Nathaniel T. Atkinson was born in 1835 in Maine.
Sometime before 1860 Nathaniel left Maine and moved westward, eventually settling in Michigan where by 1860 he was a farm laborer living with and/or working for John D. Skinner in Windsor, Eaton County. Hannah Skinner (b. c. 1836), age 24, was also living in the same household; she was most likely the oldest daughter of John D. and Clarrissa.
It seems likely that Nathaniel and Hannah were married sometime in early 1861. In two letters Nathaniel wrote to Hannah in 1816, one dated August 25 and the other October 15, he referred to her as his wife and as himself as husband. Yet according to the online Dibean marriage resource, they were married on April 22, 1862. It is most likely that the date should be 1861, not 1862, which would’ve been the day before he enlisted.
In any case, it is possible that shortly before war broke out Nathaniel joined “Williams’ Rifles” a Lansing militia company many of whose members would serve as the nucleus for Company G of the 3rd Michigan infantry. In any case, he was 26 years old and probably still living in Windsor when he enlisted in Company G on April 23, 1861 (although according to company records he was reported as having enlisted on May 10).
By early August of 1861 he was reportedly serving with the pioneers. On August 25 he wrote to Hannah, his “dear wife.”
I received yours of the 18th with great pleasure today. I began to grow somewhat worried because I did not receive it as usual Thursday or Friday. I am very sorry to hear that you are unwell. I hope that by the time this reaches you you will feel better. You must be careful of yourself dear one and not get sick since I am not there to take care of you; you must look well to the care of yourself in preference to any one else. I am well at present. The slight indisposition I had when I last wrote did not last long.
Our regiment have moved about two miles since I last wrote. We are close by the 2nd regt now. The 4th brigade are all together now (illegible) in the same vicinity There was a general inspection of our brigade yesterday by Gen McClelland. Pres Lincoln and Secty Seward were also present and the brigade all passed in review before them. We understand that the brigade were highly complimented by the President. The rebels are said to be advancing on us. An attack is expected by some today. We have just been supplied with 40 rounds of cartridges and ordered to be ready to fall in at a moments notice.
The three month story: like nearly all other camp stories has about played out as the phrase is here in camp. It is not likely that I shall be at home till the close of the war. I do not think it will be possible for me to get a furlough in time of war, but comfort yourself darling with knowing that our hearts and souls are united though our bodies ever remain separated. You need not send me any papers. I occasionally buy a Washington paper and there is a package of Republicans to our co(many) from Lansing every week, so that we have some reading. Whenever I get a Washington paper I will send it to some of the folks.
I know that by the way you write that the folks are not as kind to you as they might be. I guess I shall to write them a lecture. I wish you would let me know if they are really unkind to you. You must let them know that you are pretty much independent of them if they treat you unkindly.
I send you five dollars with this. I guess you will think it is put up in a queer manner; I could not any past(e) board or litharge to put it up as I did before; I was not aware of making that ludicrous mistake of addressing you as Mrs Skinner. I must have been very absent minded. I have just herd (sic) that a Sargent in the 2nd regt while out scouting with a party of pickets was shot in the leg by a rebel. The report has also just come in that ninety of the boys from from (sic) the N.Y. Regt in our brigade were taken prisoners by the rebels today. This latter report I hardly credit however. There is always so many stories flying around camp, that I do not pretend to believe any of them till I am quite sure they are facts. I have received no more from Ohio since I received Olive's letter. Major Williams of the 2nd regt has gone home to Lansing. I do not know whether he is on a furlough or on business; he started yesterday. If you receive this with the money all right let me know soon. Pay day I suppose is near at hand again. I shall the be able to send you a greater amount of money. I want you to use it for your own benefit. And now dear wife if we are called into action before I write you again, and I should happen to fall I bid you farewell; may bright spirits guard and protect you. If I should fall I shall visit you in spirit if permitted.
Farewell - I hope not forever
From your husband, N. T. Atkinson.
On October 15 Nathaniel was with the regiment at Fort Lyon when he wrote home to Hannah.
As we are to march at day break in the morning I thought I would drop you a few lines. It is now near 12 o’clock. We have just got through preparing a days rations for the men. I put a letter in the office this M[orning] for you but I thought nevertheless I would write you a few lines before we go. We go out to reconnoiter and learn the position and the strength of the rebels. All the troops in the vicinity that I know of go out and as near as I can judge a general forward movement is to be made.
We have been very busy today we have been moving from where we encamped when we first came up here on Saturday. We now occupy a place behind the rifle pits where another regt has moved from since we came down from camp Richardson. Our tents were all arranged with exactness to day as though they were intended to stay sometime. You must not think strange if my letter is short to night. If we go on to battle it may be some time ere you hear from me again and if I fall (which I not apprehend at present) mourn not for me darling but console yourself with knowing in what a [righteous?] cause I fell.
How I wish I could give you one fond embrace ere I go.
Adieu darling but I trust not forever
Address as usual
From your husband, N. T. Atkinson
Nathaniel was serving with the regiment when he was killed in action on May 31, 1862, at Fair Oaks, Virginia. Homer Thayer, also of Company G, described what happened:
Sergt. Chas. T. Foster, the Color Sergt. of the Regiment was the first to fall. He was bravely holding the colors, and by his coolness and courage, doing much to encourage the boys to press on. Orderly E. F. Siverd was soon after wounded, but still did his duty and urged his comrades on. Soon after this Corporals Case B. Wickham, John Blanchard and Nathaniel T. Atkinson, and privates Samuel Dowell and Charles T. Gaskill received fatal shots. Atkinson and Dowell were brought from the field before they died. All have been buried, and their resting places marked with a board giving the name, company and Regiment.
Unfortunately, the location of Nathaniel’s “resting place” was eventually lost and he was presumably reburied among the unknown soldiers at Seven Pines National Cemetery.
In 1862 his widow applied for and received a pension (no. 41892), drawing $8.00 per month by 1865.