Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Freeman Mason, "Accidentally Shot through the Head"

Civil War soldiers may have entered the war with visions of serving their cause and country. If death must come, surely most believed it would be a glorious death on the battlefield, falling facing the enemy. Time and experience in the army often ground down soldiers' expectations to the harsh realities of military life. A fighting man's mortality came into sharper focus as even more comrades fell to illnesses and diseases than from the foe's bullets. Perhaps worse still were those individuals who perished by sheer accident.

One of the thousands of soldiers who died by mishap was Freeman Mason, Company K, 17th Vermont Infantry. Mason entered the service as an eighteen year old farmer on September 14, 1864. Mason's service records indicate that he was quite typical at five feet four and with blue eyes and brown hair.  

The 17th Vermont was eventually assigned to the Second Brigade of the Second Division of the Ninth Corps. They fought in the Petersburg Campaign near Hatcher's Run in October 1864, sustaining no casualties. They were then shifted east of the besieged city to the Fort Stedman area. It was while there that on March 12, just about two weeks before the early morning Confederate attack, that Mason was "accidentally shot through the head" while in camp.

Freeman's death is particularly tragic in several aspects. First is that his death came so close to the end of the war and by the hand of a comrade in camp. The other is that Freeman's passing followed his brother's, who was killed in the fighting at Savage's Station during the Seven Days Battles in 1862. Freeman's photograph above shows him holding an image of his dear brother in memory.

Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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