Colonel John Williams Patterson
102nd Pennsylvania Infantry
Colonel John Williams Patterson of the 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry was killed at the comer of Brock Road and Orange Plank Road on May 5th, 1864 during the Battle of the Wilderness. His wooden grave marker was placed on my dresser when l was born. Many years later I was given 141 letters he had written during the Civil War to his wife, his wife had written to him and the bullet that had gone through his left chest at the Battle of Fair Oaks on May 31, 1862.
Col. William H. Moody of the 139th Pennsylvania wrote of Col. Patterson’s death at the Battle of the Wilderness:
“Col. John W. Patterson, of Pittsburgh, commanding the 102d, was shot dead on that day.
Poor Patterson! I shook hands and spoke with him just before the advance was ordered, and a moment afterwards hereceived a bullet through the brains. May Heaven console his stricken widow and children. After life’s fitfal fever he sleeps well“.
Colonel Patterson was my paternal great-great grandfather
Patterson was wounded severely at the Battle of Fair Oaks on May 31, 1862. He was shot through the left chest collapsing his left lung. The wound was listed by two attending physicians as “probablyfatal” and “probably mortal ” . He survived and following a partial recovery he rejoined his regiment the day before the Battle of Antietam.
On Sept 14th, 1862 he wrote from Antietam: “I am somewhat better but the discharge from my lung more copious. I will getwell and do my beloved country service, May God grant it. ” On Sept 22nd, 1862 he wrote from the Antietam battlefield : “...theRebs had enough…they recrossedthe riverto Virginia. Theywereterribly cutup. I rode over thebattlefield on Thursdayand Fridayand neversaw or wishto again see such a sight. They fought likefi endsand lay in heaps in every direction. Around two pieces of Artille1y of theirs I counted 20 men and 1 officer laying in a space not more than 40ft. square. They lay two deep in many places. This not only shows their daring bravery but their determination” .
During the Battle of Fredericksburg he wrote from the battlefield on Sunday, December 14, 1862: “We were taken to the front yesterday afternoon and lay underfire until 9 O ‘Clocklast night.Wewere thenbrought back to our old position. We are now lyingunder a smalleminence,shells bursting above and around us,Yet all is well “.
Patterson was captured at Salem Church during the Chancellorsville Campaign and was imprisoned in Libby Prison at Richmond, Virginia by the Confederates. He was exchanged and wrote on May 25th, 1863: “/ arrived herethis morning f rom Richmond,whereIhave been a prisoner since the 4th inst. !passed through thefight atFredericksburg unharmed.It was the hottestbattle I have everwitnessed.I was taken on May the4th inst at 10 Oclock PM after thearmyhad retired. We were“gobbled” I suppose. I would not leavethepost wherestationedand whenthe Rebs cametheyhadan easyfray. I tried to getaway but couldnot…94men,including Jackourdog were broughtin...“. Reverend A. M. Stewart, the Chaplain of the 102nd wrote: “Whentheorder to fall back was given, ourregiment wasin theextremefron t, nextto theenemy.By someoversight of drunkengenerals, cowardlyaids, orignorant orderlieswe received no notice nor orders to fall back. ” (“Dog Jack”, the regimental mascot was exchanged for a Confederate army private.)
On May 20th, 1864 after the Battle of the Wilderness Captain David A. Jones wrote to his father describing the battle and the death of Colonel Patterson.
“All was quietbut on themorrow (5th) the enenrybegantoshow himselfin largenumbers in ourfron t. Preparations wereimmediatelymadebyusforan attack and our Brigado had the honor (if any such there be) of openinga fight such as the world has never before seen and which has continued almost uninterruptedlyevery day since. Here our beloved Colonel (Col.John Williams Patt erson)fell shot through thefa ce the ball passin g entirely throughand lodgingin hisshould er.Poor fellow he never moaned but ere his body touched the ground the immortalpart had flown …butenough, the bonesof one of the bravest soldiers that ever battled in thecause of freedom now lie molderingbeneath the cold clods of the narrow house. The heart that was onceso warm towards all hisfriends hasceasedto beat& hisformonce so manly is nowfoodfor theworms.”
It was this action by the three brigades of Getty’s Division that protected the Union Army from possible destruction, cost Col. Patterson his life and plunged his widow Almira Brock Wendt Patterson and her children into poverty. Almira was orphaned at 12, widowed at 29 and her youngest child, Mary Richards Patterson, died of scarlet fever several months after her father, Col. Patterson was killed. Almira and Col. Patterson ‘s children, Fred Wendt Patterson (b. 1860) and Agnes Wendt Patterson (b. 1861) were made wards of the Orphans Court in Pittsburgh and the widow’s house and belongings were sold at an Orphans Court Sale. Almira lived on a Widow’s Pension until she died in 1908. She was buried in New Brighton, Pennsylvania in a grave marked “Almira Patterson, Wife of Colonel John W. Patterson”. Unfortunately during this period women had few rights and were not permitted to vote.
Late one night I was reading a letter that Col. Patterson had written on November 2nd, 1862, I was stricken by his death and realized my obligation to preserve and sustain his history. He stated in that letter:
“If it so happens in any of the coming battles I fall, May he give me the po wer to manfully peiform my duties, which I owe to Him, My country and my fellow man. If I should die I hope to die like a Christian and a Patriot, that my wife, my children and my friends may have nothing to regret. That my name may be cherished, and honored by them as one, who nobly & honorable performed his duty. Yours affe ctionately, John W. Patterson “.
My grandfather took me to the comer of Brock and Orange Plank Road where Col. Patterson was killed when I was 10 years old and I have returned many times. The Wilderness is truly hallowed ground.