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Percifer D. Devinney

Percifer D. Devinney was my 4th great grandfather. He was born in Brighton, Beaver county, Pennsylvania about 1806. At the time, western Pennsylvania was still very much frontier, having been opened to settlers only 14 years before his birth. The area was originally settled as farmland, but the discovery of coal, sandstone, and limestone combined with navigable rivers would change the region forever. It’s hard to know what Percifer’s life was like at the beginning of the 19th century, but he appears to have been dissatisfied. In 1829, he left his tanner’s trade behind and traveled to Newport, where he enlisted in the Army. The recruiter described him as five-foot seven-inches tall, gray-eyed, red-haired, with a “sandy” complexion. Percifer’s provincial life was about to be turned upside-down.

After five years service, Percifer was discharged in May of 1834 at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri. This was a time of conflict in Missouri, between slaveholders migrating from the South and Mormons moving westward. The western part of the state was still Indian territory. Under the shadow of impending conflict, Percifer left the new frontier behind and returned to Beaver county. There he married Mary Grant in 1836 and resumed his work as a currier. Life in Pennsylvania apparently didn’t work out and Percifer rejoined the Army a second time. By 1840, Percifer found himself in New Orleans and enlisted with the 4th Infantry, Company I under Lt. Prince. His regiment was involved in the Creek and Seminole campaigns in Georgia and Florida, and he was later stationed in western Louisiana. The 1842 killing of soldiers in his regiment by Mexican raiders contributed to American involvement in the Mexican-American War.

Stock image painted by H. Charles McBarron, Army Art Collection

Mexican-American War Uniforms, Painted by H. Charles McBarron, Army Art Collection

In 1844, Percifer was discharged and reenlisted once again at Camp Salubrity, Natchitoches, Louisiana. During his third deployment, the 4th Infantry under the command of Gen. Zachary Taylor, invaded Mexico. Other notables in the regiment included Lt. Ulysses S. Grant and Capt. Robert E. Lee. At the Battle of Monterrey, Percifer likely experienced the US Army’s first experiment with urban warfare, dubbed “mouse holing”. This involved digging through the adobe walls and ceilings of homes and fighting hand-to-hand with the defenders. At the end of the war in 1848, the 4th Infantry left Vera Cruz for Mississippi and proceeded to New York for garrison duties. Percifer was discharged at Plattsburgh Barracks in December of 1849. He returned once more to Beaver county and married his second wife Rachael shortly thereafter. Percifer and Rachael had at least two boys, Pierce (my 3rd great grandfather) in 1855 and Thomas in 1857.

Percifer was living in Pulaski, Pennsylvania in 1870. He’s buried at Grove Cemetery in New Brighton. The Department of Military Affairs has a card on file that says to place a veteran’s flag on his grave, but the card lists his son’s grave instead of his. It amazes me that such stories have not survived the generations of our family. Percifer’s name is signed on a single piece of paper at the bottom of a box in the back of an aunt’s closet. If not for that paper, I may never have known he existed.

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