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Weston, George | AncestralHeroes.com

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Weston, George

GEORGE WESTON. Private 44th Mass. Vols. (Infantry), September 12, 1862; Second Lieutenant 18th Mass. Vols. (Infantry), March 4, 1863; died at Boston, January 5, 1864, of a wound received at Rappahannock Station, Va., November 7, 1863. GEORGE WESTON, the youngest child of Calvin and Eliza Ann (Fiske) Weston, was born in Lincoln, Massachusetts, on the 27th of October, 1839. His childhood and youth were passed in his native town, and at its High School he began to fit for college, in the year 1852. For the six months immediately preceding the college examination, however, he pursued his studies at Phillips Academy, in Andover, Massachusetts, and was admitted to the Freshman Class in the summer of 1856. In college his few intimates soon learned to appreciate the quiet strength of his character, and counted upon his native shrewdness and good sense as promises of professional success, while there could hardly have been one who did not at some time come under the influence of his joyous vivacity. But it was reserved for the war and the painful experiences of a soldier's life to bring out the strongest points of his character. Before entering the army he had fairly embarked in the study of the profession of the law, to which his tastes had decidedly inclined him almost from early boyhood. Immediately after graduation he entered the office of Hon. Charles R. Train and A. B. Underwood, Esq. of Boston, and remained as a student with them until the spring of 1861. He then went into the office of Richard H. Dana, Jr. and Francis E. Parker, Esqs., leaving them to enter the Law School of Harvard College in the following summer. Here he remained for one term, and he spent the last six months of his professional study with Francis B. Hayes and Charles F. Choate, Esqs. In the summer of 1862, and about the time of the disasters to Pope's army and the battles of Cedar Mountain and Manassas, came the call for nine months' volunteers, and Weston was one of the first to respond, enlisting from the town of Lincoln in Company F of the Forty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. From the very beginning of the struggle he had been anxious to take an active part in it, and had reluctantly postponed doing so, from time to time, on account of pressing family considerations; but now that the danger to the country seemed so great, he could restrain himself no longer. Just after the bloody battle of Cedar Mountain, in which several of his friends were wounded, and one classmate, Captain Abbott, was killed, Weston said, with impressive earnestness, to an intimate friend who thought that the fatal results of the fight should keep him out of the service, "You only strengthen me in my resolution; for Abbott was killed just because I and such as I were not in our places to help him." In the latter part of the month of August, 1862, Weston signed the enlistment roll of his company, and with the rest of its members he was mustered into the service of the United States on the i2th of September following. From this time he shared the fortunes of his company, in North Carolina, marching and fighting with it on the Tarborough expedition of November, and in the Goldsborough expedition of the month after. Very early in his experience as a soldier Weston found out - what his friends had feared from the time of his enlistment - that his physical strength was quite inadequate to the exposures of military life. On the first expedition towards Tarborough, and just before the retreat, he became utterly prostrated by a violent attack of camp diarrhoea, and at Hamilton he was ordered by the surgeon to leave his regiment, and take passage down the Roanoke, for Newbern, in a gunboat. I can recall with perfect distinctness his appearance and manner, and the very tone of his voice, his eyes burning, yet full of tears, as he told me what the orders were which he had received from Dr. Ware. Several of his companions said that they had rarely been so much touched as by the sight of Weston's grief and mortification at his separation from his company.
During all his military career he was subject to the complaint just mentioned, as well as to the most acute form of neuralgia in the face, which often, for nights in succession, kept him without a half-hour's comfortable sleep. At such times he rarely complained, but would keep as still as possible, and usually went about his duty as in the ordinary course of things. During the expedition to Goldsborough he suffered incessantly from neuralgia, often to the extent of great physical exhaustion, but never, to my knowledge, fell out of his place in the ranks, his pluck and determination more than supplying the place of mere bodily strength. One who stood by him in the ranks used to say of him at this time: "You ought to see how the crack of the guns wakes Weston up. On mornings when everything is quiet he limps off with his face as white as chalk from the pain of his neuralgia, and his teeth set tight together, but the color mounts up in his face when the gunners once get to work, and his head goes up like a war horse's." Such were the qualities which 'he exhibited in the more trying part of his service. In the camp and on the field, when well, or even in tolerably good health, his personal and social qualities made him the life of the company and a universal favorite. He had the true New England type of humor, quaint, quick, and dry, full of surprises and hard to reproduce in narration. " I recall, however, one characteristic speech of his. His company, on returning to Newbern after their first expedition, found their camp without firewood, and were ordered off to the forest, a mile distant, to bring in a supply on their shoulders. Weston, who was still quite weak from his recent sickness, set out for the barracks on the return of the party, himself carrying but one very small stick. On their way back they met Lieutenant T. of Company F, and Weston saw the rebuke in the officer's eye as it lighted upon him, but prevented the expression of it by saying, respectfully, while his eye twinkled, "No, I don't mind the physical labor, Lieutenant T., - it's the degradation that tries my soul." To shine in the company of which George Weston was at this time a member was in itself a sort of distinction; for though it was not called on for very important services, its ingredients were peculiar. Its first and second officers were both Harvard men, and there were also in the ranks fourteen graduates and undergraduates of our college. Nearly all the mechanical and mercantile pursuits were numerously represented among the privates, as well as all the learned professions. There were two civil engineers, several 'authors, and three artists, - at least one of the latter being of considerable reputation; and of the college-bred men several had been distinguished by rank and ability at the University, and one, who was taken away by disease after five months' service (Hopkinson), was one of the most brilliant writers and Latin scholars among our recent graduates. Company F, it is also to be noticed, afterwards contributed from its own ranks to the three years' regiments in service one brevet brigadier-general, two lieutenant-colonels, nine captains, one first and one second lieutenant. Three of these officers performed signal service and were wounded in the assault on Fort Wagner, and two others, Captain Simpkins and Captain Russell, were there killed. The commission of Second Lieutenant in the Eighteenth Massachusetts Regiment was issued to Weston by Governor Andrew on March 4, 1863, and in the latter part of that month he sailed from Newbern for Boston. After a preparation of some ten days he set out for his command in Virginia, and joined it in its camp near Falmouth on the I8th of April. The history of Lieutenant Weston, from May to November of 1863, is identified with that of the Eighteenth Massachusetts, in all whose marches and battles during that time he shared, never failing to do his work well. Both at Chancellorsville, which was his first great engagement, at Gettysburg, and at Rappahannock Station, his gallantry attracted the attention of the commanding officer of his regiment. Marches, far more than battles, seem to have given him anxiety, for his bodily strength was never equal to the drains they made upon it. He appears, however, to have kept in his place all through the exhausting service that preceded and followed the engagement at Chancellorsville, as well as in the terrible fatigues of the race with Lee's army into Pennsylvania. But after the battle of Gettysburg his strength failed him utterly, and he was forced to take to an ambulance. In writing to his sister on the i8th of July, he says, hiding the fact of his weakness and suffering in humorous words, as was his wont: - "We crossed the Potomac last night, and are to-day engaged in the pleasant occupation of marching, that is, the regiment is. As for myself, two days ago, when I found there was no prospect of overtaking General Lee on my feet, I concluded to give chase in an ambulance, which our doctor agreed with me in thinking the best plan." Weston had been a good private soldier and he made an admirable officer, - cheerful and bright when in health, uncomplaining and patient in sickness, and in the march and on the battle-field the soul of fortitude and courage. In a letter written to a member of the family after his death, the commanding officer of his regiment, Colonel (afterwards General) Joseph Hayes, says: "Let me express to you my sense of the character and services of Lieutenant Weston during the period of his service as an officer in my regiment..... Although an entire stranger to the other officers of the regiment at the time of joining it, he soon, by his courtesy, manly conduct, and strict attention to duty, made many friends and won the confidence and esteem of all. At the battle of Chancellorsville, where the regiment was first engaged after he had joined, I, as his commanding officer, had occasion to mark his courage and gallantry. " Upon the subsequent march through Maryland and Pennsylvania to Gettysburg, one of the most painful and difficult this army has ever performed, Lieutenant Weston, although suffering from severe illness, at the time, marched with his company, and by his patience and fortitude won the regard of all who participated with him in that trying duty. " At the battle of Gettysburg his conduct was no less deserving of praise, being all that a gallant officer's should be. " Throughout Lieutenant Weston's military career to the hour when, leading his company in the attack on Rappahannock Station, he received his mortal wound, his bravery, fidelity, and patriotism entitle him to my warmest approbation, and must render his memory forever sacred in the hearts of his friends and comrades." On the 7th of November, while leading his company at Rappahannock Station, he was struck in the wrist of the right hand by a bullet, which passed entirely through it. Weston himself always believed, rightly or wrongly, that this bullet came from a shell which exploded nearly over his head; "one of the kind," as he wrote with his left hand to a friend afterwards, "that are filled with anything, from a bullet to a horseshoe." His wound, though very painful, was not at first thought to be dangerous, and during the two weeks of his stay in the Harewood Hospital in Washington it does not appear that amputation of his hand was ever suggested by his surgeons. But it told fearfully upon his already enfeebled health and exhausted strength. The hospital at Washington, though doubtless as well managed and comfortable as was possible under the circumstances, was not at all the place for him, and he failed rapidly during the two weeks he passed in it. At the end of that time an intimate friend, who had come to Washington for the purpose of taking him home, succeeded, after the most persistent and vigorous efforts, in getting the furlough, which, if obtained a few days earlier, might perhaps have saved his life; and after a most painful journey, alleviated so far as human watchfulness and care could accomplish it, he arrived in Boston and was taken at once to private rooms in the Massachusetts General Hospital. Here all that the best skill could do was done, united with all the appliances of tender nursing, but without avail. On the 4th of December his right hand was amputated just below the middle of the forearm, and for several days after the operation his recovery seemed probable; but the tone of his system was never restored, and on the afternoon of the 5th of January, 1864, he died. Throughout his entire sickness his sufferings had been most acute; but in the intervals of comparative relief, his mind was clear and active, and his spirit, as ever, brave and hopeful. At the last, and when conscious of the nearness of death, he breathed no word of regret at the sacrifice he had made for his country, but rather rejoiced in it. From the story of George Weston's life, short and simple as it is, the main points in his character may be inferred, and but a few words need be added in conclusion. The most prominent of his intellectual characteristics were his shrewdness and his sharp good sense, to which was added a natural gift of reading men's characters and divining their motives. These talents, joined to the enthusiasm and industry with which he devoted himself to his profession, would have apparently insured him a more than ordinary success. Several of the lawyers with whom he studied spoke of him as one of the most promising students ever taken into their offices. And it is worthy of notice that both from his father's and his mother's family he had an hereditary bent of mind toward his profession, inheriting directly an uncommon astuteness and shrewdness from his father, and counting in his mother's family very many lawyers, and several of eminence. One marked trait of George Weston's mind and character calls for special mention here, because its existence was unknown to many of his acquaintances, and to some even of his most intimate friends. This was a remarkable and almost impenetrable reserve of nature,-a trait which in him was as far removed as possible from either bashfulness or diffidence. Indeed, it lacked almost all those outward marks which reserve usually impresses upon the characters of which it is a decided element. The apparent openness and frankness of his nature, his kindness and geniality, his power of lively and fluent conversation, and his habitual ease of manner, were all liable to mislead the observer, though all these gifts and traits were natural and unassumed. The deeper part of his nature was scarcely ever revealed, even to his most intimate friends. But the glimpses afforded on some rare occasions were such as to show a strength and patience of soul and a power of self-repression that were little short of wonderful. Conscientious in the conduct of his life, he never made any fine talk about duty and responsibility, but it was observed that his performances were almost always better than his promises. But the strength of his character was, after all, in the exquisite kindliness and geniality of his nature. This it was which made him so universally a favorite. His sunny humor was a sort of intellectual outgrowth of these traits of his moral nature, and seemed to answer perfectly to that definition of a great writer which makes humor to consist of "love and wit." Among his friends Weston's name was almost a synonyme for sunshine. One was conscious of an incessant and healthy stimulus of mind and spirits, which made it nearly impossible to be dull in his company; and oftentimes in the midst of the petty annoyances of camp life, or after the severer trials of a day's marching, his merry voice sounded the signal for returning good humor and good spirits to his companions in arms. The testimony of his friends is abundant as to the beauty of his character and his power of winning love. One friend says in writing to Mrs. Weston: "God made you the mother of one who shed sunlight about him wherever he moved. There was no company he entered that was not the brighter for his presence. And his sunny temper and pleasant words threw a charm over the whole circle of his companions." And another writes to his sister:" The united testimony of all who knew him bears me out in saying that one seldom meets with a more true and honorable man than your brother. He united with a manly courage, which elicited the applause of a whole regiment, a tenderness for the feelings of others and a charity for their imperfections which made him a favorite with all with whom he came in contact." George Weston entered the army just as he was completing the preparation for his profession, and died in his twenty-fifth year. From so young a man very little of absolute achievement could have been expected; and yet those that loved him feel that much was accomplished.



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