Born in Lancaster, NH, on December 6, 1836, Perkins and his family relocated to Lowell when he was just 4. According to historian Richard Howe, after graduating from Lowell High School, Perkins “immediately became engaged in the world of international business, working for several years in Buenos Aires and for several more in Valparaiso, Mexico. In these places, he became fluent in both Spanish and French, skills that became invaluable during his military service in Louisiana.”
Perkins was 24 years old in 1860 when he joined the 2nd Battalion, Massachusetts Voluntary Cavalry. Rising to the rank of 1st Lieutenant, Perkins commanded Company C of the 2nd Battalion, which later became the 3rd
Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment
There are no fewer than three detailed accounts of Solon Perkins' heroic, but ultimately fatal, final charge. Testimony delivered by Rev. Owen Street of the Lowell High School Chapel, in late June, 1963, was based on details from letters written to Perkins' mother. They read, in part:
When the army of General Banks moved upon Port Hudson, [Perkins] was ordered there and wrote his last letter from that place. The booming of the enemy’s cannon, only 400 yards distant forbade his sleep, and he arose in the night and continued his letter . . . until an order came for him to support a battery; he stated the fact, recorded his farewell, and there his pen rested forever. The same day that this letter was received, there came another, from another hand, saying that his earthly career was closed.
Regimental historian James Kendall Ewer, in his first-hand account entitled, The Third Massachusetts Cavalry in the War for the Union, tells is that:
Among the gallant soldiers who gave their lives for their country during the siege of Port Hudson, Captain Solon A. Perkins deserves more than a passing notice. He made a good record before the company became identified with the regiment, serving with distinction in many of the minor engagements in Louisiana. During the siege of Port Hudson, the cavalry was placed under the command of Grierson, and to them was given the duty of guarding roads, scouting through the enemy’s country around Port Hudson, and protecting the Union lines from incursions of the enemy... In the midst of the battle, a bullet struck Perkins, and he fell, to rise no more.
He was killed in battle near Port Hudson. Performed his duty in life, and died bravely in the defense of his country and of liberty. He helped recruit a company of cavalry in the fall of 1861 and receiving the commission of a Lieut. went out with Gen. Butlers expedition to the Gulf. His Captain being lost overboard near Fort Jackson April 62, he commanded the company from that time till he fell. He was a true type of the cavalry officer, dashing, brilliant, brave and highly strategic and for these qualities was often complimented by his superior officers. In a letter urging his promotion to the rank of Major. Gen. Weitzel spoke of him as, “The man who to-day has the finest and most serviceable cavalry company to whom is due the honor of making it what it is. Who is the bravest and ablest of officers, and has accomplished more than any officer in this department. He has deserved promotion (he said) by his ability, his industry, his efficiency, his bravery and his success.” This recommendation was approved by Gen. Banks, and the Majors commission made out but never reached him. During the last year of his service he was constantly skirmishing with the enemy. He led Gen. Banks advance to Red River and Port Hudson was four times wounded and had seven horses killed under him. Very few could bear hardship to the same extent or with less injury. Yet in a letter closed the day before he fell, he said, "I would rather lose an arm than endure what I have aside from my wounds, the last eight months." The changes of war he counted from the start and in that last letter he said, "I often think it more blessed to die on the battlefield for ones country, than to live long years in civil life."