John Grubb Park was born on September 22, 1827 in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. His parents were Francis and Sarah Parke. When John was 8 his family moved to the Philadelphia area. He studied at a private academe, then at the University of Pennsylvania before entering West Point, graduating second in his class (USMA 1849).
Parke was given a commission as second lieutenant in the prestigious Topographical Engineers. He was involved in boundary surveys in Arizona and Iowa and in surveys for the proposed railroad to the Pacific coast. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in July 1, 1856. In 1857 he was made chief surveyor in the boundary survey of the the United States border with British North America.
With the coming of the Civil War Parke was given an appointment as a brigadier general in the United States Volunteers and took part in Burnside’s attack on the North Carolina coast in 1862. Parke was given command of the attack on Fort Macon, and after its siege and surrender was awarded a brevet of major general on July 18, 1862.
Shortly after this Burnside and his troops were transferred to the Army of the Potomac as the Ninth Corps, with Parke briefly in command of the 3rd Division before becoming Burnside’s Chief of Staff. He held this position through the Battle of Antietam and the Battle of Fredericksburg, by which time Burnside was in command of the Army of the Potomac.
When Burnside and the 9th Corps left the Eastern Theater after the debacle of Fredericksburg, Parke took command of the Corps in the Vicksburg Campaign, and was awarded a brevet of colonel in the regular army on July 12, 1863. After Vicksburg surrendered in July of 1863 the 9th Corps was transferred to Burnside’s Army of Ohio to spearhead the capture of Knoxville, Tennessee. Parke once again became Burnside’s Chief of Staff. After Burnside defeated Longstreet Parke was awarded the brevet of brigadier general in the regular army.
In the spring Burnside took command of the 9th Corps once again as it was transferred to the Eastern Theater for Grant’s Overland Campagin, and Parke once again became his Chief of Staff. He served in this position through the brutal battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House. He was absent due to serious illness during the Battle of Cold Harbor, but returned for the Petersburg Campaign. After yet another bloody debacle in the Battle of the Crater Burnside left the army for good, and Parke was given command of the 9th Corps.
Parke led the 9th Corps through the Battles of Globe Tavern, Peebles’ Farm, and Boydton Plank Road in the Petersburg Campaign. In March of 1865 Parke was in command of the segment of the Union line around Fort Stedman that General Robert E. Lee had chosen for what proved to be the last major Confederate attack of the war. Parke not only successfully repelled the Confederate attack, but discovered that Meade was temporarily absent for a conference, making Parke in command of the Army of the Potomac for a short while. Parke was breveted major general in the regular army for his victory at Fort Stedman. The fall of Petersburg and the surrender at Appomattox followed in the next few days.
After Lee’s surrender Parke commanded the 9th and for a time the 22nd Corps in the Washington area. He mustered out of volunteer service in January of 1866 and reverted to the more humble rank of major of engineers in the regular army. Parke returned to his prewar task of supervising the northwestern boundary survey on September 28, 1866. He superintended the repair and construction of fortifications in Maryland in 1867-68, and after June 1, 1868 served in the office of the Chief of Engineers at Washington, D. C. In 1877 Parke published Compilations of Laws of the United States relating to Public Works for the Improvement of Rivers and Harbors. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel on March 4, 1879 and in 1882 published Laws Relating to the Construction of Bridges over Navigable Waters. He was promoted to colonel on March 17, 1884. On August 28, 1887 he was assigned as Superintendant of the United States Military Academy. He retired from the army on July 2, 1889.
John Parke died in Washington D.C. on December 16, 1900 at the age of 73. He had married Ellen Blight Ricketts, the widow of a fellow topographic engineer officer who had died of typhoid fever in 1862 after serving on McClellan’s staff in the Peninsula. John and Ellen, who died in 1903, never had children. All three are buried in Philadelphia at the Church of St. James the Less.