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John Jefferson Parsons Papers - MMS 1826
In August 1862, Sergeant Parsons was detailed to return to Ohio on recruiting duty. After a frustrating eight months back home, Parsons rejoined the 67th Ohio in mid June 1863. The regiment was then engaged in a campaign to capture Charleston, South Carolina.
Folly Island, South Carolina
June 23, 1863
We have again rejoined the well reputed 67th Ohio, which is now stationed at Folly Island, South Carolina. We reached here on the 10th inst. After a pleasant trip of 15 days via Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. Our passage down the coast aboard the Arago was more like taking a pleasure trip than that of a soldier returning to the wars. On arriving at our camp, we found many familiar faces and warm hearts, and although we were far from our own dear homes, yet it was to a great degree like being there as we met so many of our country's brave veterans with whom we had soldiered and fought in the hills and valleys of old Virginia.
Some changes have taken place since we left in August 1862. Capt. Spafford is no longer with us. Second Lieutenant Peter Bell has thus far proved himself a gentleman, possessed of a heart full of love and respect for his men and is one of the few among the many officers whom we can believe to be a Christian in the full sense of the word.
Among the dead of our company, one rests on this island. This is (Private) Cassius Campbell of Plain Township' he was a noble boy and a brave and dutiful soldier whose death is deeply lamented by the entire company, and as a last tribute of respect, the comrades, commanded by Corporal John H. Whitehead, buried him in the honors of war, and today he sleeps in a soldier's grave on the south brink of a little sand knoll, hard by our camp and around his graves his friends in arms have built a rough fence of pine poles to guard it from the intruder's foot.
Folly Island lies in sight of all the most noted points in Charleston, running nearly east and west, being not over a half mile wide at any point. The east point, or what is termed the head of the island, is separated from Morris Island by a narrow passage of water which at low tide is not more than ten rods in width at a certain point; yet it is quite deep rendering it convenient for boats of any ordinary size to pass. At this pint, we have our pickets posted and two small guns in position. The opposite point on Morris Island is to all appearances well fortified and supplied with several heavy guns and mortars, which we know to be a large fact from the large shells that occasionally visit our camp.
Some ten or twelve days ago, a large iron clad British steamer attempted to run the blockade near the points spoken of, but was unsuccessful in her enterprise, having run aground on a sandbar within musket shot and a few degrees to the right of the head of this island while endeavoring to avoid the shots from our gunboats, thus rendering her helpless and immovable at about equal distances from ours and the rebel guns. She was immediately set on fire by her crew, who made their escape by means of small boats to Morris Island; but for some reason the fires died out, doing but very little if any damage to her cargo which is said to be worth about $500,000. As the prize is a valuable one, a hard strife has been going on between the two contending parties to obtain at least a part thereof; but owing to the vigilant watch that has been kept, and the advantage of heavy artillery on both islands each party as yet has gained but little by her visit in the harbor. Thus each seems to be satisfied with the idea that if they cannot get the desired treasures, they can keep the other from it.
The First brigade, commanded by Colonel Putnam of the 7th New Hampshire, consists of the 62nd and 67th Ohio, and the 4th and 7th New Hampshire regiments, and is encamped about one mile back from the head and to the rear of an excellent line of breastworks, behind which we have four 30 pounder Parrott guns which are capable of doing good execution in shelling the Morris Island batteries- a distance of nearly two miles; while at the same time our camp is very easily reached by the rebel guns from that source. They have thrown several large shells and shot into our camp, one of which cut off a tree twelve inches in diameter and in its falling one man of the 39th Illinois was slightly hurt; aside from this, no casualties have occurred in our camp.
The fire of the enemy is, however, mostly directed on our pickets who are at the head of the island, yet no harm has been done excepting the wounding of one man. They have thus been kept secure, even at times when the rebel shells were bursting among them at the rate of 20 per minute, by digging themselves holes in the opposite side of the little sand banks which are plenty on the island. In these holes the pickets usually remain for five days, coming out only at night to shake the sand from their clothes and blankets.
For several days back things have been very quiet on both sides, while General Gilmore seems to be energetically in making preparations for something of importance. Heavy fatigue parties are detailed every night to work at the point in erecting strong breastworks where in a few days several large siege guns and mortars are to be placed.
Holding the humble position that I do in the army, it becomes very difficult to obtain much reliable information, but blessed with a common observation, I feel safe in saying that from all appearances General Gilmore and Admiral Foote are making all necessary preparations for the day not far distant when our monitors will again visit the harbor of Charleston and that with great success to the national arms.
The health of our men is rather poor at present; owing to the inferior quality of water. In short, the water is most miserable, being salty and in 19 cases out of 20, of the color of steeped tea. But notwithstanding this, they are all anxious to be among that number who shall have the honor of taking the place where the rebels fired their first guns on Major Anderson and his valiant little party.
Within the last three days, some eight or ten men have deserted the enemy and come over to us. They say that there are but few men at and about Charleston, and that many of them would come through our lines if they dared; and on being asked why they deserted, they replied that they have starved long enough, their food consisting of nothing but corn bread and corn coffee. Several others started with them but being unable to swim were obliged to return.
Our men were highly gratified a few days since on the hearing of the capture of the rebel ram at Savannah, which was taken by one of our monitors, which was covered with green brush and hid from view in the bend of the river. Not long after, one of the wooden gunboats made an appearance in the river below, when the ram steamed down after her, but as she passed the monitor, she was fired on, the shot carrying away the pilot house; two more shots were fired and she surrendered. Several pleasure boats came down from Savannah to see the ram perform her great feats, but on hearing the guns of the great water bull, hastened back for safer quarters leaving their favorite river buck to its fate among the horned Yankees.
With this permit me to close. Should anything of importance transpire, I will report.
Yours and c.
Morris Island, South Carolina
July 22, 1863
I stated in my last letter that from all appearances active preparations were being made for another attack on the fortifications of Charleston, which has proved to have been a correct conclusion. At the time heavy fatigue parties were at work every night, fortifying the northeast point of the Folly Island, directly opposite the southwest point of Morris Island which points are separated by the Folly River. The work was secretly and speedily performed, and by the morning of the 10th of July at two o'clock a.m. we had mounted and ready for action ten 10 inch mortars, give 8 inch Parrott rifles, four 5 inch mortars, twelve 30 pound Parrott guns, fifteen 12 pound Parrott guns, and two 10 pound Parrotts- in all 52 guns and mortars.
Just before day, the brush were all cleared away from before the embrasures and all things set in readiness. The day dawned, the sun arose in all the splendor of a calm and clear July morning. It had, however, shone on our sand hills and batteries only about 15 minutes, when one of our 10 pounders opened on the right, and in three minutes the whole artillery was in play. The 67th laid directly behind the batteries in holes dug for our safety during the bombardment, yet many of our men were so pleased with the sight that they abandoned their caves and stood in the open exposure to the enemy's shot. The scene was terrific, yet grand and gratifying to the eye.
The cannonading continued for three hours when it was known that the enemy were resisting us but feebly, and General Strong was ordered to charge across the river with his brigade. No sooner was the command given then his men sprang into the many small boats that were at the shore for the purpose and landing on the Morris shore, they rushed forward at a bayonet charge across the low land, up the hills, and among the rebel artillery, putting the enemy to flight and taking about 100 prisoners. The charge was made under a terrible fire of grape and canister, but the bravery of General Strong as he marched at the head of his men, stimulated them on, and amid many cheers the day was won and our men claimed the island as their camping ground for the night. We captured all their guns, eight in number, and three 10 inch mortars. During the bombardment the monitors were pouring in a cross fire of 15 inch shell. What rendered it more difficult for the enemy than for us was that their guns were mounted on the hills in full view of our artillerists while ours were almost entirely hidden from their view.
During the night the most of our troops crossed the river. Morris Island is about three miles in length and one-half mile in width, and lies in position from northeast to southwest. At the northeast point is Fort Wagner, and to the left of this fort is the noted battery B. Sumter is not far from these points and can assist in defending them against any assault.
On the morning of the 11th our men made a charge on Fort Wagner but after finding it too strongly garrisoned, were obliged to fall back. Heavy details were immediately made and our forces commenced erecting fortifications within three-quarters of a mile from the fort. The work was done for great speed and by the 18th inst., all things were ready again and at 11 a.m. the fleet and land batteries all opened on Wagner and kept it up until after nightfall, when all of our forces made a combined and desperate charge on the fort. During the latter part of the day, there had been but little firing from the enemy and it was supposed that it would not be a very severe charge; but as our men moved on they were mown down by fifties by several small guns, placed out on the beach for the express purpose, for they expected the charge after dark.
The fort is built of sand, and casemated inside, rendering it very formidable, so much so that during the whole day's shelling, it received but little damage. When our boys ascended the parapet, the enemy poured out of their holes like bees. Y those who were on the fort, I am told that the parapets were literally covered with the killed and wounded. The first regiment making the charge was the 54th Massachusetts (colored) and several others than run, leaving the negroes alone. But no sooner was room made than the 62nd and 67th Ohio went in. Had those three regiments succeeding in entering the fort without any loss, the fort would have been easily held, but hundreds of our boys fell before they reached the place. The entire loss of the Federals in killed, wounded, and missing in this charge is said to number not less than 1,500 while the enemy may have lost 100.
When on the fort, one of the 62nd called out to Lieutenant Colonel Henry Commager to lead them as their officers were all gone. The Colonel replied, "I can't do it, my boys, for Colonel Voris is wounded and I must command my regiment, and more than that, I am wounded slightly myself." These words were hardly spoken when a grape passed though his body and he fell.
Major Lewis Butler then took command of the regiment and held the fort till midnight, but as no reinforcements were sent him, he was obliged to abandon it and return to camp.
The 54th Massachusetts charged with 1,200 men and came out with 250; out of 35 officers, only seven came out unhurt. The 62nd Ohio came in with only three officers.
The following is a list of the killed, wounded, and missing from the 67th Ohio (listed deleted). I have ascertained since making out the above list that Lieutenant Colonel Commager is doing well at Hilton Head and Sergeant James Bowersock of Company E is not missing but is shot through both legs.
Captain (John C.) Albert was a brave man and fell at the head of his company (H). Second Lieutenant Peter Bell immediately took his place and gallantly led the company even into the fort and it was he who planted the most advanced flag. A piece of shell struck and bent his sword and a ball passed through his hat but he was unhurt.
The loss of the 62nd Ohio exceeds that of the 67th.
Morris Island, South Carolina
September 8, 1863
After an intermission of six or seven weeks, I again take my pen. My reasons for not writing sooner are owing to an order issued by General Gilmore on the 7th of last month prohibiting any correspondence, the contents of which would give the least idea of anything concerning the affairs in this department; but I will spend a few moments in relating some things which have transpired since my last letter.
As before the charge on Wagner, so after the same; the industry, perseverance, and excellent judgment of our most worthy leader continued to be made manifest, while his Yankee scheme of approaching Wagner and Gregg progressed.
Batteries were first planted as near the enemy as was expedient and then during the night, fatigue parties would dig trenches and throw up breastworks in advance of the batteries, constructing them in the shape of a worm fence in order to secure cover from his shot as we approached his guns. In this way, we dig to within 20 feet of Wagner, at the same time moving our guns to the front as fast as convenient.
On the 24th of August, the land batteries made a general opening on Fort Sumter and kept up a slow but steady fire for seven days, at the expiration of which time the fort was in utter ruins, many of the large shot and shell of our heavy one-, two-, and three-hundred pounders having passed through its walls. Its flag fell several times during the bombardment but was as often replaced. The fort is supposed to be deserted, but its flag still floats.
But I must hasten to things of more recent occurrence. On last Saturday, September 5, all the heavy guns were changed so that instead of bearing on Wagner, Sumter was made their object of aim and in the morning at 5 o'clock they commenced a 48 hour bombardment, in which their ironclads were also engaged. The firing was rapid until Sunday evening, when the guns ceased firing; the mortars, however, keeping up a pretty steady fire until 3 o'clock Monday morning when a deserter came from Wagner and reported that the fort had evacuated with the exception of four or five men. He was immediately sent to General Gilmore to whom he reported the same. Whereupon the General told him that if any of his story proved false, his head would be the forfeit and immediately dispatched to Colonel (Joshua B.) Howell, commanding the advance brigade to send a small party into the fort to cautiously examine it and ascertain the condition thereof. A sergeant and five men entered first and found the deserters statements true, only some three or four men being there.
The fort was literally gutted; guns dismounted, carriages broken all to pieces and truly may it be said that here was presented the horrid scenes of war. Over 20 dead men were lying in the fort, some of whom had apparently been dead for three or four days. Four of these men were laid across each other and a strong cord tied around their waits, the other end of the cord being tied to a torpedo in the magazine. One poor fellow had his shoulder torn off and said that was the fourth day since he was wounded, having nothing whatever done for his wound nor anything to eat or drink during the same time. He was removed but died before reaching our hospital. A fuse, about 200 feet long, was found in the fort, one end of which was on fire while the other was inserted into a bag of powder in the magazine. The fuse was immediately cut, thus preventing a serious accident. Enclosed, I send you a few inches of the same fuse.
The guns left there by the enemy were about 15 in number and one large mortar, also one 5-inch British Cohorn.
No sooner had our men taken possession of Wagner than others of them proceeded to Gregg which they also found deserted. This was a most wicked battery, although it had but three guns. At both places, the guns were mostly spiked but as it was done with cut nails and wrought iron pins, they were very easily removed by our drills. While the enemy were leaving these batteries and crossing in small boats to Moultrie, they were met by a party of our marines who captured about 60 of them.
We now have complete possession of Morris Island and as the soldiers say, after several weeks of hard labor, 'we are gay."
About 7 o'clock this morning one of our monitors fired a shot at one of the batteries on Sullivan's Island. The shell passed into one of the magazines when it immediately exploded and such a shout as never before went up from Morris Island, ascended from the elated soldiers.
Soon after the explosion, the iron fleet went into harbor near Moultrie and commenced a fierce firing which has been going on five hours and without any cessation. The firing is the heaviest and most constant that I have ever heard, heretofore, in this department.
One Hour Later- The bombardment increases in fierceness, sounding like a continual thunder as it rolls of the waters and away seaward toward English traitors. A large column of black smoke is now rising from Moultrieville and I judge that it is the marine hospital on fire. The hills of our island are covered with men with questions similar to the following are passing around- "What do you think of the monitors now? Don't you think Gilmore will show them a trick? Ain't that the nicest sight you ever saw?"
But I must leave the results of the heavy cannonading to tell another time.
Since being on the island it has been the duty of our brigade to go to the front every three days and there lay in the trenches for 24 hours. While in these trenches we were comparatively safe, excepting from mortar shells, which were thrown very high from Fort Johnson, would drop almost perpendicularly into our hiding places. We also had what we term "splinter proofs" made of short posts on which is placed a pole over with is lain a tier of wood and then the whole covered with sand to the depth of three feet. If the large shells happened to burst in the air (as the generally did), the splinter proof would effectually shield us from its flying fragments, but if the shell chanced to reach the earth, and hit on of those soldiers' outhouses, it would pass through it and probably kill or wound several of the men.
One company of the 100th New York was one night occupying one of the splinter proofs when a 10-ich mortar shell came through and hit the only vacant place in the den, which place was occupied by one of the boys who had stepped out to get a drink. The shell was coolly picked up and thrown out.
But notwithstanding the many dangers to which we have been exposed here, our regiment has been very lucky. Since the charge on Fort Wagner on the evening of July 18th, Sergeant Henry Morrow of Company B was wounded and afterwards died; and the following have been wounded: First Sergeant Charles E. Minor of Company G, First Sergeant Monroe Holloway of Company I, Private James Peterson of Company A, Private Fred Richards and Private James Bayes of Company I. Among those who were wounded in that fearful charge on the 18th of July and have since died; First Sergeant George W. Russell of Company D, Sergeant Jacob D. Minton of Company H, besides several others whose name do not occur to me just now.
The health of our regiment is, I think, much better than in July and August. This is probably owing to the cooler weather which we are enjoying in the North; we have unusually warm weather till about the 15th of August, this may not be the case, however, as a general thing.
September 9, p.m.- I must say a few more words and close. There has been very little firing today. Our courage is still good and our motto is onward for victory is already ours, and the enemy will soon be compelled to acknowledge it. We will conquer though a half million Copperheads of the North emerge from their foul dens of treason and try to effect success for traitors by crying "Peace, peace, when there is no peace."
There are two great objects of love to which man ought to cleave. The first is his God and the second is his country. Noble minds will love both, while weaker ones in reverence may slight one; but a mind devoid of love and self respect will pass by both. Among the meanest of this latter class are the most respectable men in the North, termed Copperheads. Such we can not and do not respect. May a great source of wisdom shed its penetrating rays upon the minds of all those who are true friends to the bleeding armies of the Union, and especially on such as are of Ohio and will be at the polls this fall. And may the state of our pride ride triumphantly over the gulf of treason and hoping that Vallandigham's cause may down where dives went.
I remain yours most respectfully,
Morris Island, South Carolina
October 14, 1863
I feel inclined to write you a few words this morning, yet I have but little to communicate. Yesterday, of course, was our election day- which passed off very quietly. The polls were opened at the headquarters of each company commander at 10 a.m. and closed at 5 p.m.
As a matter of course, you will be somewhat surprised to hear that among those who are in the field, there are some who are so lost to their country's interest as to vote for that God-forsaken traitor Vallandigham. Nevertheless, it is a fact.
Our regiment in the aggregate polled 281 votes, 252 of which are for Brough and 29 for Vallandigham. The following companies cast the following numbers on the side of treason:
Company A- 4
Company C- 5
Company D- 17
Company F- 2
Company G- 1
There were 35 Wood County votes polled, all of which were for Brough!
As concerns our military matters here, all seems to move on in a proper way, notwithstanding the people at home may desire and look for news from this department faster than we can possibly lay a foundation. We very frequently get papers from the North and in them are very many strange things about what Gilmore is doing in front of Charleston. Something similar to the following is often published:
"The bombardment has commenced on the city and ere you read this, Charleston will probably be in ruins."
The "Swamp Angel," a 200-pounder Parrott opened on the city some six weeks ago and fired some 15 shells when it exploded. Aside from this, no firing has been done upon the city since we have been here up to this date- but our guns can do it, at any time desired.
Since I have been in the army, I have seen many nicely fortified places but none surpassing this island. We have on the island five, not only nice but formidable forts which not only protect us from attack but command the greater parts of James and Sullivan Islands; and as this island is under cover of the entire fleet, it will be impossible for the enemy to dislodge us. Our guns have done but little firing for the last two or three weeks but during the same time, the enemy's fire has been pretty severe on our heavy fatigue parties.
Since my last letter, two men from Company E, Private Charles Brushaber and Private George Remmelspeck have been wounded by the explosion of shells. None have been killed in this regiment. One man of Company E, Milton Truesdale, died in the regimental hospital last night.
We still have heavy picket and fatigue duty, yet the men seems to stand it tolerably well. The weather is becoming quite cool upon the island- so much so that it is occasionally very uncomfortable in camp. It is hoped that we may possess Charleston and its surroundings before cold weather sets in, that we may have a chance to move our camps from the windy beach of the Atlantic to some more pleasant spot among the trees of the mainland.-but it is most probable that we will winter on the island. There is no timber whatever on Morris Island and consequently our wood for cooking purposes has to be drawn over two miles and ferried across the Folly River; therefore no wood will be furnished us for warming purposes.
A word with reference to Company H and I will close. The company is now commanded by Second Lieutenant Franklin Briggs of Waterville- a fine young man and a good officer. Lieutenant Peter Bell has been transferred to Company K. James Callin and Robert Davidson, who were wounded during the assault on Fort Wagner, have returned from the hospital. Davidson was shot through the wrist, breaking and dislocating one its small bones and though it has healed up soundly, yet it is inflexible and probably trouble him some for several years.
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