This may well qualify as my most bizarre headline ever! Yes, as I write this, the government is shut down to the extent that Antietam National Battlefield is not open to visitors, nor is any other National Park here in Washington County, MD. This means I’ll not likely be hosting some guests as scheduled for tomorrow, nor will I be able to bike as I do most days on the C&O Canal. So, I might as well sit here at my computer, risking another deep vein thrombosis, but writing about the Civil War!
I was an adopted kid. My biological father was of the last name of “Parks.” I had written previously here in Enfilading Lines about a William Parks who fought with the 132nd PA at Antietam and Fredericksburg and who is connected to the story of their regimental monument at Bloody Lane. One of the readers of this page – a Thomas Park – has written to me recently to tell me the story of his great grandfather named William Parks (actually his name did not have the “s” officially, but he went by it with the longer spelling). This William Parks also fought at Bloody Lane with the 57th NY, carrying a flag and being wounded in the process. The question of my reader was to ponder with me what are the chances that these could really be two fellows of the same name in the same place – both identified with their regimental colors; or could they perhaps be the same guy with conflated stories?
Before giving you the two stories, let me write this incredible fact … There are 203 people named William Parks who fought in the Civil War, and there are another 82 of the name William Park! Isn’t that amazing?!?
Story #1 – The William Parks of the 132nd PA – This first excerpt is from the history of the 132nd Pennsylvania in the book entitled “War from the Inside” by Frederick Hitchcock. The writer was the last person to carry the colors at Fredericksburg in their assault upon Marye’s Heights, and in referencing what happened to the flag after Hitchcock went down with it being shot out of his hands …
“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.”
Story #2 – The William Parks of the 57th NY – The reader contacting me told me the following story of his great-grandfather, and I was able to find it (and the ancestor) verified in several sources. I’ll just quote the following from the book “The Story of a Regiment, Being a Record of the Military Service of the Fifty-Seventh New York State Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865” by Gilbert Frederick, D.D., Late Captain, 57th N.Y.V.I.
A letter dated Bolivar Heights, September 25th, 1862 and written by W. H. Hardy, of Company A contains the following items of interest: “Company A is color company. Our former captain ‘A. B. Chapman has been promoted to Major. Company A was led into action at Antietam by Captain C. B. Curtis, formerly of Company K, ably seconded by Lieutenant Covert. The colors were borne by Sergeant Frazer of Company C, Corporals Parks and Mesler. We had not been under fire two minutes before two of the color bearers, Frazer and Parks fell. Henry C. Housel, although not one of the color guard, threw down his musket, seized the flag and plunged into the thickest of the fight, calling the boys to ‘Come on,’ under a terrific fire which was thinning our ranks at an awful rate. Housel carried the colors for nearly an hour, when his turn came, a minie ball struck him in the throat, when falling he said ‘Boys protect these colors.’ We lost one killed, Sergeant Cooper. Sergeants Stubbe and Paden, and twenty-one privates were wounded. Andrew Miller who was wounded at White Oak Swamp, was again wounded in the hip, C. K. Garretson and Martin Connelly slightly, N. Reed, lately released from Richmond prison was shot in the hand, David Wright through the leg. Our regiment suffered a heavy loss in the death of Colonel Parisen of Amboy. He was loved and trusted by every man under him. When charging into the cornfield he led us mounted upon Dick, his old faithful horse, and waving his sword. ‘We drove the enemy through the cornfield, over the hill and out of sight. It was here he received his death wound. “I saw him after the fight and he looked as natural as though sleeping. He died the soldiers death. “Old Dick,’ as General Richardson is called, was wounded severely in the shoulder by a piece of shell and it is feared he may not survive. He is a brave old man and is thought everything of by his troops. General Hancock, so famous for his charge at Williamsburg and Malvern Hill is now in command of our division.”
So, I am very confident that we have here two different stories and people who share the name William Parks along with 201 others in the history of the Civil War. The former of these men is listed in Samuel P. Bates’ History of Pennsylvania Volunteers as a William J.D. Parks of Company H. 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. And someday I’m going to find that grave and picture it here. The latter of these men survived the War with veteran’s benefits and is buried in the Forty Fort Cemetery in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.
In my own family search, I discovered that I had a lone cousin surviving – yep – named William Parks! But finding him took months. Again, there are thousands by this name, and even my next door neighbor was named Bill Park! Eventually, after several false attempts, I did find him and we even met together one day last summer, which was an awesome experience. Sadly, he suddenly passed away a few months ago.