Private Joseph Stockwell Manning of Ipswich was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on December 1, 1864, a year and two days after an incredible act of bravery at Fort Sanders, Tennessee. His citation simply reads “Capture of flag of 16th Georgia Infantry (C.S.A.)” but the story is fascinating.
Joseph Stockwell Manning was born in 1845, the son of Leighton Wilson Manning of Ipswich and his wife Caroline Stockwell of Somerville. According to Volume II of Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, they lived in the house at 9 High Street built by Samuel Newman, still standing. At the age of 18, Joseph volunteered to fight in the Civil War and served as a private in Company K, 29th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
During a battle at Fort Sanders on November 29, 1863 his attachment was sent to dislodge Confederate forces from the 16th Georgia infantry who had retreated and were taking cover in a ditch. Private Manning set out to join this force but became separated. He continued forward alone and jumping into the ditch found himself next to a Confederate color-bearer and 200 of his comrades, many grievously wounded.
Knowing the northern forces were not far behind him, the quick-thinking Manning demanded the immediate surrender of all of the soldiers. His ruse succeeded in confusing the rebels long enough for Union troops to arrive and take them as prisoners.
In his report, Private Manning wrote “A wounded rebel in the ditch asked me to take him inside the works as he was in danger of being shot where he lay. I made him climb over the dead and wounded and passed up the colors to him–till I climbed up. I placed the colors and my gun over my left shoulder and supported him with my right arm as we walked over a hundred yards.”
This was only one of Manning’s accomplishments during the war. He was cited for helping prevent the capture of the crew of the USS Congress, which was sunk by the CSS Merrimac. After he returned to Ipswich, he worked in the wholesale grocery business in Boston and had a residence in his mother’s home town, Somerville. Joseph Manning died on December 27, 1905 and is buried in the Manning family plot at the Old North Burial Ground in Ipswich. Read more about Private Joseph Manning at findagrave.com.
The following is Joseph Manning’s own account of the battle from “Deeds of Valor” by Walter Beyer and Oscar Keydel, written in 1901:
“My regiment was with General Burnside at Knoxville, East Tenn., from November 17th till December 5, 1863, and during all that time we were continually under fire from the rifle-pits of the enemy, which were being drawn closer to our earthworks day by day. On the night of November 28th a furious assault was made upon the left of our line, and our pickets were driven in, contesting the ground step by step. My regiment was ordered to the rear of our principal earth work, Fort Sanders, where we remained nearly all night. Just before daylight the enemy made a demonstration at the extreme left of our line and my regiment was hurried off to strengthen that point.”
“It was a bitterly cold night, and I had gone to the rear to warm myself at a fire, there, and when I came back I found that the regiment had gone. Just then the enemy opened a fierce fire of artillery and the musketry on the fort, as a prelude to our assault, so I stayed where I was. The rebel infantry pored in upon us, scaling the parapet and climbing through the embrasures, but as fast as they did so, we shot them down, and they rolled back into the ditch, which surrounded the fort. One color-bearer planted his flag upon the parapet, but immediately it was snatched away, and he was shot dead. Never in my life did I experience such a savage feeling. It seemed to me that I could not load and fire fast enough, and although my fingers were numb with cold, I was in a fever of excitement.”
“This assault was repulsed, but another was immediately made by fresh troops. Three of the enemy’s colors were planted upon the parapet, but were quickly shot away, and a hand-to-hand fight followed, the officers using their swords, the men their bayonets and the butts of their guns. Even the artillerymen took part, using their axes and the rammers of their guns as weapons, the enemy being finally obliged to withdraw, after losing heavily.”
“The retreating rebels took a position a short distance from the fort, and for a time kept up a scattering fire, aided by their artillery. General Ferrero, who commanded the fort called out: ‘There are lots of them in the ditch. Go out and get them.’ A detail from our regiment was sent to the left, and one from the Second Michigan to the right to sweep the ditch. The first detail entered the ditch from the rifle pits on the left and passed around the salient of the fort. I wanted to go with them but was quite a distance away when they started, and as I saw I could not catch up by following, I adopted another plan.”
“Waiting until I thought they had entered the ditch, I jumped upon the parapet, slid down the outside of the fort and landed among the rebels. I was the only Yankee in sight. Hearing the detail from my regiment cheering to the left, I demanded the surrender of those about me, and they threw down their guns. I pushed towards a color-bearer who was attempting to hide his colors and with my bayonet at his breast, I demanded his surrender. He handed over the colors, which were those of the Sixteenth Georgia, and I took him prisoner. Our detail arrived just then, and turning my prisoner over to them, he was marched back along with some 200 others, through the ditch into the works. We also recovered another rebel flag from under the dead body of the color-bearer.”
“A wounded rebel in the ditch asked me to take him inside the works as he was in danger of being shot where he lay. I made him climb over the dead and wounded who lay in great numbers at this angle of the fort. I passed up the colors to him and told him to stand where he was till I climbed up. Then I placed the colors and my gun over my left shoulder and supported him with my right arm, thus exposing him to the rebel fire. They seemed to recognize him, for not a shot was fired at us, as we walked a distance of over a hundred yards along the front of the rebel line. When I got the wounded man into our works, I turned and waved the colors to the rebels, who saluted me with a volley, and the bullets whistled about my ears. I did not stop there any longer than was necessary, but got down behind the earthworks.”
“On arriving at headquarters, General Burnside received the colors, took me by the hand and complimented me in the most flattering language.”
The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to
MANNING, JOSEPH S.
Rank and Organization: Private, Company K, 29th Massachusetts Infantry.
Place and Date: At Fort Sanders, Knoxville, Tenn., 29 November 1863.
Birth: Ipswich, Mass. Date Of Issue: 1 December 1864.
Citation: Capture of flag of 16th Georgia Infantry (C.S.A.).