Fort Sumter

William Merrick Bristoll: Eyewitness to the Battle of Fort Sumter, Artilleryman, Latin Professor

The author of the previous quote, William Merrick Bristoll, turns out to have been an artilleryman himself.

Bristoll graduated from Yale University in 1860 and taught in Delaware until February 1861, when he accepted a position at a school in Charleston, South Carolina–where his father owned a shoe business. Only two months later, the Civil War erupted and Bristoll was an eyewitness.

The war brought havoc to Bristoll’s life and his father’s business, so he left South Carolina and became the principal of a school in Illinois. He worked there until the end of 1861 and then moved on to teach in Wisconsin. It was in Wisconsin on 3 July 1863, as the Battle of Gettysburg was raging in Pennsylvania, that he decided to enlist in a company of Wisconsin volunteers.

Bristoll became a private in the 13th Battery, Wisconsin Volunteer Light Artillery; he was commissioned as officer by the end of December 1863 and promoted to First Lieutenant in January 1865. He served the majority of that time in garrison in New Orleans, which had been captured by Union forces in May 1862. Lt. Bristoll served as ordnance officer and assistant to the chief of ordnance on the staff of the military governor. Bristoll’s supervisor commended him “for the efficient, faithful, and conscientious performance of the important duties he has fully and satisfactorily completed.” He was honorably discharged in June 1866.

He became a Latin professor, first at Ripon College in Wisconsin, then at Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia, and finally at Yankton College in what was then the Territory of Dakota. He also worked in banking and accounting. Bristoll died in 1910.

Entry for William Merrick Bristoll in the Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865.

Entry for William Merrick Bristoll in the Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865.

Sources:

Yale University. 1906. Biographical Record: Class of Sixty, Boston: 71-73.

Andover Theological Seminary. 1914. Necrology: 1911-1914, Cambridge: 38.

Wisconsin Historical Society. 1886. Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865. Volume I. Madison: 250.

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Voices from the Past: The Battle of Fort Sumter, 1861

“Boom, boom go the cannon. Now the puff of white smoke comes from Fort Johnson. There goes one from Castle Pinckney. The Floating Battery, too, has taken position, while Steven’s Battery, the first to speak on that momentous morning, still continues to send forth its iron messengers. Fort Moultrie also joins the fray and thus from all sides shot and shell pour down upon that one sole representative of the detested northern oppressor. All the pent up hatred of the past months and years is voiced in the thunder of these cannon, and the people seem almost beside themselves in the exultation of a freedom they deem already won.”

–William Merrick Bristoll on the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter on 12 April 1861.

Source: American Heritage Vol. 26, April 1975.

“Bombardment of Fort Sumter by the batteries of the Confederate states,” 1861. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

“Bombardment of Fort Sumter by the batteries of the Confederate states.” Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.