Col. Peter John Sullivan

Researched by Stephen E. Williams


Photo from the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the U.S.,
Massachusetts Commandery Collection, Volume 112, Page 5776.
Used with permission from the US Army Military History Institute.


PETER JOHN SULLIVAN was born in Ireland in 1821. During the Know Nothing riots he commanded a regiment of German volunteers who helped suppress the riots.

By the outbreak of the Civil War, Peter J. Sullivan had accumulated a large fortune. He was not offered a commission in the Union Army at the outset because Governor William Dennison, a Republican, suspected Sullivan, a Democrat, of harboring Confederate sympathies. In order to dispel the suspicion, Sullivan, at his own expense, raised four regiments which were accepted by the government. When word reached President Lincoln of Sullivan's ardent support of the Union, he insisted that Sullivan be named lieutenant colonel of the 48th Ohio Volunteers. Within two months, in January 1862, he was colonel of the regiment. Sullivan led his regiment in the sanguinary battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862), during which encounter four horses were killed beneath him and he was wounded three times. Because of these wounds, he was never able to take active command again, nor did he ever completely recover his health. He served for a time as post commander at Memphis, Tennessee, while it was occupied by Union troops and then served as a judge on a military court of claims. He was named a brevet brigadier general at the close of the war and was appointed United States Minister to Colombia by President Andrew Johnson. In 1869 he was reappointed to the same post by President Grant, but resigned soon after because of frail health and returned to Cincinnati to practice law. General Sullivan died March 2, 1883, in Cincinnati at age sixty-one.

excepted with permission from
Forty For the Union: Civil War Generals Buried in Spring Grove Cemetery
by James Barnett
Cincinnati Civil War Round Table

 

 


Spring Grove Cemetery marker of General Peter J. Sullivan
(Contributed by Dave Smith, Cincinnati Civil War Round Table)

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F. M. Posegate's description of General Sullivan

F. M. Posegate met General Sullivan several years after the war in New York and was his guest at dinner at the old Metropolitan Hotel on Broadway. F. M. Posegate has this to say about General Sullivan, the Colonel of the 48th, in his speech written many years afterwards.

"Sullivan was slightly wounded by a bullet across his forehead, in the early morning fight [at Shiloh] and had his right arm broken in the battle of Monday. He served till nearly the close of the war and lived for several years afterwards. He was appointed by President Grant as Minister to Bogota. A braver or truer man never lived and, in cogitating over the battle of Shiloh, it has frequently occurred to me that had more of the Regimental Commanders in the battle possessed the chivalric courage of Col. Sullivan, the struggle might have concluded on Sunday with a crushing defeat of the Confederates. The Colonel died at his home in Cincinnati, honored and respected by all who knew him."

 

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Who is the real Peter J. Sullivan?

by S. E. Williams

In his otherwise excellent book "Shiloh: The Battle that Changed the Civil War" (Simon & Schuster 1998 p. 161), Larry J. Daniel describes Col. Peter J. Sullivan as "Irish-born Colonel Peter Sullivan, a Mexican War veteran who had recently paid for the organizational expenses of four regiments." He says "Sullivan was an odd character, a decent man but in no way fitted to lead a regiment. He always addressed his men as "gentlemen" and requested them "please to present arms."

This description both misses Col. Sullivan's strengths and fails to describe his real weaknesses exhibited during the battle of Shiloh. The vast majority of Colonels on both sides during the Civil War were initially chosen for reasons other than their military experience. At least Sullivan had some experience in the Mexican War.

Capt. F. M. Posegate, who knew him and served as his acting adjutant just before and during the first day of the Battle of Shiloh, gives us quite a different view. Posegate, who was raised in the wild west town of St. Joseph, Missouri where a lack of etiquette could get a man shot, never alluded to Sullivan's courteous ways. Instead he describes him as "an Irishman as full of fight as an egg is of meat" and clearly viewed him as something of an impetuous hothead. On the positive side Posegate says "A braver or truer man never lived and, in cogitating over the battle of Shiloh, it has frequently occurred to me that had more of the Regimental Commanders in the battle possessed the chivalric courage of Col. Sullivan, the struggle might have concluded on Sunday with a crushing defeat of the Confederates." Posegate, an outspoken printer and newspaperman, was a conservative Whig who ultimately became a Republican; yet the Irish immigrant and Democrat, Peter J. Sullivan, ultimately earned his complete respect and admiration.

General Sherman's official report commends Sullivan for his bravery under fire stating "Colonels Sullivan and Cockerill, behaved with great gallantry, the former receiving a severe wound on Sunday, and yet commanding and holding his regiment well in hand all day, and on Monday, till his right arm was broken by a shot." and "As to Colonels Sullivan and Cockerill, I need add nothing more. My report shows that they were always where duty called them, regardless of danger in the last action at McClernand's camp Colonel Sullivan was wonnded in the arm."

Col. Sullivan, who had four horses shot from under him during the battle of Shiloh, and continued to lead despite a head wound the first day of the battle, contributed the courageous example required by a volunteer unit. After Shiloh Col. Sullivan never completely recovered his health and the regiment was commanded primarily by Col. Parker but he founded the regiment and provided the example needed to get his men through their first battle. During the battle "his Irish was up" but he did a far better job of leading his men than the vast majority of colonels of volunteers.

 

Letter from Peter Sullivan to his wife, February 26, 1862, Paducah, Kentucky
Archives Branch
U.S. Army Military History Institute

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Transcription of Letter

Sullivan's letter to Wm. H. Gibson (of 49th OVI) regarding recruitment, August 19, 1861
Seneca Co Musuem , Tiffin Ohio
Courtesy of Dick Mann

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Col. Sullivan's letter of resignation, July 30, 1863, Vicksburg, Mississippi
National Archives, Washington, D.C.

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Col. Sullivan's letter to W. T. Sherman, September 25, 1863, Memphis, Tennessee
National Archives, Washington, D.C.

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Transcription of Letter

 

Letter of Introduction for Col. Sullivan
Written January 14, 1864 by Senator John Sherman, W. T. Sherman's Brother
National Archives, Washington, D.C.

 

 

Letter of Introduction to Columbian Minister
Written February 27, 1871 by Peter J. Sullivan, late U.S. Minister to Bogata, Columbia
Collection of Don D. Worth

 

 

Peter J. Sullivan biography
in the Catholic Encyclopedia

 

Peter John Sullivan biography in
Virtualology Virtual American Biographies

 

Soldier's letter signed by Col. Sullivan
Collection of Don Worth

 

 

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4/10/2008