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This biography is from HEROES OF ALBANY, by Rufus W. Clark, D. D.

Pvt. William A. Van Gaasbeek

William A. Van Gaasbeek was born September 5th, 1841, and at the age of four years commenced going to school. A more truthful, pure minded, affectionate and obedient boy than Willie could not be found. He loved his home and parents, and would do all in his power to make them happy.

At the age of ten years he commenced going to the Experimental school, and continued there for four years. During that time he never asked to stay at home a single day, unless he was sick. He was greatly beloved by his teachers and young associates.

After he left the Experimental school, he went to North Hampton to school, and remained there about one year.

At the age of fifteen, William entered the Albany Academy, and remained there until he became a clerk in his uncle's store. He was with his uncle two years and a half, and in all the relations of life, he bore an unblemished character.

He next obtained a situation in Mr. Stuart's store in New York city, and remained there about six months, giving entire satisfaction to his employer. His father being about to commence business, desired to have William with him, and requested him to return home. His employer was very anxious for him to stay, and held out great inducements for him to do so; but he said he felt it his duty to return home, and do all in his power for his father.

Besides being a dutiful and affectionate son, William was a true patriot, and, when the war commenced, he told his parents that he felt it to be his duty to enlist in defence of his country's cause.

William enlisted as a private in the Eleventh New York Independent Battery, November 6, 1861. This, it will be remembered, was before the days of thousand dollar bounties, and before the draft drove men to enlist to avoid a harder fate.

We needed men, not officers alone, to fight our battles for us; and there were men—true hearted, noble men, who rushed to the standard then, and filled our failing ranks with glittering steel and iron hearts.

William had weighed the matter well, and neither the doubtful smile of friends, or the story of hardship and danger, had power to deter him from his purpose.

We shall never forget the prompt reply he made, when, early one morning, a comrade stepped into his father's store, and put the question: "Are you ready to enlist, Will?" The answer was as direct as the question, and, without a moment's delay, they were on their way to give themselves, for three years, to their country's service, with all it might bring to them of good or evil.

To him it proved an altar of sacrifice, on which he laid all, even life itself. His comrade lives to mourn his loss, and tell the story of his bravery.

Young Van Gaasbeek was by nature endowed with some of the first requisites of a soldier—a disposition cheerful under all discouragements, a strong constitution, and, best of all, nerve for any danger into which duty called him.

The first six months of his service were spent in Fort Ellsworth, near Alexandria, Va. And here, in garrison, as nowhere in the field, is the spirited soldier's patience tried, and his health put in jeopardy.

Leaving their comfortaide quarters at Albany, as they did, in the dead of winter, and being put in tents with a scanty supply of fuel, with rain or snow, or both, enough each day to prevent much out door exercise, no wonder the men were sick. Within three weeks after the Eleventh and Twelfth New York Batteries, numbering something more than three hundred men, took possession of Fort Ellsworth, disease, of one type or another, had so reduced the number that there were barely men enough to furnish the necessary detail for guard. And these few had to go on duty every alternate day and night.

Thus the spring wore away, and the summer was half ended, when the monotony of garrison life was suddenly broken. On the 16th day of June, orders were issued for the Eleventh New York Battery to report at Washington, where they would be suppplied with guns, horses and equipments for service in the field.

There was joy in the fort that night, and from that time forward there was no lack of work to do. The tide of war that but a few months before had rolled so heavily to the south, came thundering back with redoubled fury. Again was the Capital in danger.

The Eleventh New York, with other troops, was ordered to report at Manassas. Then followed the unfortunate atfair of August 27, when the battery lost four of its guns, and many of its best men as prisoners. But fortunately our hero was not among the number. His duty with his own piece, which was not engaged, prevented his sharing in the dangers and honors of that first conflict his company had with the enemy. The next morning's sun found him with what was left of the battery, supported with a single regiment, hopefully assisting in holding in check the advance columns of Lee's army.

At Fredericksburg he shared the perils of the day, and bore the chagrin of retreating in the night, like a good soldier.

Next we find him at Chancellorsville. All day had Sickles been steadily pressing the enemy baek in his front. The day was almost spent, when the enemy charged with fearful power upon our ranks. The Fifth Corps broke and fled. Our flank was turned and all seemed lost. Cheer after cheer rose from the rebels.

But in the thickest of the fire, clouded in smoke and begrimmed with powder, we find our young hero straining every nerve, to pour the iron hail into the rebel line as rapidly as possible. Cooler than many older men, and braver than some, he stood fearless at his post. When darkness settled down upon the field, the order was given along the line to "cease firing." The heated pieces ceased their work of death, and many thousands sank to rest.

But William, ever wide awake, and ready for any enterprise, and curious to know how things looked between the lines, went out to reconnoiter. When about half way between friend and foe, he found a three-inch rifled gun, deserted by its friends, and left to fall into the hands of the enemy. It was too great a prize to carry off alone, and too great to leave. He returned, and with volunteers enough to bring it in, he soon added a seventh piece to the Eleventh New York Battery.

Being a fine penman, and quick to learn, it was early discovered at head-quarters that he might be made useful there; and much of his time, especially during the second year, was spent as clerk under different general oflicers.

The fact of his being so much of his time engaged in writing, and away from his battery, will account for no special mention being made of him in connection with the battles of Gettysburg and Mine Run.

After nearly a year of faithful service as clerk, he made application to his Captain for relief. Having obtained this, he cheerfully returned to his duty with the Battery, just before the opening of the campaign of 1864. Here he remained, sharing the toils and perils of his comrades at the Wilderness and Spottsylvania, on the Po and Nye and North Anna River, until June, 1864, when at Coal Harbor he received the wound that terminated in his death. He was wounded in the arm by a sharpshooter, while at the extreme front on the skirmish line. The ball struck his shoulder blade, and it became necessary to amputate his arm. After his arm was taken off, he got a friend to write home to his parents, stating that he expected to go to Washington. He also wrote, "I stood the amputation well, and have strong hopes of getting well. I was brought in a few hours after I got hurt.

"Father, if you possibly can, I wish you would come and see me in the hospital at Washington. I shall be there by the time you receive these few lines; I can be discharged, and you can take me home at once. I think my right hand is good, and I expect to be of some use yet."

But God ordered it otherwise. He never was permitted to see his home alive. His father did as he requested; he went to Washington, but could not find him. For a whole week he made the most diligent inquiries, without being able to trace him.

It appears that William had a brother connected with the Sanitary Department, who finding that he was wounded took him to David's Island, near New York, instead of going to Washington.

The brother was unwilling to leave William, and remained with him for nearly two weeks. He then returned to Albany, reaching the city on Sunday morning. We may imagine the feelings of a mother's heart, when she found that her poor, wounded boy was so short a distance from home, while his father was looking for him so long, and so far away. Mr. Van Gaasbeek was telegraphed to as soon as possible, and the mother taking the nine o'clock train, Sunday morning, arrived in New York about four o'clock in the afternoon. It being Sunday, there was no way to get to the Island until Monday morning.

When she arrived at the hospital she was told that Willie was very Iow. After his brother left him he was taken sick, and the main artery in the neck commenced bleeding. The doctor, however, immediately succeeded in taking up the artery. But of course William was very weak. He was asked if he would like to see his mother. His answer was, "yes, I would like to see her." A messenger then came and said to her, "you must compose yourself as much as possible, for the least excitement in the patient may cause the artery to bleed again." She was then conducted to the room, and looking from bed to bed, she saw no one that she recognized as her Willie. At last a youth raised his remaining hand, and said "mother." She knew that voice, and approaching the sufferer, she could scarcely believe that this was her son, he was so emaciated and changed.

Bending over him he fondly kissed her and said, "Where is father?" The mother could not reply. She was choking with emotion. She seemed to herself, as though she was sinking in an abyss of sorrow. At last she whispered, "Willie, keep quiet and in a few moments mother will talk with you." She then offered a silent prayer to God for strength in that trying hour. She then told him how long his father had been trying fo find him. He said, "I want to see him, I wish he would come." He then asked about his two sisters, and his little brother at home. Then he looked up anxiously and said, "Mother, do you think they will let you stay and take care of me?" She replied, "Willie, do not worry, for I know they will; here comes the doctor and I will ask him." She asked him, and he said, "Yes, he needed a mother's care." She then went to the hall with the doctor, and asked him what he thought of Willie. He said, "Do you think you can bear the worst." She replied, Yes. He then said, "Your boy is a very sick boy, but while there is life there is hope; if he takes to bleeding again, there is not any help for him."

She returned to the room again, and Willie looked so pleased, and said, "Mother, how glad I am you can stay." He then said, "Mother, where are you going to sleep?" She replied, "Willie, do not be anxious about me, I can sleep anywhere. I shall take care of you at night, and will lay down and rest in the day time." He said, "Mother I am afraid it will make you sick if you do not have your rest." When the doctors came in to dress his wounds, as soon as he heard them coming in the room, he would say, "Mother I think you had better go out till my wound is dressed." He was afraid it would be too much for her. So whenever his wound was dressed, she had to leave the room. His wound had to be kept wet night and day; and at first he did uot want his mother to attend to that. But he reluctantly consented to have her to do it, as the wound was not visible, and all that was necessary, was to keep the bandage wet with a sponge.

His father arrived on Tuesday morning, and then Willie seemed to be perfecty happy. He was so very weak he could not talk much. But on Wednesday morning he was thought to be better, and the doctor said to his mother that he must congratulate her for her boy was better. He did look better, but, alas, how soon their hopes were blasted.

As his father had been so long away from home, thinking him so much better, he thought he might leave him for a short time. He bade him good bye on Wednesday. Thursday was a very warm day and William seemed very weak, but never uttered a single word of complaint. When asked how he was, he would say, "I think I am better." His only anxiety was that he might weary others, or that his mother would get sick.

The day before he died, a lady, Mrs. Manning, who was in the habit of visiting the hospital, stood by his bed side conversing with him. She remarked, "You are very sick; I suppose you know in whom to put your trust." He looked up to her and smiled, and said, "I put my trust in God." She said, "That is a blessed trust; you would not give that trust and hope for anything this earth can afford?" His answer was, "No, not even for the arm that I have lost." He continued to grow weak all day Thursday, and, about nine o'clock, the artery commenced bleeding, and he died about half-past ten, on the 23d of June, 1864.

His suflerings Avere very great, and are known only to himself and his God. He was but twenty-three years of age, when he thus offered up his precious life upon the altar of his country.

The following touching letter was received by Mrs. Van Gaasbeek, from Mrs. Manning, one of the ministering angels to our soldiers during the war:

Brooklyn, November 12, 1864.
My Dear Friend—Ever since the death of your dear son, I have thought of writing you, as I could not say to you what I felt when I left you. From the time you spoke to me on the boat going to your son, I felt a deep interest in you. Perhaps you do not remember that I took you to the ladies' room, where I spent the last night with you. But it is all fresh to my mind; also the sweet, almost divine face of your dear son, I shall never forget. Do you remember how pleasantly he spoke to me when I said that I hoped he was able to eat some of the strawberries we had carried to him. I shall never forget his patient, trusting look, full of resignation, as if he had done his duty and was waiting in the spirit of the Saviour, for the summons to go home. He seemed to say, "not my will, but thine, be done."

When word came that his arm was bleeding again, and I went to him, I knew he must die. But the doctor said, "you had better not go to him, as it will excite him; and keeping him quiet is the only possible way to save him."

My great desire in urging you to go to bed and rest, came from the fact that I knew that your son was at rest. I know, also, how overtaxed you were, and that your loving heart would almost break. I knew and felt all this, because I am a mother, and my son a soldier—yes, my only son. I felt your sorrow as only a mother can feel. Since the death of my mother, most loving and tender, I have never suffered as I did that night that I watched with you. Your own agony I think did not surpass mine, for you had moments of apparent unconsciousness; I sometimes listened to hear if you breathed at all, all that long weary night. I watched the stars and prayed, thinking of my own boy. If I lose him, I cannot suffer more than I did then. I remember how fully I partook of your spirit. You did not speak, I think, from ten o'clock till two. Then you said, looking up earnestly, "Willie is gone."

I must tell you that within the last month I have felt, that if these sacrifices are the price of our nation's salvation from the enemy, we can give it.

I trust that you feel that you have a precious treasure in heaven, and are calm.

Your son, my dear friend, was offered on a sacred altar, and I am sure the sacrifice is not in vain. I pray God to bless you and yours.

I am still interested in the soldiers, and visit David's Island hospital almost every day. But no face has ever interested me so much as your son's, that I have seen as little. We are now getting up a Thanksgiving dinner for our dear sick and wounded soldiers. My son is in Florida; well now, though he has been sick. I trust Miss Dunnett has answered your letter. I know she proposes writing you sometime.

I shall be happy to hear from you. My address is Mrs. H. H. Manning, care of Manning & Squire, New York.

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