Name: Colonel Perrin V. Fox
State Agent of the Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company, of Newark, N. J., was born at Antwerp, Jefferson County, New York, December 3, 1821. His father, Bryan Fox, was born at Hebron, Connecticut, but most of his early life was spent on a farm, in Rutland County, Vermont. Before the war of 1812 he settled in Antwerp, Jefferson County, New York. He was Captain of a militia company in the said war, and, for services rendered, received a pension. In 1816 he returned to Rutland, Vermont, and married Hannah Shepard.
The next day they started for their new home, to encounter the hardships incident to clearing a farm in the forest. In the autumn of 1822, their house was burned, with all their winter stores, the family barely escaping with their lives. About this time, the inducements made to settlers on the "Holland Purchase," caused a large emigration thither. In 1824, a new house was found in Niagara County, near Lockport. From this place, the subject of this sketch dates his earliest recollections,--among which is the "sickly season," so called, when there were not well persons enough to take proper care of the sick.
In his eleventh year, at the solicitation of a distant relative, he was permitted to leave home, and lived ten years on a farm near Buffalo, becoming an expert in all kinds of farm labor. By close application to study at home, in the evening; at the district schools, about three months each year; and during one term at the Hamburg Academy; he became qualified to teach. After leaving the farm, he learned the trade of carpenter and joiner, which he followed in summer, and taught school in winter. He also went to an architectural school, and learned to design as well as to execute such work as the wants of the country demanded.
In 1846 he married Louisa M., eldest daughter of Philo Newton, and settled in Medina, New York. After teaching two years, continuously, he became permanently engaged in building and mechanical operations. In January, 1852, he went to California, and spent over a year in digging gold, with moderate success. He put up a quartz-mill and other buildings for the Agua Tria Quartz Mining Company. He also designed a Court House for Mariposa County, and, taking a partner, contracted for and built it. Complications, arising from unconstitutional legislative enactment, came near preventing the payment of over $8,000 of the sum contracted for, and made it necessary for him to stay there until it could be adjusted. In the meantime, he was constantly employed in building for others. Before returning home, he was one of a pleasant party of nine to spend a week in the Yosemite Valley,--the second party to visit it after its discovery. In January, 1856,he arrived at his home, after an absence of four years, lacking ten days.
Being desirous of visiting the Western States, early in the following spring he went to Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan. After a careful investigation of the respective advantages of the places visited, he decided to make Grand Rapids, Michigan, his future home. He returned to Medina, and completed arrangements to move there in July following. From that time to 1861 he was actively engaged in building, and was regarded as a thorough mechanic.
At the commencement of the Southern Rebellion, he joined heartily with those who said "It must be crushed," but did not think his services would be needed in the field until the first battle of Bull Run. About this time four companies were being recruited in Michigan for Colonel Wilson's Regiment of Engineers (erroneously called Fusileers, Sappers, Miners, etc.) at Chicago, Ill. To give these companies to the credit of Michigan, he, with Messrs. W. L. Coffinberry, James Sligh, and Baker Borden, went to the office of William P. Innes, now General Engineer of the Amboy and Lansing Railroad, and requested him to telegraph to the War Department, in his official position, asking if a regiment like Colonel Wilson's would be accepted from Michigan. The answer was: "Yes, subject to the approval of the Governor." Governor Blair authorized Colonel Innes to raise such a regiment, to which he gave the name "First Regiment of Michigan Engineers and Mechanics." Mr. Fox raised a company for the regiment and received a commission as Captain, ranking fourth (D), September 12, 1861. The Colonel reported for duty to General Buell, at Louisville, Kentucky. The regiment was divided into four
detachments, and assigned to the commands of Generals McCook, Thomas, Nelson and Mitchell. Companies D, F, and G, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Hunton, were with General George H. Thomas, during the campaign to Mill Springs, and, for their efficient services, were highly commended by him.
Very much of the designing and superintendence of the construction of bridges, boats, etc., was entrusted to Captain Fox, because of his peculiar qualification for making a success of whatever he undertook, and his ability to improvise, from such materials as could be obtained, the means to secure
the object sought in the shortest time. It would be impossible, in the space allowed in these columns, to give the details of his services, as the army advanced from Nashville to Shiloh and Corinth, thence to Huntsville, rebuilding the railroad bridges at Bear Creek, Tuscumbia, etc., and finally to Stevenson, where they built pontoon boats. When General Bragg's flank movement caused General Buell to march back to Nashville and Louisville, the Michigan Engineers rebuilt the bridges destroyed on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad in Morgan's raid. From Louisville they went to Frankfort, Perryville and Crab Orchard, where the pursuit of Bragg was abandoned, and they returned with the army to Nashville. General Rosecrans, relieving General Buell, made active preparations for an onward movement. The Engineers were ordered to rebuild the bridges on Mill Creek, destroyed by the rebels,(twelve in number), get out ties and relay the track, which had been torn up and the rails destroyed much of the way to Murfreesboro.
The day before the battle of Stone River, Colonel Innes was ordered to move his command to Lavergne, and await orders. The disaster to the right wing, under General McCook, enabled the rebel cavalry to get to the rear, burn the supply-train returning to Nashville, and attack the Michigan Engineers, protected by defenses hastily prepared. With less than four hundred effective men (some being under arrest at Nashville for insubordination, on account of not being paid, etc.), they withstood repeated charges from Wheeler and Wheaton's cavalry, numbering about three thousand, who, in the intervals, kept up a vigorous fire with artillery and sharpshooters, under cover of old buildings within range. A flag was sent in, with a demand for "immediate and unconditional surrender," soon followed by a second, to "hurry up," and a third, asking permission to "bury their dead and care for their wounded." They were not permitted, however, to come within range of the Engineers' Springfield rifles and Colt's six-shooters, used by Company A, of the 4th Michigan Cavalry, who had come to assist the Engineers. At dark, Colonel Burke, with the 10th Ohio, came, and during the night, the enemy retired.
For several weeks the Engineers were employed on the fortifications, magazines and storehouses at Murfreesboro. As the army advanced, the Engineers rebuilt the bridges on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. The one at Elk River, four hundred and fifty feet long, and over fifty feet high, was completed within eight days, and from timber standing in the woods, (estimated by
Chief-Engineer General Norton, to require six weeks). After the completion of the pontoon and part trestle bridge, at Bridgeport, Captain Fox was ordered to go to Chattanooga, with companies D and K, and report for duty.
During the battle of Chickamauga, he gathered up and repaired all the casks that could be found, filled them with water, and sent them to the battle-field, and assisted the Pioneers in building a trestle bridge across the Tennessee River. The last day of the battle he was ordered by General Rosecrans to take such materials as could be found and make boats for a pontoon bridge as soon as possible, and ordered up another company of Engineers from the regiment.
The rebels had procured a quantity of timber, near Chattanooga, for a railroad bridge at Whiteside. Much of it was six by twelve inches, and, by sawing twice, gave three planks; but, being short, the boats had to be of unusual form, and a new arrangement made for securing the planks, by which a distance, equal to the width of a boat, was saved in the length of the balk, (stringers). The plan of the boats being disapproved by General Norton, Chief-Engineer, it was gratifying to be permitted by General Rosecrans to demonstrate their practicability, which was accomplished, and admitted by all, including General Norton. General Rosecrans then ordered the two saw-mills to be turned over to Captain Fox's command, and other boats to be built of such fashion as his judgment dictated. The mills were at once repaired, and pine timber cut from the surrounding hills, and hauled to the river where it was easily taken into the mills and sawed. Nails were brought from Bridgeport by the couriers bearing dispatches, and, before General Hooker could get to the relief of the Army of the Cumberland, fifty boats,with all the necessary equipments for a bridge at Brown's Ferry, were in readiness.
In the meantime, General Rosecrans was relieved by General George H. Thomas, and General W. F. Smith (Baldy) took charge of the Engineer Department. The plan devised to connect with General Hooker, who was to advance from Bridgeport, on the south side of the river, was successfully executed as follows: The 18th Ohio (Colonel Stanley) manned the boats, which took General Hazen's brigade, and in the night, floated silently with the current, near the right bank of the river, past the rebel pickets, about six miles, to Brown's Ferry, when they crossed over and landed, driving back the
pickets. The boats immediately recrossed and took over General Turchin's brigade,--the whole force holding the hills. Captain Fox, with his train, moved up before sunrise, and commenced to lay the bridge, under fire from the enemy's artillery, assisted by a detail of one hundred men from the 21st Michigan Infantry. In about six hours the bridge,--nine hundred feet long,--was completed, and General Whitaker's brigade crossed over and united with General Hooker's command.
The importance of the expedition is indicated in [General Order No. 265.] "Head-quarters Department of the Cumberland, "Chattanooga, Tenn., November 7, 1863. "The recent movements resulting in the establishment of a new and short line of communication with Bridgeport, and the possession of the Tennessee River, were of so brilliant a character as to deserve special notice. The skill and cool gallantry of the officers and men composing the expedition, under Brigadier William F. Smith, Chief-Engineer, consisting of the brigades of Brigadier-Generals Turchin and Hazen, the boat parties, under Colonel Stanley, 18th Ohio Volunteers, and the Pontooners, under Captain Fox, Michigan Engineers and Mechanics, in effecting a permanent lodgment on the south side of the river, at Brown's Ferry, deserve the highest praise.
The column under Major-General Hooker, which took possession of the line from Bridgeport to the foot of Lookout Mountain, deserves great credit for their brilliant success, in driving the enemy from every position which they attacked. The bayonet charge, made by the troops of General Howard, up a steep and difficult hill over two hundred feet high, completely routing the enemy and driving him from his barricades on its top, and the repulse, by General Geary's command, of greatly superior numbers, who
attempted to surprise him, will rank among the most distinguished feats of arms of this war. "By command of Major-General George H. Thomas. "C. Goddard, "Assistant Adjutant-General." Captain Fox was instructed to continue his work of building boats, and another company of Engineers was ordered to report to him. The 13th, 21st, and 22d Regiments of Michigan Infantry were detailed to
assist in getting ready for aggressive movements when General Sherman should arrive. Nearly the same strategy was used by General Sherman in crossing the Tennessee River, below the South Chickamauga, as at Brown's Ferry, which was accomplished the night before the battle of Lookout Mountain.
Captain Fox laid the bridge across the Chickamauga, and the Pioneers laid one across the
Tennessee, during the fight of Hooker in the clouds of Lookout Mountain. The next day, Captain Fox laid another bridge across the Tennessee, at Chattanooga, assisted by the 22d Michigan Volunteers, commanded by Colonel Dean, who had been in charge of the train for four days, with only such rest as could be had in bivouac. This day closed the ever memorable battle of Lookout Mountain and Mission Ridge, so beautifully described by Taylor and others.
After this battle, active operations were suspended and details were sent home to recruit for the regiments whose ranks had been so fearfully depleted. The Michigan Engineers went into the field with ten companies, of one hundred men each,--they were entitled to the regular organizations, twelve companies of one hundred and fifty men each,--and Captain Fox was ordered to take charge of a detail of three officers and twenty-one enlisted men, proceed to Michigan, and recruit for the Engineers. He distributed his force, and his plans were so well conceived and vigorously executed, that the requisite number (over nine hundred) were secured within four weeks--more than half of them at Grand Rapids and vicinity.
An order was issued by Colonel Hill, Chief of the Recruiting Service, requiring recruits for the Michigan Engineers to go to Fort Wayne, and be mustered by a regular army officer. This order Captain Fox resisted, and secured its revocation. As soon as the recruits could be clothed and paid, they were sent to the regiment, which was filled to the maximum, and gave to it two new Majors, of which Captain Fox was one, his commission being dated December 15, 1863. He was assigned to the command of a battalion, and placed in charge of building block-houses, to guard the bridges between Murfreesboro and Bridgeport. April 18, 1864, Engineer Order No. 15 placed Major Fox in charge of the defenses at
Stevenson, Alabama, with two companies of Engineers and details from the commandant of the post.
August 12, 1864, he was relieved from duty at Stevenson, to accept the position, tendered by General Thomas, of First Major in the 1st United States Veteran Volunteer Engineers, organized by authority of the War Department, of veterans who had served in the Engineer or Pioneer departments. Colonel William E. Merrill and Lieutenant-Colonel H. C. Wharton, being graduates at West Point, and Chief-Engineer and Topographical Engineer of the Army of the Cumberland, were only occasionally with the regiment.
Lieutenant-Colonel Wharton resigned, and Major Fox received from the War Department his commission as Lieutenant-Colonel, dated April 17, 1865. This position he held to the close of the war, being mustered out of service September 26, 1865. The head-quarters of the new regiment were at
Chattanooga, and their service was on the fortifications, magazines, water-works, saw-mills, block-houses, bridges, barracks, and in the manufacture of the canvas pontoon boats for General Sherman's army in his march to the sea, as well as those needed by General Thomas' command.
Among the evidences of personal favors from General Thomas to Colonel Fox is the recommendation of his son, P. Newton Fox, as cadet at West Point; but, as there was no vacancy in the at large list, it was not secured. After his return from the South, not desiring to be idle, Colonel Fox accepted a place with J. S. Crosby & Son, State Agents of the Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company, as solicitor. Finding that his success was better than he dared to hope, he accepted an offer to go to Pittsburg, where he remained nearly one year, meeting with marked success.
The company then proffered him the State agency of Michigan, in place of the Messrs. Crosby, whose engagements in real estate and fire insurance occupied most of their time. He entered upon his duties as State agent, in June, 1867, and has continued there to the present time. By constant application to his duties, he has avoided any entanglements, and the company has lost nothing by error or complications. At the close of the war, he was brevetted Colonel, for meritorious services.
Colonel Fox is a member of the Michigan Sovereign Grand Consistory, Ancient Accepted Scottish Right and Deuchar Commandery of Knights Templar. Colonel Fox is tall, strongly framed, and has regular, expressive features. He is strong in his convictions, and allows no consideration of convenience or profit to swerve him from a course which he believes to be right. His business affairs are characterized by punctuality, accuracy, and system. He is a genial companion and a good conversationalist, having a store of anecdote and incident. He is a self-made man of strong impulses; public-spirited, free-hearted, and open-handed.
Source: American Biographical History of Eminent and Self-Made Men, Michigan, Volumes I-II. published by the Western Biographical Publishing Company in 1878.