3rd Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment
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|3rd Regiment Michigan Volunteer Infantry|
Michigan state flag
|Active||May 21, 1861 to June 10, 1864|
|Engagements||First Battle of Bull Run
Second Battle of Bull Run
Battle of Chantilly
Battle of Fredericksburg
Battle of Chancellorsville
Battle of Gettysburg
Battle of the Wilderness
Battle of Cold Harbor
|Colonel Daniel McConnell
Colonel Stephen Gardner Champlin
Colonel Byron Pierce
At 8:30 on the morning of Thursday, June 13, 1861, ten companies of the Third Michigan infantry, led by its regimental band and the field and staff officers, left their quarters at Cantonment Anderson on the site of the Kent county agricultural fairgrounds, about two and a half miles south of the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The Third Michigan marched north up the Kalamazoo Plank road (present-day Division street) into the city, turned down Monroe street to Canal street and headed north to the Detroit & Milwaukee railroad depot, near what is today the corner of Plainfield and Leonard streets.
Upon reaching the train station, the men boarded two special trains heading east, passing through Ada, St. Johns, Owosso, Pontiac and terminated in Detroit, where the Third Michigan was feted by the citizens. The Regiment then boarded two boats for a night cruise to Cleveland, Ohio.From Cleveland they went by rail to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and then on to Harrisburg, Baltimore, Maryland, and finally arrived in Washington, DC, on Sunday June 16.
They were tired, hungry and weary when they marched to Chain Bridge just above Georgetown on the Potomac river, where they set up their first wartime encampment on the bluffs overlooking the river. The camp was first called Camp McConnell (after the colonel of the regiment) but then quickly changed to Camp Blair (after Austin Blair, then governor of the state of Michigan).
The bands, the crowds, the patriotic fervor of late April soon give way to war's harshest reality: death. The first man to die was William Choates of C company, who died on July 1, 1861, not amidst the glories of battle but in the throes of fever. He was buried near Camp Blair, and is presumably buried there still.
The regiment's baptism into war came less than three weeks later in the action at Blackburn's Ford on July 18, 1861, a prelude to the first battle of Bull Run on July 21. The Third suffered its first wartime casualty early on Saturday morning, July 20, 1861, when Homer Morgan of Company B allegedly took his own life.
The Third Michigan infantry covered the retreat of the federal troops from Bull Run on July 21, and subsequently went into a succession of camps around Washington throughout the fall and winter of 1861-62. The regiment participated in McClellan's Peninsular campaign of 1862 and suffered its worst casualties to date at the Battle of Seven Oaks, Virginia on May 31, 1862 and at Groveton (or Second Bull Run) on August 29, 1862.
The Third Michigan infantry played a peripheral part in the battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862. The next major action for the regiment was at Chancellorsville, Virginia, on May 3, 1863, followed by Gettysburg where the Third found itself exposed in the Peach Orchard on July 2, 1863.
Near the end of the summer of 1863 the Third Michigan was detached to the Department of the East under General Dix and sent northward to New York City in late August to serve as a deterrent to the expected rioting in the upcoming draft in that state. The Regiment spent several days in New York City, the draft went off without event and the Third Michigan was sent up the Hudson River to Troy to oversee the draft in that city, where it remained for two weeks before it returned south to rejoin the Army of the Potomac.
By early May 1864, the Army of the Potomac was again on the move in Virginia and the Third Michigan was hotly engaged on May 5-6 at the Wilderness and on May 11-12 at Spotsylvania Court House. The Regiment participated in Grant's sidestepping moves southeastward around Lee's right flank across the North Anna river and ended its military service in the trenches in front of Petersburg, Virginia, on June 10, 1864, and was formally mustered out that same day.
Those men who had enlisted in June 1861 but who had not reenlisted were sent home to be mustered out in Detroit on June 20, 1864, while the remainder of the regiment, reenlisted veterans and recent enlistees, were incorporated into four companies (A, E, F, and I) and then consolidated into the 5th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment. "Only three companies of our old Third re-enlist to hold our organization. So our regiment must lose its name after three years are up. The gallant Fifth re-enlist nearly to a man, and go home in a body retaining their organization and name."
The history of the Regiment as an integral component of the Union military structure was over, but its history as a relic of that conflict, as a symbol of what that struggle represented would continue to linger on in the guise of the Old Third Michigan Association until well into the Twentieth Century, indeed until every member had died.
Today, the lineage of the Michigan 3rd Volunteer Infantry is carried on by soldiers of the Michigan Army National Guard's 126th Cavalry Regiment.
Based on present research and analysis, from mid-June 1861 to mid-June 1864, 232 men died while serving in the Third Michigan: 103 men were killed in action and 47 died from their wounds, while 80 died of disease, 2 died accidentally and 1 man was murdered (Seth Simons in Georgetown. This represents a 16% casualty rate (based on a total enrolled of 1,411).
While exact figures will probably never be fully known, on a company-by-company basis we note the following mortality rates:
- A 21 dead
- B 19
- C 20
- D 17
- E 19
- F 19
- G 26
- H 23
- I 28
- K 33
- Band 0
- Field & Staff 2
When we take into account the men who were transferred to other regiments or who were discharged from the Third Michigan and reentered the military, some 346 men did not survive the war. As a group then the Third Michigan suffered a 24% casualty rate. In other words, one of every four men who enrolled in the Third during the war would not survive.
The first man to die in the regiment was probably Joseph Proper or Propier, on May 8, 1861, at Cantonment Anderson in Grand Rapids. He was buried in what is now Oak Hill (north) cemetery, at the corner of Eastern and Hall streets in Grand Rapids. Even though he was listed by name and unit and date of death as well as burial location in the cemetery’s interment record, his grave is today unknown (along with more than 40 other soldiers who died in Grand Rapids during the war and whose names became lost).
The first man to die after the regiment arrived in Virginia was William Choates of C company. He died of disease at Camp Blair, Virginia.
Homer Morgan of B company was the first to die by violence, on July 20, 1861, allegedly a suicide.
The first man to be killed in action was David Stone of H company, who was shot on May 5, 1862, near Yorktown, Virginia.
It is somewhat harder to identify the last man to die during the war. Moses Monroe, originally of E company and transferred to the Fifth regiment in June 1864, was wounded on April 6, 1865 at Sayler’s Creek, Virginia, near Appomattox and died of his wounds on April 23. However, 14 other former members of the Third Michigan died in April 1865, and another 4 in May. For example, Casper Thenner, sick from disease, had just returned to his home in Grand Rapids when he died on May 27, and was interred in what is now an unmarked grave in Oak Hill (south) cemetery.
The last to die in 1865 was probably Joel Guild, who had recently returned to his home in Grand Rapids and was suffering from dysentery contracted in the service, when he died in December.
Perhaps the last man to die as a direct consequence of the war was Samuel Thurston of C company. According to the Grand Rapids Herald of February 9, 1897, "After carrying a rebel bullet in his right lung for over thirty years? Thurston, who was an inmate of the Michigan Soldiers' Home ?has given up the fight. The bullet had for over thirty years been ploughing its way downward through the tissues of the lungs, and yesterday afternoon dropped out, death being almost instantaneous. The ball was covered with a linen patch, just as it had left the rifle of some rebel soldier, the patch and bullet being firmly connected. At 2 o'clock yesterday morning Thurston was taken to the hospital, having been in usual good health up to a short time before that. In the afternoon he complained to his nurse that his heart pained him, and while she was gone to secure a hot water application Thurston died."
The last known survivor of the Third Michigan was Willard Olds of C company who died at his home near Belding, Ionia county in 1937 and was buried in Otisco cemetery.
- Colonel Daniel McConnell
- Colonel Stephen Gardner Champlin
- Colonel Byron Pierce
- Third Michigan Infantry Research Project
- Biographies of Third Michigan Soldiers Online
- List of Michigan Civil War Units
- Michigan in the American Civil War
- Crotty, Color Sergeant Daniel G., Four Years Campaigning in the Army of the Potomac, Dygert Bros. & Co. Printers and Binder (Grand Rapids, MI), 1874. Reprinted with new material in 1995 by Belle Grove Publishing Co. (Kearney, NJ), page 118.