Parker vs. Sullivan
The War Between the Colonels

by S. E. Williams

The Official Roster of the Soldiers of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866 states that the 48th OVI "bore an honorable part" of the battles at Shiloh, Corinth, Chickasaw Bayou, Arkansas Post, Port Gibson, Jackson, Champion Hills, Big Black River, Vicksburg, Carrion Crow Bayou, Sabine Cross Roads and Fort Blakely.

Starting at Camp Dennison and continuing through the Siege of Vicksburg the two senior officers of the 48th Ohio engaged each other in a battle for control of the regiment which was a far less honorable part of the regiment's history. Just as the 48th is interesting as a microcosm in which we may view a Union regiment in the Civil War as it went through its battles; it is also a microcosm of the political infighting among the Officer Corps. When studying the political struggle between these two brave men we must keep the following in mind:

 

During the Battle of Shiloh Col. Sullivan and Lieut. Col. Parker were not on speaking terms. This clearly impaired the function of the regimental leadership during the battle. We know this from Capt. Posegate, who was then a first Lieut. and Acting Adjutant of the Regiment. A look at charges against Col. Sullivan made by Lieut. Col. Parker, which are a part of Col. Sullivan's Military Record at the National Archives, makes it abundantly clear why the two men were mad at each other:

 

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Charges and Specifications prefered against Col. Peter J. Sullivan of the 48th Ohio Vol. Infty.

[About August 5, 1862]

 

Charge 1st

Tyranical action and discharging from the service of the U. S. A. a soldier duely enlisted and sworn.


Specification 1 st - In this, That the said Col. Peter J. Sullivan, of said Regt. did, on or about the 15th day of Dec. 1861 imprison Sergt. Emanual Kelso of Co. C 48th Regt. of Ohio Vols, in the Regimental Guard house at Camp Dennison Ohio, and kept him thus confined until on or about the 17th day of Feb. 1862, and although a Court Martial was frequently demanded in said Kelso's case, it was never granted.

Specification 2 d - In this, that the said Col. Peter J. Sullivan did, without proper authority discharge from the service of the United States, Sergt. Emanuel Kelso said Kelso, having been duly enlisted and sworn into the United States Service of Co. H. (to which Co. Said Kelso had been transferred) 48th Ohio Vols. all this at Camp Dennison Ohio on or about the 17th day of Feb. 1862.

[Sergeant Emanuel Kelso was 27 years old at enlistment Oct 3, 1861. He was transferred to Co. H Jan 1, 1862. He was reduced to private from sergeant on that date. - SEW]

 

Charge 2d

Making and signing a false Muster Roll.


Specification.- In this, that the said Col. Peter J. Sullivan, while acting by authority as mustering officer of the 48th Regt. Ohio Vol. Infty., did in accounting for Sergt. Kelso of Co. H the 48th Ohio Vols. Cause to be set opposite said Kelso's name these words "Released by Court Martial Feb. 23d, 1862" (Yet a Court Martial had never been convened in his case) after which Col. Peter J. Sullivan of the aforesaid Regt. certified on honor that the muster was correct, all this at Paducah Ky, on or about the 28th day of Feb. 1862.

[Sergeant Emanuel Kelso has no record in the Official Roster of the State of Ohio after he was reduced to private from sergeant on Jan 1, 1862. - SEW]

 

Charge 3rd

Conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman


Specification 1 st - In this that the said Col. Peter J. Sullivan of said 48th Ohio Vols. did exact and accept the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars ($150) more or less, from David R. Plyley for the position of 2nd Lt. in Co. B. said Regt., this on or about the 15th day of Jan'y 1862. at Camp Dennison Ohio.

[David R. Phyley 1 st. Lieut. was 19 when he enlisted Nov. 10, 1861. He was mustered as a private; promoted to 2nd Lieut. Jan 20, 1862 (this allegedly cost the $150 payment to Col. Sullivan); and promoted to 1st Lieut. April 7, 1862. Lieut. Phyley resigned Oct. 1, 1863. - SEW]

Specification 2 d - In this, that the said Col. Peter J. Sullivan did receive from Edward A. Conkling, through some agent, the sum of Fifty dollars ($50) more or less, for which consideration the said Conkling was to be said Col's private secretary, which position has been denied him, although said Conkling has been in the Regt. twelve months more or less.

[Private Allen E. Conkling is listed on the rolls of Company B as being promoted to Sergeant Major on 9/1/62 His name is not on the Regimental staff roll but the Regimental history states that "The same day {March 18, 1863}, Serg't. Major E. A. Conkling was discharged on account of disability."]

Specification 3 rd - In this that the said Col. Peter J. Sullivan of the 48th Regt. Ohio Vol. Inft'y did demand of E. A. Howells the sum of one thousand dollars ($1000) more or less for which consideration said Howells was to receive the position of Sutler of the 48th Regt. Ohio Vols's, Seven hundred & seventy five of which the said Col. Sullivan actually received in cash, after which said Howells was denied the position, and said Col. Sullivan tried to sell the position to other parties.

[A sutler was a vendor who supplied goods to the men of a regiment. Shirts, pots, dishes, butter, etc. Anything over and above the things they were issued. Usually there was a contractual relationship between the vendor and the army and the sutler would follow the army around from camp to camp. - DDW]

 

Charge 5th [sic.]

Incompetency


Specification 1 st - In this, that the said Col. Peter J. Sullivan has not the military knowledge to successfully drill a squad much less the capacity for maneuvering a battalion.

Specification 2 d, In this that the said Col. Peter J. Sullivan is totally wanting in Executive ability.

[The fifth charge may be explained by Col. Sullivan's relative inexperience in drilling his regiment. Col. Sullivan had been severely wounded at Shiloh and had been in the hospital and then on leave recovering from his wounds. The Regiment had been either under battle conditions or drilling in the field under Lieut. Col. Parker, Capt. Frazee and Capt. Peterson since April 7, 1862. Lieut. Col. Parker had been continuously in command of the regiment since June 9th 1862 when Col. Sullivan arrived in Memphis August 1st and took command in a very ungracious way. According to Cyrus Hussey's diary {Cyrus Hussey Diary, MSS-017, The Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections, University of Toledo Libraries for Manuscripts Collection.} there was a "Battalion Drill by Parker...[and] Col. Sullivan tried to take command of Dress Parade after Parker had taken his position." Hussey further states in his diary on August 20th that at Brigade Review "Col. S.[Sullivan] made an ass of himself." On the 4th of September Cyrus Hussey again writes "Marched to Memphis to go in Provost Guard at 10:00 A.M. Col. S.[Sullivan] Made a grand ass of himself: & a worse one at night in M&C Depot." Col. Sullivan apparently attempted to command experienced troops in drills that he himself was not familiar with and bungled the drill.]

               Signed
                         J. R. Parker
                         Lt. Col. Comdg Regt.

               Witnesses

Charge 1st & Specifications, Capt. J. W Frazee 48th O.V.I.
Lt. W. A. Quarterman "
" Cyrus Hassey "
" G. W. Mosgrove "
"[sic.] Emmanuel Kelso "
     
Charge 2nd & Specifications Lieut. R. F. Robbins "
Serg't John Adams "
Charge 3rd & specifications Rev. J. F. Spence Chap. "
Lt. D. R. Plyley "
  " W. E. Braman
     E. A. Conkling
  Lt. Col. Parker
     E. B. Howells
 
Charge 4th & specifications Capt. R. S. Robbins 48th O.V.I.
  " J. M. Lindsey "       "
  " J. M. Frazee "       "
     
  " Charles Kelsey "       "
  " V. A. Motes "       "
  " I. J. Ross "       "
  " S. G. Peterson "       "
  and many others  

No date is given on this document but it can be dated to the first week in August, 1862 from The Cyrus Hussey Diary {Cyrus Hussey Diary, MSS-017, The Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections, University of Toledo Librarys for Manuscripts Collection.}

On Monday August 4, 1862 Hussey wrote in his diary that "Parker wrote charges against Sullivan." And that he "Copied Parker Charges." The in the next days entry he again wrote that he "Copied Parker's charges against Sullivan." The charges are written in handwriting that exactly matches that in Cyrus Hussey's diary. They are from is from Col. Sullivan's military record in the National Archives.

During this period the 48th was on Garrison duty at Ft. Pickering in Memphis.

 

Shiloh, which began on April 6, had religated the feud to the background. Col. Sullivan, who was cited by Gen. Sherman for his bravery, was wounded by a musket ball which passed through his right forearm, fractured the radius and severed nerves and muscles producing partial paralysis. Sullivan was incapacitated for some time and never really recovered the full use of his arm.

When Col. Sullivan was wounded during the second afternoon of Shiloh Lieut. Col. Parker immediately assumed command of the regiment and he in turn distinguished himself in battle. The official reports recognize Col. Sullivan's bravery and the Cincinnati Gazette hailed both as heros stating "It was on Monday, during that terrible contest, that Col. Sullivan, while bravely rallying his Regiment, was wounded and borne from the field,... Lieut. Col. Parker won the entire esteem and confidence of the Regiment, as a man of cool and daring bravery. At all times during the conflict he was ever ready to cheer and rally by his presence, and his sword ever found in the thickest of the fight."

It is unclear what Lieut. Col. Parker's motive was but the regimental history states that "on the 19th of December Lieut. Col. Parker made a request of Gen. Hurlbut, Commander of the Post, to have the Regiment relieved of garrison duty, so as to join the expedition [to Vicksburg]. Such requests are always granted, and on the following day we were ordered on board the steamer 'City of Alton.'" Lieut. Col. Parker's request had two effects. It sent the regiment with Gen. Sherman to the battles of Chickasaw Bayou and Arkansas Post and it removed the regiment from the area of Memphis where Col. Sullivan could still have influence in its affairs. Lieut. Col. Parker was now fully in command of the regiment in fact if not in name. As the regimental history says, "Col. Sullivan had been appointed president of a military board, and was left behind." Col. Sullivan was in his element working as a lawyer on the board where he made a very good impression on Gen. Hurlbut who was also a lawyer.

Col. Sullivan wrote Gen. Sherman to try and enlist his aid in the dispute. Sherman replied with a warm letter but it is unclear if he ever attempted to influence the case.

Lieut. Col. Parker continued in command of the regiment until he was wounded in the massive frontal assault Gen. Grant ordered at Vicksburg May 22, 1863. At this point the regimental history says "June 3d, Lieut. Col. J. R. Parker, having received a [medical] leave of absence, went home, leaving Capt. Lindsey in command of the Regiment." Shortly after, Col. Sullivan arrived and took command.

This is all the regimental history has to say about the arrival of the 48th's old colonel after more than a years absence. It is easy to picture the probable scene though. Col. Sullivan in a neatly pressed tidy uniform stands before a scruffy bunch of battle hardened veterans giving a patriotic speech; perhaps alluding to the battle of Shiloh where he led them so bravely. But the veteran of Shiloh was speaking to veterans of Shiloh, Corinth, Chickasaw Bayou, Arkansas Post, Port Gibson, Jackson, Champion Hills, Big Black River, and the worst of the Siege of Vicksburg. He was speaking to men who a dozen days earlier had engaged in a frontal assault resembling the charge of the light brigade less the horses. Men who had just marched double quick "Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell" as "Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volley'd and thunder'd". They had maintained their organization and discipline through this ordeal - the ultimate test of a veteran regiment. Following Lieut. Col. Parker and Major Moats they had taken the fort that was their objective, planted their colors on the Rebel's works. They had held the fort for five hours after which a furious counterattack had driven them back, barely allowing time for color guard Ike Carmin to snatch the flag from the onrushing Confederates. The Union regiments who would support them were mowed down and the regiment scrambled to dig in and held on until they could retreat under cover of darkness, leaving their many dead on the battlefield. Major Moats had suffered a wound which would prove to be mortal and Lieut. Col. Parker's face had been badly lacerated. Now Colonel Sullivan stood before them in a clean uniform, fresh from a desk job. If any had agreed with Lieut. Col. Parker before that "Col. Peter J. Sullivan has not the military knowledge to successfully drill a squad much less the capacity for maneuvering a battalion" what did they think as he stood before them now? Before this had been an unfair judgment. Now they would be led by a man with experience in only one battle against veteran Confederate troops. Capt. Lindsy, Capt. Bering, or any of the company commanders was now far more qualified to lead the regiment than Col. Sullivan.

It was not really Col. Sullivan's fault that this was so. He had a serious wound received in a major battle where he had preformed well. He had done good work on the commission and returned to the field as soon as he was able, but the men of the 48th were now Parker's men and Col. Sullivan was now the least experienced officer in the regiment. It seems likely that their enthusiasm was not high about Col. Sullivan reassuming command.

Major Wise and Adjutant McGill, Col. Sullivan's other regimental officers from Cincinnati, had resigned before he returned. He was alone in command. It was at this time that Lieut. Col. Parker's legal problems began. Parker's version of what happened is spelled out in an exasperated letter to General Grant's Adjutant General, Col. John Rawlins.

 

Highland Ohio
April 27th 1863

Col. John Rawlins
Adj't Gen. Dept. Of the Tenn.
Vicksburg Miss.

Dear Sir;
       On file in the Adj't Genrl's office at Columbus Ohio, is the acceptance of my resignation as Lt. Col of the 48th Reg't Ohio Vol's. Presuming there is some mistake about this, I deem it necessary to make a statement of the facts in the case.
       I never tendered my resignation as Lt. Col. of said Reg't, but on the contrary, I received a leave of absence from Maj Gen U. S. Grant on the 31st of May last in consequence of disability occasioned by wounds Res'd in the charge on the Rebel fortifications in rear of Vicksburg on the 22nd of May last, and as my reported resignation bears same date I presume the leave of absence has been reported as my resignation.
       But If on the other Hand,[if] I have been reported (as I hear I have) "absent without leave" a statement of facts is equally necessary in this case. After the expiration of my "leave of absence" given by order of Genl. Grant, I was still suffering from my wounds, I was then examined by Dr. Stanson, Surgeon in U. S. Army who gave me a certificate of disability, after 20 days I was reexamined by same Surgeon, who pronounced me better, but still unable for active field service, and gave me another certificate of disability, at the expiration of 20 days. I reported to Gen. Jms Mason, Comng U. S. Forces at Columbus O, this I did in obedience to "Gen Orders No 61" issued from the War Dep't, and have been in Columbus ever since, having been examined by a Mil' Examining Committee, and reported to Washington City as "able for light duty" by General Ilemunes, President of said Com. All of these papers I forwarded promptly to my Reg't but my Col. being my most inveterate enemy, and wishing to disgrace me by having me out of the service, refused to let my papers be placed on file in the Reg'l books. On former occasions I have had trouble with Col. Sullivan. For the particulars and also my general status in the Army, I refer you to Maj. Gens. Sherman & Hurlburt, and the officers and men of the 48th O.V.I. I have papers to cover all my true service bearing the Army. I am able and anxious now to return to duty. Will you oblige me Col. by favoring me with an early reply.

Your Ob't Serv't
J. R. Parker
Lt. Col. 48th O.V.I.

This letter is in Col. Parker's hand. It matches the handwriting in the earlier charges against Col. Sullivan. It is from Col. Parker's military record in the National Archives.

 

On the battlefield Job Parker was probably the best officer. In legal and political maneuvers he was out of his league when he took on Peter J. Sullivan. His charges against Col. Sullivan may may have resulted from Parker's idealism being shattered when he saw a real politician at work. Lieut. Col. Parker had been a school teacher before the war and may have lived in an "Ivory Tower". His disappointment may have been fueled by resentment that he and the men had of having an Colonel from Cincinnati placed over them. For those in the regiment with a latent streak of Know Nothingism in them, an Irish immigrant commander would have been unthinkable. Peter J. Sullivan, at the head of a militia in Cincinnati, had put down a Know Nothing riot in Cincinnati not that long ago.

The two colonels had clashed on Peter J. Sullivan's terms and Sullivan was the victor on the legal front but his physical condition caught up with him. He should have remained on light duty. His wounded arm flared up again as his activity increased and it is also possible that he realized the extent of his inexperience relative to the men he was leading. He was, after all, a shrewd politician. Col. Peter J Sullivan resigned July 30, 1863:

 

Head Quarters '48th Regt. Ohio Vol. Infant.
Vicksburg, Miss. July 30th 1863.

Col. W. j. Landrum 19th Ky. Vols.
Comdg. 2nd Brig. 10th Div. 13th Army Corps.

Colonel:-
       I hereby, respectfully, tender my resignation as Colonel in the 48th Regiment Ohio Volunteers, and ask that its acceptance be immediate. and unconditional.
       The reasons for so doing are: First:- Physical disability contracted, and wounds received by me, whilst in the line of my duty in the Public Service.
        See Surgeon's Certificates hearwith submitted & made part here of - marked, A. B. C. D. E. & F.
       Also, Copy of letter and order from Genl. S. A. Hurlburt, showing the services which I rendered the Government marked "Y."
       Second: My said Regiment is now reduced down to 558 enlisted men and 28 Officers. There are of that number but 268 present for duty; and of this number, but 19 [officers?] present for duty. Battle, sickness & long service in the field, have principally produced this result.
       Third: - I have collected organized and prepared for the field four regiments and have been in the service since the 22nd of April 1861.
       I have turned over to the proper officer, all the government property in my possession. I am not indebted, in any sum, to the Government of the United States. I have not been absent since the organization of the Regiment without leave, and was last paid by Major McGrath, to include the 31st of March 1863.
       I have the honor to be Colonel
              Your Obt. Servt.
              Peter J. Sullivan
              Col. 48th Regt. O.V.I.
                                   U.S.A.

 

General Hurlbut's letter "Y" is warm and very appreciative of Col. Sullivan's service on his Commission in Memphis.

Hurlbut's letter to Sullivan 1

Hurlbut's letter to Sullivan 2

Sullivan's letter to Hurlbut 1

Sullivan's letter to Hurlbut 2

 

Col. Sullivan's resignation and Lieut. Col. Parker's bureaucratic problems left Joseph W. Lindsey, now a Lieut. Col., in command. Lieut. Col. Parker straightened out his problems with the Army Bureaucracy and, newly promoted to Colonel, he rushed to join his regiment on the Red River Expedition only to find they had been captured in the Battle of Sabine Crossroads. Would his battlefield command experience have made a difference for the regiment in this battle? Maybe.

The war between the Colonels of the 48th must have made the leadership of the regiment dysfunctional to some extent during their early history and at the Battle of Shiloh. They survived Shiloh with an honorable performance due, to a large extent, to the leadership of Col. Buckland, the brigade commander. Shiloh temporarily stopped the crisis of leadership by removing Col. Sullivan. Lieut. Col. Parker aided this by requesting the regiment go on Sherman's expedition. Col. Sullivan's return brought back all the problems, but worse yet, the Colonel now lacked the battle experience his men had. Lieut. Col. Parker's problems with the Army bureaucracy, which he alleged were caused by Col. Sullivan, removed the most experienced field commander from the 48th Ohio just when they needed him the most - at Sabine Crossroads. Col. Parker would command the 48th Ohio again but he would never again lead them in battle. Shortly before his death Jan. 17, 1875, from a fever contracted in the service, Col. Parker's men honored him by respectfully presenting him with the regimental battle flag that they had hidden so carefully while in prison.

 

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