Sgt. Maj. George F. Polley

Sgt. Maj. George F. Polley


Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Sgt. Maj. G. F. Polley PETERSBURG, VIRGINIA JUNE 20, 1864



June 16th,

The regiment crossed the James River at Wilcox's Landing. Marched 25 miles toward Petersburg on the 27th, then assigned to picket duty.

On the 18th, saw the last engagement with the enemy.

As the second line behind Wheaton's Brigade, advanced through the Confederate works, gaining about a half mile. Seven men wounded, including Colonel Parsons. He was hit in the chest, but his life was saved by his steel match case. There were a half dozen bullet holes through his clothing and hat. Late in the day they were removed from the battle line, moved to the rear awaiting orders to return home. "Some hard-tack was brought up after the battle and delivered to the men, and most of them lay down and went to sleep. When I awoke, Sergeant-Major George F. Polly handed me the top of a cracker box on which was written his name and "Killed June--, 1864," and wanted me to fill in the date as he knew he was going to be killed, and not going home with the boys. I laughed at him and told him that after dark we were going back, and I should take him to a safe place to sleep. I took them back behind all the general's quarters and in the rear of a safe line of works, stacked muskets, and had a good night's sound sleep.

During the night a rude gallows was erected, on which a negro was to be hung at 8 o'clock. The next morning (June 20 Ed.) I visited Gen. Niell and was talking with him when the enemy opened with 20 pound shot, thinking we were going to hang one of their spies. Gen. Niell said to me, "Get your orders and look after your regiment." I went up to headquarters to get my orders and immediately reported to the regiment, where I found Polly watching the shells from the guns, and as I came up I joined him. The regiment was under cover. As we were watching the shells, one struck Polly and tore him all to pieces. I leaned down and said, "Polly, have you anything to say?" "Nothing except to attend to my request." I gave the order "By the right Flank" to get the boys away from the shelling. A flag of truce was sent out to inform the enemy that a negro was to be hung who had insulted a white woman the day before; they stopped firing. We then marched back and saw the negro hung."

We buried Polly at City Point next day. The chaplain made some remarks and a detail of the soldiers of his own company fired three volleys over his grave. We placed the board, which he had lettered, to mark the spot where he is buried. It was most sad after he had gone through the campaign and got ready to go home, to be killed in that way. He was a great favorite with the regiment and his death cast a gloom over us all on our homeward trip."

Parsons paper for the Loyal Legion.

It would seem that Parsons was using some literary license. The man being hung was William Johnson, an African-American soldier, on the charge of attempted rape. Polley had re- enlisted, in December, been home on furlough, received his bounty, but not his commission to his new regiment, which was en route. Newell states that Polley had burned the cracker box grave marker to make his morning coffee, and was buried at City Point. On a recent trip to the Petersburg National Park, Fred Polley of the modern Mass. 10th and great-grand nephew of Sgt. Maj. Polley had the opportunity to view the scene. The Jordan house cellar hole is on the grounds of the visitor's center. A dead tree marks the approximate spot where the gallows were erected.

Fred has several family treasures, including George F. Polley's sword, commission, and other memorabilia. Apparently, at some later date, Sgt.Maj. Polley's remains were disinterred and brought home to Hinsdale, New Hampshire, where his remains share a plot with his cousin Albert, who also died in the war, at the Pine Grove Cemetery.

An interesting footnote to this is that at least four US presidents and one vice president are descended from the Winn/Polley line: Grover Cleveland, Herbert Hoover, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Walker Bush, and Richard (Dick) Cheney.



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