The war of the Revolution was half a century, and the send war with Great
Britain nearly twenty years, before white men settled in this valley. The only
inhabitants then here who could be supposed to have taken part in either of
those conflicts were the native Indians, and they on the side of our enemies and
mainly under British direction. There was a slight menace of civil war in the
dispute with Ohio with reference to the southern boundary of this State, two
years after Grand Rapids began. But at this distance in the woods that amounted
to nothing more serious than a war of words, and those not very acrimonious. The
present inhabitants here are not a warlike people to the extent of being
aggressive upon slight provocation; nevertheless they are in a true sense a
military people, jealous of their own and of their country's rights, alive to
every patriotic duty, and ready to take arms if need be in defense and for the
maintenance of the honor and
integrity of the Nation, and for the preservation of its free institutions.
Upon the outbreak of the war with Mexico in 1846, although the army raised for its prosecution was not large, and this place at that time was but a mere hamlet, the martial spirit was aroused, and a considerable number went out from here to join in the conflict; a portion of one company for that service being raised in Grand Rapids.
Andrew T. McReynolds, then of Detroit, in 1847 recruited Company K of the
Third U. S. Dragoons, served with it in Mexico as Captain, winning honorable
distinction, and was brevetted Major. Afterward, in the War of the Rebellion, he
was Colonel of the First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry, serving three years. He was
born in Dungannon, Tyrone County, Ireland, on Christmas Day, in 1808. He came to
America in 1830, to Detroit in 1833, and to Grand Rapids in 1859. He was
prominent as an organizer and as an officer in the Territorial and State
military affairs; and has served with credit and honor in many important civil
positions. He began the practice of law
at Detroit in 1840, and that has been his life profession. Since the close of the War for the Union he has been continuously a resident of Grand Rapids; is widely known, and held in high esteem, a venerable citizen now upward of fourscore years of age.
EARLY CITIZEN SOLDIERY.
After the close of the Mexican war, the chief local incitement to military ardor for some years was in the tenor of news occasionally received from the West, of conflicts with the border savages. Now and then an officer of the United States Army would obtain some enlistments from Grand Rapids and vicinity for frontier service. So the military spirit did not wholly die out, and besides, the people were fully alive to the soundness of the advice given by Washington, to keep ourselves always in a respectable posture for defense.
July 12, 1855, two local military companies were organized and their officers
elected. One was the Grand Rapids Light Guards–W. L. Coffinberry, Captain; F.
W. Worden, E. T. Nelson and A. L. Gage, Lieutenants; M. S. Littlefield, B. B.
Church, S. s. Porter and G. M. McCray, Sergeants. The other was the Grand Rapids
Artillery, a west side company–Lucius Patterson, Captain; Baker Borden, Wm. K.
Wheeler and Alfred B. Turner, Lieutenants; Silas Hall, Wilson Jones, Gideon
Cotlton and Johann Dart, Sergeants. The first names of these companies was
shortly after reorganized, with Daniel McConnell as Captain, and the name was
changed to Valley City Light Guards, and subsequently further shortened to
Valley City Guards. In 1856 Mrs. James Lyman started a movement to procure a
banner for this company, and a beautiful silk ensign was made by the Misses
Ferguson, the presentation of which to the company was an event of considerable
public interest in those rather unmilitary days. Soon afterward the Ringgold
Light Artillery was organized, with Stephen G. Champlin as Captain. About this
time, the three companies were
mustered into the Fifty-first Regiment Uniformed Michigan Militia, of which Daniel McConnell was Colonel; Orville C. Hartwell, Lieut. Colonel; S. G. Champlin and Ammon Wilson, Majors; Warren P. Mills, Paymaster; D. W. Bliss, Surgeon; Robert M. Collins, Quartermaster; Edward S. Earle, Judge Advocate. These three companies were out on parade for review, January 7, 1858.
Another company, the Grand Rapids Rifles, composed mostly of German citizens, was organized in 1859, and this as well as the Valley City Guards, when the war with the South broke out, went with unbroken ranks into the Union Army. So much for military matters and the martial spirit prevailing in Grand Rapids previous to the coming on of the War of the Rebellion in 1861.
The secession at the South and precipitation of the War for the Union was to
the people of this valley like a peal of thunder from a clear sky. Almost half a
century with no such trouble except the comparatively minor fight with Mexico,
and lulled them into a feeling of repose; and, in the enjoyment of peaceful
relations with other nations, the coming on of a civil conflict by the rebellion
at home had been farthest from their thoughts. Thoroughly loyal themselves, they
could scarcely believe that any difference in opinion as to State rights or
popular rights or civil government in our land would eventuate in a clash of
arms though the antagonisms of any portion of the people of our common country.
Little attention had been paid to military training. The State Militia was a
feeble force of less than 1,500 men and officers, poorly armed and equipped. Yet
when the blow came, even that little frame served as a foundation for
organization. In the sudden and alarming emergency, there was no hesitation, and
the feeling of loyalty was instantly roused to put on inflexible determination.
What Grand Rapids and Kent County did in that crisis and in the struggle which
followed must be told in another chapter.
THE SOLDIERY SINCE THE WAR.
When the war with the South was ended it was natural that the fires of patriotism should continue to burn. They could not die out. Nearly every household had in its presence a husband, father, son or brother, or at least some near relative, just returned from the long struggle, worn and weary, broken in health, or perhaps maimed and crippled for life, as a reminder of what this Union of ours had cost. Between their gladness over the return of dear ones, their sadness over the loss
of loved ones, and the remembrance of the sacrifices they had made and the suffering they had endured, the hearts of the women of the land were stirred as never before. This intensity of feeling was notably evinced in the manner of their welcome home of the returning heroes; as was indicated in the sumptuous dinner given by the ladies of this city July 4, 1865, on which occasion tables were set the entire length of Pearl Street Bridge for the "boys in blue." With less of demonstrative fervor perhaps, but real and earnest and ardent, that feeling remains to this day.
The soldier who enlisted in 1861 is now past middle life if living, while the
larger proportion of the veterans who survive are in the sere and yellow leaf,
and those who have fought their last battle and who sleep their last sleep, are
undoubtedly largely in the majority. Scarcely had the returned veterans settled
down in their homes before the memories of their camp life and the friendships
formed in the service awakened in them a desire to renew in another form the
comradeships of the war. From this grew their meetings by companies and
formation of civil organizations and their annual or frequent reunions. the Twenty-first Infantry met and formed a reunion organization December 31, 1866. Nearly every year since has witnessed an assemblage of this character, of some remnant of the Union Army, at which the boys shake hands anew, relate their experiences and "fight their battles o'er again" in song and story and speech.
The Second Michigan Cavalry had a reunion January 6, 1870, at Sweet's Hotel,
at which a reception was given to General Sheridan. At the same meeting an
association was formed, of which Gen. P. H. Sheridan was made President. Other
Grand Rapids officers were–L. S. Scranton, Vice President; Edwin Hoyt, Jr.,
Corresponding Secretary; J. M. Weatherwax, Treasurer. February 23, 1871, the
"old Third" Michigan Infantry organized an association–President, E.
S. Pierce; Secretary, J. H. Summer; Treasurer, George E. Judd. January
24, 1872, a few of the surviving veterans of Co. K., Lincoln Cavalry, had a pleasant reunion meeting and supper, at which they were addressed by their former Colonel, A. T. McReynolds. One of the toasts was the following: "The Lincoln Cavalry–the first in the service and the last out of the service." The "Old Third" Association held its second annual reunion December 14, 1872, and elected Captain Frederick Shriver, President. The First Michigan Infantry Association held its second annual reunion in Grand Rapids, August 28, 1873, at which time only seven of its veterans were residents of this city.
September 8, 1873, the Grand Rapids Guards were called and ordered to Muskegon, under command of I. C. Smith, to guard the jail at that place, a riot being deemed imminent; a commission which they executed with alacrity and fidelity.
September 19, 1873, the veterans of the Third Michigan Cavalry held a reunion and organized an association at the Council Rooms in this city–President, Capt. D. M. Caldwell of Whitmore Lake.
March 23, 1874, the Guards were ordered to Greenville, to report to the Sheriff of Montcalm county, for the purpose of preserving the peace at Gowen, where there was some trouble among the Flat River log drivers. Fortunately their services were not needed, but the boys gallantly "marched up the hill and then marched down again."
At the fourth reunion of the "Old Third" Veterans, held at Sweet's Hotel, December 11, 1874, there was a very large attendance, filling the halls. Gen. B. R. Pierce was elected President. They had a fine festival, including banquet and ball. Other reunions of this veteran association have been held: December 13, 1876, at Sweet's Hotel; December 13, 1877, at Muskegon; December 13, 1878, at Sweet's Hotel; December 12, 1879, at the Morton House; December 13, 1881, at Big Rapids; December 13, 1882, at the Armory, with supper at the Eagle Hotel; December 13, 1883, at the Eagle Hotel; In 1884, at Lansing; September 17, 1885 at Science Hall, 59-61 Canal Street.
September 15, 16 and 17, 1885, occurred the reunion of the Society of the Army of the Cumberland in this city, filling the town with veterans from all parts of the country. On the same occasion besides that of the "old Third," were held here reunions of Mexican War Veterans, the Sons of Veterans, Eighth Michigan Cavalry, the Second Michigan Cavalry, the Fourteenth Infantry, Twenty-first Infantry and the First Michigan Engineers and Mechanics. At that time the Soldiers' Monument at the head of Monroe street was unveiled and dedicated. With street processions, parades and military maneuvers on the fair grounds, the presence of distinguished military guests from abroad, the speeches and banqueting and social meetings, this was the most and notable celebration of a semi-military character held here since the war. In 1876, beginning August 7, the Second Regiment of State Troops held its annual encampment for drill and instruction at Reeds Lake–Camp Custer. On the ninth their exercises were enlivened by a sham battle. In 1877, beginning July 25, they had another practice upon the same ground, lasting five days. Col. I. C. Smith was in command on both occasions, and the troops were visited by thousands from the city and about. The encampment of the regiment was again held there with target practice in 1879, beginning August 14 and holding five days.
The Department of Michigan of the Grand Army of the Republic had its annual
meeting here January 13, 1880, at which eight Posts were represented and Andrew
T. McReynolds was elected Department Commander. November 23, 1880, the Grand
Rapids Guard at its armory was presented with a beautifully mounted and
elaborately wrought silk banner. The embroidery was the work of Mrs. Anna
Thompson and Mrs. E. J. Kromer. A supper and ball rounded out the
festivities of the occasion. In 1881 Co. B, under Capt. H. W. Calkins, went with the Michigan Battalion, under Gen. I. C. Smith, and attended the Centennial Celebration, October 19, at Yorktown, of the surrender by Lord Cornwallis to General Washington. July 4, 1882, there was a drill and sham battle upon the fair grounds by the Militia, in which several companies from abroad participated. April 8, 1886, a Western Michigan Association of Veteran Soldiers and Sailors was
organized at a meeting held in the Morton House, stating with 117 members. President, Wm. P. Innes; Vice President, George N. Davis; Secretary, H. D. C. Van Asmus; Treasurer, Loomis K. Bishop.
THE STATE TROOPS.
The roster of commissioned officers of the Michigan State Troops shows (summer, 1888) the following of Grand Rapids: E. Colton Fox, Colonel and President State Military Board. Of the First Brigade–Israel C. Smith, Brigadier General; Charles W. Calkins, Lt. Col. And Assistant Inspector General; Eugene W. Jones, Captain and Aid-de-Camp. Of the Second Regiment, in which are the Grand Rapids Companies–William T. McGurrin, Lt. Col.; Charles H. Rose, Major; William F. Hake, Surgeon.
GRAND RAPIDS COMPANIES.
Company B (Grand Rapids Guards), mustered in November 26, 1872–Captain
William S. Kinney; First Lt. Jacob Schrouder; Second Lt. John D. Kromer. This
company was originally formed March 7, 1871. The leaders of the movement being
George E. Judd, its first Captain, and General I. C. Smith. Its muster roll then
showed fifty-nine members, among whom were many war veterans. It dates its
regular organization from June 27, 1872- Captain, H. N. Moore; First
Lieut., George E. Judd–with fifty-eight names on its roll. The Valley City Guard, which went to the front at the outbreak of the Rebellion, did not reorganize after the war. The Guards have a fine armory, and are proficient in drill and discipline.
Company I (Custer Guards) mustered in June 27, 1882–Capt., James S. Knox; First Lt., Arthur W. Seymour; Second Lt., Edward C. Bennett. This company was organized Feb. 22, 1882. Its first captain was Charles H. Rose, who held the position till he was promoted to Major in 1888. At Muskegon, July 4, 1886, the Custer Guard took first prize in a drill, against four competing companies; and took third prize in a competitive drill at Jackson in September of that year.
Company K (Innes Rifles) mustered into State service December 16, 1884. Captain, Dennis L. Rogers; Fist Lt., John Scott; Second Lt., Thomas S. Crump. This Company was first organized as a battery, and went into the State service as the Valley City Light Artillery, with Henry A. Hydorn as Captain, but subsequently reorganized with change of name, and was mustered in anew.
OTHER MILITARY ORGANIZATIONS.
The Valley City Zouaves was a military company organized in 1866, and again March 14, 1873–Captain at latter date, Emil A. Dapper; First Lt., Peter W. Runions.
The National Guard was a company organized in December, 1877, with James J. Walters as Captain. It kept up its regular meetings and drills with considerable enthusiasm for several years. In 1880 George M. Bennett was Captain. It had also a civil organization, of which James E. McBride was President.
The Sheridan Rifles were organized in June, 1886–Captain, Frank Conlon; First Lt., James Whalen; Second Lt., Daniel G. Kinney–the same officers yet in command (September, 1888). The company has a muster roll of ninety men.