Colors of the One Hundred and Eighty-Eighth Infantry
Companies of the 188th NYIV Regiment
Rochester boasts unassuming
His division fired the last shot in the war, when the Confederacy "busted up" on April 9.
In the second Battle of Bull Run on Aug. 30, 1862, McMahon was struck by a shell fragment. The impact caused not only a severe wound but a "concussion of the spine" that impaired his ability to walk. Hospitalized briefly in Washington, he was sent home to recover. He remained shaky after his return to camp in mid-October, and only in December, 1862, could he again reassume command of Company G.
Constantly on the firing line, the 105th had lost so much manpower by March 17, 1863, that it was consolidated with the 94th N.Y. Volunteers. McMahon continued to captain the company under its new number.
Thus far the Rochester officer had been warring in Virginia. At the end of June, 1863, his regiment was ordered north to Pennsylvania, where the eye of the storm was focusing on Gettysburg. The 94th New York was placed under the command of Major General John F. Reynolds.
Captain McMahon saw little of the vast battle. He was taken captive during the fighting on July 1.
At that time it was customary for captors to demand the swords of captured officers. McMahons sword had been given to him a year before by the Rochester Common Council. During the formal conferral, somebody had half jokingly warned the captain, "Dont let the Johnnies have it!"
Perhaps Captain Jack remembered this warning as he unsheathed the weapon at Gettysburg. Before he handed it over to the "Jonnie Rebs," he broke the blade over a stump. One of the Confederate lieutenants wanted to shoot McMahon then and there, but was overruled. The commanding rebel officer sent McMahon and others to Libby Prison at Richmond.
Captain McMahon spent form July, 1863, to March, 1864, in the tedious confinement of this former tobacco warehouse. Libby was not the most notorious of the Souths prisoner-of-was camps, but it did affect his health. He was released on March 7, 1864.
Two days later he reported, head high, at the Federal "Camp Parole," in Virginia. He had been promoted to major on Feb. 17. His military superiors then granted him a generous leave.
Rochesterians had long since heard of McMahons daring act of disdain at Gettysburg and his long internment at Libby. When he reached his hometown, the Common Council resolved to present "Major Jack" an even finer sword to replace the one sundered and surrendered.
The presentation took place during a Council meeting held the evening of March 31, 1864, with many guests in attendance. Mayor Nehemiah Bradstreet presented the gift.
The mayor was not content with merely handing over the sword. In a long, grandiloquent oration he praised the valiant impulse that prompted McMahon to enlist; the courage he had demonstrated in leading his men, even when he was wounded and, of course, the fine disdain he had shown to his captors at Gettysburg.
In contrast, Major Jacks reply was brief and unassuming,. He thanked the city for its kind attention. He disclaimed any right to the title "hero" in a particular sense: many another Rochester soldier deserved it more than he, Major Jack said.
The reason he had enlisted was to aid "somewhat " in putting down the rebellion. He had simply done his duty - rather tried to do it - neither seeking or expecting a reward. As for giving the rebels a broken sword, he had merely wanted - as he puts it - to "lessen the spoils of the traitors."
The Tiffany sword and scabbard, tarnished by age but still eye-catching is now the property of the Rochester Museum and Science Center.
McMahon reported back at camp in May, 1864. He was commanding officer of the 94th from midsummer to autumn, when the unit engaged around Petersburg, Va.
That October, his military career took another turn. A new upstate regiment, the 188th Volunteer Infantry, was raised by his brother Michael. New York Gov. Horatio Seymour named John as its head. His commission as colonel was dated Oct. 20.
The new outfit was quickly dispatched to Virginia in the spring of 1865, to fight under Gen. Philip Sheridan. The units career in the field was brief, but very intensive.
From March 27 to April 9 the men were engaged in fighting or marching night and day. He was wounded at Five Forks and again shortly afterward, but in neither case seriously.
His division fired the last shot in the war, when the Confederacy "busted up" on April 9. President Lincolns assassination on April 14th imposed a month of mourning, but Col. McMahon was happy to ride at the head of his regiment in the grand military review staged in Washington on May 23-24. The 188th New York was mustered out on July 1. McMahon accompanied his veterans back to Rochester.