Henderson, Peter

47th New York Volunteers
Company H

Peter Henderson
47th New York Infantry
Corporal Company H

Peter Henderson was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1820. He married Mary Rorke in Dublin before immigrating to America. Upon arriving in America, Henderson settled in Coram and worked as a house carpenter for local carpenters. Peter and Mary had eight children, all born in New York.

When war broke out in 1861, Henderson did not wait to enlist. Henderson joined the 47th New York Infantry on July 5, 1861, and was mustered into service on August 21, 1861. When he enlisted, Henderson was forty-one years old, stood five feet eight and a half inches tall, had blue eyes and brown hair.

The 47th New York Infantry was also known as the "Washington Grays." After mustering in, the regiment was sent in September to Camp Sherman near Washington, D.C. On October 5, 1861, the regiment left Camp Sherman for Camp Vinton at Annapolis, Maryland. The regiment was put on the troop transport Roanoke on November 1, 1861, heading for Hilton Head, South Carolina. The ship encountered a severe gale that day, making it necessary to throw off part of the cargo to save the ship. On November 7, Hilton Head was bombed and captured by Union forces. The regiment landed three days later and took post at Camp Moore.

The men stayed at Camp Moore for the month of December and left January 1, 1862, aboard the transport Boston. The regiment traveled along the coast of South Carolina, landing at the Coosaw River where it helped capture Confederate batteries. This was the first action for Henderson and the 47th against Confederate forces.

On February 9, the regiment took a troop transport to Edisto Island, South Carolina, where they stayed and trained until May. While there, Henderson was promoted to 1st Corporal on March 1, 1862.

On September 3, 1862, Henderson was detached from the 47th and sent to New York City to work with the recruiting service. He remained in New York until January 18, 1863, when he rejoined his regiment at Ossabaw Island, Georgia. While there, Henderson wrote this letter to his wife on March 2, 1863:

Dear Mary,
The two companies I mentioned in the letter came back. So there is 400 of us going to Fort McAllister tomorrow morning at 5 o'clock so I send you this certificate in case of accident. God bless you all is the prayer of your affectionate husband
Corporal Peter Henderson

Luckily, there was no accident. The regiment boarded the transport Delaware on March 4. The men joined the fleet of gunboats, and remained with them while the Union navy bombed Fort McAllister. The regiment did not engage the enemy and returned to Ossabaw Island. The 47th spent the rest of the month erecting an earthwork at Ossabaw Island, on the Ogeechee River in Georgia, known as Battery Seymour.

In July, the regiment moved to Folly Island to prepare for operations against the port city of Charleston. In order to stop blockade-runners from bringing supplies to Confederate forces, the Union navy was attempting to blockade Charleston. Before this could take place, Forts Wagner and Sumter had to be captured. The 47th was not chosen for the famous assault on Fort Wagner; rather, it was involved with the siege of Charleston.

The regiment was sent to Hilton Head, South Carolina, where it remained from November till January. Henderson reenlisted at Hilton Head on January 13, 1864, for three more years. He was given a fifty-dollar bounty and was to be paid one hundred dollars at a later date. Henderson was also given a furlough of thirty-five days beginning January 31, 1864. Perhaps fortunately for Henderson and his family, he was on furlough and missed the battle at Olustee, Florida, on February 20, 1864. The regiment suffered a staggering 313 casualties during this battle.

Henderson returned from his furlough on March 18, 1864. The 47th was now a part of the campaign against Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia. They were stationed near Petersburg from May through August of 1864. During this time the regiment engaged in a number of battles. On May 7, they fought the Confederates at Port Walthall Junction. From May 14-17, they fought at Drewy's Bluff, resulting in sixty-one casualties for the 47th.

In June, the 47th was attached to General Grant's command and participated in the attack at Cold Harbor, Virginia. Union forces lost 7,000 men during the attack. The 47th suffered forty-seven casualties. On June 12, the regiment left Cold Harbor and marched to the Appomattox River. After crossing, the 47th joined the army of the Potomac.

During July and August, the 47th was in trenches near Petersburg, Virginia, where the men were under constant fire from the enemy. They continued to guard the entrenchments near Petersburg in September and October.

In December, the regiment boarded the transport Louisa Moore and went to the coast off of Fort Fisher, North Carolina. Fort Fisher guarded Wilmington, North Carolina, the last operating Confederate port. If captured, blockade-runners would have no port to deliver supplies to the Confederates. Union leaders planned a naval and land operation to take the fort. The battle began at 8:00 a.m. on January 13, 1865. The Union fleet, under Admiral Porter, bombarded the fort at point-blank range. In the afternoon, Union forces began an assault against the fort. Untested and poorly trained Union sailors and marines struck from one direction while General Terry and 8,000 soldiers, including Henderson, attacked from another direction. The sailors and marines attacked, but suffered severe casualties as they were repulsed. General Terry's attack finally captured the fort more than two days later, at 10:00 p.m. on January 15. The victory at Fort Fisher ended the coastal war. Blockade-runners had no port to deliver supplies. General Lee had no way of getting the supplies his army so desperately needed.

Henderson was injured during the attack on Fort Fisher when he fell from the top of the fort and struck a cannon. Describing this incident, he wrote:

I was at Fort Fisher twice. Under General Butler on Christmas Day and under General Terry when I received my injury to my foot and ankle taking the fort. I fell between two dismounted cannons and incurred an injury to my right ankle and foot. I had to wade a deep ditch and was wet up to my hips. I flipped on the top of the fort January 15, 1865.

Henderson, Peter
Confederate gun emplacement at fort Fisher, overlooking wooden palisade that Union forces had to scale.

On February 11, the regiment crossed the Cape Fear River and marched to Fort Anderson, which they possessed on February 18, 1865. On February 22, the regiment marched to Wilmington, North Carolina. In his pension application filed in 1888, Henderson described this painful trip:

The pain sticks to me still as I got nothing after I was hurt. Only a little quenine and had to march on to Wilmington, North Carolina and the to Raleigh, North Carolina. I did not complain, as it was of no use. I got a furlough there. My wife wrote to Sec. of War Stanton and he sent a special order for my discharge.

Henderson received special orders from the War Department on July 17, 1865, ordering him to be discharged because of his injury. Henderson was mustered out of the service on August 7, 1865, in New York City.

After the war, Henderson returned to his family and resumed his job as a house carpenter. He later moved to Newark, New Jersey. While there, he filed a pension application claiming that, because of the injury sustained during the war, it was impossible for him to continue his trade as a carpenter. He was awarded a monthly pension of $12.

Henderson's son, Joseph, went on to become an Alderman for the sixth ward in Newark in 1889. Mary Henderson died February 1, 1895, in New Jersey. Peter Henderson died December 2, 1898, in Newark, New Jersey, at the age of seventy-eight.

Henderson, Peter
Landing of Union soldiers who are getting ready to storm the wooden palisade at Fort Fisher.


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