Monday, October 29, 2012

Fight It Out! - Captain John C. Conser

John Conser - Courtesy Ronn Palm Collection
          Today we will meet a man that served in the 105th Pennsylvania Volunteers, also known as the 'Wildcats.'  His name is John Cassida Conser.  He was born on January 25, 1826 in Miles Township, Centre County, Pennsylvania.  In 1851 Conser moved to Winslow (near Reynoldsville) in Jefferson County, PA.  He was a lumberman as were many of his comrades in arms.  At the start of the war he was elected Second Lieutenant of Company H and by the time of his death he was commanding the regiment at the rank of Captain.  
          Captain Conser was truly a fighter.  As his record shows he was wounded six times, the seventh time being his death wound.  Time and again this brave man returned to the ranks to weather the storm with his men.  It is hard to imagine from our modern perspective what could drive a man to continually return to the front line after so many serious wounds, when he could have stayed at home honorably after the first...but return he did.  His record as a soldier almost takes on a superhuman like quality, but in the end Captain Conser would not only lose his life, but his identity as well.  His final resting place joins the host of great Civil War mysteries, such a tragic tribute for such an admirable soldier and human being.  He left behind a wife and three young children.  It is difficult to imagine the existence of such courage in our world today.
          Here is his story.    

          JOHN C. CONSER was born in Centre county, Pennsylvania, in the year 1826, and in the same year his parents, who were worthy, respectable people, removed to Clarion county, Pennsylvania, and settled near the town of Clarion. Here John Conser spent his childhood and his boyhood days. He was a studious, conscientious boy. At an early age he displayed a great admiration for the military pageants of the day, attendmg all the military reviews with his eldest brother George, who was colonel of a regiment composed of the uniformed militia of the counties of Clarion, McKean, Elk, and Forest.
          In 185 1 he removed to Jefferson county, where he soon afterwards married and settled in Reynoldsville, and was known and respected as one of the best citizens of that little village, until the commencement of the war called into action all the patriotism that had been slumbering in his bosom from boyhood, and he was one of the first to enlist from Reynoldsville. He was chosen second lieutenant of Company H, One Hundred and Fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and promoted to captain of that company April 20, 1863. He was commissioned major May 6, 1864, but was never mustered as such.
          At the battle of Fair Oaks Captain Conser received his first wound ; while crawling on his hands and knees, reconnoitering the enemy, a ball struck him on the head, grazing the scalp and stunning him for a time. Afterwards, in the terrible retreat through White Oak Swamp, that night, he almost lost his life in those dismal recesses, and, writing of it, said : " It was the most horrible night I ever experienced." He was again wounded at Fredericksburg. A minie-ball struck his shoulder, and, glancing off along the blade of his sword, entered the fleshy part of his arm, inflicting a severe wound. At Bristow Station he, with his little command, was captured before they could give any resistance. Being taken prisoner here he was carried to Richmond, where he was consigned to the tender mercies of Libby prison. On the march to Richmond the rebels were very scarce of rations, and all he had to eat was raw, green corn. The consequence was that he suffered severely. When lodged in Libby prison he was much annoyed by one of the guards, an old rebel, who would tell Captain Conser on all occasions that the Union side was "clean licked out," and that when he got out of there he would find the North not worth " shooks." The brave officer replied that when he " got out of Libby and came again to Richmond, it would be when it was taken by the Union troops and the Confederacy smashed." After his experience at Libby his greatest desire and ambition was to be with the army at the taking of Richmond ; but, alas ! brave, noble officer, when that day came he had entered into the eternal city, dying on the very threshold of victory.
          At Gettysburg he was again wounded, being shot in the head just above the left temple, and was carried off the field for dead, and as such reported and mourned by his friends. However, he recovered from this severe wound, and, after a short stay at his home, he again hastened to the front, joining his regiment in time to receive another wound at Auburn. At the battle of the Wilderness he received a severe sabre-wound in the thigh, from the effects of which he was still lame at the time of his death. He was again wounded at Petersburg, June 18, 1864, and, after recovering from that wound, while on his way to rejoin his regiment, he was met at Fortress Monroe by those having in charge the dead body of Colonel Craig, who had just fallen at Deep Bottom. Stopping long enough to assist in forwarding the remains of his brave friend and gallant commander to his friends in the North, he hurried on to his regiment, and was in all the subsequent skirmishes and marches up to the hard-fought battle of Boydton Plank Road, October 27, 1864, where, while surrounded by an overwhelming force of the enemy, he was killed in that terrible hand-to-hand conflict. An eye-witness of his fall says
     "We were surrounded when I heard Conser say, 'Men, we are surrounded. Will you surrender? Won't you fight it out?' Three rebels attacked him, and, while fighting them with pistols and sword, another rebel came up, and, placing his gun almost against his body, blew the contents of the piece into his side, and he fell dead."
Memorial to John Conser at Reynoldsville Cemetery
          The enemy being driven back after this, Captain Redic and others of the regiment attempted to bring off the body of Major Conser, but the rebels rallying in force, they were obliged to leave him on the field ; and whether he was ever accorded the rites of burial will never be known. And thus, when almost in sight of Richmond — at the taking of which he so ardently hoped to assist—he fell, his last words being: "Fight it out!"
          Major Conser was one of the bravest and most self-sacrificing officers in the army. When he first entered the service, and again when he re-enlisted, it was urged upon him that his duty to his wife and little children forbade him leaving them but though no man loved his family more fondly, his duty to his country in that hour of its peril was paramount above all other considerations. To-day, while his bones perhaps lie bleaching beneath the rains and suns of the Southern sky at Boydton Plank-road, in the memory of his fellow-soldiers and in the hearts of his friends an enduring monument is erected. Major Conser left a wife and four children, who still reside in Reynoldsville, Pa.

From "History of the One Hundred and Fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers" by Kate M. Scott

Born: January 26, 1826

1860 Census: Lumberman, age 34
Winslow (Reynoldsville), PA - Jefferson County
Married to Mary (24) - Three Children - Samantha (1), Emma (4), Cordelia (6)

Fair Oaks, VA - June 1, 1862 - Head
Fredericksburg, VA - December 13, 1862 - Shoulder/Arm
Gettysburg, PA - July 2, 1863 - Head
Auburn, VA - October 13, 1863
Wilderness, VA - May 6, 1864 - Thigh (Saber Wound)
Petersburg, VA - June 18, 1864
Boydton Plank Road, VA - October 27, 1864 - Abdomen (point blank rifle shot)

Died: October 27, 1864 while commanding regiment
His body was never recovered.  A memorial to Captain Conser today stands at the Reynoldsville Cemetery in Reynoldsville, Jefferson County, PA.

OR Report for September 24, 1864
OR Report for October 7, 1864

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