The Mystery of William Perry Sutton and William Dota, Church's Artillery and 15th U.S.
by Gordon Thorsby
Sometimes ordinary men did extraordinary things and there were times, ordinary men just did ordinary things, Then, there are mysteries that are waiting to be solved and waiting to even be uncovered. This is about uncovering a mystery.
William Perry Sutton (1828-1862) enlisted at 34 in Battery “D” First Michigan Light Artillery on September 8,1862 probably at Coldwater, MI. “Church’s Battery,” was in the Wester Theater and participated in most major battles west of the Appalachians. Documents show a William Sutton from Detroit in the battery, but no with his middle name. The records of Battery “D” are uncharacteristically poor for regiments and batteries.
Sutton is recorded to have died of disease December 7,1862, just three months after arrival in theater and buried in Gallatin, TN (northeast of Nashville at the time.) Details of the disease are unknown. His remains were re-interred at Nashville National and are there today with a marker to remember him (see above.) One would think the Sutton story would end here but it is not complete.
There was a second man buried in a different state with seemingly no connection whatsoever. His name was William Dota, Private. There are no specifics as to his enlistment, but Federal records sometimes have holes and mistakes so not unusual. The Fifteenth U.S. Infantry was an old regiment in American History going back to before 1800. The "Regulars" were present in most every major battle in the Western Theater including Shiloh, Stones River, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and the Atlanta Campaign. It was a regiment that endured much with possibly its toughest action being at Chickamauga. It is assumed that Dota survived the war since Dota’s grave is in Chesaning’s Wildwood Cemetery, listed as dying September 13,1869 according to the GAR post records. Information as to his birth is unknown.
While doing research and turning a page in the local GAR book, I was surprised to see an entry made attributing both individuals. This was a type of note that had never been experienced. Immediate thoughts were that the lack of information of two men were possibly solved, but on further thought the mystery only deepened, and the stories of two men blurred.
In the GAR Post 121 record book in dark brown/black color ink well pen of the 1800’s, the following note was written:
“William Dota was the military name used. Sutton, William Perry real name.”
The writer in a GAR book was typically by a recording secretary (notice first 7 names all by the same hand.) The note appears to be different than the original handwriting. For several years, O.W. Damon (see name in green) was the secretary of the Post.
The following considerations arise. Is the name, Sutton, in the records a different man? Who died and is buried at Nashville? Is Sutton in Nashville actually someone else, a total fake or is it the same man, aka Dota? Who died and was buried in1869? Why did the Federal Government produce two Headstones? Could the note, entered by another veteran in the GAR book (also buried at Wildwood) be incorrect? Why would Sutton use a pseudonym if he did? Did the veterans, and/or the people know of the pseudonym, or did only a few people know the true story? These are just some of the possibilities.
One theory. Sutton could have been avoiding something as of late 1862, faked a death, or substituted another man's death and become a William Dota serving in the 15th U.S. as Dota with no enlistment paperwork, went to Chesaning after the war and died unexpectedly in 1869 and those who knew him decided to bury the name with the man? That is, except for a footnote in a book few ever look at? It is a guess. Your guess could be much better than mine. Feel free to propose your theories or additional facts.
GAR “Paps” Thomas Post 121 Book. (photo of page of GAR Book and note)
Historical Data Sources, P.O. Box 35, Duxbury, MA 02331
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
Chesaning Wildwood Cemetery.