Thomas Eugene Orton, the son of Thilo A. and Nancy Collins Orton, was born at the village of Eaton in Madison county, N. Y., on the 21st day of October, 1842. He enlisted as a private soldier in Company H, of the Third regiment of Wisconsin volunteer infantry, on the 22nd day of April, 1861, at Darlington, Wis., the family having removed to Wisconsin in the fall of 1850. At the time of his enlistment he was in his nineteenth year. He was a splendid specimen of young manhood, about 6 feet tall, round and compactly built, with a splendid constitution and well matured, and was, though young, capable of great endurance.
He joined the army immediately after the first rebel attack upon the flag and from motives of the purest patriotism. He was not impulsive, but was convinced that his country demanded the sacrifice of the life and blood of many of her sons; and he threw his young life, full of hope and promise, into the breach. His reading had been very extended, for his age, and he judged intelligently the causes which led to, and the magnitude of, the struggle impending; and like a hero, without faltering or hesitation, governed by a sense of duty, which he never questioned, went forth to meet his country's enemies, in the terrible ordeal of war.
He was a typical soldier, strong, supple, and enduring as steel; intelligent kni fearless. He knew his duty and had the courage to do it. He was very soon promoted to non-commissioned offices, the duties of which he discharged with great credit to himself. At the terribly disastrous battle of Cedar Mountain, Va., fought on the 9th of August, 1862, in which nearly one-third of the entire Federal forces engaged were killed, wounded or taken prisoners, and in which the losses of the Third were, 108, among them Lient. Col. Crane, who was killed in battle, Orton was badly wounded, receiving five bullet wounds. He was left upon the field, and fell into the hands of the rebels, the federal forces having retreated.
He was within the rebel lines two days. On Monday, the 11th of August, he was removed by a detachment of Union soldiers, under a flag of truce, to within the Federal lines, and thence to a hospital at Alexandria. His sufferings for these two days, wounded, helpless, unattended, in the hands of the enemy, can hardly be imagined. He never, however, referred to them except to acknowledge kindnesses extended to him by the enemy during the time
His recovery was slow, and it was not until the 28th of July, 1863, that he rejoined the regiment. In the meantime, in acknowledgement of his meritorious services, he was, on the 1st day of November, 1862, commissioned second Lieutenant; and, on the 20th day of April, 1863, first lieutenant; and, on the 3rd day of February, 1864, captain. On his return to the regiment he was assigned to duty in Company K, which company he commanded from the time he was commissioned captain until his death. In January, 1864, he was tendered a commission as first lieutenant in the invalid corps, then organized at Washington; but, true to his soldierly instincts, he declined it, preferring active duty in the field.
On the 20th of July, 1864, near Atlanta, Ga., while sitting in his quarters, in the morning, with his portfolio in his hands, having just sealed and addressed a letter to his parents, a shell from the enemy's gun exploded only a few feet from him, inflicting injuries from which he died at 4 o'clock P. M. of the same day.
Capt. Thomas E. Orton was sitting in his tent, having finished a letter that he had written to his parents. A shell from one of the enemy's guns penetrated the barricade in front of his quarters, then exploded close to his body, mortally wounding him; and he died a few hours afterward on the same day.
Captain Orton was a young man of great promise. His purity of life, excellent deportment, soldierly qualities of courage and loyalty to duty made him an excellent and popular officer. He had won his way from the ranks by his own merit; and had he lived would have made an hoti orable and prominent mark in civil life. A nobler young spirit did not pass from earth in that great struggle.