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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

John McPherson Rests on the Battlefield Where He Died

by Gordon Thorsby

John McPherson was born on August 14, 1843, in New York, the son of Angus and Angeline. Both of John’s parents were from New York. They were presumably married there sometime before family moved from New York to Ohio before 1842.

The family settled in Michigan between 1842 and 1846. By 1850 John was living with the family in Otisco Township, Ionia County, Michigan. Father was now a farm laborer working for and might have been living with Jeremiah Wright, a wealthy farmer in Walker, Kent County.

Johnny as his parents called him, stood only 5’0” with hazel eyes, brown hair, with a dark complexion and was 17-18 years old and possibly residing in Ottawa County (or perhaps in Walker) when he enlisted in Company B of the 3rd Michigan Infantry on May 13, 1861. Those arms would be short for holding a musket and legs for long marches but he managed to perform the required tasks. He was taken prisoner on July 1, 1862, at White Oak Swamp, Virginia, and returned to the Regiment on August 6 at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia.

By July,1863 he had been promoted Corporal (at 19) and was found missing in action on July 2, 1863, at Gettysburg, where the regiment fought the brutal action in the Peach Orchard. It was confirmed that John had been taken prisoner once again. He was paroled October 15 to the parole camp in Annapolis, MD until Nov.18 when exchange became official. Unfortunately, he became ill and was hospitalized from December of 1863 until March of 1864 while the armies were in Winter quarters. His journey seems to have taken odd routes. John was reported missing in action once again at Brandy Station, Virginia in April and then he mustered out on June 20,1864 at the expiration of his service at Detroit.

John, now discharged, showed in Michigan when he enlisted in the already existent Co. H, Twenty-first Michigan infantry on October 6,1864 as a replacement, at Grand Rapids for 1 year. He was listed as being from Muskegon but Grand Rapids was his residence. He was mustered in that day.

He caught up to the Twenty-First in Atlanta and was part of the March to the Sea November 15-December 10. He participated in the Siege of Savannah December 10-21, and the Carolinas Campaign of 1865. It was at Bentonville, North Carolina where John’s story closes for John was killed in action on March 19, at Bentonville.

On April 15, the Grand Rapids Eagle wrote:

“We regret to learn that John McPherson, a brave, true and reliable soldier of the 21st Michigan infantry, was instantly killed in battle at Aiken Run, some 20 miles from Goldsboro on the 19th of March last. Young McPherson went out from this city in 1861 with the gallant Third Michigan Infantry, serving in that command some three years. While a soldier in that

Regiment he was in numerous battles, always fortunately escaping unharmed. He was twice a prisoner in the hands of the rebels suffering the horrors of ‘Libby’ and other prisons some three and five months each, one time being exchanged and the other time paroled. On the expiration of his service in the Third [infantry] he enlisted in the 21st Regiment, and in which command has been in camp, siege, through numerous battles and in its grand march under Gen. Sherman through Georgia and South Carolina. Would that this brave soldier, and others like him who have done so much to save freedom and the Union to generations yet to come, could have been spared to enjoy the fruits of their gallant labor and the glory that covers the army and navy of the Union. Young McPherson has left a mother, sister and brothers in this city, to mourn his loss. Peace to the ashes of the heroes in blue."

The photograph below is the inscribed portion of the obelisk memorial to him in the family lot at Greenwood cemetery in Grand Rapids: section C, lot 40 having died at 21y 7m 5d.

Unfortunately, the sadness for the family did not end. A brother, Frank (a veteran of the 1st Michigan Engineers) and his sister Elizabeth died at 27 and 20 respectively in 1868. His other brother, Charlie succumbed to Consumption at 20 in 1870. His mother, Angeline, died in 1874 with Augustus and all of her children already in the ground. Their candles burned quickly. They rest together.

Photo is from Library of Congress of officers in the Third Michigan Infantry.


Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

Civil War Data Research.

Find-a-Grave, John McPherson.

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