Military heroism runs through generations of this family

After three other standard bearers were killed or wounded, 1st Lt. Nathan Huntley Edgerton grabbed the staff carrying the stars and stripes and charged ahead.

It was early morning on Sept. 29, 1864. The white adjutant for the 6th United States Colored Infantry Regiment and his men faced a deadly volley from Confederate troops dug in at the Battle of New Market Heights, Chaffin's Farm in Virginia.

A bullet tore through Edgerton's left hand, and snapped in two the staff he was holding. Yet the Union soldier led the assault survivors forward, enabling them to regroup.

For his actions in that ferocious Civil War fight in which some 850 Union soldiers died, Edgerton, who is buried on his former homestead in Agness on the lower Rogue River, would receive the Medal of Honor. However, he would not receive the nation's highest military medal for bravery until 1898.

Out of the 16 black veterans awarded the Medal of Honor during the Civil War, 14 went to those who survived that horrific battle. They more than proved their mettle in the first major combat for the untested black troops.

Heroism displayed by former Quaker Edgerton inspired his descendants to follow in his footsteps. Over the past century, they have answered their country's call to arms in times of war.

"One of the reasons I became an Army officer was because of my great, great grandfather," observes retired Col. Daniel "Dan" Edgerton of Lake Oswego of the Civil War hero.

"He was one of 16 children," he adds. "The family came from Ireland. His father was a Quaker minister who admonished his children not to join the military."

Young Nathan would keep the faith in his early years, enrolling in the Friends School in Westtown, Pa. In fact, he became one of the youngest professors in the college, serving as the chemistry chair.

But when Confederate troops led by Gen. Robert E. Lee invaded Pennsylvania in 1863, he stepped forward to join the ranks of the blue.

"He could not stand idly by and watch his country invaded," his great, great grandson says. "As a Quaker, he was disowned for breaking faith."

If Dan Edgerton's name sounds familiar that's because he was one of the folks instrumental in helping find the location of the long lost Battle of Hungry Hill. Southern Oregon University's Laboratory of Anthropology director Mark Tveskov announced the discovery this past week of the site of what was the largest battle in the 1855-56 Rogue River Indian War.

A military historian whose 27 years of service included three years in the U.S. Army History Center in Washington, D.C., where he was deputy commander, Dan Edgerton discovered a map in the National Archives that helped lead to the discovery of the 1855 battle site. The battlefield, whose precise location is not being released, is in the vast Grave Creek Hills west of Interstate 5 between Sunny Valley and Glendale.

Dan's interest in that war was spurred by his ancestral link to the lower Rogue.

His father, Edward Edgerton, a World War II veteran, was born in Wedderburn along the banks of the Rogue.

"They didn't have a doctor in Agness — he was delivered by a midwife," Dan says. "He grew up in Agness."

And his grandfather, Norman Edgerton, was a World War I veteran, he notes.

A native of Coos Bay who spent his formative years in Portland, Dan, 60, has a master's degree in interdisciplinary studies — equal parts history, education and international relations — from Oregon State University.

The well-traveled former officer has an impressive military resume, including serving as a company commander, combat arms officer and strategist.

He is researching and writing a book about battles involving the Army, settlers and the Native Americans in the Northwest, deploying his military experience in the project.

But with Saturday's 148th anniversary of the Civil War battle, his mind is on his great, great grandfather, who would be promoted to captain and become a company commander in the regiment.

"He was an extraordinary man," Dan rightfully observes.

Indeed, he would become an inventor and president of a company that made electric batteries. He traveled to the Paris Exposition in France in 1878 to display electric motors he helped patent.

In 1909, this remarkable man, then 71, and his wife, Esther, arrived in Agness, where they began their next adventure.

"They came out West from Pennsylvania because two of their sons were miners in Agness," Dan explains, referring to brothers Arthur and Ralph, who had settled in Agness in 1900.

At an age when most folks are settled into retirement, the elderly couple homesteaded in Agness, where they raised sheep, chickens and honeybees. They also planted a 20-acre orchard that included peaches, apples and almonds, Dan reports.

Esther died in 1919, but Nathan continued living on the farm, where he died Oct. 27, 1932. He was 93.

In addition to his name, his dates of birth and death, and his rank and unit, the old headstone provided by the Army reads, "Medal of Honor."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

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