-- A Union Army war hero and Medal of Honor recipient was recognized
recently by the Army for brave and honorable service, when a past
injustice to his record was corrected.
That Soldier's story
begins in the early days of the Civil War.
In May 1861, young
John Darling Terry left home in Montville, Maine, for Boston where,
on the 23rd, he joined the 1st Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment. He
was only 15.
Just a month before Terry enlisted, the
Confederate guns had fired on Union defenders at Fort Sumter, S.C.,
signaling the opening volley of the Civil War.
chapter of Terry's story was not completed until nearly 150 years
This year, the highest echelon of Army record reviewers,
the Army Board for Corrections of Military Records, or
ABCMR, heard Terry's case and completed that work.
Robert "Bob" Haddon Terry, Terry's great grandson, was
instrumental in providing critical documents, obtained from
the National Archives, to the board for their review. Much
of what follows is a result of his decade of diligent
Terry's service with the 1st was
short-lived. His father notified the Army that his son was
underage; so on July 5, just two months after he enlisted,
Terry was discharged.
But he was persistent. On Sept.
5, 1861, just two days after turning 16, Terry joined the
23rd Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment, despite Army policy
that a young man needed to be at least 18 to don the
Six months later, Terry would be tested in
NORTH CAROLINA BATTLES
In March 1862,
Terry arrived in North Carolina with the 23rd. Since many of
his fellow Soldiers came from fishing towns along the New
England coast, the Soldiers embarked on Union gunboats and
attacked Confederate vessels and forts in a naval engagement
and amphibious operation around Roanoke Island near the
Terry's gunboat blew up and his
clothing caught fire. He jumped into the water to quell the
flames, but survived with minor injuries. The Union forces
On March 13, 1862, Brig. Gen. John
G. Foster led the 23rd and sister regiments in battle
against Confederate forces near the town of New Bern, in
northeastern North Carolina.
During that epic battle,
Terry was shot in the lower left leg, which later had to be
amputated below the knee.
In 1882, Terry was
interviewed by John S. Pierson for the book "Sabre and
Bayonet: Stories of Heroism and Military Adventure." In one
of the passages, Terry said:
"On the 13th day of
March, 1862, the 23rd Regiment Mass. Vols., landed some 15
miles below Newbern, N.C., my arm still very sore and lame
from a contused wound received in the fight at Roanoke
Island, some few weeks before. Company E, in which I was a
sergeant, was recruited in the old historic town of
Plymouth, Mass., strong, healthy, robust young fellows, all
of whom were accustomed to the management of boats, and
therefore we were detailed to man the boats and disembark
"I had charge of the vessel's 'cutter,'
and worked very hard in order to make the most landings.
After the regiment was all ashore we took up line of march
by the right flank towards Newbern. It came on to rain very
hard and the narrow road was in bad condition. Just before
dark we went into bivouac in the woods, on the left of the
road, having marched about 13 miles that day, very hungry,
cold, wet, sore, and tired. My arms became very painful, and
to sleep was entirely out of the question, and to make a
fire was contrary to orders."
broke at last and with a little half cooked coffee and well
soaked crackers, we were soon on our way to 'do or die,' and
almost before we knew it, were under fire, shooting away for
dear life. In going from the road into and up through a
little ravine, column of fours, the Col. (John Kurtz) passed
us and called to me to go with him. I had been acting as
right general guide of the regiment. Soon afterwards the
colonel ordered me to go down the rear line and find the
"In obeying this order I saw
that the regimental line was very ragged; everybody seemed
to be all mixed up with one another, and badly scattered
from their own companies. I sought out Company E. and found
the men brave as young lions, but in bad order and no
officer in command, captain wounded. I immediately reported
these facts to the colonel, whereupon to my great
astonishment and delight, he ordered me to go back and take
command of the company. I did so, and succeeded in getting
the men well up and together, and they very soon became
steady as old veterans."
"We had been firing some
little time when the lieutenant colonel came to me and asked
if I saw a single gun (12 pounder) that the enemy had got
out in front of Fort Thompson, this fort contained 12 guns.
I answered him that I did. This single gun was doing our
ranks great injury."
"The lieutenant colonel then
asked me if I thought we could charge and take it. We
charged, we got the gun, the very last shot from which,
before we reached it, got me with seven other comrades,
including the lieutenant colonel, killed. My foot was gone,
and we were left on the field in very nearly the same spot
as where we fell. Our regiment claimed this gun, and (Maj.
Gen. Ambrose) Burnside ordered that it should remain with
the regiment. Some days after the fight (and my foot had
been amputated) Col. Kurtz and Gen. Burnside visited the
hospital and the colonel told me that I should have a
commission. I got that, and the Congressional Medal of Honor
Terry's actual Medal of Honor citation is
terse but telling: "In the thickest of the fight, where he
lost his leg by a shot, still encouraged the men until
carried off the field."
That would have been the end
of the war for many, but Terry had different ideas.
He was sent to Lexington Army Hospital in New York City,
where he was fitted with what was described as a wooden "peg
leg." He remained in the hospital for rehabilitation,
serving as the sergeant of arms until he was discharged as
an "invalid" on March 20, 1863.
While remaining in New York, Terry attempted to re-enter
"active service." In July 1863, the notorious draft riots
broke out. The protestors were angry at Lincoln and Congress
for initiating a Civil War draft, since the war at that time
was unpopular in many areas of the North.
took their anger out on African-Americans, killing an
estimated 100. Police, augmented by Union Soldiers and
volunteer militia, were called in to quell the riots.
Terry, now classified as an "invalid" by the Army,
volunteered for service with the outnumbered military forces
in New York City, where he was ordered by Maj. Gen. Harvey
Brown "to deliver the muskets and ammunition to the Custom
House and Post Office authorities for their defense," Terry
wrote in a letter.
He continued: "I was assigned to
command a body of convalescent Soldiers and ordered on guard
duty in Gramercy Park by order of Gen. Brown, where, on the
corner of 21st Street and Third Avenue, I was struck a
severe blow over the left eye with a club by a rioter and
was badly hurt. I was mentioned in orders issued by Gen.
John A. Wool, for the 'Very signal service rendered.'"
It was on day three of the riots while reinforcements
were arriving from the Battle of Gettysburg that Terry got
word of his appointment as a lieutenant in the 1st North
Carolina Colored Volunteers.
Terry headed back south
to New Berne to join with his new regiment.
welcomed him back. Brig. Gen. Edward A. Wild did the honors
of promoting Terry to first lieutenant in the 1st North
Carolina, which was later renamed the 35th U.S. Colored
Troops in February 1864.
The 1st North Carolina
enlistees were former slaves from coastal Virginia and the
Wild too was an amputee, having lost his
left arm at the Battle of South Mountain in Maryland.
Incidentally, Col. James Beecher, commander of the 1st
North Carolina, was the half-brother of Harriet Beecher
Stowe, the famous abolitionist and author of the influential
novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin," a depiction of the lives of
BATTLE OF OLUSTEE
February 1864, the 1st North Carolina participated in the
Battle of Olustee, just to the west of Jacksonville, Fla.
Fighting alongside them were African-American Soldiers from
the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, who had
previously fought in the Battle of Antietam.
aside, men of the 54th were portrayed in the 1989 movie
"Glory," based on the true story. The film, starring Matthew
Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes and Morgan Freeman,
was nominated for five academy awards.
the fighting was intense and Terry was in the thick of it.
And once again a bullet struck his leg. Fortunately, the leg
that was shattered was his peg leg.
On March 2, 1864,
the Hartford Evening Press in Connecticut reported the
engagement and Terry's ordeal:
"A lieutenant of the
same regiment, who had lost a leg in an engagement in North
Carolina, and who had supplied in its place with an
artificial member consisting of a stout oaken peg, was
present at this fight, and, a rebel sharpshooter put a
bullet through his trousers leg and his wooden peg. He felt
the blow but escaped the twinge of pain that generally
accompanies the passage of a pellet through genuine flesh
and muscle, and enjoying a keen sense of the ludicrous, he
forgot the battle and its dangers, and gave way to the
heartiest and most explosive laughter.
along the line and approached the colonel, to whom, after a
severe effort, he was able to communicate the cause of his
mirth. Almost convulsed with laughter, he exclaimed,
'colonel! By George! The dammed rebels have shot me through
the wooden leg! Ha! Ha! Devilish good joke on the fellows!'
and he hobbled back to his position on the line, and
chuckled to himself immensely over the sell [sic]."
Terry left the Battle of Olustee with his regiment in the
trailing troops, who along with the survivors from the 54th,
had to push a disabled train by hand for more than 10 miles
back to Jacksonville. In the months that followed Terry was
fitted with two new prosthetics in order to remain in the
A week after Gen. Robert E. Lee
surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on Palm Sunday 1865,
President Lincoln was assassinated. Then on May 9, 1865, the
war was officially declared over and on May 23, Terry
accepted a promotion to captain by Brig. Gen. Rufus Saxton.
On Sept. 19, 1865, the Army withdrew Terry's promotion
to captain, citing his disability and that a captain of a
company is expected to march with his command and perform
duty on foot with his men.
Sept. 23, 1865, Terry was assigned to Saxton's staff at the
Freedmen's Bureau in Charleston, S.C. Creation of the
Freedman's Bureau was initiated by Lincoln in March 1865,
with the purpose of assisting freed slaves. The bureau was
under the Department of War and played a major role in
post-Civil War Reconstruction until it was disbanded in
In January 1865, Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh
Sherman was said to have directed Saxton to provide families
of freed slaves "40 acres and a mule" by order of the
In October 1865, Terry wrote a letter to a
family friend, former New York state Sen. Preston King,
asking that he look into restoring his rank to captain. Maj.
Gen. John G. Foster, who heard the case, denied the
senator's petition. King could not reply because he died
shortly after receiving Foster's letter.
On Nov. 25,
1865, Terry submitted a letter of resignation, saying he
didn't want to serve as a first lieutenant after having
served as a captain. On Dec. 16, 1865, Terry had second
thoughts about leaving the Army and withdrew his letter of
Terry was given a brevet promotion to
captain on Feb. 21, 1866.
A brevet rank comes without
the additional pay of the higher rank and exercise of
authority is limited. The practice was common during the
Civil War. For example, George Armstrong Custer was promoted
to brevet major general but after the war his rank reverted
to captain. He was later promoted to major and then
lieutenant colonel and was later killed at the Battle of
Little Bighorn in 1876.
On Jan. 23, 1866, Terry was
transferred to Headquarters, Department of the South, in
Charleston, under command of Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles, who
was still serving within the Freedman's Bureau.
Terry, Sickles lost a leg. It was shattered by a cannonball
during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Terry was mustered
out of the service on June 6, 1866, with the rank of first
lieutenant. On June 22, 1867, the Army officially recognized
Terry as a brevet major but his final rank remained first
After the war, Terry had a 50-year career
at the Customs House in New York City as a deputy collector
in the audit department and he also served as a clerk.
Terry, who was born in 1845, died on March 4, 1919 and
was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx, New York, Plot:
Section 141, Butternut Plot, Lot 14454.
Donald Terry MacLeod Jr., the great, great grandson of Capt. John D. Terry, visits his gravesite in New York City.
(Courtesy photo, April 5, 2013)
Donald Terry MacLeod Jr., the great, great grandson of
Terry and also Bob Terry's cousin, has a special interest in
Terry. He said his grandmother shared memories with him
about Terry, since she had conversations with him. She was
18 when he died.
"My grandmother told me that when
they were children he would sit on the porch of their home
in Westchester County, N.Y., and take off the wooden
prosthesis and show it to them," said MacLeod. "He would
also apparently bang it on the front steps and make them
laugh. He supposedly joked that the South had bad aim
because when they shot him in the leg the second time they
hit the wooden leg."
MacLeod also shared his thoughts
on America's evolving attitudes toward race.
feel strongly that his rank of captain was withdrawn due to
the change in attitude after Lincoln's death about the
officers who were close to the former slaves and working for
their good, masked of course by the premise that he couldn't
function as a captain with his disability. This is a larger
story that is only exemplified by what happened to John D,"
Bob Terry shared his thoughts as well,
in a letter to the ABCMR.
"In a twist of irony,
officers who became amputees such as Gens. Wild and Sickles
were allowed to remain in service, but enlisted personnel
were not," Terry's letter read. "Additionally, Maj. Gen.
Foster obfuscated the issue because he not did attempt to
revoke my great grandfather's commission, but decided simply
to demote him from captain back to first lieutenant on the
basis that my great grandfather could not possibly perform
the duties of a captain with only one leg."
"Extensive records in the National Archives provide clear
evidence that my great grandfather's commission was not
fraudulent, that he was already serving honorably as a
permanent captain at the time of his demotion, and that he
performed admirably as a brevetted major after his demotion.
Documentation also shows there was no attempt to hide his
disability at the time of his permanent promotion to
During an interview with Bob Terry, he
echoed his cousin's thoughts on race as a factor, although
Terry himself was not an African-American:
of correcting the record was his family carrying on a fight
that we found he waged up until his death in 1919 to gain
justice. The injustice was because John Darling associated
with officers like Maj. (Martin) Delaney, the highest
ranking black officer in the war and John's commander of the
104th U.S. Colored Troops; Maj. Gen. (David) Hunter and
Wild, who recruited former slaves in South Carolina and
North Carolina respectively for the Union Army; Saxton and
Sickles, the latter who on Grant's recommendation replaced
Saxton after President Johnson fired him for refusing to
take back land grants awarded to freed slaves."
great grandfather and all these officers suffered greatly
for the stands they took," he said. "But they stood for what
was right and fought the war after the war in spite of
having to sacrifice rank, position, and peace."
Terry said as a result of his research, he feels for combat
veterans today who are struggling from losses of limbs,
other physical injuries, and mental wounds suffered years
"Terry lost his limb because he was left on
the battlefield for five days and gangrene set in," Bob
Terry said. "At the time, there was no ambulatory service
and medical care that was provided was appalling by today's
"Also, there was a stigma associated with
being an invalid," he said. "But Terry refused to be labeled
as such. He was offered positions in the artillery, home
guard and even in the newly formed Invalid Corps. But he
turned them all down, wanting instead to go back into the
field where he would have to move about on his feet."
"I hope Terry's story will be an inspiration for vets
who were injured and are struggling today."
Based on evidence that Bob Terry, the
great grandson obtained from the National Archives and
elsewhere, the ABCMR ruled in favor of Terry.
board has substantial authority and equity and we made the
decision that Terry did in fact prove he could serve and
lead from the front as a captain, even with the peg leg. Our
board felt revocation of his promotion was unjust," said
Conrad V. Meyer, director, ABCMR.
board determined that the evidence presented was sufficient
to warrant relief and recommended all Army records be
corrected by reinstating his permanent rank to captain."
By David Vergun
Army News Service
Comment on this article