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This biography is from HEROES OF ALBANY, by Rufus W. Clark, D. D.

Private John H. Conley

John H. Conley was born in the city of New York on the 22d of October, 1815. He was at an early age deprived of a mother's care, and was dependent upon his own exertions for a support. At the age of sixteen he commenced learning the mason's trade, but employed every opportunity to obtain useful knowledge. At the age of twenty he experienced religion, and ever afterwards made the Bible his principal study. At twentytwo he was a tract distributor in New York, and in 1843 moved to Albany. Here he joined the Methodists, and was made local preacher by them. He was for four years chaplain of the Almshouse. In 1855 he moved with his family to Ogdensburg. There he joined the Baptists, and was chosen by them to preside over a small parish at Stockholm. In 1859 he was ordained a Baptist minister.

After laboring at Stockholm some two years, he returned to Albany, and on account of the state of his health, followed his trade until the fall of 1862.

Carried away by a patriotic enthusiasm, he resolved to sacrifice business, home, family, and the comforts of a peaceful life, to engage in the great struggle for the Union. Failing to secure the position of chaplain, he enlisted as a private in the ranks of Company G, One Hundred and Sixty-ninth Regiment New York State Volunteers. On reaching home the following Tuesday evening, he told his family that he had enlisted, and expected to start South at once. It was very sad to them to think he must leave them so suddenly, and with no other hopes than those of a private. But he remarked he had fully counted the cost, and had made up liis mind to go, and to fulfil every duty assigned him, to the end. His friends said, ''the Lord's will be done," and bade him a tearful adieu.

He left that same night, and on the following morning he joined his company at Troy, and left that day for New York. After remaining there a few weeks, they started for Washington. Having there passed a review, the regiment encamped at Fort Abercrombie, and remained there all winter. From that time he was with his regiment always on duty; always at his post, and always foremost in battle.

He shared with his regiment the battle of Chancellorsville. As the men were quite tired after arriving at the scene of action, having come at double quick for the last five miles, they were put on the reserve. While in that position, General Corcoran rode up and asked the Colonel of the regiment, if he could capture such a battery and support it. He replied in the affirmative, and turning to his men he ordered them to the front; and they were soon in the hottest of the fight. After making a grand and successful charge, they succeeded in taking the battery, and supporting it nobly until the engagement was ended. During the severest of the fight, the Colonel, while swinging his sword and cheering his men on to victory, was wounded severely through the hand, and was carried to the rear. Afterwards he was taken to his tent, and at the close of the battle and of the day, the men being almost exhausted, pitched their tents, took their blankets, and were soon fast asleep.

Moving from there, they composed a part of the army that was to march on Richmond. But after a short march they found their number was small compared with that of the rebels, and the officers resolved to retreat. As night had just set in, they laid on their arms, facing the enemy, who had also encamped not far from them, ready for pursuit the next morning. But in the deadness of the night, their expectations were foiled; for the order silently came to every ear, to muffle artillery, and retreat in silence, which order was promptly obeyed. In the morning, the rebels, seeing how they had been foiled, immediately pursued, and thus began their longest march, it being fifteen days before they encamped, which was then on Folly Island. A large number of their men gave out by the way, and some died of exposure. Mr. Conley participated in the bombardment of Charlestown and the forts, and was at the taking of Fort Wagner and Gregg. While there he experienced two very narrow escapes. After a hard day's work in the entrenchments, being relieved, he, with two or three others, went outside the works, and as they supposed, out of all danger. There they threw themselves down on the ground to rest, and soon were all asleep. While Iying there, a shell from one of the forts, fell between him and his comrades and exploded, killing one comrade and severely wounding; the other. But it did not harm him in the least. The noise awoke him, and after the dust had cleared away, he saw what had happened, and fully realized the danger he had been exposed to, and from which he had so miraculously escaped. With deep sorrow for his companions and gratitude to God for sparing him, as he hoped, for some future good, he knelt down and offered a fervent prayer to his Heavenly Father.

At another time he exposed himself in a case of real necessity. The men, on leaving the island to work in the intrenchments, generally carried water enough with them to last until they returned. But, as at this time they remained there much longer than they expected, their water became exhausted. When the time came again to be relieved, General Gilmore made his appearance and told them they would have to remain on duty for the present, as no relief could be spared. The men remarked that they had no water, for which they were suffering. The General told them there was a beautiful spring outside the bomb proof, but that they would probably meet death before reaching it, for, as the rebels knew it was greatly needed by us, they watched it very carefully. But Mr. Conley, preferring to die by the bullet than by the slow torture of excessive thirst, resolved to venture, and just as the sun was setting and its last rays were tinging the works around him, you might have seen his form gliding softly outside the works, and, as he rounded the corner of the bomb proof, he went in a straight line to the spring. He knew that he was exposed to the keen eye of the sharpshooters, who were unseen by him, and he expected every moment to feel the sharp pangs of a bullet, and to receive his death wound. He saw, just ahead of him, in a low spot of ground, the spring, and also, heard its silent murmur. He saw, also, two other men who were risking their lives for the same object. As they were all making quickly for the spring, they suddenly heard a report, then another, and another followed in quick succession. It was at once evident that they were each separately shot at but all narrowly escaped. One had his button hole torn out and another had marks on his coat where the ball had touched. After hastily filling their cups, and partially slaking their own thirst, they retreated behind the bomb proof, and bore the precious fluid to their suffering companions.

The regiment, after the taking of Forts Wagner and Gregg, marched for Florida, where they were held as skirmishers. On one occasion, when Mr. Conley was ordered to do, on Sunday, something that he knew was not necessary, he refused, remarking that it was the Sabbath and that he always observed that day, to rest, and to render prayer and thanksgiving to Almighty God. The officer answered that there were no Sundays with a soldier, and, with upraised bayonet, he ordered him to follow him. But Mr. Conley said, if it was necessary he would go, for then it would be his duty; but as it was not, he positively refused to work on the Sabbath. He then said to the officer: "You may pierce me through and through; that will only affect my frail body, but my soul belongs to God." After this the officer withdrew and left him to his own meditations.

After leaving here they took up their line of march, to aid in the siege of Petersburg. On the way he was for the first time taken seriously sick, and when they landed at Hilton Head, he was left, where for some six weeks he continued sick, and at times was expected to die. When he was rational he was very anxious about his family, and requested the Doctor to write for him, stating that Mr. Conley was very sick, and not expected to live. The letter, however, was delayed, and his family did not receive it until some two weeks after its date. It was to them very sorrowful news, and that night they retired with heavy hearts, supposing, by this time, he had gone to be with his God. But the very next morning their deep sorrow was turned into extreme joy. Looking out of the window, who should they see coming slowly up the road, laden with his knapsack, but the father, whom they, ere this, supposed to be dead. With what delight he was ushered in, can be better imagined than described. He was received as a father alive from the dead! Soon he related the circumstances connected with his return home.

After the surgeon had written that he was not expected to live, the fever turned for the better, and he slowly began to recover. When just able to walk out, he was asked if he thought he would soon be able to join his regiment, which was at that time busy before Petersburg. He said he hoped so, for he would much rather be there than here. In a few days he began to feel as well as usual, except being a little weak. When he was asked again if he was now able to go, he replied in the affirmative. "Well," said he, "if you are able to join your regiment, you are more able to enjoy a furlough," and, much to his surprise (as he had never expressed a wish for one), the surgeon handed him his papers for three weeks' absence. But he hesitated about receiving it, for he said, before leaving home, that he would never ask for a furlough, unless there was sickness or death in the family, as he wanted to stay until his time was out, and then come home to remain. For the idea of a second parting was to him worse than the first. But as he knew his regiment was soon to be engaged in deadly strife, he thought the furlough was sent by God, for him to see his family once more on earth. He therefore accepted it, and expressed his thankfulness for the same.

After enjoying himself to the uttermost, for over two weeks, he again had to part from those he held so dear, and evidently this time with a heavier heart than before. For as he went to the boat he remarked to his son that he had appreciated home more than ever before. When they parted, it was in tears. Although he still had that same patriotic feeling, yet he also retained his deep love for his family. When the boat loosened from the dock, he said it was deeply impressed upon his mind that he would never step upon Albany shores again; and he never did. As his son watched him until he had passed from his sight, it was the last time that he looked upon those features that were so dear to him.

After returning, he joined his regiment in the intrenchments before Petersburg, and soon after was engaged in battle. When the first charge was made upon the rebel fortifications, his regiment was then in the reserve, and was ordered to make the second, which they did, at a loss of nearly two-thirds of their company. When it was ended, he found himself alone with his dying comrades around him; but after retreating to the rear, he found those that, like him, had survived. As he saw they were feasting from their haversacks, he reached for his, but it was gone. It had been shot away, as also his cartridge box. That same night, while he and two others were in a rifie pit, a shell from the city fell in their midst, killing one and mortally wounding another. Again was he miraculously preserved, and again did he thank God for so providentially sparing him.

Soon after the great assault on Peterslnirg, while he and three others were out scouting, he, with the rest, was taken prisoner, and confined in prison at Richmond. Believing starvation awaited him, and preferring to die a more speedy death, he determined to attempt an escape. In about three weeks he succeeded in digging through the walls, swimming the river, and making his escape. After reaching our lines, his first thought was for his tamily, and, still dripping with water, he wrote them a few lines to allay their anxiety.

After remaining a few months before Petersburg, he accompanied his regiment on the unsuccessful Fort Fisher expedition, under Butler. He also engaged in the second attack, which proved his death. He was on guard over the main magazine of Fort Fisher, at the time of its fearful explosion, and whether blown to pieces, or buried beneath the ruins, none can tell.

After passing unharmed through nearly three years of terrible fighting, and when all were quietly resting after the fatigues of a hard fought victory, he is, without a moment's warning, called into the presence of his Maker.

He is gone! No fond family, or group of tearful friends, watched with silent anguish his last breath; no tolling bell or muffled drum followed him to the grave; no marble monument marks his last resting place. Death found the soldier at his post. The stars alone beheld the fearful rending of his poor shattered body; and the stifled thunder of the exploding magazine, and the shrieks of the wounded, alone rang his funeral knell. The memory of his kind words and noble acts is his monument, and the recollection of his sad yet honorable death, will ever hold a most honored place in all our hearts.

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