Iron Brigade Casualties: A Father and Son Struck Down at Gettysburg

In a war in which brother fought brother and father fought son, it is to be expected that fathers and sons would fall on the same field as was the case with two soldiers from Wisconsin, Charles, and William Fulks from Co. H of the 7th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade.

At 43 years old, Charles was one of the oldest lieutenants in the regiment; his son William Henry Fulks hadn’t yet turned 18 when he enlisted in Co. H along with his father back in June 1861. The two men went off to war together and their 7th Wisconsin became part of the Army of the Potomac’s famed Iron Brigade, seeing action at Gainesville, Second Bull Run, Antietam, and Chancellorsville.

The 7th Wisconsin went into action late in the morning of July 1st at the Battle of Gettysburg as the leading element of the First Corps under General John Reynolds. The regiment first fought General James Archer’s brigade near the Herbst Woods and this was where Charles was struck in the mouth by a bullet, the projectile passing from his right to left cheek. His father tended to his wound and then sent him to the rear. A few hours later, as the 7th Wisconsin was retreating off McPherson’s Ridge towards Gettysburg, a bullet passed through both of Lieutenant Fulks’ thighs, which disabled him. Ironically, July 1st was William's 20th birthday. 

To 24-year-old Lieutenant Tanner Thomas fell the task of relaying this sad news to Charles’ wife and William’s mother Rebecca back home in Wisconsin. “Dear friend, we sincerely sympathize with you in your sorrows. While you mourn on account of the suffering of those that are near and dear to you by nature, we fell that we have lost for a time friends that are tried and true. In the absence of William, we fell that we have lost a good and brave soldier. In the absence of Lieutenant Fulks, we feel that we have lost a brave, generous, and valuable officer; we feel our little band is weakened by the absence of those brave men who fell dead and wounded on the same field,” Thomas wrote.

Both Charles and William would recover from their wounds, although William would receive a discharge in December 1863 for his wound. Charles continued to lead Co. H of the 7th Wisconsin and received a second wound June 18, 1864, at Petersburg; ironically, Lieutenant Tanner Thomas, then in Co. K, would be killed the same day in that same engagement.

Thomas’ condolence letter originally appeared on the first page of the July 28, 1863, edition of the Grant County Herald published in Lancaster, Wisconsin.

 

First Lieutenant Charles Fulks (left) and his son Private William Henry Fulks (right) were both struck down with wounds on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg while serving in Co. H of the 7th Wisconsin Infantry. The elder Fulks sustained his wound in the afternoon near town and ended up being captured by the Confederates. Too badly wounded to be moved, he was paroled when the Confederate army left town a few days later. The younger Fulks, pictured proudly wearing his 7th Wisconsin ladder badge, moved to Iowa after his discharge from the army in December 1863 and had a family of 11 children. 

Near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

July 4, 1863

 

Mrs. Charles Fulks,

          The painful task devolves upon me of informing you that your beloved husband and son William were severely wounded in the battle of July 1st near Gettysburg. Lieutenant Fulks commanded the company. William was wounded soon after the battle commenced while charging upon the enemy. He was bravely advancing when a rifle ball from the enemy brought him to the ground.

The ball entered his right cheek and passed out through his left cheek. He called out for water as soon as he was hit and his father gave him a drink; he was then taken to the rear where he is well cared for. I have heard from him twice; he is doing well, he walks from one hospital to another, talks freely and is in good spirits. You need have no fears for his recovery. His jaws were not broken and he will recover without a doubt.

The lieutenant led the company all through the battle and done it with credit to himself, his company, and his friends. He stood in the thickest of the battle and encouraged the boys while their comrades fell dead, dying, and wounded on all sides of them. He passed through without a scratch until we were compelled to retreat, owing to being flanked on both sides. Just before we reached the town he was shot through both thighs. He is severely wounded but not dangerous. He was taken prisoner but is paroled by this time and will be sent to a hospital where he will have the best of care. You need not fear as to his recovery as there were no bones broken and he will recover without a doubt.

Second Lt. Tanner W. Thomas
Co. H, 7th Wisconsin Infantry
Killed in action June 18, 1864
Petersburg, Virginia

          Dear friend, we sincerely sympathize with you in your sorrows. While you mourn on account of the suffering of those that are near and dear to you by nature, we fell that we have lost for a time friends that are tried and true. In the absence of William, we fell that we have lost a good and brave soldier. In the absence of Lieutenant Fulks, we feel that we have lost a brave, generous, and valuable officer; we feel our little band is weakened by the absence of those brave men who fell dead and wounded on the same field. The names of the dead shall be scared to our memory and the memory of the wounded shall meet with honorable mention amongst their brother soldiers. We will look forward with pleasure to the time when they will regain their company, trusting to the God of Heaven who had protected us to watch over and comfort them in their afflictions.

          Dear friend, while you have reason to shed tears of sorrow over the suffering of those you love, you have good reasons to thank God and take courage that their precious lives have been spared while thousands of their brother soldiers were killed instantly on the spot. Corporal Newton B. Wood was killed fighting manfully at his post. In his death, we feel that we have lost one of the best and bravest soldiers. I will write to his father as soon as I have an opportunity.

Now wishing that the God of heaven may protect you and yours and comfort you in your afflictions, I remain as ever your friend,

          Tanner Thomas

 

Source:

Letter from Second Lieutenant Tanner William Thomas, Co. H, 7th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, Grant County Herald (Wisconsin), July 28, 1863, pg. 1


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