Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
John L. Perley Papers, 1864

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, November 1992

Summary Information
Title: John L. Perley papers
Creator: Perley, Jane
Inclusive dates: 1864
Extent: 3 items
John L. Perley, a baker from Newburyport, was among the first to respond to Lincoln's call for recruits in April, 1861. His three letters to his wife describe the executions of deserters, a failed expedition up the Ashepoo River, and an account of skirmishes during the raid toward Baldwin, Fla. during the Civil War.
Language: The material is in English.
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1992. M-2886.4.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open to research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

John L. Perley Papers, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Perley, John L.

Rank : Lieutenant

Regiment : 4th Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment. Co. D (1864-1865)

Service : 1864 January 2-November 16

John L. Perley, a baker from Newburyport, was among the first to respond to Lincoln's call for recruits in April, 1861. Volunteering for three months as a private in Co. A of the 8th Mass. Infantry, he served at Annapolis and Baltimore before immediately reenlisting in August as a Sergeant in the 1st Company, Massachusetts Sharpshooters. The sharpshooters were attached to the 15th Massachusetts Infantry, in the Army of the Potomac, where they took part in the campaigns in Maryland and northern Virginia. In February, 1863, Perley was given a disability discharge at Falmouth, Va.

At the end of 1863, his health recovered, Perley again volunteered, obtaining a commission as 1st Lieutenant in Co. D, 4th Massachusetts Cavalry, a regiment then being raised under Special Order No. 70 from the War Department. Unusually, the various companies of this regiment served most of their time in separate assignments, often at great distance from each other. Perley's Co. D arrived at Hilton Head, S.C., on April 1st, 1864. There, in late May, they participated in a disasterous expedition up the Ashepoo River, during which a transport was destroyed by Confederate artillery, killing 30 men and 74 horses. Companies B and D left South Carolina for Jacksonville, Fla., on July 6th, 1864. As experienced soldiers, they performed effectively on an extended cavalry raid toward Baldwin, Fla. in late July, capturing prisoners and horses and disrupting Confederate supply lines. At Palatka on August 5th, Perley and five enlisted men were captured and sent to Charleston, S.C. Perley died of disease in Charleston, on November 16th.

Collection Scope and Content Note

Perley's three letters to his wife, Jenny (Jane), are each outstanding. Each has its highlights, describing some of the more sensational aspects of a soldier's experience. In the first, Perley describes of the brutal execution of three men who had been captured while attempting to desert. In the second, he provides details on the failed expedition up the Ashepoo River; while in the third, he provides a stirring account of skirmishes during the raid toward Baldwin, Fla. In this last, Perley includes a description of the close-range killing of a Confederate officer who refused to surrender peacefully: "I asked him to surrender every time before i fired and he only threw down his armes after he had five bullett holes threw him from my revolver. I was sorry to have to kill him but it was his life or mine and he fell and I did not ... I should be proud of the honor that has bin bestowed upon me for what I have done if I was only happy but I am not."

Subject Terms

    • Ashepoo River (S.C.)
    • Executions and executioners--United States--History--19th century.
    • Florida--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • Military deserters--United States.
    • United States. Army. Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment, 4th (1864-1865)
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • Perley, John L., ca 1836-1864.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   44, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    John L. Perley papers,  1864 April 19-1864 July 30 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    Ashepoo River (S.C.)--Raid, 1864.
    • 1864 May 28
    Baldwin (Fla.)--Raid, 1864.
    • 1864 July 30
    Combat--Psychological aspects.
    • 1864 July 30
    • 1864 April 19
    Executions and executioners.
    • 1864 April 19
    Florida--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • 1864 July 30
    • 1864 July 30
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Naval operations.
    • 1864 May 28
    United States. Army--Pay, allowances, etc.
    • 1864 May 28