Yesterday, on the actual sesquicentennial date of the Battle of Fredericksburg, I wrote about the attack of the 132nd PA upon Marye’s Heights. Through the 132nd PA monument at Antietam – portraying their action at Fredericksburg – these two major conflicts of the Army of the Potomac are linked together.
The story of the monument is a depiction of a scene at Fredericksburg where the regiment’s colors were in continuous peril of falling to the ground – every person who carried them being a victim of the horrific frontal fire from the Confederate high ground position. The last to grasp the staff was Frederick Hitchcock, the author of the turn of the century book entitled “War from the Inside.” He begins a next chapter by saying, “In addition to our heavy loss of men at Fredericksburg was the loss of our colors, the stand whose staff had been shot away in my hand as described in a former chapter.”
Of course, no unit wanted to see their colors captured by the enemy. This was the ultimate shame. But here is the story as to what actually happened…
“It can be well understood that we felt very keenly the loss of our flag, although we knew that it had been most honorably lost. It was known to have been brought off the field in the night by Corporal William I. D. Parks, Company H, one of the color-guard, who was mortally wounded, and left by him in a church used as a temporary hospital. Corporal Parks was removed to a hospital at Washington, where he died shortly afterwards, and the colors mysteriously disappeared. The act of this color-bearer in crawling off the field with his colors, wounded as he was to the death, was a deed of heroism that has few parallels. We made every effort to find the flag, but without success, and had concluded that it must have been left in Fredericksburg, and so fallen into the hands of the enemy …”
In Samuel P. Bates’ History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, he lists this person as a William J.D. Parks of Company H – raised from Columbia County, PA. The listing indicates him as wounded indeed on 12/13 and dying in Washington on 12/28. It further states that he was buried in the Military Asylum Cemetery. This is now the Soldiers Home National Cemetery – the location of the Lincoln Summer Cottage, about which you may read my post from March of this year by clicking HERE. The picture is of this cemetery, and the next time I visit this location, I am going to search out the actual grave of Mr. Parks. Let me go back to the story, but at the end I’ll include why this name is especially interesting to me personally.
Hitchcock continued the account: “… a couple of weeks after the battle, on returning from a ride down to Falmouth, I noticed a regiment of our troops having dress parade. I rode near them, and my attention was at once attracted to the fact that they paraded three stands of colors, a most unusual circumstance. My suspicion was at once aroused that here were our lost colors. Riding closer, my joy was great on recognizing our number and letters on their bullet-and shell-tattered folds, “132 P. V.” Anger immediately succeeded my joy as I saw that our precious colors were being paraded as a sort of trophy. This flag, under whose folds so many of our brave men had fallen, and which had been so heroically rescued from the field, exhibited to the army and the world as a trophy of the battle by another regiment! It was, in effect, a public proclamation of our cowardice and dishonor and of their prowess in possessing what we had failed to hold and guard, our sacred colors. It stung me to the quick. I do not remember ever to have been more beside myself with anger.”
Hitchcock wrote extensively as to how this caused quite a stir – as this regiment was parading them as from a runaway regiment who left their colors on the field. A court of inquiry was formed, and along the way no less than Generals O.O. Howard and William French were involved in the rightful restoration of the colors to the 132nd PA.
Personal Note: I grew up in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania and in the portion of it connecting to western New Jersey (Easton/Phillipsburg). I was adopted as a child and never knew my natural father’s side whatsoever beyond a name and a handful of stories. His family name is “Parks.” I’ve researched this extensively in the past year, and certainly there were ancestors from this William Parks’ portion of Pennsylvania in the family line. It is quite remote that this particular Parks who took the colors off the field is some sort of ancestor of mine, but it could be possible I suppose. My great-grandfather’s father would be of Civil War age, but I’ve been unable to find out exactly who he is.
Another Note: Early in the history of the Antietam Battlefield Guides, a writer from the Washington Times came and took a tour with me in preparation for what turned out to be a lengthy article promoting the 145th anniversary. It was well-written, but she had a few details confused. One of these was of the story of today’s post – which seemed to capture her imagination, even if she did have it as occurring at Antietam rather than Fredericksburg.