LT Charles William Purcell

LT Charles William Purcell

County Dublin, Ireland
Death 27 Sep 1864 (aged 35–36)
Pilot Knob, Iron County, Missouri, USA
Burial Lemay, St. Louis County, Missouri, USA
Plot Section 25 Site 5607
Memorial ID 58556970 · View Source
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Charles W. Purcell 1828-1864

According to his Mexican War Land Bounty records, Charles W. Purcell was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1828. Very little is known about the first 18 years of his life. It is known that he arrived in New York on 25 Jun 1845 as a 17 year old apparent gun maker's apprentice to a Thomas Coldwood. Thomas Coldwood apparently took up residence in New Jersey and Charles migrated to Baltimore. His 1847 discharge from Captain Steuart's Company A of the Maryland and Washington D.C. Volunteers states that he was born in Dublin and was employed as a gunsmith at the time of enlistment.

War with Mexico
According to his granddaughter, Alice Major Purcell Allen, Charles served in the Mexican War as part of Ringgold's Flying Artillery Battery, enlisting out of Baltimore. In reality, this may have been an embellishment by Charles himself, or the product of a faulty memory by her grandmother, Sarah Jane Ferry Purcell. In an 1891 request for information about his land bounty records, Sarah made the statement that he served in Ringgold's Battery. However, the record shows that Charles was a member of Captain James E. Steuart's Company ‘A' of the Maryland and District of Columbia Volunteers Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. William H. Watson and formed in May of 1846. Charles enlisted on the 30th of May, 1846. This battalion sailed from Alexandria, Virginia on the 16th of June 1846, bound for Mexico. During the trip, they came near to sinking off Bimini, on the rock atolls known as the Little Isaacs. According to John Reese Kenly in Memoirs of a Maryland Volunteer, the Battalion had contact with Ringgold's battery during the first year of the war. This, coupled with the fact that Charles was in an artillery battery during his second tour, may be the source for the idea he joined Ringgold's battery. Or it may have been something fabricated by Charles, as Ringgold's Battery was the elite of the artillery corps and instrumental in establishing "flying artillery".

The Watson Battalion was mustered out at Tampico, Mexico on 30 May 1847. Charles filed for his Land Bounty in New Orleans. He subsequently returned to Mexico in Captain Lloyd Tilghman's artillery battery, attached to Col. George W. Hughes' regiment of the Maryland and District of Columbia Volunteers. He entered as a private and was eventually promoted to 3rd Sgt. Tilghman's battery joined the Hughes' regiment at Jalapa on 1 December 1847. Tilghman would eventually become a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army and was killed at the Battle of Champion's Hill, Mississippi on 16 May 1863.

Charles remained in service for the length of the Mexican War, but it is unclear how long he was in the army at this point in his life. In a letter written by his wife, after his death, she states that he was in the army for seven years. It is not clear if she included his two years in the Civil War in that period. The written record indicates that Charles spent only the two years in the Mexican War, prior to his enlistment in 1861. Unfortunately, there are apparently no surviving muster roll records for Charles' first year in the Mexican War.

Military Land Warrants, in the name of Charles W. Purcell, can be found at the Bureau of Land Management. One was issued in February of 1848 that states Charles was a private in Captain Stewart's [sic] company of the Maryland and District of Columbia Volunteers. This grant was assigned to Charles F. Uhlig. The second land grant was issued in February of 1850 and assigned to Mark Gugenheim, who then assigned it to Reuben Learned. It states that Charles was a 3rd Sgt in Capt. Tilghman's company of the Maryland and District of Columbia Volunteers. There is also some anectodal evidence that Charles may have encountered his future inlaws during the Mexican War. His wife's uncle was Charles H. Brough, who was a Colonel in the 4th Ohio Infantry during the Mexican War.

Following the Mexican War, Charles was a daguerreotypist in Baltimore, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. He continued photographic art in Baltimore in 1849 and 1850, following which he moved to Indianapolis. Charles probably used the proceeds from the sale of his Mexican War land bounties to establish his business. What prompted the move to Indianapolis is not currently known. He probably entered into a partnership with T. J. Bowers, in Indianapolis.

Charles married Sarah Jane Ferry, daughter of Hugh Ferry and Jane Brough, on the 27th of September 1853, in Indianapolis. He served as Volunteer Fire Chief there in 1855. In late 1855 or early 1856, Charles set up his photographic business in Cincinnati. The family stayed there until moving back to Indianapolis, probably in the fall of 1859.

Civil War
In 1861, Charles enlisted in the Union Army in St. Louis, Missouri. According to a letter to President Lincoln by his wife, he enlisted under General Fremont of the Department of the West and was sent to Iron County, Missouri, as a First Lieutenant, to mount artillery at Fort Hovey, later known as Fort Curtis. He probably was familiar with Fremont from the Mexican-American War. Thus far, no record of his original enlistment has been found.

Charles first shows up in the Union records as a 1st Lieutenant in the Artillery Detail of the 12th Missouri State Militia Cavalry on 1 Sep 1861. He is mentioned during descriptions of the Battle of Fredericktown on 21 Oct 1861. At this time, he was not officially a member of the Missouri State Militia.

In January of 1862, after Fremont was removed as commander of the Department of the West, Charles enlisted in the 12th Regiment of the Missouri State Militia Cavalry, as a 2nd Lieutenant, and served in Company B, under Captain William T. Leeper, a man whom Charles would soon consider his mortal enemy.

In the summer of 1862, Company 'B' was stationed at Greenville, Missouri. On the third of June of that year, Charles was apparently involved in an incident where he was in charge of two Confederate prisoners. He, the rest of the guard, and both prisoners got drunk on the way from Greenville to Ironton. This incident caused William T. Leeper to write up charges against Charles. There is no indication in the records as to the disposition of those charges, but they were likely a factor in his eventual decision to resign in 1863..

Greenville Skirmish
In the early morning of July 20th of 1862, Confederate forces raided the camp of Co. 'B' and Charles was captured. He was shot in the foot and leg before he managed to escape and swim across the river to the Union troops. His wife tells the story this way:

"One Saturday one of the company's wives came in and told the Capt. that Reeves and Ponder were coming. My husband went to him and asked him to give him ten men and let him go out and see. But he would not do it. He went back again in the evening and begged him to put out pickets as he had none out, only sentinels round the area to keep the men from going to town. He ordered him to his tent under arrest and what happened just at daylight on Sunday morning were they came yelling and hollering like so many demons with our soldiers yet in bed. The Captain was the first man to leave with his horse and all he had. Five of his men were killed. They took my husband prisoner and Ponder told him he was all the black republican officer in the company. So they should shoot him. ... he shot him three times through the right foot and leg. He then told the men to take him to a tree and shoot him. Mr. Purcell then asked Reeves to let him go to his tent and get some papers for him to leave ... for me. He granted the privilege. When he got to the tent, he ran and jumped in the river and swam across, his men on the other side firing at the rebels to keep them from crossing after him. He was shot five time in the hands. His hands to this day are sore and he is also a little lame. When he again met Capt. Leeper, he of course done wrong as he was his superior officer. He collared him and called him a rebel and numerous other hard names. But how could he help it wounded almost unto death."

It could be that the above incident and the events following were the reason that the charges brought against Lt. Purcell, in June, were not immediately acted upon.

McGee Massacre
On 4 Feb 1863, part of Charles' company, led by Capt. William T. Leeper, was involved in the McGee Massacre in Bollinger County, Missouri. The Union troops killed 29 people at Simeon Cato's farm. Some accounts insist that the dead were unarmed, but this appears to be disputed. At the time, Charles was not with his unit, as he was ill. Once again according to his wife, he had been quite ill since he participated in Black Jack Davidson's march across Missouri late in 1862. Muster rolls for November of 1862 through January of 1863 show him as absent. That march was intended to make its way to Little Rock, Arkansas. But, so many of the soldiers involved became ill during the march that it was aborted and Davidson's force returned to Missouri.

The 12th Missouri was disbanded on 4 Feb 1863. The forces were absorbed by other units and the second organization of the 3rd MSM Cavalry was formed. Charles was mustered into Co. "L" of the 3rd Regiment, which was commanded by William T. Leeper.

On 19 Feb 1863, Charles resigned his commission, citing the wounds he received at Greenville, and settled, with his family, in Pilot Knob, Missouri where he and Sarah opened an eating saloon. There is a document in the official record that states he resigned due to drunkenness. It is very likely that one of the reasons for his resignation was the charges filed against him the previous June. One document replying to an order to return personal papers to C. W. Purcell, states that Mr. Purcell was difficult to find sober.

Sarah and their two sons, Charles Thomas and William Henry, moved to Missouri, probably sometime in early 1863.

Pilot Knob
During his time as a civilian, the Army called on him to assist with artillery emplacements. According to his wife, he did this without pay. While he was away, he was accused of selling liquor to soldiers and his house and family were searched. The soldiers seized all their assets and, according to Sarah Purcell, found not one drop of liquor other than a barrel of cider she said they were allowed to sell. Yet, Charles was arrested and spent some time in the brig. Sarah wrote letters protesting his arrest and the confiscation of their property. A subsequent investigation by General Ewing's office stated that the confiscations were appropriate.

Death during the Battle of Pilot Knob
In 1863, Charles applied for a commission as Major in the Invalid Corps. This request was denied However, when General Price's Confederate forces threatened Fort Davidson, Charles was drafted into the Unassigned Missouri Volunteers as a private, on 19 Sep 1864. During the battle for Fort Davidson (26-27 Sep 1864), he volunteered to command artillery in the fort. On the morning of the 27th (his wedding anniversary), Charles was commanding a 32 pound cannon manned by a crew of local African American citizens. This gun was dismounted by Confederate fire and Charles and several of the civilians were killed. Eyewitness accounts of this event can be found Pilot Knob: The Thermopylae of the West by Cyrus Asbury Peterson and Joseph Mills Hanson (1914). One of these accounts describes how the top of his skull was taken off by a Confederate cannonball. During her original request for a pension, Sarah's attorney managed to get Congress to award Charles a brevet promotion to Captain. So, he finally got the command position he sought for so long. Unfortunately, it came after his death.

Following the Union forces retreat to Rolla, the Purcell family was robbed of everything they had by the invading soldiers. In late 1864, or early 1865, Sarah and the children (now three) moved back to Indianapolis. It is unclear as to whether Sarah was able to get any of the family money out of the property they had purchased in Pilot Knob. In her correspondence, she states that everything they had was put into property. It is unknown if any of that property was real estate. Likely, it was not and would have been stolen by both the Union and Confederates.

From all appearances, the family struggled to make ends meet after returning to Indianapolis. The boys left home and went to work after age 16. Daughter, Mary Ida, appears with her mother in both the 1880 and 1900 census. Charles Thomas returned home in 1901, but disappears again after 1902. Sarah Jane Purcell died in 1904. So far, there has been no trace of Mary after 1900, or Charles T. after 1902. It is interesting that Sarah was listed in the 1903 and 1904 city directories as the widow of Charles T., when in previous years she had been listed as the widow of Charles W. It is possible that Charles Thomas died in 1902.

This biography is dedicated to my grandmother, Alice Major Purcell Allen. In 1972, she tried to find information about her grandfather and the manner of his death. The government had no record of his death. All of his Civil War records are in Missouri. Unfortunately, she did not live to see the information explosion on the internet.

"Maryland and District of Columbia Volunteers in the Mexican War", Charles J. Wells, 2009
"Memoirs of a Maryland Volunteer", John Reese Kenly, 1873
"Pilot Knob: The Thermopylae of the West", Cyrus Asbury Peterson and Joseph Mills Hanson, 1914
Missouri's Union Provost Marshal Papers: 1861 - 1866
Official records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1861-1865
"Lost Family - Lost Cause", Ivan N. McKee, 1978
Mexican War Land Bounty records and compiled military service records from the National Archives

[bio by Daniel Allen, 2nd great grandson]

Family Members


  • Created by: Daniel Allen
  • Added: 12 Sep 2010
  • Find a Grave Memorial 58556970
  • Daniel Allen
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for LT Charles William Purcell (1828–27 Sep 1864), Find a Grave Memorial no. 58556970, citing Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, Lemay, St. Louis County, Missouri, USA ; Maintained by Daniel Allen (contributor 47353628) .