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Fenton, John Lyman

JOHN LYMAN FENTON. Private 9th Mass. Battery, August 5, 1862; Sergeant; died at Baltimore, July 28, 1863, of a wound received at Gettysburg, Pa., July 2. JOHN LYMAN FENTON, son of Orrin and Mehitable (White) Fenton, was born in Mansfield, Connecticut, March 5, 1835. He was the youngest of a family of four. When he was about a year old, his father removed to Dixfield, Maine, and died four years later. The widowed mother, being dependent on her own exertions for support, came to Cambridge, Massachusetts, leaving John with his grandmother, in Dixfield, till he was ten years of age; when he also was brought to Cambridge, where he attended Mr. Mansfield's school. Shortly afterward, however, his knowledge of his mother's circumstances induced him, greatly against his tastes and inclinations, to leave school and assist in his own support. He entered into mercantile business; and while employed at Cambridge, formed the acquaintance of some students, which rekindled a strong desire for literary knowledge. At last he determined upon his course, and though expecting to contend against many obstacles, resolved to acquire a professional education. On returning home one evening, he expressed his intentions to his mother, who was astonished, and saw no way of gratifying his wishes. But there was a will, and a way was provided. He entered the Webster Grammar School in Cambridgeport when seventeen years of age, and rapidly fitted himself to enter the Cambridge High School, where he remained four years, under the instruction of Mr. William F. Bradbury. He completed the prescribed course in 1857, and entered Harvard College the same year, then twenty-two years old. Owing to pecuniary embarrassments, he left college at the close of the first term of the Sophomore year, and entered the Dane Law School. He afterwards studied in the office of J. P. Richardson, Esq., in Cambridge, was admitted to the bar June 21, 1860, and appointed a justice of the peace on the 30th of August in the same year. He practised [sic] law in Charlestown and Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, for two years, with good success, - being associated with Mr. Tweed in the former place, and with Mr. William F. Engley, in the latter. In the summer of 1862, when government was urgently calling for enlistments, and men were greatly needed for their country's protection, he responded by enrolling his name in the list of the Ninth Massachusetts (De Vecchi's, afterwards Bigelow's) Battery, August 5, 1862; and after a month set out for the seat of war. He returned home during the following spring, on a short furlough, and married Miss Adelaide Victoria Burrill of Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, March 18, 1863. She, with an infant son, survives him. The battery was in no engagement until the afternoon of July 2, 1863, at Gettysburg. It there assisted in supporting the Third Corps, under Major-General Sickles. When the corps was driven back, the battery was the last of five to leave the field, while Longstreet was advancing. Reaching an angle made by two stone walls, it was ordered to halt and hold the position at any cost, without infantry support, until a new line could be formed. Bravely did Captain Bigelow hold his post against a whole Rebel brigade, whose centre alone could be reached by his fire, while the wings closed in on either side. After suffering a fearful loss, with every horse killed, and only one commissioned officer and one sergeant left for duty, the heroic little band was recalled, having given Major-General Sickles time to prepare for a counter-charge, in which the lost ground was regained, and the guns secured by the Fifth Massachusetts Battery, Captain Phillips. Among the disabled sergeants was Fenton, who was wounded in the right leg, below the knee. He was in the most exposed position, and was taken prisoner, but was afterwards retaken by our forces. He was removed, after three days, to the Jarvis Hospital, Baltimore, and was thought not to be dangerously wounded; but fever prostrated him, and, gradually sinking, he died on the 28th of July. His wife and mother reached him a few hours before his death, and were present at his burial in Loudon Park, Baltimore. During the following autumn his remains were removed to the Cambridge Cemetery. The funeral services were held at the Lee Street Church, Cambridge, the Rev. H. F. Harrington officiating, and the Cambridge Reserve Guard performing escort duty. A few weeks before the battle of Gettysburg, Captain Bigelow, (who was a college classmate of Sergeant Fenton,) obtained leave of the Secretary of War for Fenton to appear before the Board of Examining Officers for the United States Colored Service. "The battery, however, receiving marching orders, he preferred to remain until the campaign should be completed." If he had yielded to cupidity, or even commendable self-interest, he might have saved his life; scorning such personal advantage, he sacrificed his life willingly in his country's holy cause. So much greater was his desire to serve his country where he was most needed than to secure preferment. A pleasant incident occurred to Sergeant Fenton while in the hospital at Baltimore. Mrs. Johnson, one of those angels of mercy whose visits to our hospitals always brought cheerfulness and hope to the inmates, inquired if there were any Massachusetts soldiers at the hospital. She was told that there was one named Fenton. She remembered that this was the name of the person who had signed the resolutions passed by the Cambridge High School at the sudden death of her son, the former principal of that school. She sought him out, and found in him the same Fenton who had been the first person to see his teacher fall, had assisted to remove him, and had been by his side when he died. In return, she watched by the wounded soldier till his death, and provided a home at her own house for his wife and mother while at Baltimore.

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