Chapter 16: Michigan and the Civil War.
When Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, which opened immense regions to slavery where it had previously been prohibited, the nation started down the road to disunion. In the years that followed, the Kansas troubles, the Dred Scott decision, and John Brown's raid further heightened sectional animosity. Henry Clay, the great compromiser, was dead. So was Daniel Webster, who in 1850 had alienated his New England followers by advocating compromise. Other longtime political leaders, such as Michigan's Lewis Cass, whose devotion to the Union had led them to advocate compromises of sectional differences in order to avoid the Union's destruction, were now too old to be effective in keeping the country on a middle-of-the-road course. Extremists in both sections--abolitionists in the North, secessionists in the South--were attracting more followers, although in 1860 they were probably still in the minority.
Already the leading Protestant churches had broken into northern and southern factions over the slavery issue. Many professional and business organizations had done the same. The Whig Party was dead. In its place was the Republican Party, a purely sectional aggregation of former Whigs, Democrats, and Free-Soilers. By 1860 only one major national organization remained that could hold together the North and the South: the Democratic Party. If it could decide on a candidate for president who would be acceptable to both sections, the Union might still survive.
Delegates to the Democratic National Convention assembled in Charleston, South Carolina, in late April 1860. It soon became apparent that they were sharply divided. The Southerners not only demanded that their right to carry slaves into the territories be respected, but also that federal laws be passed to secure their possession of slave property while they resided in those territories. Northern Democrats were not willing to go that far. Stephen Douglas of Illinois, their champion, upheld the right of slaveholders to take their slaves into the territories, but he asserted at the same time that slavery could not exist without legal protection, which the territorial legislatures might provide or withhold as they saw fit. Although Douglas commanded a majority of the delegates' votes, the opposition of Southern delegates prevented him from getting the two-thirds majority that was required for nomination. A compromise was sought but none could be found. The floor leader of Douglas's forces was Charles E. Stuart, the former senator from Kalamazoo, and according to Avery Craven, an authority on the Civil War, it was Stuart's actions that made the Southern delegates decide to withdraw from the convention. The convention then adjourned to meet later in Baltimore. When it reconvened in June the deadlock continued. Finally the Southern delegates withdrew once more and the remaining delegates then gave the nomination to Douglas. The Southern Democrats proceeded to nominate John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky, thus completing the split of the party into sectional fragments.
Before the Democrats had reassembled at Baltimore, the Republicans had held their convention at Chicago, starting on May 16, in a new and immense auditorium, called the Wigwam, on the lakeshore. The delegates demonstrated intense enthusiasm, for they scented victory. The foremost candidate for the nomination was William H. Seward of New York, who was also the choice of the Michigan delegation that was headed by Austin Blair of Jackson. Seward was popular in Michigan for several reasons. He was a friend of Zachariah Chandler, and he had a firm attitude on slavery. He had become well known in Michigan a decade earlier as the defense attorney for the men arrested and tried in Detroit in the famous "railroad conspiracy" case. He was also from New York, the state in which a quarter of Michigan's residents in 1860 had been born. Seward had carefully cultivated the support of this large expatriate New York element, and in 1860 trains carrying the New York delegation to Chicago were greeted with cheers for Seward at every stop they made in crossing Michigan. In Chicago there was great excitement and a mad scramble to secure space in the Wigwam, which was built to seat 10,000 and was decorated with evergreen boughs from Michigan. Although Seward was the leading candidate, he had his enemies, including the influential Horace Greeley, and other states had their favorite sons. Seward's opponents were able to prevent his nomination on the first or second ballots. The strongest of the other candidates was Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, and on the third ballot he was nominated. The Michigan delegates were bitterly disappointed at Seward's defeat and some must have had misgivings about the kind of leadership the winning nominee would provide. Four years before, Lincoln had made his one and only public appearance in Michigan when he addressed a Republican rally in Kalamazoo on August 27, 1856. But the views he expressed on that occasion were far too moderate for his predominantly radical audience. On the question of allowing slavery into the western territories, he advocated continuing efforts to arrive at acceptable compromises with the South, and on the fugitive slave issue he reportedly defended the highly unpopular Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. His audience vociferously expressed its displeasure with Lincoln's views on these points, and later in the day Zachariah Chandler, in a speech to the same rally, expressed ideas almost totally at variance with Lincoln's. (1) Nevertheless, in 1860 the Michigan delegation at Chicago pledged its support to the "rail splitter," with Austin Blair promising that Michigan would give Lincoln a 25,000-vote majority.
The 1860 campaign in Michigan was a lively one. Lincoln did not visit the state during the campaign, but the locally popular Seward appeared on his behalf. In October Stephen Douglas appeared at Democratic rallies across the Lower Peninsula. (2) As usual, newspapers were divided between those supporting Douglas and those backing Lincoln, but both sides were strong and positive. Political clubs such as the "Wide Awakes" and the "Invincibles" whooped it up for their favorites. Although the contest in Michigan was clearly between the Republicans and the Douglas Democrats, Breckenridge, the Southern Democratic candidate, had a few supporters, and a small number also worked on behalf of John Bell, who had been nominated by a group of former Whigs from the border states as the candidate of the Constitutional Union Party. The Democrats in Michigan sought to enhance their chances by trotting out as their candidate for governor John S. Barry, who had been elected to that office three times before. But their efforts were in vain. After the ballots had been counted, the Republicans had won a clear victory. Lincoln received 88,445 votes to 64,958 votes for Douglas, not quite the 25,000-vote margin that had been promised but a convincing evidence of Republican strength in the state. (3) Breckenridge received 805 votes and Bell only 373. In the race for governor, John Barry did better than his party's presidential candidate, picking up 67,221 votes, but this still left him far behind the Republican victor, Austin Blair, who received 87,806 votes. The Democrats won only two of the races for the state senate and gained only ten seats in the lower house, while all four of the state's congressional victors were Republicans.
In the nation as a whole the Republicans were also victorious. Even though Lincoln's total popular vote count was considerably less than the combined popular vote of his three opponents, he received 180 electoral votes to only 123 for Douglas, Breckenridge, and Bell combined.
Until Lincoln was inaugurated in March 1861, the impact that his election would have on the nation was not entirely clear. Lincoln avoided committing himself to specific actions until he assumed the full responsibilities of the presidency. The threats of Southern leaders during the campaign to pull their states out of the Union if Lincoln were elected were dismissed by many Michiganians, like others in the North, as mere campaign oratory. (4) Less than seven weeks after the election, however, a convention of delegates in South Carolina voted for the secession of that state from the Union, and before Lincoln was inaugurated, the other states in the Deep South had followed South Carolina and had joined together to form the Confederate States of America.
James Buchanan, whose term as president did not end until Lincoln was inaugurated, held that the Southern states did not have the right to secede, but at the same time he concluded that there was nothing he could do under the Constitution to prevent them from seceding. His indecisiveness was no doubt induced by the fact that he would soon be out of office. Lewis Cass, Buchanan's secretary of state, resigned in disgust in December and returned to Detroit, where he staunchly upheld the Union cause. He sorrowfully noted that as a boy he had witnessed the celebrations that were held at the time of the ratification of the Constitution, and now as an old man he was witnessing what threatened to be the death of the Union established under that Constitution. He now retired after nearly sixty years of public service. He lived until 1866 and thus saw his beloved Union restored at the end of the Civil War.
During the interim between his election and his inauguration, Lincoln's unwillingness to commit himself on his policy toward the South was no doubt the result of the division within his party between those who were receptive to some sort of compromise that would guarantee slavery in the states where it was already established, and those who were opposed to such a conciliatory move to appease the South. Michigan's Republican leaders were among the latter group. Retiring Governor Moses Wisner, in his farewell address on January 1, 1861, declared: "This is no time for timid and vacillating counsels when the cry of treason and rebellion is ringing in our ears." The incoming governor, Austin Blair, was equally positive in his stand for stern measures. He warned in his inaugural address that the Union "must be preserved and the laws must be enforced in all parts of it at whatever cost," adding that "secession is revolution and revolution is the overt act of treason and must be treated as such." The legislature, heeding his recommendation, passed a resolution pledging the military power and the material resources of Michigan to the support of the United States government while voting against sending a Michigan delegation to participate in the Washington Peace Conference that border-state leaders had called in a last-ditch effort to find a compromise that could preserve the Union. Senator Zachariah Chandler in Washington was in the forefront of those who opposed any compromise, making a famous statement in February that "without a little bloodletting this Union will not, in my estimation, be worth a rush."
Lincoln's inaugural address was conciliatory, but it contained a hint of how the new president planned to deal with secession. He warned that he would "hold, possess, and occupy, the property and places belonging to the Government." The Confederacy had already taken over most federal forts, navy yards, and custom houses within its borders when Lincoln spoke these words, but Fort Pickens in Florida and Fort Sumter in South Carolina still were in federal hands. It was Lincoln's announced plan to send supplies into Fort Sumter that precipitated the crisis. There can be little question that Lincoln understood this action would probably be resisted, but he could accept no alternative. Upon learning of this decision, South Carolina demanded that Major Robert Anderson, in command of the fort, evacuate the post. When his reply was not satisfactory, shore batteries at Charleston commenced the bombardment of the fort at 4:30 A.M. on April 12, forcing the surrender of the fort in a few hours. Three days after the firing on Fort Sumter, Lincoln called on the states to furnish 75,000 men for three-months' duty to suppress the rebellion in the South. The brief term of service that he stipulated helped to support a widespread belief in the North that a show of force was all that was required to bring the Southern states back into the Union.
On April 15, Governor Blair was at his home in Jackson when he received a telegram from the War Department advising him that Michigan was being requested to furnish one regiment of ten companies as its share of the force that the president was asking the states to supply. The following day Blair proceeded to Detroit to confer with the state's adjutant general, John Robertson, civil officials, and others on how Michigan could meet its quota. It would be necessary not only to enlist the volunteers but also to house, arm, clothe, and equip them during their initial training period. There were no funds in the state treasury for this purpose. The legislature had adjourned a month earlier after having authorized the governor to raise the military forces that might be needed if a war broke out, but without having appropriated any money to pay for such recruiting activities. Blair would shortly call the legislature back into special session on May 7, but in mid-April immediate action was needed that could not await formal legislative approval. Detroit businessmen suggested that the emergency be met with privately donated funds, which would later be repaid by the state. The sum of $81,020 was soon supplied by individuals in Detroit and outstate communities. Once the funds had been promised, Blair issued his call for volunteers, and the adjutant general was instructed to accept the first ten militia companies that offered their services. There were at the time a total of twenty-eight such companies in the state militia. These companies were actually more local than state organizations, the state having spent less than $3,000 a year for military purposes. In addition, the militia companies, with such high-sounding names as the Detroit Light Guard, Michigan Hussars, Coldwater Cadets, and Flint Union Greys, were as much social as they were military organizations. Before the war they often took part in parades and drills, frequently visiting other cities and towns. When the call to arms came, however, they responded with enthusiasm. Within their ranks were a number of West Point graduates and veterans of the Mexican War who formed the backbone of the state's initial war effort. (5)
In addition to the men belonging to these military organizations, hundreds of others hurried to volunteer as the state was swept by a great surge of patriotic fervor. In Detroit, a flag-raising ceremony on April 18 and a meeting two days later at which the oath of allegiance was administered to all civil and military officials were occasions for an outpouring of public sentiment on behalf of the Union. In Ann Arbor on April 15, a large gathering in the Courthouse Square was addressed by the president of the University of Michigan, Henry P. Tappan, and other prominent citizens, and resolutions were adopted pledging support to the president and appointing a committee to prepare for Lincoln's anticipated call for troops. At a mass meeting in Kalamazoo on April 16, members of both political parties voted unanimously that the rebellion must be resisted and put down by force of arms. By the end of that day, forty-five men had enlisted, the first being a seventeen-year-old youth named William Shakespeare. (6)
The general order forming the state's requested regiment was issued on April 24. The Detroit Light Guard was to constitute Company A, while the other companies were composed of militia units from Jackson, Coldwater, Manchester, Ann Arbor, Burr Oak, Ypsilanti, Marshall, Adrian, and a second company from Detroit. In many cases, older members of these organizations resigned, and their places were filled with younger volunteers. Colonel Orlando Willcox of Detroit, a graduate of West Point and a veteran of army duty in the Mexican War and the West, was appointed commander of the regiment, which was designated as the First Michigan Infantry Regiment.
Nearly all of Michigan's Civil War soldiers would serve in military units that carried the Michigan name in their title. It is thus possible to determine the specific contributions of these men to the war effort by following the reports of their units' activities. In the wars of the twentieth century, the federal government, not the states, assumed the primary responsibility for assembling the nation's fighting forces, and the great bulk of Michigan's warriors served in combat units whose members came from many parts of the country and which bore a United States armed forces designation, thereby making it nearly impossible to single out the particular contributions that Michigan's men--and women--made in these wars.
By April 29 all ten companies of the First Michigan Infantry had arrived at their rendezvous point, Fort Wayne in Detroit. Officers immediately started training the men in military discipline, use of firearms, drill, and battle formations. Friends and relatives were allowed to visit the fort and witness the activities. On May 1, the regiment was formally inducted into federal service, and on the same day the first consignment of rifles arrived. Soon afterward uniforms were provided, and the flamboyant uniforms of the individual companies had to be shipped home. An impressive ceremony was held in the heart of Detroit on Campus Martius on May 11, with the women of Detroit presenting the regiment with the regimental colors that they had designed. Two days afterward, two steamships drew alongside the fort, and the men of the First Michigan, numbering 798, went aboard to begin their trip to the nation's capital, where they had been assigned.
At Cleveland the regiment transferred to railroad cars. In that city and at others along the way, large crowds greeted the Michigan recruits. Delegations brought good things to eat, and women bestowed locks of their hair and an occasional kiss upon the gallant Michiganians. The regiment arrived in Washington at ten o'clock in the evening of May 16, one month and a day after Lincoln's call for troops. It was the first regiment from the western states to arrive at the national capital, which led to Lincoln reportedly exclaiming, "Thank God for Michigan!"
The First Michigan received its first marching orders on May 23 when it was sent across the Potomac to occupy the Virginia town of Alexandria. A company of New York Zouaves was sent by water to arrive at the same time as the Michigan troops. No organized resistance was encountered, but the commander of the New York force, twenty-four-year-old Elmer Ellsworth, was killed by the proprietor of a hotel, a rabid Southern supporter, after Ellsworth had hauled down a Confederate flag that flew over the hotel. Back in Michigan, Colonel Willcox's so-called victory was roundly cheered and was taken as further evidence that the rebellion would be easily suppressed.
The First Michigan included only a few of the men who clamored to get into the fight. The Second Michigan Infantry Regiment was formed under an order of Adjutant General Robertson dated April 25, 1861. It consisted of uniformed militia companies except for those comprised of Kalamazoo and Niles volunteers. The regiment was called into service for three months, but on May 3 President Lincoln, in calling for 42,000 more recruits, changed the term to three years. Accordingly, the men in the Second Michigan Infantry were reenlisted for the longer period, those not willing to do so being allowed to withdraw. Men in this regiment came from Battle Creek, Flint, Niles, Kalamazoo, Constantine, Hudson, and Detroit. Throughout the war companies were composed of friends and neighbors from the same community, a practice generally abandoned in later conflicts. The Third Infantry Regiment was mustered into state service May 21, and into federal service June 10. It consisted largely of men from Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Muskegon. The Fourth Infantry Regiment, recruited mostly from communities in Monroe, Lenawee, Hillsdale, Washtenaw, and Branch counties, was mustered into United States service June 20. The companies of the Second Regiment, like those of the First, were assembled at Fort Wayne in Detroit before starting for the East. The Third and Fourth were transported directly to Washington from their points of rendezvous at Grand Rapids and Adrian, respectively. The period of training for the men in these regiments was brief; all three had arrived in Washington by June 25.
Now throughout the North the cry was "On to Richmond!" With 80,000 troops in the vicinity of Washington an insistent demand for action was heard. General Winfield Scott, a hero of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War as well as the nation's highest ranking military officer, advised delay until the troops could be better trained, but his caution was attributed to his advanced age. President Lincoln, reasoning that the Union troops were probably as well prepared as the Confederates, ordered General Irvin McDowell to strike a blow. The result was the Battle of Bull Run, fought on July 21. The First Michigan was in the thick of the fight. Six of its members were killed in battle, thirty-seven were wounded, and seventy were reported captured or missing. Its commanding officer, Colonel Willcox, suffered a severe wound and was taken prisoner. Although the Union forces were at first successful, the Confederates counterattacked, and the Union retreat turned into a rout. The Second and Third Michigan Infantry were not in the battle but helped cover the retreat. Members of Congress, including Michigan's Senator Zachariah Chandler, who had come out in carriages to watch the battle, scurried back to Washington. The illusion that the war was going to be brief was shattered. It was a testing time for the people of the North. There were voices of despair, but the great majority of the people simply accepted the hard fact that the task ahead was likely to be long and difficult.
For the men of the First Michigan Infantry the battle came at the end of their three-month term of enlistment. Shortly afterward, therefore, the regiment returned to Detroit where the soldiers were greeted with great enthusiasm and were hailed as heroes in speeches delivered by Lewis Cass and others. Some of the officers enlisted in the new First Michigan Infantry for three-year terms, but most of the members of the three-months regiment returned to civilian life and saw no more service in the remaining four years of the war.
These men were the first of approximately 90,000 Michigan men who served in the Union army and navy during the war. (7) This was about 23 percent of the male population of the state according to the census of 1860. Among the various groups in the state, a total of 181 soldiers of the Jewish faith served in Michigan units during the war, a remarkable figure when one considers that only about 150 Jewish families lived in the state at the time. The Jewish soldiers included 11 commissioned officers and 38 officers and soldiers who died of disease or were killed in action. (8) The number of black soldiers who were credited to Michigan--1,661--was also quite large in proportion to the total black population in Michigan, which was less than 7,000, even though about a quarter of these soldiers were recruits who came over from Canada. Most of the blacks were members of the First Michigan Colored Infantry Regiment, which was mustered into service early in 1864. This regiment, which was under the command of white officers, was the one Michigan unit in the war that lost its Michigan name when it was made part of the Union army, at which time it became the 102nd United States Colored Infantry Regiment. The number of Indians from Michigan who entered the army was 145, a relatively small figure in proportion to the state's total Indian population. There appears to have been some reluctance to enlist Indians because of the fear that they were not adaptable to so-called civilized rules of warfare. Many immigrants, some of them not yet American citizens, fought for the Union cause. The Michigan contingents included 3,929 Irishmen, 4,872 Germans, and 3,761 Englishmen. Michigan, which ranked tenth among the northern states in population, ranked eighth in the number of troops furnished. Thirty-one infantry regiments were raised, eleven cavalry regiments, one regiment of engineers and mechanics, fourteen artillery batteries, one regiment of sharpshooters, and a number of miscellaneous units. Approximately five hundred men from Michigan served in the navy, and an undetermined number of Michigan men also served individually or as groups in units that were raised in other states or as members of the relatively small regular United States army. The number of Michigan-designated units was relatively small in contrast to the total number raised in other states, but this was due to Michigan's decision to keep its existing units intact by filling those whose ranks became depleted with fresh recruits rather than organizing the latter into new regiments.
Enthusiasm for the cause and a yen for adventure characterized the early volunteers. As the war advanced it became more difficult to supply the needed manpower. There was a great deal of social pressure on able-bodied men to enlist. The practice of raising companies consisting largely of men living in the same community encouraged friends to enlist together. Governor Blair also adopted the practice, common throughout the states, of appointing popular political figures in an area to be the commanders of the units that were being organized in the belief that they would be particularly good recruiters. When these techniques failed to bring a quick response in meeting the president's periodic calls for more troops, other methods were employed. The legislature authorized townships to raise taxes in order to pay $15 per month to each family whose breadwinner had gone to war, an isolated instance of twentieth-century-style social welfare action in these early years of statehood. (9) Individuals, local governmental units, the state, and Congress provided funds that were used to pay bounties to volunteers. The amounts varied, but a volunteer might pick up as much as a thousand dollars in bounties from these several sources if he enlisted in the right place at the right time. This led to the practice of bounty jumping: unscrupulous individuals deserted as soon as they received their bounties in one place and went off to enlist somewhere else.
When the war's insatiable need for additional manpower was not met speedily enough even by these measures a draft was instituted, first by presidential order in August 1862, and then more formally by act of Congress on March 3, 1863. Only 4,281 Michigan men were actually inducted into the army as a result of this draft. It was possible for a draftee to be exempted not only for health reasons and other reasons common to later draft laws, but also by hiring a substitute to go in his place or by paying a commutation fee of $300. The amount of such fees that were paid in Michigan during the war totaled $594,600, indicating the number of affluent Michiganians who took advantage of this feature of the Civil War draft, which was a major cause of its unpopularity, particularly among poor men who found it impossible to avoid being drafted by either of these means. Another cause of the intense dislike for the draft stemmed from the fact that it was applied only selectively in those areas that had failed to fill their assigned quotas with volunteers. The necessity of resorting to the draft seemed to reflect upon the patriotism of the residents of the affected area, thus adding to the pressures placed on young men to come forward voluntarily by the appointed deadline.
Of those who went to war nearly one out of every six did not return; the number of Michigan men who died in service was close to 15,000. (10) Among the enlisted men more than twice as many died of disease as were killed in action or died from wounds. Most of the military hospitals were scarcely better than pesthouses; physicians and surgeons were rare, and they had no knowledge of the importance of sanitation and antiseptics. Losses among officers tell a different story, with nearly three times more dying from battle action than disease. Whether this difference was due to better food, better living conditions, better care, or to the fact that the officers, in leading their men, were oftentimes more exposed to enemy fire is hard to tell. That death from disease was a far greater threat to the lives of most soldiers than enemy bullets was best exemplified by the experience of the Sixth Michigan Infantry, which suffered the highest number of fatalities of any Michigan unit. Only 78 of the 582 deaths in this regiment were a result of battle action. The remaining deaths were listed under the heading of disease. The latter was not a very exact term, however, because those who died from a variety of causes in prison camps or the Michigan soldiers who were among the more than 1,500 released prisoners killed in the explosion of the steamer Sultana on April 27, 1865, were included under this general heading.
Michigan men served in every section of the various theaters of war and on the sea: in the Peninsular campaign, at Antietam, Shiloh, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, on the Mississippi, Chickamauga, Atlanta, Richmond, and Appomattox. They took part in more than eight hundred battles and skirmishes. Hundreds of examples of individual heroism can be found in the record of these engagements, with sixty-nine Michigan soldiers receiving the Medal of Honor. (11)
Michigan regiments played a crucial role in some of the war's major battles. The Twenty-fourth Michigan Infantry, part of the famed Iron Brigade, was in the thick of the first day's fighting at Gettysburg. By staving off an overwhelmingly superior Confederate force, the Iron Brigade gave the Union commander, General George Meade, time to bring up the rest of his army so they could occupy the positions that Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia assaulted in vain on the third and decisive day of the battle. The Twenty-fourth Michigan suffered 80 percent casualties in this engagement, a higher rate than any of the other four hundred Union regiments at Gettysburg. The regiment was so shattered that it saw only limited front-line duty for the remainder of the war. The First, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Michigan Cavalry regiments also had an important part in the Union victory at Gettysburg. They constituted the Michigan Cavalry Brigade and had been placed under the command of George Armstrong Custer only two days before the battle broke out. Custer, a dashing and flamboyant figure, was a native of Ohio, but his family had moved to Monroe, Michigan, shortly before the war, and Custer would regard that as his hometown, although he spent little time there during the remaining years of his life. In 1863 he was only twenty-four years old, and a recent West Point graduate with the army rank of lieutenant when he was appointed a brigadier general of volunteers and given the command of the Michigan cavalry regiments. At once he found himself confronting Jeb Stuart, the equally picturesque Confederate cavalry leader. Stuart had failed in his major responsibility at Gettysburg of keeping Lee informed as to the location and movements of the Union army, and hoped to retrieve his failure by assaulting the rear of Meade's army at the moment of Pickett's charge, thus assuring the South a great victory. In this design he was foiled by Custer and his Michigan cavalrymen. A cavalry charge launched by Stuart in the classic manner was turned back by the sabers of Custer's horsemen, and Meade's army was thus shielded and assured of victory in the greatest battle of the war.
The year before, on the bloody battlefield of Antietam, 350 Michigan men were killed, wounded, or missing. General Israel B. Richardson of Pontiac, who had entered the service as commander of the Second Michigan Infantry and had been promoted to the rank of major general just before Antietam, was killed while leading a charge in Bloody Lane. The Seventh Michigan Infantry was part of the brigade that crossed the Rappahannock under fire at the start of the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. Michigan regiments also took part in the western battles of 1862. The Twelfth Michigan, commanded by Colonel Francis Quinn of Niles, among other Michigan units, fought at Shiloh. The Third Cavalry and Fifteenth Infantry were commended by General William Rosecrans for their courage, efficiency, and gallantry in the Iuka-Corinth campaign. Michigan cavalry, infantry, engineers and mechanics, and artillery helped turn back the Confederate invasion of Kentucky at the Battle of Perryville. Late in December six Michigan infantry regiments and one cavalry regiment saw action in the Battle of Murfreesboro, where the casualties amounted to nearly one-third of those engaged on both sides.
In July 1863, while Michigan soldiers were fighting at Gettysburg, others were with General Grant in the siege of Vicksburg. Seven Michigan regiments had arrived to strengthen Grant's forces prior to the start of the forty-five-day siege. Ironically, the Confederate commander at Vicksburg, John C. Pemberton, a Philadelphian who had joined the Southern ranks, had served as a young army officer at Detroit, Fort Mackinac, and Fort Brady in the 1830s and early 1840s, a few years before Grant had been stationed at Detroit immediately after the Mexican War. The following September eight Michigan regiments, together with units of Michigan's First Light Artillery and First Engineers and Mechanics, took part in the fierce fighting at Chickamauga. Battery A, First Michigan Light Artillery, a unit organized at Coldwater, suffered frightful losses and its commander, George W. Van Pelt of Coldwater, was killed in a Confederate attack that overran the battery. Eight Michigan regiments helped win the Battle of Chattanooga and retrieve the loss suffered at Chickamauga.
In retrospect, it is apparent that Gettysburg and Vicksburg were the turning points, but this was far from apparent at the time. In many respects the darkest days of the war for the Union cause came in 1864. Heavy casualties necessitated a call for more men. General Sherman's army, which included fifteen Michigan regiments, battled it out with the Confederates in Georgia, finally capturing Atlanta and then marching across Georgia to the sea in one of the dramatic exploits of the war. The heaviest losses, however, occurred in the battles of the Wilderness in Virginia, where General Grant gradually pushed the Confederates under Lee into Richmond and Petersburg. At Spotsylvania, the Seventeenth Michigan Infantry lost 190 out of 225 men in a single attack. Once the Confederates threw up their defenses around the Confederate capital and Petersburg, the Union advance was stalled. At one juncture, a tunnel was dug underneath the Confederate works, four tons of powder were exploded, and Union soldiers rushed forward. The attack, which was poorly organized and ended in dismal failure, was made by a force that included six Michigan regiments. Enemy artillery slaughtered scores of men in the crater formed by the explosion. But in the cavalry battles around Richmond that spring, the Confederacy lost one of its most romantic figures, General Jeb Stuart. At a place called Yellow Tavern a bullet fired by a Michigan trooper named John A. Huff, who had enlisted at Pontiac on February 10, 1864, and was serving in the Fifth Michigan Cavalry, ended Stuart's life. Huff himself was mortally wounded less than a month later.
On April 3, 1865, the Confederate defenses in Virginia collapsed with the fall of Petersburg. Michigan troops were the first Union forces to enter this city, whose fall forced Lee to evacuate the capital of Richmond. All hopes that he and his men could regroup and carry on the fight were quickly ended, and on April 9 the fighting in Virginia ended with Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox. Even so, Michigan soldiers gave their lives afterward in the fighting in the Carolinas before the Confederates surrendered to Sherman on April 26. The Fourth Michigan Cavalry, which had left Michigan in September 1862, found itself in the Deep South at the close of the war, after having distinguished itself in the campaigns in the western theaters. Colonel Benjamin D. Pritchard of Allegan had become the regiment's commander. Shortly after occupying Macon, Georgia, Pritchard learned that the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, was somewhere in south-central Georgia attempting to flee the country. On May 10 Pritchard entered Irwinsville about one o'clock in the morning in search of Davis. He received information that the Confederate leader and his party were camped about a mile and a half away. The place was located and surrounded. Attempting to escape, Davis reached for a coat to put over his shoulders and by mistake took his wife's coat, which led to the story that he was trying to evade capture by disguising himself as a woman. Later that morning, the First Wisconsin Cavalry, also on the lookout for Davis, approached. The two Union regiments each mistook the other for a stray Confederate unit and several men were killed or wounded in the ensuing fight before the mistake was discovered. Pritchard and his staff then delivered their famous prisoner to Fortress Monroe, Virginia, on May 22. Pritchard was given a receipt for Davis, who was described in it as the "late president of the so-called Confederate States of America." Congress had voted $100,000 in reward money to those who captured Davis, and it was initially assumed that this money would go to the Michigan cavalry regiment. In 1868, however, after a prolonged hassle, Pritchard and his men were forced to share the money with a host of officers and other military units that had been engaged in the search for the fleeing Confederate president. (12)
From the thousands of letters and diaries that have been preserved, a great deal of information is available on what life was like for a Michigan soldier during the Civil War. (13) In the early months of the war men entered the service lightheartedly, with no conception of what the life of a soldier would be like. Letters home soon reflected the disillusionment that came with endless drilling, long marches, poor food, bad weather, the tedium of life in the camps during winter, and sickness. The men were impatient to get on with the fighting, and the imminence of action, even though it entailed danger, was viewed with relief. As the going got rougher, there were desertions and "bounty jumping." Many Michigan men were captured and imprisoned at Richmond, Andersonville, or one of the other Confederate prisons where lack of good food, poor sanitation, and disease took many lives. Accounts written after the war recall attempts to escape, sometimes successful, sometimes not.
The ranks of Michigan soldiers included at least one woman. She was Sarah Emma Edmonds, who enlisted at Flint in 1861 disguised as a man under the name of Franklin Thompson. For some time she successfully carried on her masquerade and took part in several battles and skirmishes as a member of the Second Michigan Infantry. Probably because of poor health she deserted in April 1863. Her identity was finally revealed in 1882 when she applied for a pension, although there is some evidence that while she was still in the army some of her fellow soldiers knew her secret. She wrote a book describing her adventures entitled Nurse and Spy in the Union Army. It is a collection of tall tales that stretch the credulity of the reader. A special congressional committee examined her claim for a pension. She was granted an honorable discharge backdated to April 19, 1863, and was given a pension. After the war she married and bore three children. She was accepted into membership in the Grand Army of the Republic--the only woman ever received into full membership by that organization. She died in Texas in 1898. (14)
A yearning for home was a common experience of men at the front. The great adventure had dimmed, and life back in Michigan that had seemed dull when the excitement of war was new now took on an aura of glamour. This is reflected not only in the letters the soldiers wrote home but also in the songs they sang. Shortly after the Battle of Fredericksburg a Detroit woman, Winifred Lee Brent, composed words for a song to be sung to the old German tune "O Tannenbaum," which also was used for the song "Maryland, my Maryland." The verses to the song were first printed in a leaflet, then printed in the Detroit Tribune, and later reprinted and published for the army at the front. The song became immensely popular both in Michigan and among the state's soldiers in the various sectors of the war. The first verse provided a nostalgic introduction:
Home of my heart, I sing to thee! Michigan, my Michigan. Thy lake-bound shores I long to see, Michigan, my Michigan. From Saginaw's tall whispering pines To Lake Superior's farthest mines, Fair in the light of memory shines, Michigan, my Michigan.
There were ten verses in all, many of which centered on famous battles of the war.
Dark rolled the Rappahannock's flood, Michigan, my Michigan. The tide was crimsoned with thy blood, Michigan, my Michigan. Although for us the day was lost, Still it shall be our proudest boast, At Fredericksburg the Seventh crossed, Michigan, my Michigan. (15)
In Michigan life went on much as usual during the war. New railroads were built, lumbering operations were continued, and manufacturing and mining developed rapidly in spite of the shortage of labor. The farmers went about their daily tasks, working overtime and enlisting the aid of older men, boys, women, and new kinds of farm machinery. Prices rose rapidly, but wages more slowly, a fact that encouraged the spread of organized labor. Capitalists dealt with sums that would have been thought fantastic a few years before. Industrialists stepped up production and made fabulous profits. Business after the war never reverted to the leisurely pace of the years before 1861.
Women were busy preparing bandages and clothing for soldiers, organizing "Soldiers' Aid Societies" to carry on this work. (16) These activities, together with recruiting, kept the war constantly before the people. Newspapers were read avidly, and the number of dailies increased. It is probable that many people first acquired the habit of reading a daily newspaper during the war.
The war proved to be a great impetus to the use of labor-saving machinery on the farm. The demand for reapers and mowers was so great that at times it could not be met. Improved harrows, wheat drills, gang plows, horse rakes, cultivators, threshing machines, and stump lifters helped alleviate the lack of male labor. Women working in the fields became a familiar sight. In spite of the shortage of workers, the war brought prosperity to Michigan farmers such as they had never known before. Bumper crops enabled them to send large shipments of wheat, corn, oats, and rye to feed the Union armies. The price of wheat had reached $1.84 a bushel by 1864. One of the most spectacular wartime agricultural developments in Michigan was the enormous increase in the production of hops. A heavy tax on whisky and a growing taste for lager beer heightened the demand for hops, a major ingredient in the brewing of beer. A series of crop failures in New York, the leading producer of hops, further stimulated the growth of hops in Michigan. The cutoff in supplies of Southern cotton increased the demand for wool, while the loss of Louisiana cane sugar stimulated the growth of corn sorghum for molasses. The production of butter and cheese in creameries was another outgrowth of the war. (17)
One method by which the labor-shortage problem was solved was the use of immigrants. The population of the state increased by 435,169 during the sixties, and it is estimated that at least 90,000 of that number were foreign immigrants. (18) The newcomers found employment not only on the farms but also in lumbering, mining, and railroad building. During the first two years of the war the number of foreign immigrants declined. The passage of the Homestead Act of 1862, which enabled aliens who had declared their intention of becoming citizens to acquire public lands free, helped to reverse the trend, and in 1864 Congress passed a contract labor law, permitting immigrants to be brought to the United States under contract to labor for the person or persons who paid for their passage. By 1863 the number of newcomers was above the level of 1860, and it continued to increase during the next two years.
During the first year of the war the copper-mining industry in Michigan was beset by several difficult problems. The price of the metal had dropped to 17 cents per pound; 20 cents was considered a fair price. The domestic market was disorganized and Confederate privateers threatened to cut off the foreign market. But recovery came fast. As government orders for brass buttons, copper canteens, bronze cannon, and naval equipment began to accumulate, prices rose. They were up to 46.3 cents per pound by 1864. Producing mines paid their owners fabulous profits. New discoveries were made during the war and the number of companies increased from sixteen in 1860 to thirty-six in 1865. Oddly enough, production did not keep pace with higher prices; in fact, it fell by a million and a half pounds in 1862, another half-million in 1863, and still another half-million in 1864. The reason seems to be that the scarce labor supply was being diverted to the development of new mines that had not yet come into full production. In spite of the falloff in production, 70 percent of the nation's copper during the Civil War came from Michigan. (19)
The iron-ore industry, like the copper-mining industry, had a lean year in 1861. Production at all the mines declined drastically. This may have been due partly to labor shortage, but it is also attributed to the fact that Cleveland, the main market for Michigan ore, had a large surplus on hand at the beginning of the year and buyers ceased purchasing additional supplies due to the uncertainties at the beginning of the war. Recovery in iron production, however, was even more rapid than in copper. In 1862 the leading mines--the Jackson, Cleveland, and Lake Superior mines--produced more ore than in any previous year. Stimulated by wartime demand, production continued to increase. (20)
The lumber industry was hit even harder at the opening of the war than iron and copper mining, and in this case the lumber business did not fully recover until after the war. The market was glutted at the outbreak of hostilities. The war emergency made it difficult for the lumbermen to secure capital with which to conduct their business. The labor shortage was acute, and higher wages had to be paid to workers. The price of lumber went up, however, almost doubling by 1865. In 1863 Henry H. Crapo, a Flint lumberman, was able for the first time to build up a substantial and uncommitted cash balance. (21)
Railroad building slackened during the war but did not stop. In the Upper Peninsula a line from Escanaba to Negaunee was built between 1862 and 1864. A twenty-mile stretch from Marquette toward Ontonagon was completed in 1865. In the Lower Peninsula, towns and cities voted funds to attract railroads. In 1863 the legislature passed the first act empowering a municipality to use public credit for grants to a railroad. Twelve other such acts were passed in 1864 and eight more in 1865. So general was the belief that the growth and prosperity of a town depended on a railroad that citizens were willing to pledge thousands of dollars to induce the railroad builders to extend lines to their community. A railroad northward from Jackson to Mason was built in the Lower Peninsula during the Civil War. The Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad, connecting Saginaw and Flint, was completed in 1862. In 1863-64 Henry H. Crapo headed a company that built another line connecting Flint with the Detroit and Milwaukee Railroad. In spite of a delay in construction due to a strike of workmen, the line was completed by November 1, 1864.
The Civil War stimulated manufacturing in Michigan. Between 1860 and 1870 the number of manufacturing establishments increased by 174 percent and the amount of capital invested by 201 percent. (22) In Detroit the Michigan Car Company, the Detroit Bridge and Iron Works, the Detroit Safe Company, and the E. T. Barnum Wire and Iron Works were among the plants started during the war. A law passed by the legislature in 1863 permitted the manufacture of beer in spite of the 1855 prohibition law, and this legislation resulted in the launching of many breweries. Following the passage of the National Bank Law by Congress in 1863, national banks were founded in several Michigan cities. Charter No. 22, the first to be granted to a Michigan bank, was that of the First National Bank of Ann Arbor. Also chartered in 1863 were two national banks in Detroit, and one each in Fenton, Ypsilanti, and Hillsdale.
One of the annoying features of wartime life was the scarcity of small change. When the government ceased to redeem its paper currency in gold or silver, individuals and banks hoarded the coins that had been in circulation. At first postage stamps were used for change, but the gummed backs were a nuisance and ungummed stamps were substituted. Finally came the issue of "shin plaster" paper, so called because its size was only two by three inches. It was issued in denominations of five, ten, twenty-five, and fifty cents.
Michigan remained overwhelmingly loyal to the Union cause throughout the war. There was little trouble with "copperheads." Politically, the Democrats, while making some gains during the war, were unable to score major victories. Governor Blair was reelected in 1862, although his margin of victory over his Democratic opponent, Byron G. Stout of Pontiac, a former Republican, was less than 6,000 votes. (Blair's winning margin in 1860 was 20,000 votes.) The Republicans lost one of Michigan's six Congressional seats to the Democrats, who also made sizable gains in both houses of the state legislature.
Two years later, war weariness in the North caused Republican leaders to fear for the success of their tickets on the national and state levels, but late in the summer of 1864, Union victories in Georgia helped to revive support for the Lincoln administration and secured Lincoln's reelection in November. In Michigan Lincoln's margin of victory over the Democratic candidate, General George B. McClellan, was less than half of the margin he had rolled up over Douglas in 1860. On the state level, the Republican candidate for governor, Henry Crapo, the Flint lumberman, had an easier time in defeating his opponent, even though the Michigan Democrats, following the lead of the national party, had nominated a military officer, William M. Fenton, likewise from Flint, who had commanded the Eighth Michigan Infantry from 1861 to 1863. Crapo thus became the first of the so-called lumber barons to be elected governor of Michigan. By contrast, Fenton represented a throwback to past days of Democratic dominance in Michigan, because he had served as lieutenant governor from 1848 to 1852. The Democrats sought to recapture their bygone days of glory by also placing on their state ticket in 1864 such old favorites as John D. Pierce, Rix Robinson, and former governor Alpheus Felch. But this was to no avail as the party not only failed to win back the governorship or any other state executive office but also lost the one seat it had picked up in Congress in 1862. Its state legislative delegation was also reduced.
A highly controversial feature of the 1864 election was the soldiers' vote. At a time when there was no provision for absentee ballots, the legislature in February 1864 had passed an act authorizing Michigan residents who were in the military service to vote, whether they were in the state on election day or not. The resulting ballots cast by Michigan soldiers in the field were overwhelmingly in favor of the Republican candidates and were the deciding factor in a number of legislative and other local contests. In response to a challenge of the legality of this act, the Michigan Supreme Court on January 28, 1865, ruled unanimously that the Soldiers' Vote Act was unconstitutional. The Republican majority in the state legislature chose to ignore the court, however, and voted to seat thirteen Republican senators and representatives rather than their Democratic opponents who would have gained those seats if the votes of the soldiers had been thrown out. (23)
The war, then, saw a continuation of the Republican dominance of state politics that had begun in 1854. In 1863 Zachariah Chandler was reelected by the legislature to the United States Senate, where he emerged during the war as one of the leaders of the Radical Republican forces who were critical of Lincoln's Reconstruction plans for the Confederate states. It was Chandler, however, who was credited with helping assure Lincoln's reelection in 1864 by persuading John C. Fremont, who had been nominated by dissident Republican radicals, to withdraw from the presidential race.
Michigan's other senator during most of the war was Jacob M. Howard, who was, like Chandler, a Detroiter. Howard was first elected in 1862 to fill the unexpired term of the late Kinsley Bingham, and then was elected to a full six-year term in 1865. In both cases, Howard was opposed by Austin Blair, whose outstate supporters objected to having both of Michigan's Senate seats filled by Detroit residents. Howard's victories over Blair in the Republican legislative caucus were evidence of the power that Chandler had come to wield. Blair served with great distinction as the state's governor during all but the last few months of the war. He supported the Lincoln administration vigorously, and with energy and foresight did much to keep Michigan in the forefront of the loyal states. He spared no effort to provide the needed supplies and equipment for Michigan's soldiers. Because his official duties left little time to devote to his law practice, Blair left office at the end of 1864 with his personal finances shattered. He never really recovered, and in 1892, toward the end of his life, friends raised $4,000, which they presented to the former governor at Christmas, "not as charity, but as a token of affection." Politically, too, Blair's wartime defeats in his campaigns for the Senate signaled a decline of a public career that had seemed to hold such promise at the start of the war. Although he did serve in the lower house of Congress in the immediate postwar years, the continuing opposition of Chandler's machine to Blair's higher political ambitions ultimately drove the frustrated Jackson Republican into the Democratic Party ranks in the 1870s. Following his death in 1895, the state erected a bronze statue of Blair at the chief entrance to the state capitol, where it has become one of Lansing's most famous landmarks--a merited tribute to a great leader. (24)
There was much activity on the home front on behalf of the soldiers and sailors from the state. The Michigan Soldiers' Relief Association was formed in Washington, D.C., to take care of emergency needs of Michigan soldiers in the Army of the Potomac. Contributions of money, clothing, and hospital stores were made by the people back home and forwarded to the national capital. Among the services of this organization was the maintenance of a hostel in Washington called the Michigan Soup House, which provided food and lodging for soldiers on leave. A separate Michigan Soldiers' Relief Association was formed back in Michigan in April 1862. It collected and sent to the front hundreds of boxes and barrels filled with food and clothing for Michigan soldiers, including such items as socks, underwear, handkerchiefs, canned fruit, pickles, jellies, and wines. Newspapers, books, needles, pins, thread, and other items were also included. The army maintained hospitals for sick and wounded soldiers, and each regiment had a surgeon. The United States Sanitary Commission was formed to assist the government in this work. A Michigan branch of the sanitary commission was formed in Detroit in November 1861 and was called the Michigan Soldiers' Aid Society. In various towns Ladies' Soldiers' Aid Societies were active. One in Kalamazoo in the fall of 1864 staged a big "Sanitary Fair." The regular state fair was held in Kalamazoo both in 1863 and 1864, and it was in conjunction with this agricultural fair that the women of Kalamazoo originated a plan to enlist statewide support for the various soldiers' aid societies in 1864. Merchandise, produce, farm animals, and implements were contributed and sold for the benefit of the cause. The torn and battle-scarred flags of the Michigan regiments were displayed, and Governor Blair gave the opening address. Over $9,000 was raised. Still another wartime organization that received help from Michigan was the United States Christian Commission, which collected and sent to the front Bibles and religious literature; "delegates," usually ministers, volunteered to serve in army hospitals for a period of six weeks to comfort the sick and dying.
The firm support that the people of Michigan gave to the Lincoln administration was based primarily on a determination to restore the Union. There appears to have been little enthusiasm among most of the civilians and soldiers at the outset of the war for freeing the slaves. For example, in 1861 and 1862 some Ann Arbor residents had highly vocal and even violent reactions to the appearance in that town of two antislavery lecturers, Parker Pillsbury and Wendell Phillips. (25) Lincoln's primary object in the early months of the war was to keep the border slave states in the Union, and he steadfastly refused to turn the war into a crusade against slavery. When he revoked an order by General John C. Fremont that freed the slaves in Missouri, he was subjected to a torrent of criticism, including Zachariah Chandler's. About the same time, Colonel Frederick Curtenius of Kalamazoo, commander of the Sixth Michigan Infantry, chose to resign his commission rather than obey an order to return escaped slaves in Louisiana to their owners. His action was upheld by a resolution passed by the Michigan legislature. As a result of such changing attitudes, therefore, when Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, the action was received with acclaim in Michigan by most Republicans. In Detroit, meetings to celebrate the event were held in black churches and were well attended.
Although a large majority of the people in the state were steadfast in their zeal for the Union cause, grumblers, dissenters, and defeatists were not lacking. A rally held in Detroit on July 15, 1862, following Lincoln's call for 300,000 more men, was broken up by hecklers and rowdies. The following March, when the draft was imposed, many in Detroit felt threatened and were angry at the unfair way in which it was administered. For some whites, these feelings were translated also into resentment toward blacks, who were blamed for the war. The result was a race riot on March 6, 1863. The central figure in the trouble was a black named William Faulkner, who was accused of raping two young girls. Faulkner's trial aroused great excitement. A howling mob attempted to drag Faulkner out of the jail. A guard fired into the crowd, killing a bystander, and the riot began. Before it was over fire had destroyed between thirty and thirty-five buildings, an estimated two hundred blacks were homeless, and two people were dead. Soldiers from Fort Wayne and members of the Twenty-seventh Michigan Infantry in Ypsilanti had to be called in to restore order. The city quieted down quickly afterward, and there were many expressions of shame and regret over the affair. Meanwhile, Faulkner had been found guilty and sentenced to prison. Some years later, the girls who had been his accusers admitted that they had fabricated the whole story. Faulkner was then pardoned. He returned to Detroit, where some businessmen helped to establish him in the produce business. The 1863 riot, while grimly foreshadowing Detroit's future racial problems, also served to convince city authorities of the need for a full-time police force. (26)
Detroit was also the center of a plot in 1864 to free Confederate prisoners who were held in a prison camp on Johnson's Island, near Sandusky, Ohio. Involved were Confederate spies and sympathizers from Canada. The ringleaders boarded the vessel Philo Parsons at Detroit on September 19, 1864. More men were taken on board when the ship stopped at Amherstburg on the Canadian side of the river. The conspirators seized the vessel once it left Amherstburg, locking up the officers in the cabin. The plan was to capture the U.S.S. Michigan, which lay off Sandusky, guarding Johnson's Island. They did not know that Lt. Col. Bennet H. Hill, acting assistant provost marshal general in charge of the Detroit district, had learned of the plot. The conspirators on the Philo Parsons realized that something was wrong when they failed to get the prearranged signal from the U.S.S. Michigan, which their fellow conspirators were to have boarded. The Philo Parsons thereupon returned to Canada, where the thwarted mutineers abandoned it. Several of the plotters were arrested, but they escaped from jail. (27)
On April 3, 1865, news came to Michigan that the Confederate capital of Richmond had fallen. The people were delirious with joy. Everywhere there were processions, bonfires, shouting, singing, and fireworks. A few days later the telegraph brought word of Lee's surrender at Appomattox, and the celebrations were resumed on April 10 with even greater enthusiasm. But then on April 15 came the tragic news of Lincoln's assassination, and joy was turned into profound sorrow. Memorial services were held all through the state. Detroit's observance on April 25 included a two-mile procession, and Senator Jacob M. Howard highlighted that day's activities with a funeral oration in Campus Martius. The Twenty-fourth Michigan Infantry served in the military escort at the services held when Lincoln was buried at Springfield, Illinois, on May 4.
Soon after the fighting was over, the men who had served under Grant and Sherman marched triumphantly through Washington, D.C., in a never-to-be-forgotten procession. One by one the various regiments that had fought in the campaigns in Virginia passed in review on May 23, to be followed on the next day by the parade of Sherman's veterans of the campaigns in the western theaters. Then the regiments began to return home. By June 1865 the first of Michigan's military units had arrived in the state and were paid and disbanded at the two principal reception centers at Detroit and Jackson. Not until June 1866 were the last Michigan soldiers mustered out. A few days later, on July 4, 1866, many of the Michigan veterans reassembled in Detroit for a ceremony at which their regimental flags were formally presented to the state--flags which remain on display in the state capitol building in Lansing.
It was natural that the veterans should form organizations to promote their interests. The Grand Army of the Republic, formed in 1866, was by far the most important of these Civil War veterans' groups. A Michigan chapter was organized in 1867, but it was not until 1878 that the Michigan Department of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was permanently established. The state GAR reached its highest point in membership in 1893 when more than 21,000 men were enrolled in the local posts that were found in nearly every community in the state. The organization became a powerful pressure group. It fought successfully for pensions and other benefits for veterans. Most of its members were strong supporters of the Republican Party, and they helped keep Michigan in the Republican column. For many years the various Michigan regiments held annual reunions, where veterans met to exchange yarns, to march once more, and to pose for photographers. The dedications of the monuments that Michigan, along with other Northern states, would erect on the major battlefields would be the occasion for some of these veterans to reassemble at the site of their most famous wartime experiences. Other monuments were erected in most Michigan cities and towns, with the most elaborate of these being the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in downtown Detroit, paid for with voluntary contributions of nearly $75,000, and dedicated in 1872. After a lapse of many years, state funds were appropriated during the centennial of the Civil War in the 1960s to assist in the erection of additional war-related historical markers, as well as financing other programs in commemoration of the war. (28)
Orlando LeValley of Caro was the last departmental commander of the Michigan GAR and the last surviving Civil War veteran of a Michigan unit. He died in 1948 at the age of 107. The state, however, continued to provide office space and to pay the salary of the secretary of the state GAR until that woman's death in 1960, ninety-nine years after the start of the war in which the veterans she had known had fought.
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|Publication:||Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1995|
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|This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War.|
|Michigan; a history of the Great Lakes state, 4th ed.|
|The Roman Empire of Ammianus.|
|Those Damned Black Hats! The Iron Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign.|