Tom Collins was the ancestor of a friend of mine, Dave Collins. I spent my early years visiting Dave on his farm farm, eating at his table, and never knew about Tom, until Dave’s house burned down. While I was commiserating with Dave about the loss of his house, he told me that the worse part was losing all his ancestor’s relics. Apparently, Dave had Tom’s original uniform, all his medals, papers, his Sharps Carbine…I never knew, and could kick myself today (and I do often). This fragment from Tom’s journal is the only remnant to survive that fire.
The bare facts are this: Tom Collins was a private in the 143rd NYSV, raised in Sullivan County, New York, in 1862. He served as a scout for General Sherman, was given a Medal of Honor in 1864 for bravery at Resaca. Local history is that he was a very close associate of Sherman, that Sherman had Tom by his side during the Grand Review at the end of the war, and mentioned Tom in his farewell address. I have no independent confirmation of this fact, and have never heard Tom mentioned in any later writings of the Civil War or Sherman’s life.
These last pages of Tom’s journal show him carrying several of the war’s important messages, including the message of the surrender of Johnson’s army in April of 1865.
Bentonville, NC March 18th 1865 – Slocum to Sherman Stating to him that Johnson’s whole army was in his front Strongly entrenched. That he needed assistance at once. Sherman gave him help by concentrating his army on Bentonville; on the 19th Johnson assaulted our lines, Sweeping the 4th Corps from the field. The 20th Corps came to their relief, turning the tide of Battle in our favor, and Johnson was as usual in full retreat towards Goldsboro.
March 19th – Sherman to Schofield and Terry, who were Supposed to be Somewhere in vicinity of Goldsboro Stating to them the wherabouts of Sherman’s Army..Under cover of Darkness I started out with 75 Picked men well mounted. Guided by a trusty citizen, we rode through Johnson’s lines and by 8 O’clock the next morning we came in sight of Goldsboro, tired and worn out by the hard riding. But at the Sight of the Stars and Stripes waving over the Principal Public Buildings of Goldsboro repaid us for our Trip and risks.
Raleigh N.C. April 26th 65 – From Sherman and Grant to Gen. Mower commdg 20th Corps That Johnson had Surrendered, to cease hostilities and march his Corps back to Raleigh. The distance of 16 miles I rode in one hour and twenty minutes, this being the happiest hour of my life all offered up thanks to almighty God and tears of joy were Shed by many gallant men.
Lost 4 horses killed in action and a fifth one from Eating hardtack.
Presented Medal of Honor for most distinguished Gallantry in action at Resaca, Ga May 15th 1864 in capturing a Regimental Flag of the enemy.
Promoted 1st Lieut 20th Corps for distinguished Conduct at Battle of Aikeu Creek, N.C. But could not be commissioned on account of my age. Here with 75 picked men I kept two Regts of Rebel Cavalry from destroying Akeu Creek Bridge. My little band of heroes kept them for 12 long hours when my own gallant Regt, the 143rd and 123rd NY came to our assistance and made the Capture complete. Here I lost my 4th horse being hit in head by musket ball and received serious injury myself.
Was Present at Surrender of Major Gen. Joseph E. Johnson’s Army C.S.A. April 26th 1865 which took place near Durham Station, N.C.
Made homeward march from Raleigh N.C. via Richmond, Va to Washington D.C. and on 24 May, 1865 Rode down Penn Ave at the head of the line of Grand Review of the Gallant army of our beloved leader and commander General Sherman: — amid cheers from thousands upon thousands of American Citizens who completely covered us with wreaths and flowers – and called us the defenders of their houses and firesides. We were honored and respected there by the Nation, and after the lapse of 34 years, that love and respect has not ceased and will not cease until the last Soldier of the army of Grant and Sherman shall have passed away. We are leaving (one by one) to our final rest. But surely the heart of the true soldier Stands in the Same Place today as it did in the sixties. Though his Eye has Grown dim, his form less Erect, his Step less firm, He did his duty then as it came to him and as he saw it. He might did better under more favorable circumstances. This is the case of the writer of ths Sketch. But in conclusion I beg pardon of the reader when I here record for the Eyes of future Posterity to Gaze upon years after this soldier has Passed away from Earth to return no more that the Soldier of this sketch was never known to turn back until the duty assigned to him was performed to the full Satisfaction of his Superior Officers, however ardurious or trying the Same might be.
Thomas D. Collins
Dated Livingston Manor, NY
April 26th 1899.
For Gold the Merchant Plows the main
the Farmer plows the manor
But Glory is the Soldier’s Prize
The Soldier’s wealth is Honor.