Hinckley D. Harris: Civil War Veteran and a most courageous soldier

Hinckley Dyer Troupe Harris died March 7, 1886, at the fairly young age of 59.

He led an interesting, action-filled life, as related in the obviously family-published booklet, A Sketch of the Ancestry and Genealogy of Hinkley D. Harris and Mary Wescott Harris.

However, a few details are in order first.

The ninth child of Leonard W. and Jane (Keneston) Harris, Hinckley was born in Orford, Grafton County, New Hampshire. By the time of his birth, December 24, 1827, his oldest brother, Jerome T. Harris, was on his way to the Medical School of Maine at Bowdoin College in Brunswick. Dr. Harris graduated in the class of 1830. Hinckley’s second oldest brother, Horatio W. Harris, was preparing for the ministry at the New Hampton Institution, a New Hampshire seminary established in 1825 in the town that bears the same name. Rev. Harris was licensed to preach in October 1833 by the Wentworth (New Hampshire) Church.

Hinckley married Mary Elizabeth Wescott in Lowell, Massachusetts, on March 16, 1852. (Note that he is also found in records as Dyer T.H. Harris, Dyer Troupe Hinckley Harris, Henry D. Harris, and Hinklee D. Harris.) Just prior to his marriage, Hinckley and his brother Charles F. Harris resided in a boarding house in Lowell. Two more of his brothers, George L. Harris and Page M. Harris, were living in company-owned housing of the Lawrence Manufacturing Corporation which operated mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

The biographical booklet states that, at an early age, Hinckley went to sea on “several short trips.” One of these trips took him to the Grand Banks from which he returned with 1200 pounds of cod. On another trip, said to have been in 1850, he returned with 300 barrels of sperm oil. It is likely that he hired out as short-term labor.

Yet another report is that, around 1853, most likely before his marriage and settling down in Lowell, Hinckley returned to sea. This time he was “shipwrecked off the coast of San Domingo and lost all his property.”

Although none of his writings have been found, it is also reported that he was a “poet of no mean ability and composed poems about the principal events in his life.”

Unlike his oldest two brothers, Hinckley’s education was of the “hard knocks” variety and did not come from any known institution of higher learning.

Hinckley enlisted in the Union Army, in Company D, 7th New Hampshire Infantry Volunteers, on September 9, 1861. He was mustered in on November 6th. (A year later, on August 25, 1862, his brother Page M. Harris, served briefly in the Union Army, in Company K 51st Infantry Regiment. He was mustered out a month later, at Worcester, Massachusetts.)

Hinckley Harris not only served in the middle of combat but it also cost him a limb in the process.

The family history booklet briefly informs that, on July 11, 1863, while General Quincy Adams Gillmore’s forces “were trying to take Fort Wagner on Morris Island” [in South Carolina], Hinckley was “wounded and lay for 24 hours in a marsh, with his head propped up with his knapsack.” He had been wounded three times during the night as he lie there. He was found the next day and sent off to a hospital “where it was found necessary to amputate one leg close to his body.”

Lt. Henry F.W. Little, 7th New Hampshire Volunteers wrote a first-hand account of how Hinckley lost his leg:

So narrow was the neck of land between our advanced works and Fort Wagner, that, small as was our regiment in numbers, only six companies could cross in a line, and consequently four companies had to march en echelon to the rear. Then, as if aroused from sleep Fort Wagner opened its batteries. … For a moment the brigade was halted, at the moment that the regiment was under [Col. Robert G. Shaw, commander of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts (colored)], and the First Brigade struck the enemy’s picket line—which time the writer of this [was] occupied in placing a tourniquet upon one of the men in Company D, Hinckley D. Harris, by name, whose right leg was badly shattered at the knee by a grapeshot, and we had barely time to affix the instrument, the grape and canister in the meantime splashing the water into our faces; for the left of the regiment then stood in the edge of the marsh on the left of the narrow neck of the land, and the water was a foot deep or more where we stood—when we heard the ringing command, “Forward.”

The hospital was on Davids Island, a property leased to the U.S. War Department for hospital purposes. The De Camp General Hospital was originally established in 1862 for Union soldiers. However, after the Battle of Gettysburg it housed both Union and Confederate soldiers. The latter were moved to prisoner of war camps as soon as possible.

We know from unit historical reports[1] that D Company 7th New Hampshire Infantry Volunteers was at Dry Tortugas, Florida, until June 16, 1862. Next, it moved to Beaufort, South Carolina, where it stayed until September 15th, before moving on to St. Augustine, Florida, and remained on duty until May 10, 1863. A detachment from the unit was involved in a skirmish near St. Augustine on March 9th. The unit was at Fernandina, Florida, until June 15th, when it moved on to Hilton Head, South Carolina, and thence to Folly Island, South Carolina.

Fort Wagner

Movement ceased with a siege operation against Folly Island until July 10th. Assault on Water Batteries on Morris Island took place on July 10th and on Fort Wagner itself on Morris Island on July 11th and 18th. The fort remained under siege until it and Fort Gregg were captured on September 7th.

Another account about New Hampshire’s brave volunteers lends a bit more detail (emphasis added):

On [July] 17th the regiment embarked on the steamer Delaware at Hilton Head, bound for Folly Island, where a landing was effected about midnight; and from this time until July 10 the regiment was actively engaged in the construction of batteries on the north end of Folly Island, with regular tours of picket duty. On the morning of July 10 these batteries opened at daylight, surprising the enemy completely and covering the landing of a force under General [George] Strong, who carried the fortifications on the south end of Morris Island, and which was followed by the crossing over to Morris Island of the whole remaining force, and the Seventh went on picket at night within a mile of Fort Wagner and commenced the entrenchments afterwards known as the first parallel in the siege of Fort Wagner.

… From the 12th to the 18th the regiment was actively engaged in the trenches and on fatigue duty, in preparation for the second assault on Fort Wagner. About sunset on the 18th the First Brigade under General Strong, supported by the Second Brigade under Colonel Putnam, were ordered to make an assault on Fort Wagner, and during the hour and a half that the engagement lasted the Seventh lost two hundred and eighteen killed, wounded, and missing, and of this number eighteen were officers, eleven of whom–including our beloved colonel – were either slain outright, or mortally wounded and left in the enemy’s hands, and on the following morning only nine officers and two hundred and fifty-three men were in line. In this engagement the Seventh suffered the loss of more officers than were lost by any other regiment in any one engagement during the war.

Hinckley was discharged from the military hospital on March 4, 1864, and returned home.

FP Dyer Hinckley Harris family

As the pamphlet reports, “With splendid courage he turned to farming, bought a place of his own, and at odd times plied his trade as painter as well, and, in spite of his handicap of an artificial leg and crutches, he did well.”

One more tragedy struck Hinckley’s family in 1879, when a fire leveled his farm buildings at Hill, New Hampshire. He purchased a small farm in Pelham, New Hampshire and moved his family there.

It was here, at Pelham, where he died on March 7, 1886, and where he is buried with his wife.

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