Glimpses of Soldiers' Lives: Freeman Mason and Michael Mason
Prints and Photographs
Freeman Mason, an 18-year-old farmer, enlisted with the 17th Vermont Infantry in late 1864 and fought in the Union army during the American Civil War. He followed his brother, Michael Mason, whose image he holds in the photograph. Michael was killed at Savage Station, Virginia, on June 29th, 1862.
Michael had enlisted in the 6th Vermont Infantry in October of 1861. The 6th Vermont had been organized rapidly in response to an urgent request from the Secretary of War, and was en route to the front lines a mere two weeks after Michael’s enlistment. Michael escaped death from the disease that ravaged the entire Vermont Brigade that winter—more than 50 fell prey to typhoid fever, measles, or mumps.
That spring, the Brigade did field work throughout the Virginia peninsula until April 16th, when it attacked a Confederate encampment at Warwick Creek. Though the Brigade saw early success in the attack, it was forced to retire. After a month, quiet but for a slight skirmish, the 6th Vermont was able to occupy the now-evacuated Confederate fort, which had been left rigged with loaded shells. Michael Mason escaped the explosives, the following battle at Williamsburg, and the next month’s skirmishes.
But he was not so lucky on June 29th, a Sunday, when the regiment marched to Savage Station, and began a battle in the afternoon that lasted far into the night.
Michael Mason and twenty others fell during the night, and the next morning the regiment marched on.
Freeman Mason enlisted with the 17th Vermont regiment two years later, in September of 1864. The regiment’s Lieutenant Joel Lucia wrote that its history was “a peculiar one. Its birth was almost shrouded in mystery; its infancy and early life a continued struggle for existence. For many months its growth was so slow and precarious as to raise grave doubts whether it would ever attain the dignity of a regimental organization.” When Mason joined, the regiment seemed to have attained some momentum—he was in Company K, the last group to muster in, with John L. Yale as its captain.
The company joined the regiment on October 27th and participated in an assault on the Confederate works at Hatcher’s Run along with three other corps. The 17th avoided most of the fighting, and sustained no losses. Throughout the winter, the regiment participated in skirmishes and artillery duels, but saw no pitched battle. It settled at Fort Stedman to join the Siege of Petersburg.
In the weeks before the March 25th Confederate attack on the fort, Mason joined the 264 men of the regiment killed over the course of the war, in battle, sickness—or in Mason’s case, tragic accident. "Accidentally killed by companion,” reads the entirety of the comment written by J. C. Rutherford, the regiment’s surgeon. It was March 12, 1865, just under one month before the surrender at Appomattox.
Lucia, Joel H. "Vermont Seventeenth Regiment (Three Years)." Regiment Data. The American Civil War Research Database. http://asp6new.alexanderstreet.com/cwdb/cwdb.object.details.aspx?handle=regiment&id=103028 [subscription resource - access inside Library of Congress buildings]
Butterfield, Frank G. "Vermont Sixth Regiment (Three Years)." Regiment Data. The American Civil War Research Database.http://asp6new.alexanderstreet.com/cwdb/cwdb.object.details.aspx?handle=regiment&id=103034 [subscription resource - access inside Library of Congress buildings]
Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, compiled 1861–1865. [ARC: 656639.] Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's–1917. Record Group 94. Box 54. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. via Ancestry subscription.
[subscription resource - access inside Library of Congress buildings]
Compiled by: Ann Tyler Moses, Liljenquist Family Fellow, 2012. Last updated 2012 July.