LETTER FROM CAPT. GUSTAVUS MASTIN, 4th ALABAMA - KILLED IN ACTION AT SEVEN PINES

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Item Code: 1054-885

A nicely framed letter and envelope from a Confederate officer killed in action at Seven Pines, framed with a copy photo of the officer in uniform. The letter was written November 15, 1861, by Captain G. B. Mastin, Co. F, 4th Alabama, to the mother of one of his men, Henry S. Figures, who had sent Mastin a pair of gloves. The letter and envelope are both in ink and very legible.  Frame measures 8” x 19”; letter measures 4 ¼” x 6 ¾”.

Gustavus Boardman Mastin was born in 1838 in Huntsville, Alabama. He entered the University of Virginia in 1856, but decided to take up law during a recess imposed by the appearance of a “malignant fever” at the school, and in 1861 was a 23 year-old lawyer in Huntsville. One of three brothers who served in the Confederate army, he was elected captain of a local company of volunteers dubbed the “Huntsville Guards,” but, aware of his inexperience, declined the post, accepting the First Lieutenancy instead and was commissioned 1st Lieutenant of Co. F in the 4th Alabama Infantry on 4/26/61. The company captain being promoted shortly after, Mastin was then appointed Captain as of 5/2/61, and served with the regiment at First Bull Run. There, as part of Bee’s brigade, they lost some 38 men killed and 208 wounded in the fighting.

Mastin’s letter is dated Nov. 14, 1861, and is addressed to a Mrs. Figures, thanking her for the present of a pair of “warm and comfortable gloves.” He assures her that, “Henry is as well & hearty as I ever seen him. He seems to enjoy this kind of life and it suits him…” Mastin assures her that if Henry is ever sick she will be notified. It is no great leap of logic to understand that his reference refers to Henry S. Figures, a member of his own company from Huntsville. Accompanying the letter is the original envelope, addressed to W.B. Figures in Huntsville, undoubtedly William B. Figures, Henry’s father, according to the 1860 census.

Figures had been serving as clerk in the Quartermaster General’s office in Montgomery, which he quit, thinking that he, “could do more good with a musket than I could with a pen,” as he put it later in a letter seeking a commission, and joined the 4th Alabama at Winchester in July 1861. He eventually made sergeant and first sergeant in the company before transferring to the 48th Alabama for promotion to First Lieutenant and Adjutant in May 1863. While serving in that capacity with the 48th he was killed in action May 6, 1864, at the Wilderness.

Mastin was killed in action little more than six months after the letter was written, on 5/31/62 at Seven Pines. Mastin was wounded by a shell as his company was lying in reserve and the company was ordered to take a new position before he could be moved. “A private soldier, who was devotedly attached to him, sought permission to remain with him and remove him to the field-hospital. The request was peremptorily denied, on account of the danger to which the soldier would be exposed. This unselfishness probably cost Captain Mastin his life. Had he been attended to immediately, he might have been saved; but when he was removed from the field a few hours afterwards, he was exhausted from loss of blood, and died in the hospital under the examination of his wounds. His remains were taken to Petersburg by the same faithful private, and deposited in the vault of his ancestors.” (Blandford Cemetery).

(The University Memorial, 1871.) This account calls Mastin’s would-be rescuer a private and Figures by that time seems to have been a sergeant, but perhaps the writer got the rank wrong. Figures specifically mentions seeing action at Seven Pines in a later letter seeking promotion. From the tone of Mastin’s letter and the familiarity of the gift, perhaps it was Figures who attempted to save his life.  [sr]

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