A Patriotic Send-Off The regimental flag of the 13th Massachusetts. Wikimedia Commons.
Prince A. Dunton was born in 1841 to Betsy E. Dunton and George W. Dunton. There is no evidence that he had any siblings or close relatives beyond his parents. Prior to the war, Prince followed in the footsteps of his father and became a shoemaker. At the age of 20, Prince A. Dunton enlisted as a Private in the 13th Massachusetts Infantry regiment on July 19th , 1861. Before his death at the battle of Gettysburg, Prince would be promoted to Corporal. Individually, he had relatively little impact on the battle that would ultimately take his life. There are no records of any particularly notable deeds he accomplished in battle. He was a perfectly average soldier, just one of thousands united to fight a war for the preservation of their country.
On April 15th 1861, a telegram from Lincoln’s War Department asked Massachusetts Governor John Andrew to assemble twenty regiments to join the Union Army in putting down the southern rebellion. People across the state rapidly enlisted, with one individual noting, “As if by magic, the entire character of the State was changed: from a peaceful, industrious community, it became a camp of armed men ; and the hum of labor gave place to the notes of fife and drum.” The citizens of Massachusetts were, in many cases, excited for the upcoming war. In his History of Massachusetts in the Civil War, William Schouler describes the attitude of Boston towards the war: “It is impossible to overstate the excitement which pervaded the entire community through this eventful week. The railroad depots were surrounded with crowds of people; and the companies, as they arrived, were received with cheers of grateful welcome.” Determined to treat their departing soldiers like heroes of old, “Banners were suspended, as if by preconcerted arrangement. The American flag spread its folds to the breeze acroes [sic] streets, from the masts of vessels in the harbor, from the cupola of the State House, the City Hall, in front of private dwellings; and men and boys carried miniature flags in their hands or on their hats.” Even in decidedly non-military settings, the war enthralled the public. “In the streets, on ‘Change and sidewalk, in private mansion and in public hotel, no topic was discussed but the approaching war, the arrival and departure of the troops, and measures best adapted for their comfort and welfare,” one Bostonian recalled. Everyone was anxious to do something, to find some way to be useful. Young men, wishing to raise new companies and proffer services, pressed into the offices of the Governor and the Adjutant-General.
It is likely that Prince A. Dunton was swept up in this patriotic furor when he enlisted. He was assigned to Company H, under the command of Captain William L. Clark. The regiment saw combat for the first time at the Second Battle of Bull Run, suffering 193 casualties: 19 killed, 108 wounded, and 66 missing. After the battle, the regiment was incorporated into General Hooker’s corps. Hooker commanded them during the battle of Antietam where they suffered a further 139 casualties– 15 dead, 120 wounded, and 4 missing. They then saw battle again at Fredericksburg, suffering only three dead and 11 wounded. Before the battle of Gettysburg, the regiment was reorganized into the First Brigade, under the command of General Gabriel R. Paul.
The Official Report of the 13th Massachusetts Regiment describes the first day of combat in great detail. N. W. Batchelder notes that they “marched at 6 a. m. After proceeding about 4 miles, heard cannonading in front, our cavalry and flying artillery having engaged the advance of the enemy. We rapidly neared the firing, and General Paul notified the brigade that they were immediately going into an engagement.” Though they arrived late into the battle, the men quickly joined the beleaguered First Corps north of town.
“We left the road, and moved out to the front of Gettysburg, and soon came under the fire of the enemy,” wrote Batchelder. “The enemy so far outnumbering us, our brigade was sent into action by regiments, and with so great an interval between my regiment and the one on my left that we were not able to properly support each other. My regiment was on the extreme right flank of the division and the edge of the woods in which the action commenced.”
Once there, Batchelder continued, “A steady fire was kept up by the men for upward of an hour. After which they led a charge and took 132 prisoners, 7 of whom were officers. The total loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners in the day’s battle was 189.”
Prince A Dunton was among those injured on the first day’s fighting. At the end of the day, Dunton was found trampled and shot in the foot and thigh. He would spend the next week in a hospital before dying on July 8th, 1863.
Standing with the Union I Corps 13th Massachusetts Volunteer Monument at Gettysburg. Wikimedia Commons.
A Son Who Did Not Come Home 1877 plaque from the Soldiers's and Sailors' Monument on Boston Commons. Wikimedia Commons.
After Prince A. Dunton’s death, the 13th regiment continued on without him. The war was too large to stop for the death of any one person. His regiment would fight for another two days before joining the Union army’s pursuit of the retreating Confederates. They would not see another major battle for the rest of the war; however, when their enlistment was up, some re-enlisted in the 39th Massachusetts. A monument was dedicated to the 13th Massachusetts on September 25th, 1885. It features a soldier from the regiment looking out over their forward-most position along Oak Ridge during the first day of the battle. There is little evidence that the dedication produced any significant fanfare, which could be a consequence of the small overall impact the regiment had on the first day of the battle.
Unfortunately, little information exists about the impact that Prince’s death had on his friends and family. It is known that Dunton had no wife or children at his time of death, limiting the number of dependents he left behind. As a result, the only record of the aftermath of Dunton’s death is a file of records related to his pension. His pension was claimed by his parents, Betsy and George Dunton. They filed separately and claimed it for years after their son’s death. Betsy Dunton continued to claim the pension into the 1880s until her rather sudden death. On May 26th 1886, the Department of the Interior’s Pension Office sent an agent to find Betsy and determine if she had died or remarried. This agent was provided with a last known address, dating from June 1883. He responded a couple of days later, revealing that he had confirmed that Betsy died on August 29th, 1883. George left a few more records behind, most of which involve moving around Maine. The last written record of George Dunton was a claim he made to the pension in July 1884. However, all that this claim reveals about him was that he lived in Maine, as opposed to Massachusetts, where his son was enlisted during the war, and that he outlived both his son and his wife.
Overall, Prince A. Dunton’s life may have had a small impact on the war and his community, but that was the case for most soldiers. Very few soldiers had a large impact individually; it was only together that they managed to accomplish any great feats. While history has not preserved any records of the accomplishments of Dunton, we know that he and the 13th Massachusetts were part of a massive united effort to preserve the United States of America that no one would have been able to accomplish on their own.
Schouler, William. A History of Massachusetts in the Civil War. Dutton, 1868. Google Books.
Bowen, James Lorenzo. Massachusetts in the War, 1861-1865. C. W. Bryan & Company, 1889. Google Books.
Compiled Service Records of Union Soldiers Who Served in the 13th Massachusetts regiment. National Archives, Washington D. C.
“13th Massachusetts” Stone Sentinels. Accessed March 31, 2017. http://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/union-monuments/massachusetts/13th-massachusetts/.
“Official Report of the 13th Massachusetts.” Stone Sentinels. Accessed March 31, 2017. http://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/union-monuments/massachusetts/13th-massachusetts/official-report-of-the-13th-massachusetts/.
Narrative and map by Alexander Kotkiewicz, Gettysburg College.