John Abbott: Remembering a Civil War hero
This item is being republished to correct information provided by the author. It was originally submitted to The Reporter by Richard A. McGeary, formerly of Towamencin, in 2010. Sergeant Abbott was his great-grand-uncle.
John Abbott was working the family farm at Gravelly Run, just outside Mays Landing, N.J., when the Civil War broke out.
A devout Methodist, John decided to serve both his nation and his God by fighting to preserve the Union and help destroy the evil institution of slavery.
In July 1961, two months after shots were fired at Fort Sumter, S.C., 22 year-old John Abbott enlisted in the 48th New York State Volunteers.
A well-known Methodist minister in New York, the Rev. James H. Perry, led the 48th. Although the regiment was officially known as the Continental Guards, it soon took on the name of its founder and was called Perry’s Saints or The Fighting Parson’s Regiment.
Recruits from New Jersey, including John Abbott, formed Company D. John’s older brother, the Rev. William T. Abbott, joined the 23rd New Jersey Volunteer Infantry as chaplain.
Camping on Capitol Hill, the regiment initially protected Washington, D.C., as a part of Gen. Sherman’s 1st Brigade. In late October 1861, the 48th embarked for Beaufort, S.C. The regiment engaged the enemy at Port Royal Ferry and participated in the capture of the fortifications in January 1862. The 48th then took a prominent role in the siege of Fort Pulaski, Georgia, performed garrison duty, conducted several expeditions in the region, and fought a number of skirmishes.
John Abbott rose through the ranks and was promoted to sergeant. However, in the summer of 1863, Sgt. Abbott and the 48th were about to meet their greatest challenge, one that would earn Company D its nickname in blood, “The Die No Mores.”
Union leaders decided to strike a major blow against the Confederacy by taking the city of Charleston, where the war had begun two years earlier. However, the Confederate Fort Wagner on Morris Island, across from Fort Sumter and Charleston, blocked that objective. In early July an amphibious federal force landed at the north end of Morris Island but was repulsed. The fort was well-protected by a narrow approach up the beach, a moat and then a ditch with pointed spikes.
On July 18, 1863, Gen. Strong led a brigade of six regiments, including the 48th, in an assault on Fort Wagner from the south. Made famous in the motion picture “Glory,” the 54th Massachusetts, a regiment of African-American soldiers led by Col. Robert Shaw, led the attack with fixed bayonets.
In fierce fighting with terrible casualties, the 54th briefly occupied a small portion of the fort but was forced to withdraw. The 48th with 500 men and 16 officers charged directly toward Fort Wagner’s seaward wall only to be mowed down by concentrated Confederate fire, including a fearsome coastal howitzer.
Still, the 48th courageously stormed the rampart and held it for three hours before being forced to retreat. Casualties numbered over 1,700; Confederates counted 800 Union dead within the walls of the fort. The 48th alone suffered 242 casualties, including 14 of its 16 officers. Sgt. Abbott was severely wounded leading his men in the attack. The Army evacuated him on the steamer Cosmopolitan to the Army Hospital at Fort Schuyler, N.Y. (at Throggs Neck, Bronx, which is the current site of the State University of New York Maritime College).
Unwilling to repeat the carnage of July 18, Union generals placed Fort Wagner under siege for 58 days until the Confederates evacuated. Charleston fell soon after.
Abbott arrived at Fort Schuyler on July 30 but despite treatment of his wounds, he died the morning of Aug. 7, 1863. He was 24 years old and single. His service record describes him as having brown hair and hazel eyes.
Ironically, he died just a few miles across Long Island Sound from where his Abbott ancestors first set foot on American soil from England in 1693. Abbott’s body was returned to Mays Landing, and he was buried in the family plot at Union Cemetery just down the road from the fields he peacefully farmed before he answered the call to serve his nation.
On the day he died, Sgt. Abbott dictated a final letter to his father and in closing stated:
“Say to the people of Mays Landing that I died at my post. When I joined the Army I was willing to die for my country, and to prove my devotion to the flag. It demanded my life which I willingly give.”