[an error occurred while processing this directive]Patriots in Civil War Times
A community of only 8,000 souls when strife between North and South began, Grand Rapids played a glorious part in the Civil War. It sent to the battle so many young and middle-aged men that progress at home all but ceased. Those who answered the call to arms contributed much to the cause of freedom. Some well has said, "The war did not come to Grand Rapids, but Grand Rapids went to the war." Many men volunteered, never to return. Many came back bearing the scars of conflict, regretting that ill fortune had forced them to lay down their arms. At home, too, the battle was fought, by men of means who placed their resources at the government’s disposal, by the substantial relief and hospital work carried on in churches and homes.
When the call to arms came, the city was unprepared. Nevertheless, the Mexican was kindled a martial spirit. Grand Rapids had furnished part of a company for that skirmish and with this as a nucleus, several units unknowingly prepared for the Civil War. There had been organized here in 1855 two companies of infantry. One was the Valley City Light Guards, of which W. L. Coffinberry, at that time city surveyor, was captain; the other the Grand Rapids Artillery -- later the Valley City Guards -- a west side company, with Lucius Patterson as captain. Soon the Ringgold Light Artillery was organized with Stephen G. Champlain as captain. In 1859 the Grand Rapids Rifles was formed by citizens of German birth or descent. The latter, the Valley City Guards and several other units went with unbroken ranks into the Union army.
Three days after Fort Sumter had been fired upon by the Confederates, President Lincoln, April 12, 1861, issued a call for 75,000 three-months volunteers. The same day a war meeting was held in Luce's hall, where Col. A. T. McReynolds and other voiced the popular sentiment, that the Union must be preserved "at any cost," and that every able-bodied man would enlist, if necessary. One week later another meeting resulted in the organization of all classes for effective war efforts. Women were as determined as the men to contribute to the cause, and April 23 they convened in Mills and Clancy’s hall. Mrs. S. S. N. Greeley presided and Mrs. S. L. Withey acted as secretary. The resolution was passed: "That the ladies of the Valley City are not unmindful of the perils which threaten our country and they appreciate the patriotism which impels their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons to take the field in defense of the Flag of our Union."
Col. Daniel McConnell, an officer in the uniformed state militia, was commissioned to raise the Third Michigan Volunteers. The Valley City Guards formed a company in that regiment. Many others from the city joined and young men came from nearby to enroll. The Third encamped at the fair grounds south of the city -- at Cantonment Anderson. May 21, 1861, it was mustered into state service. June 4 a delegation of 34 young women, representing the states of the Union, visited the camp, bearing a beautiful silk banner on which was the inscription in gold, fashioned by Miss Mattie Ferguson: "Presented by the ladies of Grand Rapids to the Third Michigan Infantry."
The Third was mustered into federal service June 10, and three days later started for the field of action, its rank swollen to 1,040 men. Officers were: Colonel, Daniel McConnell; lieutenant colonel, Ambrose A. Stevens; major, Stephen G. Champlin; surgeon, D. Willard Bliss; assistant surgeon, Zenas E. Bliss; quartermaster and commissary, Robert M. Collins.
Cantonment Anderson was a busy place of preparation until the close
of the war. Of the regiments raised in Michigan the Second, Third, Sixth,
Seventh and Tenth Cavalries were formed and mustered in at Grand Rapids.
Also the Third Infantry, and the same regiment reorganized. Companies B,
C, and K of the First Light Artillery and the Thirteenth Battery with from
Grand Rapids. Kent county furnished officers and privates for the First
Cavalry, mustered at Detroit; the First Engineers and Mechanics, mustered
at Marshall; the Eighth Infantry, mustered at Detroit; the Fourteenth Infantry,
mustered at Ypsilanti, and the Twenty-first Infantry, mustered at Ionia.
The Fifth, Thirteenth, Fifteenth, Sixteenth, Twenty-fifth and Twenty-sixth
Infantry and the Fourth Cavalry had each some representatives from this
part of the state. There also were volunteers from Kent county
among the U.S. Sharpshooters and the First Colored Infantry.
Of the above organizations upwards of 3,500 men were killed in action or died of wounds or disease while in service. There is no record showing the exact number of Grand Rapids citizens who went to the war or of the casualties among them.
Kent county sent 4,214 men, 354 of whom re-enlisted. All were volunteers except 93 drafted and 197 substitutes for drafted men. The enlistments were 2,571 previous 1863, when no bounties were paid. Those who went from Kent in 1863-65 were mostly men under 25 years of age. Many who were too young, lied as to their age in order to be acceptable for service.
Numerous war histories give the brilliant records of many units formed in Grand Rapids. None was more famous than the Third Infantry, which was in action five days after leaving Cantonment Anderson. Byron R. Pierce of this regiment was promoted to brigadier general of Volunteers and brevet major general, the highest rank attained by any Michigan officer. Israel C. Smith, who enlisted as a private, by gradual promotion became brevet brigadier general. The Third suffered total losses of 158, out of 1,109 enlisted.
The First Regiment of Engineer and Mechanics, William P. Innes, colonel, did exceptional work, both in its special field and in actual combat.
Gen. Philip H. Sheridan made a name for himself at the head of the Second Cavalry at Booneville, Miss. The Second lost 338 officers and men -- 70 killed in action or died of wounds, and 266 of disease.
The Third Cavalry, commanded by the valiant Col. Robert H. G. Minty, lost 414, of whom 375 died of disease. The Fourth, also commanded by Colonel Minty, gave the finishing stroke to the rebellion when it captured Jefferson Davis. The casualties of the Sixth Cavalry were 375, of the Seventh, 322; of the Tenth, 271 -- 20 killed in action, 11 died of wounds, 240 of disease.
In Civil War times there was no antiseptic surgery, no anesthetics, no modern hospital facilities, and the number of soldiers who died of wounds or disease was appalling.
The military spirit was kept alive at home by the boys who, in May 1861, organized under the name of the Cadets, later the Grand Rapids Greasy. This organization served as an admirable drill team. Capt. J. C. Hanker was at its head.
While the men of Grand Rapids were fighting for their country, the people organized for every kind of relief work. Committees were formed to care for the wives and other dependents of those who had gone to the front. In every church there were aid societies, composed of women whose every spare moment was given to war work, the relief of the sick and destitute. In every home surplus sheets and pillow slips were made into bandages and the worn table linen scraped into lint and sent to hospitals and battle fields for the surgeons' use. Men, women and children engaged in patriotic work.
The state treasury was almost exhausted in 1863 and Grand Rapids was called upon to raise an emergency fund. At the first meeting called here $23,000 was raised, and two months later $81,020.
As this is in no sense a military history, an extended account of the many encounters in which Grand Rapids and Michigan soldiers cannot be given. But, as has been observed, this city's part in the Civil War -- both in the field and at home -- was glorious.
Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 16 January 2000
Created: 10 May 1999