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The following text is reproduced from (the report of the) Tenth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 12, 1879.
Col. Charles Carroll Parsons was born in Elyria, Ohio, in 1838, his father and mother, Jonathan F. and Mary C. Parsons having settled in Elyria as early as 1837. A few months after his birth his father died, and from that time till he went to West Point he was a member of the family of his mother's brother, Dr. Griswold of Elyria. He was educated at the public high school in his native town, where his unusual mental capacity attracted attention and is still remembered.
He was appointed a cadet, in 1857, by his cousin, Judge P. Bliss, p30 then member of Congress from Ohio, and afterward Dean of Law in the State University of Missouri, at Columbia, Mo. He entered the Military Academy in 1857, and graduated 13th in a large class in June, 1861.
His character while a cadet is well remembered by many, and was sufficiently marked to foreshadow and explain the remarkable heroism of his after life. He was very affectionate to his friends; kind and charitable to every one, particularly to any who had lost the good will of their class; but very outspoken, and regardless of public opinion, class or corps traditions and dictation, in his uncompromising condemnation of whatever struck him as mean or wrong.
An opportunity to render a service to any one, if it was spiced with self-sacrifice, seemed to give not pleasure only, but a visible joy.
A further marked feature of his character with an occasional peculiar exaltation of mind or spirit, connected with a romantic enthusiasm for the profession of arms, which might make him delight in leading or accompanying a forlorn hope, or doing any act of great daring in a time of disaster or depression. He was patient and persevering in his studies and work, nearly always bright and happy, and beside other high mental endowments, had rather remarkable literary abilities and attainments, much facility of speech, and some power as an orator.
Added to this he was witty, quick at repartee, and had a keen, quick sense of the ludicrous, which with his friendliness, and sterling qualities, made him a welcome companion, and a favorite with his class.
Many will remember the pleasure and amusement they have had from Parsons' speeches and other exercises, and how he sometimes stirred deeper feelings by his oratory in the old Dialectic Society.
His character and heroism in after life, are a continuance and development of his character while a cadet.
When he graduated, the war with the seceding States was already begun; all the cadets from the Southern States had already left the Academy and gone to their homes; the magnitude of the coming struggle was evident to all, and so great was the demand for officers, particularly for graduates of the Academy, that no graduating leaves of absence were taken, and the whole class reported p31 for duty in Washington the next morning after it was relieved from West Point.
Parsons was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the Fourth Artillery, June 24th, 1861; promoted to First Lieutenant on the same day, and assigned to Battery "H." He was engaged in drilling volunteer troops in the vicinity of Washington until July 14th, when he joined don't Army of West Virginia, and was actively engaged with it till January 6th, 1862, when he was transferred to the Army of the Ohio, took command of his Company ("H," Fourth Artillery) and served with the Army of the Ohio in the campaigns in Tennessee and Mississippi till June 4th, 1862.
He was engaged in the movement to Nashville and Pittsburgh Landing in Tennessee, during the months of February and April, 1862; in the battle of Shiloh, April 7th, 1862; and in the advance upon and siege of Corinth from April 10th to May 30th, 1862.
During this campaign his health broke down, and he was on sick leave of absence from June 4th till July 15th, 1862. During this term he was married to a very charming and beautiful young lady — Mis Celia G. W. Lippett, of Brooklyn, N. Y., to whom he had become engaged while a cadet.
Returning to duty, he arrived at Louisville, Ky., in July, 1862, and found himself cut off from his command, which was at Nashville, by the army of Gen. Bragg, then besieging Louisville. He at once offered his services to the general commanding at Louisville, and was engaged with the United States forces operating in Kentucky, until October of that year, being in command of an 8‑gun field battery manned by raw recruits from various Infantry regiments of new levies of volunteers. In command of this battery he was engaged in the battle of Richmond, Ky., in the retreat to Louisville in September, 1862, and in the battle of Perryville, October 8th, 1862, and received the brevet of Captain for gallant and meritorious services in the latter battle.
He rejoined, and took command of his battery ("M," Fourth Artillery) at Nashville, October 21st, 1862, and served with the Armies of the Ohio and Cumberland till January 10th, 1863.
He was engaged with his battery in the skirmishes at Stewart's Creek, and near Murfreesboro', Tenn., December 29th and 30th, 1862, and in the battle of Stone River, December 31st, 1862, to January 2d, 1863.
p32 In the last battle he was in command of an 8‑gun battery, made up from his own (Battery "M") and Battery "H," Fourth Artillery, both of which had been reduced by the hard fighting of the previous few days, and he was breveted Major for gallant and meritorious service in this battle.
His health broke down on these campaigns, and he was on sick leave of absence from January 10th to March 10th, 1863, when, being unable to return to duty in the field, he was assigned to duty as Principal Assistant Professor of Ethics and English studies at the Military Academy, and remained on this duty till September, 1864.
He was then in command of Battery "H," Fourth Artillery till May, 1865, on the staff of General Hazen, commanding 15th Army Corps, until November, 1865.
He received the brevet of Lieutenant Colonel for gallant and meritorious services during the war, and was promoted to be Captain in the Fourth Artillery July 28th, 1866.
After the war he served in command of his company at various forts and posts in the Indian country and in the field, from November, 1866, till August, 1868, during which time he was on Gen. Hancock's Indian Expedition, as Chief of Artillery, March 22d to May 15th, 1867. He returned to duty as Assistant Professor at the Military Academy, August 18th, 1868, and remained on this duty till he resigned his commission in the Army in 1870.
Of the many stories of Parsons' gallant deeds during the war, I have selected from record two, which not only illustrate his character, but possess a kind of merit which should cause them to be recorded as part of the history of the times to which they belong.
When he arrived at Louisville in August, 1862, on his way to rejoin his battery at Nashville, he found the city besieged by the Confederate General Bragg, and he could get no further. He at once offered his service, and Gen. Terrill detailed 200 new recruits from volunteer regiments of his brigade to report to Parsons. With these men and his characteristic energy, he organized and manned an 8‑gun field battery, and in two weeks, with the little drill and discipline he could give his men, took them into the battle of Perryville. Parsons' deeds in this battle were told around many fires, not only in our own, but in the enemy's camps.
p33 The following account is taken from a letter from Major Huntington, Fourth Artillery, who was cognizant of the facts:
It is hardly necessary to tell an artillery soldier that this battery, composed of infantrymen, and wholly wanting in drill of any kind, being placed in a dangerous position, was lost. Called upon to reply a furious charge of the enemy, in meeting which Brig.‑Gen. Terrill, his brigade commander, and Brig.‑Gen. Jackson, his division commander, were both killed almost at his side, Parsons made an heroic defense. Forty of his men were killed or wounded, and the rest driven back, leaving the guns unprotected. Sword in hand, his face to the foe, Parsons stood by his guns alone. The enemy was rapidly advancing upon him, but no shot was fired at the one‑man battery. At this moment his capture seemed inevitable. Fortunately, Gen. McCook, who had observed his conduct, which at first he could hardly comprehend, realized that it was Parsons' intention to stick to his guns to the end. So soon as he had fully perceived this, Gen. McCook despatched a huge cavalryman of approved strength and courage to the rescue, and — absolutely dragged away in the arms of this giant, Parsons left the field. I am weaving no romance as I write this, for Gen. McCook's report distinctly says 'that no blame should be attached to Lieut. Parsons for the loss of his gun, which he only left when removed by force.' "
The following account of the same incident is from one who was in the enemy's camp, and is taken from remarks made at a meeting in Newark, N. J., upon a proposition to found a "Parsons Scholarship at the University of the South."
"Now, nearly twenty years ago, it was my fortune to follow the column of General Bragg, who invaded Kentucky from the South. One day, in the early Autumn, we met the army of General Buell upon the field of Perryville. For a whole day, the armies of the North and South contended in vain for victory. That night as we bivouacked in the neighborhood of Harrodsburgh, we told and heard strange stories around the camp fire. Among others, was an incident relative to the bravery and heroism of Col. Parsons, of the United States Artillery.
"Parsons' Battery had been well-known to us by hearsay; but that day was the last of it. The story as related that night was, that this officer held a position in the center of the line of battle, p34 did fearful execution with his guns, and sustained fearful loss. As the Confederate line, towards the close of the day, swept up to the crest of the hill which his battery occupied, in a victorious charge, he only, and one non‑commissioned officer were left at the guns. As though appreciating that there was no hope of life, the point of his uplifted sword descended to the ground before the levelled muskets of the enemy, and he came to the position of 'parade rest' beside one of his pieces, as if to say, it were the same to him to die upon the field of Perryville, as to play soldier upon the plain of West Point. His bravery was seen and appreciated by a Captain in the Confederate ranks, and the muskets of those who were ready to fire upon this single officer were struck up by his sword, with the exclamation 'That man is too brave to be killed.' In the confusion of a drawn battle, the Colonel and his Sergeant made good their retreat.
"Little did I think that it would ever be my good fortune to meet the man of whom I heard this story that night. But years rolled on. The thunders of war had ceased. Both of us had been ordained to the sacred ministry of Christ. Men of the North and the South had begun to forget the bitterness of the past, and, strange to tell, Col. Parsons and I were called to minister in churches in the same Northern city. Often did we meet and talk over these by‑gone scenes of war and strife, and a feeling of friendship and admiration for the man sprang up within me that death only can efface. I soon learned that his bravery was far surpassed by his genial courtesy, and Christian grace. Wherever sorrow or sickness were felt, there was he a comforter, or even as nurse. I have heard of his spending days with those laid low by contagious fevers. I have heard of him in the pest-house of our county institutions."
Although Parsons' captured guns were left on the field by the Confederates, and were afterwards recovered by the Federal troops, their loss on the battle-field so preyed upon his sensitive nature that he longed for some opportunity to wipe out what he thought was a disgrace. The fortune of war soon gave him this. After Bragg's retreat, Parsons rejoined his command, and in a few weeks was in command of an 8‑gun battery, made up from Batteries "M" and "H," of the Fourth Artillery, on the bloody and stubbornly-contested battle-field of Stone River (Murfreesboro).
p35 He was on the right of Palmer's Division, which occupied the Federal left, across the Nashville road and railroad. On the 31st of December the enemy's concentrated forces had gradually forced back the Federal right, the long and stubborn resistance of Sheridan and Negley in the center had been exhausted, and this part of the line was forced back also, till towards 10 o'clock. Parsons' battery was at the apex of the bent or broken line in the edge of the cedar wood; and against this angle came the fierce attack of Polk's fresh troops. Parsons was obliged to withhold his fire until some retiring troops uncovered his guns, and then met the enemy's advancing lines with a simultaneous discharge of shell from his whole eight guns at close range. The enemy's advance was stopped, and from that time till dark Parsons fought his battery at this angle of the Union line, repelling six distinct charges of the enemy's troops, much of the time under musketry fire, with prolonges fixed, determined to save his guns from the disaster which had befallen them at Perryville, and yet without falling back. So long as story of the war are told around American firesides, the terrible and gallant fighting along the broken center of our line at Murfreesboro will receive its of praise. It won for Parsons the brevet of Major, and the following notice from Gen. Rosecransº in his report:
"Lieutenant Parsons, commanding Companies 'H' and 'M', Fourth United States Artillery, in the battle of Stone River, has always managed to get under the heaviest fire. He was in the affair at Cotton Hill, in Western Virginia, and at Shiloh in Mendenhall'sº Battery, which was specially mentioned in General Crittenden's report. At Perryville he behaved like a hero. His battery was specially distinguished in the battle of Stone River, on the day of the 31st of December, and on the morning of the 2d of January. He is respectfully recommended for a Major's brevet."
A meager sketch has already been given of the remainder of Parsons' army life, till his resignation in 1870, when he became a clergyman in the Episcopal Church. No ordinary motive could have induced him to make so violent a change in his life, and his conversations and letters at the time show how strong a love he had for his comrades and army friends, and for his old profession. But there seems to have been no hesitation or struggle p36 about giving up all he had gained and prized so highly. His letters show that after much thought he concluded, fully and simply, that it was his duty; and that he then made the change, quietly resigning his commission, without any hesitation or holding back, and that he entered upon his new profession with the same contented hope and exultationº of mind that had always characterized his actions. He had met and formed a close friendship with Bishop Quintard, of Tennessee, in 1868, and it is known that the Bishop's influence had much to do in causing him to decide upon the change.
He was ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal Church in St. Mary's Cathedral, Memphis, Ten., in 1870, and again as priest a few months afterward at the same place. Both offices were performed by his friend Bishop Quintard. He was rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd, in Memphis, a short time; then of St. Mary's, at Cold Spring, N. Y., for several years, and then of the Stevens' Memorial Church, in Hoboken, N. J. His wife died while he was at Hoboken, and his grief led him to resign his charge there, and go back to Memphis, where he remained as rector of Grace Church until his death.
The terrible pestilence of 1878, when it reached Memphis, found Parsons quietly at his work. Any one that had ever known him would know very well what he would do at such a time. His letters not only show that he had no thought of going away, no thought of any merit in staying, or of the dangers he encountered or the heroism he displayed, but that he took up the hard work that had fallen to him with a kind of cheerful joy peculiar to him; feeling it a privilege to be allowed to do good to his fellowmen and bear hardship in doing it.
He had been married again about a year before to Miss Maggie Britton, of Mississippi. He at once sent his young wife, with his two children, to her old home, there to endure the, perhaps, more painful service of those who watch and wait, while he remained to live with a more remorseless foe than any he had met in battle. All through the long, weary months, in that grief-stricken city, that so tried men's love for their fellowmen and their faith in their God, Parsons went on in a noble, unconscious heroism, ministering both as clergyman and nurse to strangers and friends alike, bearing in his sensitive nature the p37 sufferings of those he succored, until he met his death, cheerful and happy in that also, as he had been in doing his work. A few hours before, when he was first told that he had finished his fight, his answer was he trusted he had done his duty.
His was certainly a noble life, and no part of it exhibited a higher nobility than the last two months.
He died September 6th, 1878. He has left two sons, living with his wife in Mississippi.
Reviewing all his endearing qualities of mind and heart, all his heroism, and his labors, and sacrifices for his country and his fellowmen, perhaps no better epitaph can be written to his memory than
"He did his duty for duty's sake."
(D. W. Flagler, Brevet Col. U. S. A.)
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