Saturday, July 4, 2020

Defending the Homeland

Storms of Battle
Written by Robert A. Waters

My great-great-grandfather fought as a soldier for two different countries. (Near the turn of the century, when he died, that was not unusual for old men in the South.) Here is his story.

Peter Boyer Perry was of French descent, but the family moved to England around 1066. In the early 1600s, Peter's ancestors settled in Virginia, later moving to South Carolina. At least two of his great-uncles fought with Frances Marion, the "Swamp Fox," during the Revolutionary War.

Peter was born in Lancaster County, South Carolina on April 11, 1823. In 1846, he enlisted in the U. S. Army and was sent to fight in the Mexican-American War. The injuries he received during this conflict would afflict him for the rest of his life.

Perry was assigned to Company I, Palmetto Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers Infantry. He initially served under the command of Colonel P. M. Butler, then later under General Winfield Scott. According to Perry's military records, during the Siege of Veracruz, he contracted chronic dysentery due to a bout with yellow fever.

After fighting in several battles, Perry fell grievously wounded at the storming of Chapultepec, a closely guarded city that sat on a 200-foot-high hill. General Scott had ordered his men to take this strong-post as a gateway to Mexico City, two miles away. In the book, A Pioneer and a Patriot, the author, D. Hackett, writes that Perry "was wounded by a spent grapeshot cannon shell. He was injured on his right side with five broken ribs, and a piece of steel was embedded in his right eye. Though he was left for dead, Peter survived. He was able to rejoin his unit that night and continued to fight as the Army made their (sic) way to Mexico City." (He refused to go to a field hospital because he'd observed that only one out of five injured soldiers came out alive.)

Early on the morning of September 14, 1847, American forces raised the U. S. flag over the Grand Plaza in Mexico City. According to family legend, Perry was the soldier who raised that flag.

Perry suffered from his war injuries for the rest of his life. "The injury to his right side," Hackett writes, "left him with painful pleural adhesion, and later, his right eye had to be removed."

He was honorably discharged in Mobile, Alabama, on June 25, 1848.

Peter and his new wife, Elizabeth Duke Perry, moved to Alachua County, Florida in 1853. The couple later moved again, this time to Marion County where he would reside the rest of his life. Peter farmed a 20-acre spread without ever owning a slave.

In a 1985 article in the Orlando Sentinel, the author wrote that "as peaceful as this small Marion County community is today, it's hard to imagine the original settlers barricading themselves into the schoolhouse to fend off attacks from Seminole Indians. But that's what they did and it is for one of those early defenders, Peter Boyer Perry, that the town is named. Perry, a South Carolina native who had served with the U. S. army in the Mexican War, picked up the name Pedro (Spanish for Peter) during his days fighting south of the border. Perry's role in helping settle and defend the community led to the town naming itself after him." 

On July 21, 1861, the long-simmering conflict now known as the Civil War broke out when the United States of America invaded the newly-formed Confederate States of America. The Union Navy quickly blockaded ports around Florida in an attempt to keep supplies from entering the state. For the next four years, the Federals tried to gain control of the interior of Florida, but had little success as most Floridians supported the Confederate cause. (At the end of the war, Tallahassee was the only Confederate state capitol not occupied by the Union army.) 

In July of 1863, at forty years of age, Perry walked 100 miles to enlist in the Confederate army. At Lake City, he joined the 9th Florida Infantry Division, Company F. 

Perry fought courageously during the Battle of Olustee (near Lake City). On February 20, 1864, the Union army, under the command of Brigadier General Truman Seymore, was once again attempting to gain control of inland Florida, particularly Tallahassee. The Confederates were commanded by Irish-born Brigadier General Joseph Finegan. The Rebels had located a narrow stretch of dry ground to defend. Behind them, impenetrable swamps and bays surrounded a lake called Ocean Pond, and on each side was a pine barren that offered little cover for the advancing attackers.

As the battle began, Finnegan lured the Union troops into that indefensible position. After several hours of bloody fighting, Seymore's army fled back to Jacksonville, their major stronghold in Florida. Out of slightly more than 5,000 men, the Union army suffered 1,861 casualties to Confederate losses of 946 men.

After the Battle of Olustee, Peter Boyer Perry was promoted to 1st Sergeant and, with General Finegan's Florida regiments, ordered north to join General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Finegan's troops landed in a hornet's nest, fighting almost continuously for the next year. Perry fought in the following battles: the Battle at Cold Harbor; the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road; the Battle of Ream's Railroad Station; the Battle of Globe Tavern; the Second Battle of Ream's Railroad Station; and the Battle of Hatcher's Run. (Many of the smaller battles were part of the fighting that took place during the Union's victorious siege of Petersburg.)

Finally, on April 9, 1865, Lee met with Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse to surrender. Peter Boyer Perry signed the surrender documents and oath of allegiance to the United States of America. Confederate Major General William Mahone spoke of the Florida brigade: "A mere handful remains of the little band, they have been wasted by the storms of battle and by disease..."

Perry was given a written parole document. He walked 700 miles from Virginia back to his Florida home. In Marion County pioneer documents, he is listed as a farmer, minister of the gospel, school teacher and postmaster of the town of Pedro. He and Elizabeth had 13 children.

That a man could withstand years of war and severe injuries, including blindness in one eye, as well as chronic dysentery and pleurisy, and still prosper in life showed the mark of high character. All of his children and grandchildren led successful lives, including my grandmother, Henrietta Fidelia Perry Crumpton. She took in strays and always had food for the "hoboes" who wandered by her farmhouse. She was sympathetic to the down-and-out and took care of my grandfather (who was also blind in one eye from a World War I injury) and many elderly relatives. She and my grandfather, as well as my parents, taught me that God and family are the most important things in life.  

In 1875, "Peter applied for 'A Declaration of Pension for an Invalid' for his military service in the Mexican-American War. It took seven years and a Special Act of the 47th Congress for Peter to be approved..." His pension of $4.00 was later increased to $8.00. In 1895, his pension was raised to $12.00. By this time he'd had to sell his 20 acres of land when, due to old age and his lingering injuries, he became unable to work.

Peter Boyer Perry died on January 7, 1899, aged 75. He is buried at the Pine Level Cemetery in Sumter County.


A Pioneer and A Patriot by D. Hackett. Many military documents concerning Peter Boyer Perry are photocopied and published in this book. 

A Small but Spartan Band by Zack C. Waters. This award-winning book details the history of the Florida Brigade in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

A Wilderness of Destruction by Zack C. Waters. Unpublished book.

No comments: