Workers at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium recently discovered a large, ornate wooden frame which enclosed a faded and tattered flag from the American Civil War. The Auditorium workers quickly contacted the Greater Lowell Veterans Council which sprung into action and is already planning for the refurbishment and eventual public display of this Lowell relic. Tory Germann has already documented the case and its contents with her camera and has made those pictures available on her website.
Even a quick glance at this artifact makes clear it is dedicated to Solon Perkins, one of nearly 500 men from Lowell who died in the Civil War. Perkins died from wounds sustained in battle near Port Hudson, Louisiana on June 3, 1863 while serving as an officer in the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment. Perkins was one of many from Lowell who served in Louisiana, recruited by General Benjamin Butler who had been appointed military governor of New Orleans in 1862.
Solon Perkins was born in Lancaster, New Hampshire on December 6, 1836. His family moved to Lowell in 1840. Solon graduated from Lowell High School and immediately became engaged in the world of international business, working for several years in Buenos Aires and for several more in Valparaiso, Mexico. In these places, he became fluent in both Spanish and French, skills that became invaluable during his military service in Louisiana.
In late June of 1863, the Reverend Owen Street, minister at Lowell’s High Street Church, delivered some remarks about the circumstances of Perkins’ death that were based on information that had been provided to the deceased soldier’s mother. The following is some of what Street had to say:
When the army of General Banks moved upon Port Hudson, [Perkins] was ordered there and wrote his last letter from that place. The booming of the enemy’s cannon, only 400 yards distant forbade his sleep, and he arose in the night and continued his letter . . . until an order came for him to support a battery; he stated the fact, recorded his farewell, and there his pen rested forever. The same day that this letter was received, there came another, from another hand, saying that his earthly career was closed.
[Perkins and the Union cavalry encountered] the enemy’s force at Clinton at about 2 p.m. In the course of fifteen minutes the action became general. Lt. Perkins . . . was ordered to dismount his men and deploy as skirmishers . . . The fire became so galling, however, that he was ordered to fall back . . . It was found that the Federal force was in great danger of being outflanked, as the enemy had two or three times their number . . . Perkins fought the rebels at every step. They reached a bridge over a ravine which the enemy were making every exertion to gain. While skirmishing in front of this, Perkins received a ball through his arm which disabled it. He did not however, stop fighting, but rode up to Colonel Grierson on a mule – his horse having been killed in the fight – and said that he could hold that bridge till the infantry had got out of range. . .
Perkins rejoined his corps, with one arm disabled and bleeding, and resumed the contest, exclaiming with the energy and impassioned tone of the battlefield, “Now boys, let us show these scoundrels that we can fight.” A few minutes afterwards he received his mortal wound. . . Perkins was soon placed in a carriage and conveyed off from the field. He survived about two hours, suffering little or no pain, and calmly passed away. . .
Thus has fallen as brave, as earnest, and as dutiful a soldier, and as faithful an officer, as the service can boast. If all our officers, high and low, had fulfilled their part as well as he, this war would have many months since have been brought to an end.
Besides the recently discovered flag, a monument to the memory of Solon Perkins sits in Lowell Cemetery at his family’s burial plot. The spring tours of the cemetery pass by this place. This spring, we will stop there and talk of Solon Perkins, of his service, and of the flag display created in his memory.