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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Samuel Thurston, Died of Wounds in 1897?

by Gordon Thorsby

The Grand Rapids Herald reported 9, February, 1897 that Samuel Thurston, Civil War veteran had died of his wounds. Is this possible?

The story reported, “…post-mortem autopsy confirmed manner of death. Corporal Samuel Thurston of Company C, was the last man to die in the 3rd Michigan Infantry as a direct results of combat in the war.” The story was reprinted in the Saginaw Evening News (the article available at the Saginaw, MI Hoyt Library) and other papers in central Michigan carried the fantastic story. Sam was now famous but he was now also dead. There is more and it may be confusing. The article continued:

"After carrying a rebel bullet in his right lung for over thirty years, Thurston, who was an inmate of the Michigan Soldiers' Home has given up the fight. The bullet had for over thirty years been ploughing its way downward through the tissues of the lungs, and yesterday afternoon dropped out (reported as through the flesh,) death being almost instantaneous. The ball was covered with a linen patch, just as it had left the rifle of some rebel soldier, the patch and bullet being firmly connected. At 2 o'clock yesterday morning Thurston was taken to the hospital, having been in usual good health up to a short time before that. In the afternoon he complained to his nurse that his heart pained him, and while she was gone to secure a hot water application Thurston died.

Most bullets in the lungs and torso were often inoperable and soldiers either lived or they died. Thurston lived and longer than many others who died of natural causes. One could say that at a time of peace Sam died fighting. He is buried at the Old Soldier’s Home in Grand Rapids with many comrades. Rest in peace, Sam.”

A lung wound was treated with making the soldier comfortable. A nurse might sit with dying man to write a letter home, or inquire to see if there was something the soldier wanted in his final time, that is if the man lived long enough. A few did, and by this news account Thurston did. Stories like the one above did appear from time to time.

While seeking additional information for this article, troubling information came to light. A Samuel Thurston was 19 (born 1842) when he enlisted in Co. C 3rd Michigan Infantry 5/13/61 as a private from just west of Grand Rapids, MI. The record shows he re-enlisted December 20, 1863. The 3rd Michigan had fought since 1st Bull Run and those remaining wanted no more of war and the regiment mustered out in June, 1864. Thurston was transferred over to the 5th Michigan Infantry in June and just time for Petersburg. He was discharged on July 5, 1865 but the regiment went to Texas until 1866. Three sources do not indicate he was ever wounded in the war. Is this the same man?

In a grave in Vassar, MI rests one Samuel Thurston, born in Norfolk, England and died in a now non-exiting crossroads of Denmark Junction, northwest of Vassar. Unfortunately, this Thurston lived from 1837-1921, another loose end that didn't connect.

When people are tracking ancestors, they often find multiple names. This story holds more questions. Who was the Thurston in the grave in 1921? Were there two men or three men noted with the same name? Was the Samuel Thurston who died in 1921 the same man and if so, were the stories that several papers reported false? The latter question is one to ponder especially as these papers were reliable when reporting obituaries. In 1897, Newspapers were often run by other Civil War veterans and they would not falsify or exaggerate war information.

An interesting series of thoughts.


Saginaw Evening News, February 10, 1897, Hoyt Library, Saginaw Library.

Grand Rapids Herald, February 9, 1897.

Compiled Service Records Of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served In Organizations From The State Of Michigan.

Historical Data Systems, Inc., PO Box 35, Duxbury, MA 02331

Find A Grave, Samuel Thurston, Vassar, Michigan.

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