Friday, January 13, 2012

NC Patriots of ’61 – Lieutenant-Colonel William M. Parsley

What a fighter.

North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial
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North Carolina Patriots of ’61 – Lieutenant-Colonel William M. Parsley of New Hanover County

William Murdock Parsley was elected Captain of the Cape Fear Riflemen in April, 1861, a company he helped form in the fall of 1860. His father, banker Oscar G. Parsley, completely uniformed and equipped the unit out of his own pocket. Captain Parsley and his men were among those who occupied Fort Caswell at the mouth of the Cape Fear River after word reached Wilmington of President Buchanan’s “Star of the West” armed expedition against Fort Sumter in January, 1861. Local patriots feared that Northern seizure of Fort Caswell would seal off the port of Wilmington as the British had done during the Revolution.

In June, 1861 the Cape Fear Riflemen were ordered to Virginia as Company F, Third North Carolina Regiment and participated in the battles at Mechanicsville, Seven Days’, and Malvern Hill where Captain Parsley was severely wounded in the neck. He quickly returned to duty and fought in every battle of the regiment through Sharpsburg.

Promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel at the beginning of Lee’s Pennsylvania Campaign in 1863, he led the Third North Carolina in the successful assault up Culp’s Hill at Gettysburg on the third day. In that action, every officer of the old Cape Fear Riflemen was killed, and Parsley had received two slight wounds and a narrow escape with death by a glancing minie ball. Leading the regiment once again at Spotsylvania Court House in May 1864, Parsley was in the desperate hand-to-hand fighting at “Bloody Angle” and suffered capture, then sent to Fort Delaware.

From that confinement, he and fifty Southern officers were sent on the prison ship Dragon to Morris Island, South Carolina and placed as human shields in front of Northern batteries shelling civilians in Charleston. In addition to being exposed to the fire from their own compatriots, the officers were systematically starved with many dying of intestinal disorders brought on by scant and wormy rations. Parsley was one of the fortunate few who were exchanged in August, 1864, and returned to the Third North Carolina with a few recruits from Wilmington. In the engagement at Sailor’s Creek during the Army of Northern Virginia’s retreat to Appomattox, twenty-four year-old Lt-Col. Parsley was killed by a Northern sharpshooter’s minie ball, falling with his face to the enemy.

(Source: Chronicles of the Cape Fear, James Sprunt, Edwards & Broughton, 1916, pp. 297-299)

NC Patriots of ’61 – Lieutenant-Colonel William M. Parsley

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