Heroes? We all can name some that we’ve had. When I was young I played baseball, therefore men like Yogi Berra got tagged. Seems to me some heroes are made, some are born, some are just “there,” ready, at a certain moment in time.
As an amateur historian and blog-writer I make good use of dictionaries. If I am going to write about a hero I better make sure I know what one is, other than a definition from my youth. I looked; and now I am really confused. If a hero is a person who is admired for great or brave acts then there is no doubt in my mind that most of the over 3,000,000 men and boys who fought in our nation’s Civil War were heroes, regardless their cause.
So, how do I define and write about Captain Mervin Clark? I looked deeper in the dictionary to Medal of Honor recipients, who among other things showed resolute fearlessness, fortitude, and endurance. Mervin Clark went unrewarded for his actions, at least not awarded a decoration so enduring.
In my view Clark was born a hero, just as I think WWII General Douglas MacArthur was. MacArthur’s legacy was born in Tennessee. Clark’s legacy was born aboard the Mayflower.
Now that I have your attention; here is the story. First, MacArthur’s was born at Missionary Ridge where his father Arthur was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, and as a daring nineteen year old, when he was shot early in the Battle of Franklin. As a member of the 24th Wisconsin he was part of Opdyke’s units that came forward and helped push back the confederate troops that broke the main line at Columbia Pike. He survived his wounds to go on and experience more wars and a life full of service.
Mervin Clark was born November 5, 1843 in Cleveland, Ohio. According to family historians a great-grandfather, a few times over, was a pilot and mate on the “Mayflower” that sailed in 1620. He made several crossing of the Atlantic and was held captive in Havana and Madrid in 1611 and 1616. That man was named John Clark and his son. Thomas Clark, born in Middlesex, England, arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in July of 1623 aboard the “Ann.” He was a master of many trades; carpenter, yeoman and merchant. He was taxed in 1632 and in 1633 he took the oath of a Freeman. In 1643 was listed as one able to bear arms.
Needless to say, if true, Mervin Clark was born of stock that laid the first blocks that built our country, so to preserve it was born in.
At the age of 17 Mervin enlisted in the 7th Ohio Infantry in June, 1861, just weeks after the firing on Fort Sumter. After a three-month enlistment spent, for the most part, in training at Camp Dennison near Cincinnati he reenlisted for three years. The 7th had an honorable record of service at such places as Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Lookout Mountain, and Mission Ridge. It was ordered home to be mustered out, which was done on July 8, 1864, at Cleveland. During its term of service 1,800 men had served with the regiment, and now only 240 able-bodied men remained to bring home their colors. After his training and at the very beginning of his three years’ service Mervin was promoted to 1st Sgt. He was discharged as Captain!
Mervin Clark decided that he was not through serving his country and its cause. Shortly after returning home he volunteered again, as a private in the infantry. However, his previous service did not go unnoticed. The Governor of Ohio appointed him second in command of a new regiment being formed at Camp Dennison, the 183rd O.V.I. Lt. Col. Clark would now lead a new regiment of green, untested recruits, hastily assembled near Cincinnati, into battle in Middle Tennessee about six weeks later.
During the Battle of Franklin the 183rd was positioned to the west of the main line’s center, in reserve. However, one company was moved forward to fill a gap in the works. When the Confederate Army rushed forward to meet their enemy on the afternoon of November 30, 1864 that one company, in fear and confusion, turned and ran. As the enemy began to climb through the hole left Mervin Clark ordered his men on the reserve line forward. As they rushed ahead the color bearer fell to the ground, shot in the arm and leg. Clark gathered the colors from the ground and stood up, flag in one hand, and called out to his men to retake the works. As his men responded to his call a single bullet ripped through his head and killed him instantly. Inspired by Clark’s leadership the 183rd continue to rally and helped withstand the attack and turned the enemy back.
As the fighting subsided Lt. Col. Clark was wrapped in a blanket and buried on the battlefield. Eric Jacobson, in Baptism of Fire, writes that his grave was carefully marked in a manner that his body was able to be exhumed by family in the spring of 1866 (now shown to be much earlier) and taken home. I found in Feb. 2016 burial records that show he was first interred at Erie Street Cemetery in January 1865, and later in June of 1866 he was reinterred at Woodland Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio.
Woodland Cemetery Grave Stone
Most of the Union Army troops killed at Franklin were removed from the battlefield and reinterred at Stones River National Cemetery nearby. To this day records at Stones River indicate that Mervin Clark is buried there. A couple years ago, through no real intended action on my part, I was able to connect persons at Stones River and Woodland together to make correct the National Cemetery records. It is possible that he was taken to, even buried at, Stones River and gathered there by family.
Near the end of the war numerous forts were built around Louisville, Kentucky to protect it from invasion. In recognition of Mervin Clark’s valor on the battlefield one of them was named for him. It was located at (now) 36th and Magnolia Streets.
As a country we have taken to recognize that in 1620 a group of people landed on our shores with a cause and purpose. Our country grew from that landed place. From those causes men like MacArthur and Clark, (and I do acknowledge millions more) decided that preserving what was built was a worthy thing that demanded resolute fearlessness, fortitude, and endurance.