NAME: William N. Gaston
HIGHEST RANK: Junior second lieutenant
UNIT: 6th South Carolina Infantry
SERVICE RECORD: Fourth sergeant of Strait’s Company of South Carolina volunteers, which became Company B, 6th South Carolina Infantry. Promoted to junior second lieutenant on March 5, 1863. Saw combat in the Peninsula campaign, at Suffolk, in the Overland campaign and at Petersburg. Wounded four times but recovered and remained with his regiment until it surrendered in April 1865.
William Gaston was born on February 20, 1839, in Chester County, S.C., the son of Alexander N. Gaston and Elizabeth Wylie Gaston. Sometime after December 1860, the young men around the community now known as Richburg, S.C., would meet and drill in response to Governor Francis W. Pickens’ call for volunteers. William was at some point elected the volunteer unit’s fourth sergeant. G.L. Strait served as the leader of this group, which became known as Strait’s Company. It was later designated Company B of the 6th South Carolina Infantry. The company flag was made by Mary McCullough Baskin, who would marry William Gaston after the war.
Along with several other groups from Chester County, Company B was ordered to Charleston, S.C., on April 11, 1861. The men arrived around 9 p.m. and were housed in a vacant hotel. They were awakened early the following morning by cannon fire. Confederate troops under Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard were firing on Fort Sumter. At this point no arms had been issued to Gaston’s unit. The company was ordered to march through the city. The next evening Springfield muskets were issued to the men, and they were sent to Mount Pleasant Island.
The company drilled in and around the Charleston area until July, when the men were mustered from service to South Carolina to service in the Confederate States Army. They traveled to Virginia, arriving just as the First Battle of Manassas was ending and Union troops were retreating toward Washington.
While he was with the 6th, Gaston was engaged in combat at Dranesville under Brig. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. He later fought under Brig. Gen. R.H. Anderson at Williamsburg and Fredericksburg. Gaston was promoted to junior second lieutenant on March 5, 1863, served with Lt. Gen. James Longstreet at Suffolk, then moved with Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill to North Carolina. His unit was next engaged at Knoxville, Tenn., again under Longstreet. Gaston and the 6th also fought at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor, after which he was wounded. Once he recovered from his injuries, Gaston fought in the trenches of Petersburg. He was shot in the thigh on July 19, 1864, and furloughed on July 27, 1864. He was wounded at New Market Road, and once more, this time shot in the neck, on September 20, 1864. After this final injury, he remained out of action until February 1865. He returned to duty and fought with his unit until it was surrendered by General Robert E. Lee in April 1865.
Following the war Gaston returned to Chester County, S.C., and opened a general store. He and Mary Baskin had eight children, five daughters and three sons. Surprisingly Gaston’s gravestone includes no mention of his military service—it offers only his and his wife’s names as well as dates of birth and death. Yet he served bravely throughout the entire conflict, from before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter until the surrender at Appomattox. William Gaston’s two brothers also fought for the Confederacy: John Porter, who lived until 1925, and Adam Wylie, who died of unknown causes during the war.
Originally published in the January 2007 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.