The Fighting Parson's Regiment
CHAPTER II.Colonel Perry. Formation and character of the regiment. Luther B. Wyman, Esq.
[April, 1861.]AMONG those to whom the call to arms came with especial force, was, the Rev. James H. Perry. He had received a military education from his country, and his country needed his services, and although for many years bis mission bad been one of peace and good will, his country's needs were an urgent call, and, like the prophets of old, he girt on bis armor and prepared for battle.
His was a singular history. Born in Ulster County, N. Y., June, 1811, he early developed great physical and mental strength. Tbat he naturally inclined to a military life, he gave evidence by the fact that, while yet a youth, he was prepared for entrance to West Point, the appointment to "Which had been promised him by President Jackson for political services rendered by his father. But the wishes of the President were thwarted during his first administration, and it was not until his second election that he secured to young Perry the appointment by sending the warrant to him by special messenger from Washington. In the mean time, the young man had not been idle, but had prepared himself for and entered upon the practice of the law, was married, and seemed settled- in his life work. His early tastes, however, and his natural inclinations, decided him upon the acceptance of the appointment.
At West Point his independent and manly character brought him into frequent difficulties. The terms "Mudsills" and "Chivalry," and those of similar import, were, even at that early period, used to distinguish the Northerners from those of Southern birth, and while many of the Northern youth submitted tamely to the assumptions of the Southrons, Perry, who was not of a yielding disposition, and recognized no arbitrary claims to superiority, asserted his right to equality, and maintained it with such courage and ability that he soon became the acknowl. edged leader of his party, and his strength and skill were often called into requisition to repel attacks, which were the more vicious and dangerous because it was soon apparent that no one of his fellow-students could cope with him on equal terms. In one of these encounters, he barely escaped with his life, having, without suitable weapons, to protect himself against the attack of several, who were well armed and specially prepared for the contest. Court-martialled for participation in this affair, he was sentenced to dismissal. President Jackson not only annulled the sentence, but sent him a letter of commendation.
Soon after leaving West Point, he offered his services to the Texan government, which was then engaged in its struggle for independence. In his endeavor to raise a regiment he was only partially successful, but, with a considerable number of followers, he joined the revolutionary forces, when his natural abilities and military education soon secured to him a prominent place in the little army. We are not able, if space would permit, to give a detailed account of his experiences while in the Texan service. We only know that he held a high and honor- able position through the whole struggle, which was finally decided by the battle of San Jacinto.
This proved the turning-point in his career. A short time previous, the forces under Santa Anna had been guilty of an unprovoked and cold-blooded massacre, which so outraged the feelings of the Texan officers that they bound themselves by the most solemn oaths to take the life of Santa Anna, whenever and wherever they should encounter him. The battle of San Jacinto, which secured the independence of Texas, and led to its annexation to the Federal Union, occurred soon after. In this battle, Colonel Perry commanded the Texan left, and, although the Mexican army outnumbered many times the revolutionary forces, in the final charge it was completely routed. In this charge, Colonel Perry found himself opposed by Santa Anna in person, as he thought, and, in compliance with the oath which he had taken, he sought and slew him. Learning soon after that he had been misled by the description given him of the Mexican commander, and that he whom he had slain was a brave and honorable officer, especiallyesteemed for his high character, he was so grieved and shocked that he left the Texan service abruptly, and all the offices and honors to which he was entitled by reason of his eminent services, and wended his way back to the North, carrying with him a burden of regret and sorrow, from which, in all the varying experiences of his after life, he never fully escaped. A dark cloud overshadowed his life ever after, and at times he seemed to suffer intensely.
Whether it was under the influence of this feeling that he was led to turn so completely from his chosen profession to seek in -the min.istry a relief from this burden, or subjected to religious influences at a time when he was unsettled in respect to his future, he felt called to this special field of labor, we cannot tell. We do know, however, that in a short time he prepared himself for the work, and for upwards of a quarter of a century devoted himself to it with unwavering zeal. For the most part, his labors were confined to the states of New York and Connecticut, where he occupied some of the most important pulpits of the Methodist-Episcopal Church.
In his new calling he exhibited marked ability, being distinguished no less for his earnest piety, and the zealous discharge of the duties of his office, than for the intellectual vigor which characterized his pulpit utterances. Several times in the course of his ministry, he was selected to represent his brethren in the general conferences of the church, and we cannot doubt the statement which we find in the short sketch of his life, from which we have gathered many facts relating to him, that in the ministry, as in the profession of arms, he found few equals and very few superiors.
At the time of the breaking-out of the war, he was the pastor of the Pacific Street Methodist-Episcopal Church, in the city of Brooklyn, having previously ministered to several others of the most prominent congregations in the same city, in all of which he is remembered with the highest respect and most tender affection. From Dickinson College he received the degree of D. D., and, at the time of our introduction to him, was in the pride of his strength, a man of noble form, of impressive manner, quiet and deliberate in his utterances, and clear and steadfast in his purposes. He had then em- barked in the service of his country, and there was no looking back to more congenial employment.
The news of the bombardment of Fort Sumter was received while the conference of which he was it member was in session. Immediately rising in his seat, he said: "I was educated by the government; it now needs my services. I shall resign my ministry, and again take up my sword." His resolution was loudly cheered by the conference. Accepting the command of an organization, which had for some time been recruiting, by authority from the Secretary of War, under the title of Continental Guards, he infused into it new life and character. As companies formed, the regiment took its place as a part of the state quota, and was known as the 48th New York State Volunteers.
Under the State law, all officers, before receiving their commissions, were subject to examination by a military board appointed for the purpose; but, by the courtesy of the Governor, Colonel Perry was allowed to select his own officers, without the intervention of this board; and those whom he selected were sworn into service with the companies as fast as they were formed, without examination. He took personal charge of the enlistments, sending out to those places where he was well known, and as a result, the personnel and morale of the regiment were far above the average of those who entered the service. Indeed, I believe I should not trespass upon the truth, should I venture the statement, as the result of observations extending over more than three years, among troops from all sections of the North and West, that no regiment entered the service of the United States, during the war, which could claim superiority over the 48th, in the character of its officers and enlisted men.
While this result was due, in a large measure, to the influence of Colonel Perry's name and character, more especially in respect to the officers (and we cannot overestimate this influence), to Lieut.-Col. William B. Barton, and Quartermaster Irving M. A very belongs the credit of originating the organization, and preserving it for a considerable period under circumstances most perplexing and embarrassing. It happened in this wise. Being personal friends, and fired with the enthusiasm. which prevailed so generally, they conceived the plan of raising a company, and opened a recruiting station for that purpose. The number of recruits soon passed the limits of their early ambition, and they found themselves with several hundred men on their hands; and the problem as to how to secure them, and at the same time provide them with food and shelter, taxed to the utmost their energies, as well as the pecuniary resources of themselves and friends. Both were young, and with limited means, and their conduct under the circumstances illustrates most happily the generous impulse of enthusiasm which seized upon the people of the North, and for a time shut out all those baser and meaner motives which developed among certain classes during the progress of the war.
By most persistent efforts among the wealthier citizens of Brooklyn, and at the War Department at Washington, and at great pecuniary risk to themselves and their immediate friends, they succeeded so far in the enlistment of men, and the provision for their needs, that they felt warranted in looking forward to a regimental organization. It was then that they cast about for a suitable commander, and were led to approach Colonel Perry, with whose previous history they were somewhat acquainted, with the result as indicated in the foregoing pages.
When we take into consideration the circumstances of these two young men, and the nature and extent of the difficulties they encountered, at one time feeding and housing several hundred men out of their scanty resources, for a cow,iderable period entirely alone and unaided in their, work, we feel that they may well take to themselves a full share in the achievements of the regiment, whose birth and early life were so largely the results of their personal exertions and sacrifices.
It is scarcely to be wondered at that the regiment received the appellation of "Perry's Saints," for while many, both officers and men, were very far from being saint-like in tastes or disposition, the term was not altogether without significance. As an illustration, Captain Knowles, of Company D, was both teacher and preacher, when word was received that Dr. Perry was raising a regiment. In a short time he joined him with a company taken from school and parish, of which he became the captain. I remember very well that at the time of the re-enlistment as veterans, when I was temporarily in command of the regiment, a member of that company, a private, came to me to inquire about the terms of re-enlistment, stating that he had a farm worth several thousand dollars, and other property; that he had not been home during his term of service, and he not only wished to see his friends, but to be assured, by personal examination, that his interests were well cared for by those to whom they were entrusted. Satisfied that the terms of re-enlistment would be carried out, and that he would have the furlough promised, he did not hesitate, and as a veteran served faithfully to the end of the war. He illustrates the quality of Company D.
They were called the "Die No Mores," from the fact that while in Fort Pulaski, in their social meetings, the hymn of which this forms a part was their favorite. Poor Paxton! the brave and noble fellow! how fond we were of him, and how much we missed him. Even now I seem to hear him, as he calls to his company, in that terrible attack on Fort Wagner, "Come on, Die No Mores, follow me, Die No Mores." And they followed him, out of the darkness and tumult of that bloody night, into the light and peace of a better life, as we trust; unto Him who hath said to all men, "Follow me, and thou shalt die no more."
But comparisons are
odious. Each company in the regiment had its characteristics, and all were
excellent; and their officers, almost without exception, were men of education
and refinement. In the work of forming the regiment, and preparing it for the
field, Colonel Perry was not left alone, but was materially assisted by many
influential friends from among his parishioners, who liberal1y provided whatever
was necessary, and did all in their power to lighten his burdens and remove
obstacles. The same men were the generous friends of the regiment during its
whole term of service. Among them, the most prominent, and the most constant,
was Luther B. Wyman, Esq., of Brooklyn, for whom our first camp, at Fort
Hamilton, was named, and who will always be held in affectionate remembrance by
members of the 48th. He was a gentleman of high social qualities, of cultivated
tastes, of wide influence and considerable means, and his personal friendship
for Colonel Perry induced an active interest in the regiment which he was
forming. He sought to promote its welfare and secure its rights, as well as to
minister to its comforts, to such an extent that he was known as its special
friend and patron. While engaged in service at the front, we were assured of a
zealous friend at home, whose interest at the State House was powerful to secure
us against the intrigues of political managers, who too often found convenient
places for friends and followers in the offices which became vacant through the
casualties of war.