102nd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment
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 . . . MY NAME TRANSMITTED TO POSTERITY, AND HONORED BY THEM AS ONE, WHO NOBLY AND HONORABLE PREFORMED HIS DUTY
The Death of Col. John Williams Patterson in the Wilderness
By: William Avery Phillis III
Colonel John Williams Patterson of the 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry was killed at the corner 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 I 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 he received a bullet through the brains. May Heaven console his stricken widow and children. After life’s fitful 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 “probably fatal” 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 get well and do my beloved country service, May God grant it.” On Sept 22nd, 1862 he wrote from the Antietam battlefield: “…the Rebs had enough…they recrossed the river to Virginia. They were terribly cut up. I rode over the battlefield on Thursday and Friday and never saw or wish to again see such a sight. They fought like fiends and lay in heaps in every direction. Around two pieces of Artillery of theirs I counted 20 men and 1 officer laying in a space not more than 40 ft. 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 under fire until 9 O’Clock last night. We were then brought back to our old position. We are now lying under a small eminence, 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: “I arrived here this morning from Richmond, where I have been a prisoner since the 4th inst. I passed through the fight at Fredericksburg unharmed. It was the hottest battle I have ever witnessed. I was taken on May the 4th inst at 10 Oclock PM after the army had retired. We were “gobbled” I suppose. I would not leave the post where stationed and when the Rebs came they had an easy fray. I tried to get away but could not…94 men, including Jack our dog were brought in…”. Reverend A. M. Stewart, the Chaplain of the 102nd wrote: “When the order to fall back was given, our regiment was in the extreme front, next to the enemy. By some oversight of drunken generals, cowardly aids, or ignorant orderlies we 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 quiet but on the morrow (5th) the enemy began to show himself in large numbers in our front. Preparations were immediately made by us for an attack and our Brig ado had the honor (if any such there be) of opening a fight such as the world has never before seen and which has continued almost uninterruptedly every day since. Here our beloved Colonel (Col. John Williams Patterson) fell shot through the face the ball passing entirely through and lodging in his shoulder. Poor fellow he never moaned but ere his body touched the ground the immortal part had flown…but enough, the bones of one of the bravest soldiers that ever battled in the cause of freedom now lie moldering beneath the cold clods of the narrow house. The heart that was once so warm towards all his friends has ceased to beat & his form once so manly is now food for the worms.” 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 power to manfully perform 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 affectionately, John W. Patterson”.
My grandfather, William Avery Phillis Sr., took me to the corner 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.
Col. John Williams Patterson
102nd Pennsylvania Home Page
Copyright 2006-2011. PetersburgBreakthrough.Org. Updated 8 July 2011