Brothers in Arms (A Family’s Tragedy) – March 1998 Civil War Times Feature

Brothers in Arms
(A Family’s Tragedy)


NAME: John Walden Thurston and Stephen C. Thurston, Jr.
DATES: John–1845 to April 18, 1866; Stephen–1843 to July 27, 1864
UNIT: 11th Maine Infantry, Company K; John–6th Regiment, Veteran Reserve Corps
SERVICE RECORD: Both enlisted in the 11th Maine, Company K, in July 1862. John–hospitalized with a fever at Hilton Head, South Carolina, in August 1863, then transferred to DeCamp General Hospital, David’s Island, New York. Assigned to the Invalid Corps in September. Mustered out in Cincinnati, Ohio, in July 1865. Stephen–mortally wounded near Deep Bottom, Virginia, on July 23, 1864. Died four days later at Point of Rocks depot hospital.

When the Civil War erupted in 1861, John Walden Thurston and his older brother, Stephen C. Thurston, Jr., were toiling together as farm laborers in Newport, Maine. Though anxious to enlist in the Union army, they knew they were needed more at home to work the farm that belonged to their parents, Stephen and Emily. But when their father died in 1862, the brothers decided it was time to leave. So in July they lied about their ages–John was only 17 and Stephen 19–and enlisted in the 11th Maine Infantry, Company K. They marched away from the farm together, but neither would survive the rigors of war.

Both brothers headed south with the 11th. Only months after enlisting, they found themselves at Hilton Head, South Carolina. While there, John contracted an illness that would never leave him; army doctors believed it was rheumatic fever. He was enrolled in the Invalid Corps, later called the Veteran Reserve Corps, where he was assigned less strenuous duties. He served the rest of his three-year enlistment in Ohio, guarding trains and supply depots. Mustered out in July 1865, John remained in poor health. He died quietly in April 1866 at the age of 21 and was buried in the family plot in Riverside Cemetery at Newport. After lengthy delays, the pension his mother sought for him as a disabled veteran was denied in 1881; the government claimed his condition was not directly related to his army service.

Even as his younger brother suffered, Stephen stayed with the 11th Maine. The regiment traveled through South Carolina and Georgia to Florida before being sent back north to Virginia in July 1864. The 11th participated in the siege of Petersburg, where it was ordered to guard the Union bridgehead across the James River at Deep Bottom. Company K was sent out on July 23, 1864, to reconnoiter Confederate activities on Strawberry Plains, just east of the bridgehead. The company encountered enemy pickets, and both sides opened fire. Three Union soldiers were killed and four wounded. Stephen, one of the wounded, was taken to the Point of Rocks depot hospital, where he died days later. He was buried near the hospital, but his body was moved in 1866 to the City Point National Cemetery in Hopewell, Virginia.

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