06 March 2008 by Published in: Union Cavalry 19 comments

It’s been a while since I’ve profiled a forgotten cavalryman, so I thought it was high time that I did so.

DosterBvt. Brig. Gen. William Emile Doster was born on January 8, 1837, at the Moravian town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. His father, Lewis Doster, a native of Swabia, Germany, served a campaign against Napoleon, and emigrated to America with his father, Doctor Daniel Doster, in 1817, at the age of twenty. His mother, Pauline Louise (Eggert) Doster, was the daughter of Matthew Eggert, at one time Vorsteher of the Brethren’s House, and granddaughter of Adam Rupert, a soldier of the Revolution. His father owned and operated the successful Moravian Woolen Mills in Bethlehem.

As a child, he preferred drawing and painting, but as the seventh son, as his grandfather before him had been, he appeared destined for the profession of medicine. However, he did not like medicine or have any interest in pursuing it as a career. William attended the Moravian school until the age of fourteen, and after a careful preparatory training entered the sophomore class of Yale College, graduating in 1857. In 1859 he graduated as LL.B. at the Harvard Law School. In 1860 he matriculated as student of civil law, in the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and heard lectures on the Code Napoleon in Paris.

Upon his return home he apprenticed with ex-Governor Andrew H. Reeder, at Easton, and was admitted to practice at the Northampton County bar. Aside from fencing and riding, taught in the European universities, he had no military training.

When the war broke out he was in the office of S. Van Sant, of Philadelphia, but putting aside briefs and black letter-books, he responded to the President’s call for volunteers, and recruited a company of cavalry, which, not being wanted for that arm, was turned over to Colonel Edward D. Baker’s infantry regiment. Doster then raised another company for Harlan’s Light cavalry, of which he was made Captain, his muster bearing a date of August 15th, 1861. A few weeks later this company was transferred to the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry.

On October the 28th of October he was promoted to Major, and a little more than a month later, was detailed with a squadron to act as bodyguard to General Erasmus Keyes.

Toward the close of February, 1862, he was placed in command of the mounted provost guard of Washington, D. C. When the Army of the Potomac departed for the Peninsula, and the appointment of General James S. Wadsworth as Military Governor of the District, Colonel Doster was selected for Provost Marshal, giving him command, by detachment, of four infantry regiments and one cavalry regiment, together with a flotilla cruising upon the Chesapeake.

In October, 1862, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, but continued at his post as Provost Marshal. Just previous to the opening of the spring campaign of 1863, he applied for an order to return to his regiment, which was granted, and was coupled with a recommendation from General Wadsworth to President Lincoln, for his appointment as Brigadier General. On rejoining his regiment he assumed command, and led it during the Chancellorsville and Gettysburg campaigns. He had his horse shot under him at Ely’s Ford, and in a charge which he led at Upperville, was taken prisoner. However, in less than an hour, Doster escaped by striking down his guard and returned to his command.

At Gettysburg he was ordered to report with his regiment to General Pleasanton, at General Meade’s headquarters. On the afternoon of July 2, the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry was the only regiment sent to take position on the Federal left flank, meaning that one regiment was supposed to provide the same coverage as the provided by two brigades of Brig. Gen. John Buford’s division. That evening, Doster was ordered to picket duty on the left flank, and established a line in front of the infantry at eleven o’clock that night. On July 5th, he was ordered to advance through Gettysburg in pursuit of the enemy.

Tearing aside the barricades that obstructed the way, he pushed on as far as Stevens’ Furnace, where he engaged the rebel rear guard. By the evening of the 6th, he had reached Marion, near Greencastle, where he struck Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry. After a severe action brought on by reconnoitering towards Winchester, he led his regiment back to the Rappahannock, where he was prostrated by malaria. Too ill to return to duty, he sent in his resignation, which was accepted. He returned home to Easton and was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar. However, soon after, he was appointed colonel of the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry, but never joined the regiment. He was subsequently brevetted brigadier general of volunteers.

Doster practiced law in Washington for a short time, and at the trial of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, he was appointed, by Judge-Advocate-Generals Hold and Bingham, to defend Lewis Payne and George Atzerodt, two of the defendants. Both were convicted and hanged.

Soon after the close of the war he returned to Northampton County and resumed the practice of the law at Easton, residing at Bethlehem. From 1867-1879, he held the office of Register in Bankruptcy for the Eleventh Congressional District. He was also the long-time president of the Lehigh National Bank and also of the New Bridge Street Company.

On August 15, 1867, he married Evelyn A. Depew, daughter of Edward A. Depew, of Easton. They had one son. The couple settled in Bethlehem in 1873. Doster traveled to Europe more than 30 times in the years after the Civil War.

In 1891, Doster published his Brief History of the Fourth Pennsylvania Cavalry, following it in 1915 with his memoirs, Lincoln And Episodes Of The Civil War.

Doster died on July 2, 1919, and was buried in Nisky Hill Cemetery in Bethlehem.

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  1. Teej Smith
    Fri 07th Mar 2008 at 12:45 pm

    I keep wondering when you’re going to do a profile on Col. Orton Williams, commander of 2nd Brigade, Martin’s Division of cavalry. 🙂


  2. Fri 07th Mar 2008 at 1:26 pm


    Why don’t you put one together for me, and we will post it with you as guest blogger?


  3. Brendan Booker
    Mon 23rd Jun 2008 at 10:58 pm

    It’s my understanding that Gen. Doster married Ruth Porter daughter of Gen.Josiah Porter.

  4. Eric von Dorster
    Sun 13th Jul 2008 at 8:38 am

    General Doster did indeed marry Ruth Porter. He and Evelyn Depew had three children, Edward, William Emil Jr. and Marguerite. He and Ruth Porter had four children, Wadsworth (editor of The Doster Genealogy), Alexis, Dorothy and Beatrice. His summation for the Lincoln trial is interesting reading and available online.

  5. Barry Doster
    Sat 06th Feb 2010 at 8:46 pm

    To whom it may concern, my grandmother once told me I was related to general doster. I found your article interesting and was wondering if there is a record or (family tree) would appreciate any info. Thanks Barry Doster

  6. Tue 16th Feb 2010 at 7:04 pm

    Most Dosters in the US have or know about the Doster Genealogy by Wadsworth Doster (son of W. E. Doster from this article) and Mrs Ben Hill. This book was written in the 1940s, but most Dosters know how they fit into it. This would be the best place for you to start.
    Dave Doster

  7. Tue 16th Feb 2010 at 10:07 pm

    The Doster Genealogy can be purchased here – http://www.higginsonbooks.com/gendo045h.html

  8. Alexis Doster III
    Tue 03rd Aug 2010 at 6:07 pm

    I am the great grandson of Brevet BG William E. Doster. I have his brevet commission, signed by President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. I also have his Colt Model 1860 revolver and both of his swords (dress and field). The handgun and field sword are those he carried at Gettysburg and after.
    His second wife, my great grandmother, Ruth Porter, was the daughter of Josiah Porter, known as the founder of the New York National Guard.
    Gen. Doster told my grandfather that the moments after he escaped from the Confederates, having been captured very briefly, were the most harrowing of his life.
    Doster formed a life long friendship with battlefield illustrator Alfred Waud, and the family has a number of pencil sketches that Waud did of my great uncle Wadsworth Doster’s ketch on Long Island Sound.
    W. E. Doster was a famous horseman and rode until shortly before his death in 1919. Upon its death, he had his favorite mount of the Civil War skinned and made into a chair, which still exists. Sounds strange, but that sort of thing was not uncommon in the 19th century. He attributed his escape from the Confederates to his horse’s quick acceleration and instant obedience.
    He is mentioned prominently on the Gettysburg battlefield at the 4th PA Cav monument, located not far from the famous “grove of trees” at the center of the Union line; and also on the upper tier of the great Pennsylvania monument.
    After he successfully led the 4th PA at Gettysburg and during its aftermath, he was utterly dismayed when command of the regiment was returned to its allegedly drunken and incompetent colonel. I think that his disappointment and anger at the decision contributed largely to his decision not to return to the regiment.
    Thank you for this research.
    Alexis Doster III

  9. beachrose
    Tue 12th Apr 2011 at 5:22 pm

    I am the great great granddaughter of General W.E.Doster and his first wife, Evelyn Depew. My grandmother, Helen Cavan of Wilkes Barre Pa was the daughter of Edward Doster, their son. My father remembers his cousins playing with the swords. I was also born in Bethlehem, Pa but know very little about my ancestry other than what I have found on the internet. By chance, I came upon a site which addresses Civil War Generals and found a picture of General Doster. I would like to learn more about my heritage and am sure I have many “relatives” still in the area. This can become addicting. By coincidence, my son was also born on January 8.

  10. Alexis Doster III
    Wed 18th May 2011 at 1:27 am

    I would very much like to know who you are and where you live. Perhaps you might contact me at alexisdoster3@comcast.net. I have not met any of my relatives from the general’s first marriage.
    I live part of the year in Annapolis, MD, and the rest in Tucson, AZ, where I grew up.
    I would be most appreciative if you would contact me by email.
    Thank you,
    Very truly yours,
    Alexis Doster III

  11. Michael Lawler
    Thu 19th May 2011 at 8:51 am

    W.E. Doster was my great grand uncle (or something like that). Seems to have been quite an interesting person. I have both books referenced in Wittenberg’s piece above but sadly they are not very good, mostly a collection of letters. They are both available. I recommend reading Doster’s closing argument from the Paine/Atzerodt trial, that (though a bit tedious) is a worthwhile read. I highly recommend William Hyndman’s “History of a Cavalry Company” about the 4th PA. Not a lot of information on Doster in there but a very well written history of the 4th PA

  12. beachrose
    Sat 11th Jun 2011 at 1:58 pm

    I recently learned from my aunt that her grandfather’s name was William, not Edward. William was the generals first son. The family is not interested in family history but I plan on continuing my search to pass this heritage on to my grandchildren.

  13. Wendy Reynolds
    Fri 16th Mar 2012 at 10:34 pm

    General Doster married his first wife, Evelyn Augusta Depew, August 15, 1867 in Trinity Church of Easton, PA.

    Evelyn gave birth to 3 children – Edward aka Ned in 1868, William Jr. in 1871 (who also died in 1871 – he is buried at Nisky Hill in Bethlehem), and Marguerite aka Daisy in 1873.

    The Doster name is prominent in the Bethlehem area so I believe that Beachrose is not a direct descendent of the General, for no children of Ned’s are known by the family.

    I am a great great granddaughter of the General through his daughter Daisy.

  14. Karen Cavan
    Tue 31st Jul 2012 at 8:04 pm

    My mother in law was Audrey Jane Cavan, her mother was Helen Doster from Pennsylvania. Helen’s father is William born in 1868. Helen’s mother was Margaret Doster 1874. Audrey Cavan has four children. I am also doing Ancestry studies. I have a copy of William Emile Doster’s pension papers from 1907.

  15. Karen Cavan
    Fri 03rd Aug 2012 at 9:48 am

    I am very sorry for the last comment I made, I am alittle confused and wrong. Thomas Cavan(1894) married a Helen Doster(1893) in Pennsyvania. But I think Helen mother’s name was Margaret, farther William, it must be a different William Doster.

  16. Eric von Dorster
    Tue 11th Jun 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Does anyone have more information about Edward Depew Doster? According to one record I found he married Ruth Porter, his father’s second wife, in 1911, the same year that she divorced Willian Emil. Another record states he was killed in the Mexican Revolution. He had a second wife, Luisa L. L. von und zur Mühlen, who is found as born in Hanover or Russia. I would love to know more about this fascinating figure, a distant relative.

  17. Audrey Cole
    Fri 28th Jun 2013 at 7:58 pm

    Edward Depew Doster’s (known as “Ned” in the family) first wife was Louisa or Louise, whom he married in 1894 (divorced 1910, Texas). His 2nd wife was Ruth Porter (married 1910), who was younger than he and had been his father’s (W.E. Doster) first wife for about 20 years, she being his stepmother first. They later divorced I was told, but can find no record of it. He disappeared in Mexico (presumed killed) while a NY newspaper correspondent in 1914. His father went to Mexico several times searching for him. He had no known children.

  18. Audrey Cole
    Fri 28th Jun 2013 at 8:18 pm

    Correction: Edward “Ned” Doster (born 1868 or 1867) divorced October 1910, Texas and married Ruth Porter Doster (born 1869) July 1911, Easton, Pennsylvania.

  19. Antietam
    Tue 17th Dec 2013 at 11:24 pm

    Doster is best known for his war on D. C. prostitution, which was none of his business. He had the powerful 86th NY Infantry at his disposal, and he took full advantage, harrassing and punishing soldiers who just wanted a little sex and a cold beer.

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