SGT Thomas Plunkett
Company E, 21st Regiment
Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry
Citation: Seized the colors of his regiment, the color bearer having been shot down, and bore them to the front where both his arms were carried off by a shell.
Plunkett enlisted as a corporal in Company E of the 21st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry on 19 July 1861. Plunkett Fought at 2nd Bull Run and again 2 days later at Chantilly.
He was involved in the hot fight with Stonewall Jackson’s troops during a thunderstorm, losing 38 men with an additional 76 wounded and 26 taken prisoner. The highest loss sustained by his regiment in a single battle during the war.
That night Plunkett, went searching for a wounded buddy on the field of battle, Louis Moutte of Company E. Plunkett left his own musket behind, thinking he would need to carry his friend off the field.
As Plunket moved forward he was confronted by Confederate pickets. Although unarmed himself, Plunkett managed to take the man’s weapon away from him and take him, prisoner.
Plunket served in combat again at Two weeks later, atSouth Mountain’s Fox’s Gap and at the Battle of Antietam on the 17th.
On 11 December, the Federal Army finally forced its way across the river and began moving into the town. A short firefight with the Confederates behind the stone wall soon forced the Federals to retire.
According to the commander of the 21st, Col. William S. Clark, Color Sergeant Collins (Company A) was hit and fell to the ground. Sgt. Plunkett immediately took up the colors and carried them forward.
A shell burst struck Plunkett, shattering both his arms and wounding him in the chest – three other soldiers were killed outright by the blast. Somehow managing to stay on his feet, Plunkett tried to support the now blood-drenched flag with what was left of his right arm and the rest of his body. “Don’t let it fall, boys!” he cried. Only after Color Corporal Olney (Company H) had taken the colors from him did Plunkett drop to the ground.
Stretcher-bearers were eventually able to get him back into Fredericksburg. Surgeons, with Clara Barton in attendance, performed amputations on what was left of his arms – one just above and the other just below the elbow. They also dressed his chest wound (the Worcester newspaper reported that a book he had carried in his breast pocket had prevented this from being mortal). On Christmas Day, Plunkett was carried from the hospital, along with the other wounded of the regiment, to Falmouth Station and put aboard a flatcar bound for the Federal depot at Aquia Creek. Escorting him as far as the Falmouth train station to see him off were Col. Clark and the entire 21st, along with Barton. After arriving at Aquia Creek, he was put on a transport and taken to Washington, ending up at Armory Square Hospital.