Place of Birth: County Antrim
Date of enlistment: 21 August 1871
Age given at enlistment: 36
Location on 25 June 1876: With Custer's Column
A Brickmaker from County Antrim
- Although Thomas Atcheson1 gave his occupation as ‘Brickmaker’ when he first volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 7 January 1858, he spent the rest of his adult life as a professional soldier. He told the recruitment officer, Lieutenant William B. Royall,2 2nd Cavalry that he was 23 years-old and came originally from County Antrim, Ireland.3 Atcheson was assigned to Company E, 1st Cavalry and discharged with the rank of private on 7 January 1863, when he and returned to Philadelphia.
Guidon of Battery F, 2nd Regiment Heavy Artillery, 112th Pennsylvania Volunteers.
- The following April he re-enlists and spends the next three years in Battery D, 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery (112th Pennsylvania Volunteers), reputedly the Union Army’s largest regiment. Promoted to corporal, 1 April 1864, then to sergeant, 1 September 1864, he was mustered out with his battery, a second sergeant, on 29 January 1866 at City Point, Virginia.
- By 21 August 1866 apparently all thoughts of brickmaking been forgotten, as on enlisted for a third time in Philadelphia Atcheson gave his occupation as ‘Soldier.’ He was assigned to the 7th Cavalry and joined Company F at Fort Riley, Kansas on 10 September.
- Atcheson was promoted to corporal just one month after he joined the regiment, but by December 1866 was not only reduced to private but was also in confinement. In 1868, after having served two months as an orderly to General Philip Sheridan, he participated in the Battle of the Washita. He made it back to corporal in 1869 and to Sergeant in 1871. Atcheson was discharged at Meridian, Mississippi on 21 August 1871 on expiration of five years service. The same day he was re-enlisted in the regiment by his company commander, Captain George W. Yates, and four days later was granted a two-month long furlough, which was spent back in Philadelphia. Atcheson was with his company during both the Yellowstone Campaign (1873) and the Black Hills Expedition (1874) although he had reverted to the rank of private in October 1873.
- From 11 December 1875 to 18 January 1876 he suffered from an acute bout of rheumatism but had recovered sufficiently to be back in the saddle when the 7th Cavalry marched out of Fort Abraham Lincoln, as part of the Dakota Column, on the 17th of May on its way to Little Big Horn. He was killed with Custer’s column and is listed as THOS. ATCHESON on the battle monument.
- At the time of his death he was due approximately $23.80 for one month and twenty five days pay, $47.86 in retained pay and $97.65 for uniform not drawn in kind. In addition he had $8.50 in savings and the sale of his personal effects raised a further $16.52. On the debit side $1.14 was owed to the United States for tobacco drawn, and $2.00 to Mrs. James, the company laundress, which left his net financial worth a respectable $191.19.
- Thomas Atcheson’s Final Statement records that his body was recovered on 28 June 1876, and buried one mile from the field of battle.
- Details of Atcheson’s army career are largely taken from Military Register of Custer’s Last Command (2009), by Roger L. Williams, p.31.
- 1. Spelt ‘Acheson’ in the U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments. The fact that some muster rolls show him as ‘Atchison’ is almost certainly due to a miss-transcription of a handwritten entry in army records.
- 2. William Bedford Royall (1825-1895), then holding the rank of lieutenant colonel, is best known for his part in the Battle of the Rosebud, 17 June 1876, for which he was brevetted brigadier general.
- 3. Atcheson was described as having hazel eyes, dark, a dark complexion and standing 5′ 5 1/2″ tall. His date of birth remains unknown.