.”

But the next morning, March 2, 1863, Corporal William Kendall turned over the sheet begun by St. John the previous day and notified the Spragues that their son had died senseless, leaving many friends who missed him greatly. The company was sending his remains to Brooks Station to be shipped home, accompanied by a comrade, but the men were uncertain if the mission could be accomplished without a proper pass. Kendall closed with a reflection: “Oh, this unholy war! It’s a disgrace on all of Gods good people.”

Later that day, Joseph B. Fay, Company E’s captain, sent official notice of Sprague’s death to his parents and enclosed formal resolutions of regret from the company. He described the suddenness of Sprague’s illness and death and his delirium. “I made every effort to have him embalmed and sent to your care,” Fay wrote, “but could not.” If the Spragues found proper, they could find the “Sacred Spot” plainly marked near the railroad at Brooks Station. “I believe all has been done that could be,” Fay concluded, “under the circumstances in which we are placed.”

Two weeks later, Truman St. John described to the Spragues the unsuccessful effort to have Henry’s remains sent home. The family had made the request, and the company had raised money to grant it, but the lack of a proper pass — as William Kendall had feared — had thwarted the plan. Young Sprague had been buried in uniform in a “good rough board coffin,” his headboard clearly marked with name, company, and regiment. It would cost a great deal to transport his corpse home at that late stage, St. John observed, and he advised the family “to let him rest where he now lies.” He was buried “in peace,” St. John stressed in a tender passage expressing his personal sympathy to the family. 6

The resolutions of regret adopted by Sprague’s company have not been located, but no doubt they closely resembled surviving examples. Copies were sometimes sent to hometown newspapers in addition to the deceased’s family. Such was the case with the preamble and resolutions passed by Company E on the passing of Private Eleazer Swetland, who died at the brigade hospital in Lookout Valley, Tennessee, on March 21, 1864. They extolled Swetland as one of the company’s “most faithful members, a true-hearted gentleman, a sincere patriot, and one who was beloved by us all,” and extended warm sympathy to his friends and relatives, “especially to his youthful widow.” Copies of the resolutions were sent to four Chautauqua County newspapers for publication. 7

The 154th New York lost 240 casualties out of 590 present for duty at the battle of Chancellorsville, a 40 percent loss rate and the fourth highest Union regimental casualty count in the fighting. Among those casualties were 29 killed and nine mortally wounded. Only one notification and condolence letter concerning those casualties has been located to date. However, none of the others could have been more poignant than the one that Assistant Surgeon Corydon C. Rugg wrote in response to an inquiry from Mrs. Ruba Merrill of Dayton, Cattaraugus County, New York. It was his “painful” duty to inform her that her forty-five-year-old husband, Barzilla, and their eighteen-year-old son, Alva C., privates in Company K, had both been killed in the battle. Rugg related what little he knew about the Merrills’ deaths — Barzilla was slightly wounded in the shoulder before being shot in the head — and stated that their remains could not be recovered. Union corpses on the Confederate-controlled battlefield had been “thrown together in piles and covered up.” Rugg wrote bluntly, “It would be more difficult to find your son than your husband and you might as well look for a gold dollar in the sea as to try to find either of them.” Retrieval of any of the regiment’s dead was “an utter impossibility.” “As I can write nothing which can bring you consolation (and as there is but one that can give consolation in such cases),” Rugg closed, “you will of course look to that source for the same.” 8

Two months after Chancellorsville, the 154th New York was decimated on July 1, 1863, on the first day of fighting at Gettysburg. The regiment took 265 officers and men into the battle and suffered 207 casualties, a loss ratio of 78 percent. Among them were five killed, six mortally wounded, and 173 taken prisoner (roughly a third of whom died as prisoners of war). 9

One of the mortally wounded was Musician Thaddeus L. Reynolds of Company I, who was the only member of the regiment wounded on July 3. Reynolds was 18 years of age when he enlisted in 1862 at Olean. News of his death was sent to his father by James W. Phelps, a citizen of the Cattaraugus County town of Great Valley, who visited the 154th’s wounded at Gettysburg in the aftermath of the battle and described his visit on his return home. He had reached Gettysburg on July 8 and found young Reynolds in a tent with seven regimental comrades at the Eleventh Corps hospital. Reynolds “ knew himself to be dangerously wounded,” Phelps reported, “but did not suffer much, considering the extent of his wounds.” Shell fragments had shattered Reynolds’s left hip and damaged his left hand, which had been partially amputated. Assistant Surgeon Dwight W. Day of the 154th New York expressed surprise that Reynolds had lived more than a few days. Reynolds was quiet and slept some during Phelps’s first two days in Gettysburg, but on July 11 lockjaw set in. By the morning of July 12 his condition had worsened and he was in much pain. A doctor ordered that he be chloroformed, and Reynolds died under its influence that afternoon.


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