Penn Yan, NY, Cemetery Yields Old Acquaintance

While surveying the Lakeview Cemetery in Penn Yan, NY, recently, I stumbled upon an old acquaintance – John Morrison Oliver.

Grave of John M. Oliver
Grave of John M. Oliver

In the oldest section of the Lakeview Cemetery, I was in search of a kinsman when I came to a monument with a bronze sword lying across the top.  Being familiar with this military symbolism, I walked to the back of the monument to see whose tomb I had found.  The stone read:


John Morrison Oliver

Sept. 6 1828 – Mar 30 1872

The name was instantly familiar, though not gifted with the photographic & encyclopedic memory of Kris White, I admit I had to Google the name.  Then it came back to me.  Oliver was with Sherman on the Atlanta Campaign and March to the Sea.  In fact, he was one of three brigade commanders who stormed Ft. McAllister on the Ogeechee River outside Savannah, GA.

Major General John Morrison Oliver
Major General John Morrison Oliver

Why in the world is Gen. Oliver buried in Penn Yan?

I most associated Oliver with Michigan, where he had been a pharmacist and a court reporter.  But it turns out that the general was born in Penn Yan.  When the war commenced, Oliver volunteered as a private in the 4th Michigan Infantry. In a short time he was promoted to first lieutenant and by March of ’62, Oliver was a colonel commanding the 15th Michigan.[i]

Commended for gallantry at the Battle of Shiloh, Oliver held brigade command for a short time before reverting back to the command of the 15th Michigan during the Vicksburg Campaign.  During the Atlanta Campaign, Oliver commanded a brigade in Gen. William Harrow’s division, XV Corps.  On the March to the Sea, the general was reassigned to command of the 3rd brigade of Gen. William B. Hazen’s division.[ii]

It was as a brigade commander under Hazen that Oliver helped take Ft. McAllister outside Savannah.  Part of Gen. O.O. Howard’s Corps, Hazen’s division was hand-picked by Gen. William T. Sherman, commanding the Union Army, to reduce the fort.[iii]

From inside Ft. McAllister, facing Ogeechee River
From inside Ft. McAllister, facing Ogeechee River

From atop an old rice mill, Sherman and Howard, watched the assault unfold on December 13th, 1864.  Oliver’s brigade was in the Union center during the attack with the 70th Ohio, 48th and 90th Illinois out front, supported by the 99th Indiana in reserve.  The assault lasted less than 15 minutes.  Two of Oliver’s regiments – the 70th Ohio and 90th Illinois – would claim the honor of being the first to plant the colors on the fort’s parapet.  This was an expensive honor to claim, as Oliver would lose three color bearers to mines.  In the end, Hazen would claim a loss of 24 killed and 110 wounded.[iv]

Defenses of Ft. McAllister
Defenses of Ft. McAllister

Gen. Oliver was promoted to brigadier general in January 1865 after continuing his service with Sherman during the Carolina campaign.  Oliver mustered out in August ’65 and was promoted to the rank of brevet major general.[v]

After the war Gen. Oliver became an attorney-at-law, served as an assessor in the internal revenue service and was appointed a superintendent in the postal service by President Grant.  Oliver fell ill in 1871 and retired from Federal service before dying in Washington, DC in March 1872.[vi]


[i] Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Blue  (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964), 348.

[ii] ibid

[iii] Noah Andre Trudeau, Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea  (New York: Harper Perennial, 2008), 418.

[iv] Ibid, 421.

[v] Warner, Generals.  348.

[vi] Ibid.

1 Response to Penn Yan, NY, Cemetery Yields Old Acquaintance

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!