Sunday, March 27, 2016

Lt. Colonel Henry Pearson: 'Left ... alone in his glory'

6th New Hampshire Lieutenant colonel Henry Pearson was killed at North Anna River
on May 26, 1864.  The case is not original to the image. (Blogger's collection)
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Soon after Lieutenant George E. Upton of the 6th New Hampshire spied a Confederate battery through his field glasses, 24-year-old Lieutenant colonel Henry H. Pearson stepped up on a stump and peered above the Union field works to have a look for himself.

The time was about 4 p.m. on May 26, 1864.  The 6th New Hampshire was part of the IX Corps of the Union army, which was pressing the Confederates near the North Anna River, about 25 miles north of Richmond.

Lieutenant Lyman Jackman on Pearson's
wound: "... the ball had passed directly
through his brain."
(Image courtesy Mike Pride)
The sun shined on Pearson and reflected off his field glasses, possibly providing an excellent mark for a Rebel sharpshooter, who squeezed his trigger and sent a bullet crashing through the 6th New Hampshire officer's head, near the right temple. Pearson fell backward and was caught in the arms of Upton and another lieutenant, Lyman Jackman, and laid upon the ground.

There was little doubt the wound was fatal.

"A stretcher was procured at once," Jackman wrote decades later, "and he was taken to the field hospital in the rear, but we all knew as soon as we saw the wound that he was beyond help, for the ball had passed directly through the brain. He never spoke, and was unconscious till he died at eight o'clock in the evening.

"It was a sad night for the Sixth Regiment, and we all felt that it would indeed be hard to find another to fill our lost commander's place. Major [Phineas] Bixby was quite overcome, and with misgivings succeeded as ranking officer to the command. He soon found accorded to himself the confidence and affection that had been so lavishly bestowed upon his predecessor." The lieutenant colonel's death was especially crushing for soldiers in Company C, the unit Pearson had commanded as captain when he joined the regiment in November 1861.

Captain Josiah Jones of the 6th New Hampshire was ordered by Bixby to arrange for the transport of Pearson's body to Washington and then home to New Hampshire. Unable to find the means, Jones ordered his men to dig a grave for the lieutenant colonel, whose remains were placed in a large, wooden box taken from an abandoned residence nearby. Because it was raining and the army was on the move toward Totopotomoy Creek and Cold Harbor,  Pearson was hurriedly interred on the eastern bank of the North Anna River. Jones and the regimental chaplain remained behind to cover Pearson's grave, which was marked with a crude, wooden headboard made from a piece of a bread box.

Then  "...we left him alone," Jones noted, "in his glory."

Pearson’s body was later exhumed and re-interred in Fredericksburg National Cemetery, where he lies today under grave No. 4103. Perhaps he is among the lucky ones: Of the 15,243 Union soldiers buried at the national cemetery in Fredericksburg, only 2,473 are identified.

In late April 2016, I took my tintype of Pearson to his grave at Fredericksburg National Cemetery.

 Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


-- Jackman, Lyman, History of the Sixth New Hampshire Regiment in the war for the Union, Concord, N.H., Republican Press Association, 1891.

(For more on Pearson and other New Hampshire Civil War soldiers, check out Mike Pride's excellent "Our War" blog. For more Faces of the Civil War on my blog, go here.)


  1. I have ridden on a hay rack on that battlefield in 2006 which is on my cousin's property. We had a Wilhoit Family reunion there at their home and ate in the library where generals from both sides sat at a different times during the war. There was some excavating of the property for artifacts going on at that time. Thank you for adding this post. I remember distinctly the almost reverent feeling I got when my cousin's husband drove us around the battlefield.

  2. Hi, Suzee: thanks so much for writing. I hope to get down to North Anna next month to see where Henry died. His story is really sad. He packed a lot into his 24 years. Would love to see that property! :))

  3. North Anna is well preserved.