By Michael Jones
Edward Auguste Seton, a 20-year-old Confederate soldier from Lake Charles, Louisiana was lying on the hard ground in a plain canvas army tent when he took his pen in hand on July 1, 1861, and began a remarkable series of 38 letters to his mother, brother and sister detailing his experiences in some of the nation's most historic events.
Confederate Prisoners of War
The letters were carefully preserved by his descendants, the late Mrs. Violet Stone and her son, Layne Stone, who donated them to the McNeese State University Archives, where they have been professionally preserved for future generations.
Lt. Seton was the brother of Mrs. Stone's grandmother.
Seton was born Aug. 20, 1840, in Opelousas, the son of Edward A. Seton and the former Bazilide Belome. His father, who died when Edward was a child, was reportedly related to the family of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born Catholic saint. His mother, Bazilide, was born Feb. 18, 1816, in Opelousas, the daughter of Gregoire Belome and the former Francoise Arnaud, both of New Orleans.
Edward had one sister, Fanny Charlotte Seton, who was born Dec. 15, 1845, in Opelousas. She married Amedie Farque on Dec. 20, 1860, and in the collection is also a wartime letter written by Farque, who served in Company B, 12th Battalion Louisiana Infantry.
Seton's mother had been previously married to Joseph Spence, who died in September 1836. There were two sons from this marriage, John A. and Joseph Spence. Some of Edward Seton's letters were addressed to John, who was the oldest child in the family.
John Spence, established the first newspaper and print shop in Lake Charles, the Calcasieu Press, in partnership with Judge B.A. Martel of Opelousas.
Young Edward worked as a clerk in this early Lake Charles print shop.
In almost every letter, Edward Seton mentioned his girlfriend in Lake Charles, Miss Doris Pithon.
Edward seems to have been a popular young man in the community, and when a company was formed in mid-1861 to fight for the South, he was elected 2nd Lieutenant. He was later promoted to 1st Lieutenant.
The unit became Company K (Confederate States Rangers), 10th Louisiana Infantry, and took part in all of the major battles in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Seton's first duty station was at a basic training camp, Camp Moore, in Tangipahoa Parish.
From there, on July 14, 1861, he wrote his mother, ''At present we have our tents and equipments and all are satisfied. The boys like camp life.''
But he learned that as an officer, he had to buy his own uniform and equipment, ''It (has) taken all the money I had to get my sword and uniform$95.''
Edward's 10th Louisiana regiment was sworn into the Confederate Army on July 22, 1861, and sent by rail to Richmond, Va., a trip which took seven torturous days. The regiment missed the first major battle of the war, the Battle of First Manassas, Va., on July 21, 1861, but he soon had his first encounter with the enemy while on picket duty.
In a letter dated Aug. 11, 1861, Seton wrote his mother, ''I (have) taken up a yankee last night, or at least he gave himself up to me. He was a deserter of the 4th Main Regiment. He said he was in the engagement on the 21st. I delivered him up to Capt. Johnston, officer of the day. They are all put in jail or confined. They are suspected of being spies.''
Seton also wrote an amusing account of an encounter he had with a Virginia native. ''The country men of Va. are much greener than our country boys. I asked one if he was an American and he said not, but he was a Virginian of some eastern county. I could not help laughing in his face.''
His regiment was assigned to guarding the Yorktown Peninsula, where the Revolutionary War battle was fought.
The 10th Louisiana received its baptism of fire at the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862. Lieutenant Seton's letters dropped off drastically after this, as his unit was almost constantly marching and fighting for the next three months. Following Malvern Hill, they fought battles at Cedar Run on Aug. 10, Second Manassas Aug. 28-30 and Chantilly on Sept. 1, all in Virginia, and at Harpers Ferry on Sept. 15 and Antietam on Sept. 17, both in Maryland.
On Sept. 21, 1862, Seton finally got a chance to summarize his command's part in those great battles, ''We have been in all the battles & have lost our best men. In Friday's fight at Manassas Dave Hargrove was killed & L. J. Ryan was wounded in Saturday's fight. At Bull Run Sergt. P(ierre) Vincent was wounded (and later died) & Lt. Isaac Ryan, P. F. McCormick, W. C. Bollin, F. Sack all wounded Friday. We drove them (the yankees) across the Potomac. From there we were a week in Maryland & captured 14,000 men, 23,000 stand of small arms & 60 pieces of artillery. On 17th Sept. we had a battle in Maryland & our company had 15 men in the fight & but four came out safe...We held the field until the 19th and fell back across the Potomac, but we are expecting to cross again tomorrow. We have beat the enemy at every point.''
The armies in those days normally went into winter quarters, and waited until the following spring to resume any serious campaigning. Lt. Seton wrote many of his letters during these breaks, giving his views on life in the army, the progress of the war and the prospects for the future.
His next battle came in May, 1863, at a place now historic Chancellorsville. He was wounded there, and while recovering in a hospital, wrote the best battle description of all his letters.
On May 13, he wrote his mother, ''Ere you will receive this you may hear of my being wounded and probably in a worst light than it really is, for I am but slightly wounded through the calf of the right leg ranging upward. I will be alright in two or three months for another fray. I was wounded on the 3rd May, Sunday morning, in the first charge. After I was wounded, or at the time our brigade fell back some three hundred yards to the breastworks we had just taken, I was left between both fires for a long until a yankee came & got me out. I was very glad for not three hours after the woods caught on fire & burnt a great many. The yankees treated me kindly while I was in their hands.''
In his next letter, dated June 17, 1863, he gave more details of the fight, ''Dear Mama I expect you have been living in great suspense for these last six weeks on account of having heard of my wound & probably of my death for such was reported for I had been taken prisoner after being wounded. Our company stood on the field to the last & fought with the yankees at 30 yards distance.
''They (his own men) did not leave until I told them to go... Poor Jim Reeves was killed to my left & I went to get his rifle to give to F. Sack whose gun would not fire & at that moment I was wounded & when I looked around to give Sack the gun I seen, poor fellow, he was Killed also.''
Although his wound was worse than he first thought, and took longer to heal, Seton recovered and fought many more battles.
Seton's last letter, dated Feb. 9, 1864, was a short one in which he described a small skirmish at the Rapidan River. More serious fighting was to come at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 6 and at Spottsylvania Court House on May 12, 1864.
At Spottsylvania Court House, Seton's entire division was over run and most of the men captured, including the Lake Charles soldier. He was confined to Fort Delaware, on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River.
Civil War POW camps, both north and south, were notorious for their high mortality rates due to disease. Many had death rates of 25 percent and higher.
Fort Delaware was one of the worst.
First Lt. Edward Auguste Seton died there on Feb. 11, 1865, of typhoid fever. His remains now lie in a soldier's grave at Finn's Point National Cemetery on the New Jersey shore, just across from Fort Delaware.
His name is inscribed on an 80-foot tall obelisk, along with the names of 2,435 other Confederate prisoners who died at Fort Delaware. It is the largest Confederate monument provided by the federal government.