Graduated from Harvard 1862
Born, October 21, 1840
Died, August 24, 1863
The following was written by
William Whitwell Parker
As copied from
Harvard Memorial Biographies
Sever and Francis
Back to Scollay family page
| First Sergeant 33rd Massachusetts Volunteers (Infantry), July
21, 1862; Second Lieutenant, March 3, 1863; killed by guerillas near Bristow
Station, Virginia, August 24, 1863.
At the end of the undergraduate course at Harvard University each student is requested to write an autobiography, which is preserved as part of the Class records; and perhaps this memoir cannot be better prefaced than by a part of the brief paper which Lieutenant Parker then contributed.
“I was born in Boston, October 21, 1840. My father, William Parker, is the Superintendent of the Panama Railroad, formerly Superintendent of the Boston & Worcester, Baltimore & Ohio, and Boston & Lowell roads. He was educated at Captain Partridge’s military school. I belong to the Parker’s of New Jersey, who came over from England in 1670. All my paternal ancestors held numerous offices under the Provincial, State, and general governments, and seats in Congress, the New Jersey Legislature, and the Governor’s Council. The family mansion, a large stone building, called The Castle, was fortified in the Revolutionary War.”
“I am descended, on my mother’s side, from the Scollay’s and Whitwell’s of Boston, the former an old Norse family (mentioned in the life of Sir Robert Strange), came over from the Orkney’s in 1640; the latter from Colnbrook, in England in 1735. My mother’s name was Lucy Cushing Whitwell.”
“I lived in Boston and Newton till 1848; went to Baltimore in that year; returned to Boston in 1853; went to Chicago in March, 1859, and spending the next year at the latter. I received at these schools four prizes for Latin and English verses and for mathematics.”
“I entered college in 1858. At the end of six months I left and went to Chicago, where I stayed till December 1860. I then returned to Cambridge, and rejoined my Class in September, 1861.
As a child Arthur was a generous, impulsive, mischievous little fellow, very quick-tempered and fond of fun. A friend of his mother writes:
“I remember Arthur as the handsomest, gayest, bravest child I ever saw. His entire fearlessness often astonished me. I can see him now as if it were but yesterday, standing on one foot in the hand of his uncle’s outstretched arm, his other foot clasped in his little hand while he balanced himself with his other arm. There he stood joyous and triumphant.”
When Arthur was nearly nine years old, his father removed to Baltimore. Here he began his Latin Grammar, and was soon brought forward as the show scholar whenever visitors came to the school, and under its excellent training, his love for the classic languages increased. He spent much of his leisure time in reading Horace and Lucretius and in writing Latin verses; and when in the second year of the school, gained for a Latin ode the prize which belonged to the first class.
It was his way to adopt one or two pursuits, and to follow them with enthusiasm, while he cared little for any others. About this time he took a great interest in gymnastics, in which he was fitted to excel by a strong and compact frame and a fearless spirit. He graduated at the Latin School in 1857, taking another prize; and as his father thought it best for him to defer entering college for a year, he entered the second class at the High School. Here he wrote an English poem entitled, Mens sana in corpore sano, on his favorite subject of physical training, and contrary to custom, he was requested to recite it on the graduating day of the first class.
He entered college without conditions, but had been there only six months when an advantageous offer was made to him to go into a store in Chicago, which he thought it best to accept on account of his father’s circumstances at the time, and because although he enjoyed college life, he did not intend to study for a profession. Arthur’s experience in Chicago was much the same as that of all young men who begin at the foot of the ladder and live with great economy. His chief pleasures were, as before, reading the classics, studying languages and practicing gymnastics. In the last he was very proficient. He writes, “I ended up a coil of rope weighing nine hundred and four pounds a day or two ago… I have at last learned to pull myself up with one arm, hanging perfectly taught, and starting with a little jerk.”
After he had remained at Chicago nearly two years he expressed to his brother a strong desire to return and finish his education; and his parents, on hearing of it, immediately recalled him. This was December, 1860, and he could not be examined until the following summer. He told his friends that he meant to enter as a Junior, but he had secretly resolved to rejoin his own Class, from which he had been absent two years. He studied by himself, and on returning from the examination he surprised and pleased his mother by saying, in his playful way, “Mother, the Faculty and I have concluded that it is not worth my while to stay more than a year in College, so I entered Senior and without conditions.” He did not study for rank, but preferred to devote himself to whatever he thought he most needed. His faculty for learning languages was rather remarkable. Latin was a passion with him. He received a prize at college as at school for verses in that language. He was continually making Latin verses in playing upon words, and in the outset of the national struggle his secedere est se coedere found its way into many of the newspapers. One day he surprised his mother by asking for a copy of Dante, as she knew he had never studied Italian. He said he did not altogether like the less advanced class, and intended to join one which was studying that book. His mother expressed her doubts of his ability to learn the lessons, but found that, with very slight assistance at first, he was able to do so. He was a very good French scholar, and had given some attention to German and Spanish, which last studies he continued while in the army.
In the beginning of the war Arthur had expressed a strong desire to go with his companions to the defense of his country, but Acquiesced without a murmur in the wish of his parents that he should finish his college course.
Three days after graduating, finding that he could not immediately obtain a commission, he enlisted in the Thirty-third Massachusetts, and was appointed First Sergeant. The regiment left Lynnfield in the fall of 1862, and was encamped for some time near Alexandria. Arthur found the position of First Sergeant to be no sinecure. He writes:
“I am not so content with my position as not to envy the leisurely lieutenant, who is not continually harassed with applications for everything that is missing, or lost in the company, and with request to be “passed out” for wood and water. He is not like the orderly, between two millstones, the captain and the men, subject to be scolded by the one and grumbled at by the other though I have no right to complain on that account, for my position is not more uncomfortable than that of most of the orderlies, but, on the contrary, generally a pleasant one.”
In another letter he says:
Everyone is after the orderly. Nothing is heard but “Orderly!”, “Sergeant!”, whenever I am near. I have run myself into real training trim, and feel as active and light as a squirrel. I have a good deal of fighting to do, answering complaints and composing difficulties, but I rather like it. It is an intellectual exercise which agreeable varies the physical. In truth, I am in the best health and spirits.”
Arthur’s previous gymnastic training was here of great advantage to him, and enabled him to endure fatigue and hardship. The October weather was getting cold and stormy. H writes:
“We left Alexandria and taking the cars for about eighteen miles, camped over night on a hill without shelter, and drenched through as we slept by a pouring rain. I turned out at three a.m., with one or two others built a fire and waited to day; at whose coming we made coffee and disposed of a box of sardines and a few hard crackers, making a very comfortable breakfast… Mother makes me laugh when she talks about hardships, for I have suffered nothing yet. I am exceedingly tough, and in better health and less capable of being fatigued than when I was at home. I eat with a fine appetite and enjoy my meals with Sancho Panza’s gusto.”
The new year found the regiment encamped opposite Fredericksburg. It was just after our terrible repulse before that city, and the feeling throughout the army was exceedingly gloomy. The rations were short; many of the men were sick. The coughing at night sounded mournfully. Arthur was off duty for a few days, but soon recovered both health and spirits. Under date of January 25th, after returning from an expedition defeated by rain and mud, he writes “We seem to be destined not to go into a fight. We were just too late last year for the Bull Run and the Fredericksburg fights, and this expedition has turned out a failure.”
In February he replies to a letter from his Aunt as follows:
“It is very refreshing to listen to your sentiments in regard to the soldiers and the cause of the Union. Nothing truer has been said than that the women sustain the war, North and South. You perceive by this that I am not wanting in appreciation of the influence and importance of the sex. I received __________’s letter a day or two before yours, and take this opportunity to assure you that my political views are the same as his. I am first for supporting the government and prosecuting the war by every constitutional means, without regard to prejudices of color or race, and with the destruction of slavery in view as an aid in restoring the Union. I look on the bright side whenever there is one, and have a good deal to do to fight the desponding views of the men, who are many of them too ready to believe evil reports and to discredit good ones. Whether or not the direct object of Providence is by means of this war to overthrow slavery, I am convinced that this will be the result, and shall rejoice to see it accomplished.”
Arthur was naturally desirous of promotion; but in a letter dated March 8th, expresses himself as follows:
“I am in no hurry for a commission. I am willing to remain Orderly six months if the Colonel does not recognize me as possessing the material for an officer. If I have to wait for my commission till after a fight, I shall be quite as well satisfied.”
He had been promised a lieutenancy in the New Jersey regiment, but he preferred not to leave his own; and he was at length rewarded, as appears from the following extract from a letter of Lieutenant Colonel Underwood:
“I always thought your son did a noble thing when he preferred to go into the service at once in the ranks to waiting on the uncertainties of a commission which had been promised him some time. His conduct has been uniform with this start, and the other day he showed himself quite as high-minded in preferring to stay as a Sergeant in his own regiment to going elsewhere with a commission. I have once or twice called the Colonel’s particular attention to him and recommended him. I am very happy to inform you that the Colonel has recommended his to the Governor as Second Lieutenant to fill the vast vacancy, and by this time he is probably commissioned. I wish we had many more young men like him.”
The commission soon arrived, and Arthur writes, “I am much gratified to receive a commission in this regiment, in which I have a pride and an interest.” He was soon after detailed for duty in the provost guard, but disliked the easy and monotonous life, and was impatient to be again with his company and on the advance; and about the 10th of May he was relieved. The followed a campaign which is pleasantly described in his letters.
“Dear __________, we marched all night the day we left, and the weather was showery. At about four a.m., we halted at Spotswood tavern and rested till ten; then a day’s march brought us to this point, where we camped at six, p.m., in a fine oak forest. We carried no tents, only blankets and haversacks. The next morning the men received six day’s rations additional, which were stowed away in their knapsacks. We rested all that day, as we had need of doing after marching forty miles in a trifle over twenty-four hours. At about five p.m., we received sudden orders to march, and made about four miles, when we bivouacked in a wood without fires. I was so thoroughly rested that I hardly slept at all. I enjoy this active life intensely. That march of ours showed no common pluck and endurance on the part of the men. We lost two men, who fell behind the first night, and one sent back sick. One company lost eleven; no other over three or four.”
In the battle of Gettysburg the regiment was not very actively engaged, but was ordered to support a battery, and in doing so the men were forced to be inactive while exposed to the shelling of the enemy’s guns. Arthur felt hungry, and gave an instance of his coolness by making a fire against a stone wall and cooking and eating his dinner. His comrades, whom he invited to share it with him, preferred to wait until a quieter season. The following letter, written on the 5th, gives a partial account of the battle.
“Dear _________, The Baltimore Clipper of the 4th gives a weak account of our successes. The fight of Friday, p.m., the climax of the whole, had not been heard from. I have just been to a part of the field where the Rebel masses were urged upon our entrenchments, and met with a terrific slaughter. I give no newspaper account. I saw in one place a company of fifty or sixty, with the captain and lieutenant, on one flank, laid out in their ranks nearly as thickly as they advanced in line, occupying about the space of a company and a half. In five small fields there were, I was told, fully one thousand dead, and my eyes confirmed the estimate. The wounded had all been removed, and a considerable part of the dead already buried. Regiments are going out with picks and spades to finish the work. The Rebels were advanced to within fifteen of twenty rods of the fortifications, when the batteries opened with grape and canister, and the lines rose from the ramparts and poured in their volley. As for our part, we reached here on the 1st, after a very rapid and trying march. We took up our position in front of the cemetery and behind a stone fence. The batteries did all or nearly all the fighting in that quarter, and we were not engaged. The next day we moved to the right centre, and in the afternoon were taken up to a field in front of one of our batteries. A Rebel battery soon opened and played on us and the guns we supported for over an hour. We lay behind the stone fence with the shells bursting all around us. One shell instantly killed two of our company, another lost his arm, a third was severely wounded. Other companies also suffered. Companies I, D and A were then sent out as skirmishers. Soon after, our battery silenced the Rebels, having exploded a caisson and done other damage. The Rebel battery drew off. At dusk the Rebels were evidently preparing to attack, and our skirmishers retreated. When Companies I and D were within about twenty-five rods of our lines, a column appeared in our rear to our right, immediately behind us. We quickened our pace, you will believe, and succeeded in getting in without loss, and forming a line with the rest of the regiment behind the stone wall to the right of the battery. Here we maintained our position with a number of other regiments in the division, and in about fifteen minutes, after a tempest of cannonading and musketry, the Johnnies fled, leaving their dead and many of their wounded on the field. The regiment lost here about fifteen killed and wounded. Only the right wing was engaged in this place. Our men behaved perfectly.”
Soon after this Arthur was appointed an Aid on the staff of General Meade, and came home on a short leave of absence early in August. He rejoined the staff near Warrenton, and found the duties very pleasant. He writes: “Tell G_____ not to feel any anxiety for my happiness, for I am far happier here than I could possibly be anywhere else. I am more in my element and more at rest than I ever was before in my life. I pray God I may always be as happy.”
On the 24th of August he visited his regiment, which was then lying about nine miles from head-quarters. He was last seen by a picket as he was returning, and for a long time he was supposed to have been captured by guerillas: but all inquiries were unavailing. After fifteen months his friends received certain information of his fate.
Captain Rennie of the Seventy-third Ohio reported that on the 11th of September, 1863, he was going with an orderly on horseback from Bristow Station, where Lieutenant Parker’s regiment was, to Catlett’s Station, to join General Howard as an Aid. The road runs close to a railroad, here and there crossing and re-crossing till it reaches a stream called Kettle Run. There the road is on the right of the railroad. The crossing was bad, so that Captain Rennie took another road leading off into higher land. This route returns the traveler soon to the main road, but takes a circuit of half a mile or more, going up a hill and through a piece of woods. On the other side of this wood, just before the main road is regained, in a low spot, a sort of ravine, Captain Rennie was met by three men with United States army clothing, though without coats, who, pointing their pistols, called on him to halt. He replied, “There’s some mistake, you’re of my side.” He was again asked, “Do you surrender?” Looking about him he saw that on one side was an impassable ravine, in front these three men, on the other side three more, and behind three others, all clothed in the same way, but armed and aiming at him and his orderly. So he surrendered himself as a prisoner. His captors said to him, “Well for you that you did; for we should have served you as we did young Parker, General Mead’s Aid, the other day.” “How was that?” he asked. They replied that they had halted him at the same spot; that he did not surrender, but put spurs to his horse to pass through them, and that therefore two of them had fired at him and he had fallen dead; that they had buried him near by in a place somewhat cleared, where there were some scrub oaks, and they pointed out the grave to Captain Rennie. Captain Rennie’s orderly had dined with one of these men a week before, supposing him to be, as he professed, a Union man. With one exception they declared themselves to be Mosby’s men.
Thus ended a short life, just on the verge of manhood. Arthur went to the war entirely from feelings of patriotism. He was by nature a scholar, and had little taste for a soldier’s life. The rough experience of the army had strengthened him and developed his manliness, and he had found that rest of spirit which comes from the performance of duty. The tenderness of his affections, his strong sense of justice, his disinterestedness and generosity, endeared him to his family. He was fastidious in the choice of his friends, and nearly all whom he most loved have fallen with him in the same glorious struggle. Shall we not believe that they are all rejoicing with us now in the emancipation of a race? Religious feeling was the foundation of that patriotic ardor which made him so anxious to defend his country when the war first broke out, although his aversion to cant was so strong that he rarely spoke on religious subjects.
This memoir can be better ended than by an extract from the letter of a classmate:
“I cannot close without offering my personal tribute to the many
character, activity of mind, and generosity of heart which so distinguished
Arthur when with us, and with which he must have won the respect and esteem
of all through life. Our Class has not refused to send its members
to do battle for our country’s right, and that they have done their duty
is fully proved by the large number who have fallen in their country’s
defense. Arthur won the esteem and respect of his classmates by his
studiousness, talents, and ability as a scholar, and their admiration by
his courage, his manliness, and fearless devotion to duty as a soldier
and a patriot.”
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