Written by Bobbi Sullivan; vetted by Kobe M. Brown; edited by Cheri Todd Molter
At 32 years of age, on the 11th of June, 1862, Thomas E. Grogan enlisted as a private in the 162nd NY Volunteer Infantry, 3rd Regiment, Metropolitan Guard, Company E. Thomas was my great-grandfather, and I have the journal of his war experiences, which he kept throughout his enlistment. His journal is difficult to read: Some pages are in bits and pieces, and his entries are sometimes grammatically incorrect. Even so, I feel very fortunate to have part of his story. As I have read his journal, I have felt closer to this very honorable man who I am proud to call family.
In his first entry, Thomas states that he remembers well the night he left: “It was wet on a stormy night that I left my wife and 4 small children, bidding them good-bye, the eldest being 7 years.” He was stationed at Rikers Island (now a NYC prison) for 2 months. On August 15 1862, he traveled by rail to Philadelphia, then to Baltimore, and then on to Alexandria, LA where they stayed for 2 weeks. He was kept on board a transport for several weeks at Fort Monroe. He states in his journal that they “had to lie like spoons we were so short of room waiting to start with General Banks expedition for New Orleans.” He and his company finally arrived at Camp Parapet in New Orleans in November. They spent New Year’s Day 1863 at Plaquemine Bayou. Torn journal pages prevent me from knowing which battles Thomas’s regiment was involved in then, but when pages were legible again, he had left New Orleans, and when his company returned, the rest of the regiment was glad to see them, for they were told that they had all been killed. Thomas then remained in New Orleans until February 1863 when they were ordered to Baton Rouge to meet up with Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks. Thomas writes that Gen. Banks was a good man but “not a very good general.”
On the March 10, 1863, Thomas was ordered to go to Port Hudson. There, the next day they marched 25 miles on “very bad” roads. Thomas writes, “Some parts of the road we would be to our knees in mud and dirt. Other parts would burn our feet or warm our coffee, but we had none.” It was on March 14th that Thomas witnessed the ammunition ship, USS Mississippi, going aground and being blown up by her own crew to save her from being taken by Confederates. Thomas’ regiment left New Orleans on April 7 to go to Algiers and then on to Berwick City. They faced a few enemy encounters and remained there until there was an order for volunteers to go to Port Hudson. At that time, they were commanded by Major Bogart of New York. Thomas writes that he was “enjoying a good supper of hot soup when a dispatch came to us that 5,000 rebels was coming down on us.” They had to leave all their clothes and 25,000 rounds of ammunition. With the “Rebels in hot pursuit after [them],” they traveled 3 miles to get on board a gunboat. Thomas writes, “We had but 3 companies of our regiment against 3,000 to which we learned on the next morning that we took prisoners.”
Thomas was wounded on May, 19, 1863 – “a flesh wound,” he called it. “But the ball was in my face 5 days while I was coming from B [sic] to New Orleans, when I got better and wanted to go back for there was some of my regiments going back after them. But the doctor said I could not stand the climate and that he would send me home.” It was in August 1863 when Thomas Grogan received his first discharge. Thomas continued writing in his journal on his way home. In it, he describes meeting a wounded soldier who “had no one to help him, he could not lift himself or turn on the bench but with the help of a kind hand. I thought it my duty to attend on him to which I did till [sic] I left the Soldiers Home where the poor fellow died.”
In March 1864, Thomas Grogan re-enlisted for a 2nd tour of duty. Thomas’ next entry into his journal was from Ft. Clifton, VA, a Confederate stronghold guarding Petersburg against Union attack. Federal gunboats attacked the fort, and during the engagement Ft. Clifton’s artillery disabled the army gunboat Samuel L. Brewster with a shot to her boiler. On May 9, 1864, Thomas writes, “that made her boiler explode and scaled several of her crew. The poor fellows could no nothing but jump overboard where there was rebels sharp shooters to pick them down. This was all in our view but could do nothing for them. We fought them all day but could do nothing, for they had the best of us.” From Ft. Clifton, they sailed up the James River and arrived at City Point, VA on August 5. They were on their way to Petersburg when “General Butler came alongside of us with orders not to go any further than the Point of Rocks till [sic] further orders to which we obeyed.”
On December 10, 1864, he was aboard a transport heading for Ft. Fisher, NC. “We were taken from our own boats and put aboard the Empire City to load 1600 colored men.” He reports that the transport was not very large and it had 12 horses aboard, too. On Christmas Day 1864, as Thomas watches a fleet of ships, he writes, “have to brag of our fleet for there never was, never a finer fleet. Together it did us good to see our noble flag float over our noble ships with our brave men to protect them. It was a noble sight for us. …[O]n board of our boat we had tobacco we had to smoke, we had to eat our pork raw, we could not cook our coffee. But most times there was but one galley for 1700 men so that was too small a pot for so large a family.” Thomas’ final entry was in January 1865, from “Butler’s Gap” (Dutch Gap, VA) where he briefly writes of a 5-hour engagement with Confederates.
There is no information regarding Thomas’ last discharge date, but he eventually went home to Brooklyn, NY. He and his wife had their fifth child, Joseph, in 1870, and he received his Civil War pension on July 18, 1892. Thomas died sometime between 1892 and 1900.
I am very happy that this proud, principled, and patriotic man lived through the devastation and horror of the Civil War, as Joseph – their fifth and last child – was my grandfather. (Bobbi Sullivan is a member of the Brunswick Civil War Round Table.)