John H. Bissell Jr. was born January 22, 1836, in New York, the son of John H. Sr. (b. 1809) and Mercy (b. 1806).
New York native John Sr. married Massachusetts born Mercy and they settled in New York for some years. Between 1837 and 1839 John’s family moved from New York to Michigan and settled in Clinton County, probably in or near Watertown. By 1850 John Sr. was working as a blacksmith and living in Watertown, Clinton County, and John Jr. was living with his family, having attended school the previous year. In 1860 his family was still residing in Watertown, but John Jr. was not living with them. According to a statement he gave some years later, between 1856 and 1861 he worked variously at a sawmill in Kent County, and as a farm laborer in Wacousta, Clinton County.
John Jr. stood 5’9” with dark eyes, dark hair and a dark complexion, and was 26 years old and working as a farmer and living in Watertown when he enlisted in Company G on May 10, 1861. Jerome Ten Eyck, who was in command of the company during the battle of Gettysburg and who knew Bissell since the beginning of the war, described John as “a number one soldier” and that in his opinion “no man in his company was more prompt for duty than” John. He was wounded in one of his legs on July 2, 1863, when the Regiment became hotly engaged at the Peach Orchard on the second day of the battle of Gettysburg, and subsequently admitted to the hospital in Gettysburg the same day with a wound to “testicle and left thigh”. Edgar Clark, also of Company G, wrote home on July 6, 1863, that Bissell had been wounded in his hips.
In any case, on July 15 John was transferred to the general hospital at McKim’s mansion in Baltimore, Maryland, and from there he was sent to Patterson Park general hospital in Baltimore on November 11. He was subsequently discharged as a convalescent and returned to duty on or about February 13, 1864. Although he was reported to be a patient in one of the hospital in Philadelphia, this cannot be conformed. Charles Price of Company G wrote home on July 30 that Bissell had been “wounded in the thigh (not seriously)” and that he had been “taken to Baltimore Hospital.”
On August 7 Price wrote home that John “was wounded in the groin and leg, not seriously though. I heard from him the other day, he was at Baltimore Hospital with many others from the Regt. getting along comfortably, but it will be some time before he will be able for duty.”
John eventually rejoined the regiment and at some point he was promoted to Sergeant. He reenlisted on February 29, 1864, near Culpeper, Virginia, crediting Watertown, and was presumably absent on veteran’s furlough in March.
In fact it was while he was home in Michigan on furlough that he married to Carrie (or Caroline) E. Andrus (1837-1909), on April 20, 1864, in Wacousta, Clinton County, and they had at least one child, a daughter Marcia (Mrs. Fay Ward, 1869-1933).
He probably returned to the Regiment on or about the first of May, and may have been wounded during the Wilderness-Spotsylvania campaign of early May of 1864, and was absent sick in the hospital in May (although this remains uncertain).
John eventually returned to duty and was transferred to Company F, Fifth Michigan infantry upon consolidation of the Third and Fifth Michigan Regiments on June 10, 1864, although for reasons unknown he was soon afterwards reduced to the ranks from Sergeant. He was reported missing in action June 22, 1864, near Petersburg, Virginia. He was confined at Libby prison in Richmond, Virginia on June 25, then sent to Lynchburg on June 29, and on to Goldsboro, North Carolina, where he was admitted to prison hospital no. 3 with dysentery on February 23, 1865.
He claimed in 1899 that he had also been sent to the prison in Florence, South Carolina. And in fact, George Morton, who served in company B, First U.S. Sharpshooters and who was taken prisoner on June 21, testified after the war that he and John had been together at Libby, then Andersonville and then the prison at Florence “until the following Feb. 1865. Bissell was troubled with rheumatism and scurvy a good deal through the winter and some time in Feb he was taken sick with fever and became very weak and almost helpless so much so that myself and the rest of the boys had to help him out.” George added that all they had for living accommodations was “just a hole in the ground where we lay all winter without blankets or hardly any clothes.” George noted that “We were taken out of Florence Prison some time the latter part of Feb and taken to Wilmington, North Carolina,. Bissell was so bad that he was unable to go with us so he was left behind but I saw him pass by the cars a few days after while we were standing on the track at Wilmington with some other soldiers leading him.”
John was paroled at N.E. Ferry, North Carolina, on March 4, 1865, and reported to College Green Barracks, Maryland on March 13.
John was sent to Camp Chase, Ohio on March 14 where he was furloughed on March 24. He was reported as having deserted on May 2, 1865, and was AWOL from May 2 to June 15 when he returned to Camp Chase (although the charge was removed by an act of Congress in July of 1885). He was mustered out from Camp Chase on June 19, 1865.
After the war John returned to Michigan and settled back into Watertown. By 1870 John was working as a laborer and living with his wife and child next door to his parents in Watertown. John Jr. eventually moved to Eaton County and was living in Grand Ledge in 1883 drawing $4.00 per month ( pension no. 209,521, dated May of 1882), and in 1890, 1894 and 1898; indeed he lived virtually his entire postwar life in Grand Ledge. He was still living in Grand Ledge in 1888 when he became a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association, and he was also a member of Grand Army of the Republic Halbert Post No. 108 in Grand Ledge.
John died of pneumonia in Grand Ledge on February 18, 1909, and was buried in Oakwood cemetery: block B, lot 103, Grand Ledge.