From gray to blue… Hagerstown’s Thomas C. Suter

Posted on March 14, 2012 by


I’m reminded today, via the Western Maryland Historical Library Facebook post, that, 150 years ago, as of March 12, the following hit the Hagerstown newspaper, Herald of Freedom & Torch Light

It’s an interesting piece, begging some questions, like… “as a Confederate officer, why did he take the oath so quickly?”

Well, that’s part of the problem here. You see… he wasn’t a lieutenant, but was no more than a private. I’ve got no idea how the newspaper came to the conclusion that he was a lieutenant, but let’s take a closer look at Pvt. Suter.

Thomas Clagett Suter was born in Hagerstown, Maryland, on September 1, 1842, a son of William H. and Malinda Wilen Suter. As of 1860, at the ripe old age of 18, he was residing in Hagerstown with his parents. A year later (May 20, 1861, to be exact), Suter enlisted in James Stephenson Brown’s Wise (Virginia) Artillery (Confederate), at Harpers Ferry (some service record cards show Harpers Ferry, others show him enlisting on from Virginia (Antietam-focused folks might recall this unit in action there, but that’s beyond the scope of Suter’s service with the unit). Suter was given a 34 day furlough on February 14, 1862, but, as the newspaper clipping indicates, was taken prisoner.

That’s not really the part that makes Suter’s story interesting, however.

When we take into consideration the record of his brother, Charles Martin Suter, we begin to wonder… were these men actually “pressed” into the service of the Confederacy, in early war?

In fact, records show Charles Suter was “enlisted” at Harpers Ferry on May 11, 1861, in J.Q.A. Nadenbousch’s company (Berkeley Border Guards), 2nd Virginia Infantry, yet also show his as absent without leave… three days before he is documented as having enlisted. He was arrested on June 6, and mustered into service on June 30, but absent sick by the July-August muster rolls. By November, Charles was shown as discharged, but there is no indication why.

Thomas Suter's enlistment papers in Co. I, 7th Md. Infantry (Union)

So, back to Thomas.

Yes, he served in the Wise Artillery for a short spell, was captured, and took the oath (at least that’s what the newspaper account relates… there being no record of an oath in his service record). But… by September 17, 1864, he enlisted again, while in Baltimore, with… Co. I, 7th Maryland Infantry (Union)… the same company and regiment in which his brother Charles enlisted in two years earlier (August 14, 1862).

By the time Thomas enlisted, Charles had risen from private to 2nd sergeant (actual promotion to 2nd sergeant having come in September, 1862). After Thomas’ enlistment, brother Charles also rose to 1st sergeant, and by December, to 1st lieutenant. Charles would also be wounded in the breakthrough at Petersburg, on April 1.

Ah, yes, I’ve strayed from Thomas yet again…

Thomas enlisted as a private, and was discharged, in April 1865… as a private.

Both brothers later received pensions for their service with the Union army.

Charles remained in Hagerstown, and became known for his undertaker business, on W. Franklin Street; was a member of the Reno Post, G.A.R. (among other things); and died on January 8, 1909.

Thomas, by 1870, made his way to Licking County, Ohio, where he married, and died, on October 24, 1917.*

It might seem small and trivial to follow the trail of a private’s service, based on a single newspaper clipping that was but a few lines, but by doing so, we’re able to tap into bigger stories… one of them, perhaps, being about Confederates “pressing” men into service in the Virginia borderland counties, at the beginning of the war.

*Regretfully, I have no information about his postwar activities with the G.A.R.