June 29th, 2012: Michael Mason

Posted on: 06/29/2012

On June 29th, 1862 the Seven Days battles ground on around the Union supply depot of Savage’s Station.  By this point in the campaign the Army of the Potomac had lost much of its cohesion, mostly due to the absence of its commander George McClellan, who chose to go to the rear near his army’s destination of Harrison’s Landing without leaving anyone to command in his stead.  The Union had badly bloodied Lee’s men during the futile assaults early in the campaign, but 150 years ago today events seemed to turn in the Confederates’ favor.  During the fighting at Savage’s Station a soldier named Michael Mason was killed, as we learned from a portrait of his younger brother in the collections of the Library of Congress.

We had difficulty finding the Mason brothers on the 1860 census, and are not sure how old they were when the Civil War broke out.  We learned of them through the Library of Congress’ digital collections, which has an 1864 or 1865 portrait of Freeman:

Freeman enlisted in the 17th Vermont Infantry on September 14th, 1864 for three years.  In his hands while he sat for his portrait was a tintype of who is thought to be his brother Michael.

This image couldn’t be of the two brothers, as Michael had been dead for two years by the time Freeman enlisted.

150 years ago today at the Battle of Savage’s Station Union soldiers fought desperately in a confused action to hold back the Confederate McClellan’s retreating army.  During the fighting the unit that suffered the most casualties was the Vermont Brigade of Lewis Grant which lost almost 450 men, including Michael.

Above: An eyewitness sketch titled “The Commencement of the Battle of Savage’s Station” by Alfred Waud.

The battle would not go well for the Union who retreated and left many hundreds of wounded soldiers awaiting rail transportation at the station to be captured by the Confederates.

When Freeman enlisted in 1864 he must have had his brother in mind.  The regiment he joined, the 17th Vermont, would suffer heavily during the war as well.  By the time he arrived with his regiment, however, most of their heavy fighting for the war was over.  Sadly though, Freeman is listed as being killed in an accident on March 12, 1865, less than a month before the war in Virginia would close.

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