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The 4th Michigan Infantry in The Civil War

Kim Crawford and Martin N. Bertera

Publication Year: 2010

This fascinating narrative tells the story of a remarkable regiment at the center of Civil War history. The real-life adventure emerges from accounts of scores of soldiers who served in the 4th Michigan Infantry, gleaned from their diaries, letters, and memoirs; the reports of their officers and commanders; the stories by journalists who covered them; and the recollections of the Confederates who fought against them. The book includes tales of life in camp, portraying the Michigan soldiers as everyday people — recounting their practical jokes, illnesses, political views, personality conflicts, comradeship, and courage.

     The book also tells the true story of what happened to Colonel Harrison Jeffords and the 4th Michigan when the regiment marched into John Rose's wheat field on a sweltering early July evening at Gettysburg. Beyond the myths and romanticized newspaper stories, this account presents the historical evidence of Jeffords's heroic, yet tragic, hand-to-hand struggle for his regiment's U.S. flag.

Published by: Michigan State University Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

A narrative that attempts to show the Civil War as it was experienced by soldiers in one of Michigan’s most distinguished combat regiments requires first-person accounts, and this true story of the 4th Michigan Infantry contains many voices of the men who served in it. These mainly come from soldiers’ letters to their friends and families, many published in their hometown newspapers, but also from their diaries, reports, and reminiscences....

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pp. ix-x

We are indebted to many descendants of the 4th Michigan’s soldiers and Civil War collectors who shared unpublished sources. Jeff Phelps provided us with transcripts of the letters of Charles Phelps, while Robert Walkowiak permitted us to quote from the diary of his ancestor, Irvin Miner. A collector who asked not to be identified provided us with copies and transcripts of the letters and diary of Silas Sadler, the diary of Charles Doolittle, the letters of Charles J. Fox, ...

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We Will Strive to Do Our Duty as American Soldiers

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pp. 1-16

He was only a small-town hotel proprietor and an officer in the local militia, but even before the Civil War’s first shots were fired, Dwight Woodbury was ready to serve his country. “[We] tender to the Governor of the state and to the government of the United States, our services in case of any contingency which may require such service,” he wrote in January 1861. From the south-central Michigan town of Adrian, Woodbury sent those words in a letter to his state’s new ...

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The Loss Is Great, the Confusion Greater

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pp. 17-32

The train bearing the 4th Michigan rolled into Toledo between noon and 1:00 p.m. Dr. Chamberlain said there was “a great crowd of people to receive us.” After a pause of two or three hours, the regiment boarded two eastbound trains, arriving in Cleveland that evening for “supper and some good hot coffee,” wrote a man who initialed his dispatch “W.” The soldier noted that “we were cheered at every station and bid God speed by everyone.” Sgt. Eli Starr of ...

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McClellan Moves Slow but Sure

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pp. 33-48

The day after Privates Tuttle and Wirts were captured, good news reached the 4th Michigan—Capt. Sam DeGolyer was alive. On August 11, Colonel Woodbury stood before the regiment, reading aloud a letter from the captain. He and Lt. Simon B. Preston were prisoners in Richmond, hoping to be exchanged soon. No one had been sure up to this point whether they had been killed at Bull Run. “Cheer after cheer resounded through the air,” wrote Sgt. William ...

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We Shall Go into the Storm of Battle with Brave Hearts

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pp. 49-68

Officers of the 4th Michigan treated the men to a feast on what was undoubtedly for many their first Christmas away from home. Turkey, chicken, and oysters were main dishes, and Silas Sadler of Company G called the meal “Jolly good.” The day was clear and mild, and Sgt. Jonas Richardson said tables were set outside in the streets of the regiment’s camp. He and others had been busy “making wreaths, globes, letters and stars to decorate Co. D’s street.” The ...

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A Whirlwind of Bullets, Yells, and Shrieks

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pp. 69-84

The day after the clash at New Bridge the 4th Michigan held a funeral for the two men killed. “We buried our comrades today (Piper and Drake),” noted George Millens of Company B, “with artillery honor & all due respect.” Their entire brigade attended. But that afternoon it was back to the routine of inspection and dress parade. The men learned that in honor of their victory, the brigade commander, Col. James McQuade, renamed their bivouac “Camp Michigan.” ...

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At It We Went Tooth and Nail

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pp. 85-102

On the morning of June 28 men of the 4th Michigan and other regiments who fought and escaped the battle of Gaines’ Mill with their lives were roused from their sleep on the south side of the Chickahominy. Henry Seage, who had been wounded slightly and separated from his company, found his outfit. Discipline and order were still expected, no matter the losses and the retreat, so soldiers cleaned their rifles and stood inspection. There was a good chance Porter’s ...

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The Sight Was Horrible and One I Hope I Never See Again

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pp. 103-122

The 4th Michigan remained on Minor’s Hill for three days, at times on guard for a Confederate attack. But this threat turned out to be a reconnaissance by Rebel cavalry. On September 6 the men marched to nearby Upton Hill near Fall’s Church, where they and other elements of their corps alternately went on picket and stood ready for battle. That week Capt. Charles Doolittle from Hillsdale resigned his commission to become colonel of the 18th Michi-...

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Three Cheers for Colonel Jeffords

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pp. 123-136

The battle had been a disaster for the Union army. “I should not be surprised if they (the Confederacy) was recognized,” Charles Phelps of Company D wrote his brother after Fredericksburg. “[T]hey ought to have their independence for they have worked hard enough for it.” Like other soldiers, Phelps expressed a diminishing faith in his government and leaders. Was the sacrifice of so many men worth it, what with the poor leadership that had been inflicted on ...

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Christ How the Canister Flew

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pp. 137-154

Cold, wet weather descended on northern Virginia in mid-April, but the men of the 4th Michigan set up a baseball match—officers versus privates, final score unknown—when the storm front passed on the 22nd. Chaplain John Seage, who left on sick leave after the Mud March, returned to the regiment, bringing tobacco for his son Henry in Company E. About the same time more conscripts arrived from the Detroit barracks. These men were divided up ...

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They Were Soon on All Sides of Us

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pp. 155-176

The men of the 4th Michigan rose and drew rations with their brigade early on the morning of July 1, but the march didn’t start until around nine o’clock. Lt. Robert Campbell, the quartermaster, wrote that Col. Harrison Jeffords came to him that morning, concerned that many of the soldiers of the regiment had taken to wearing hats with brims rather than regulation forage caps. Jeffords, about 26, understood that a hat was better for keeping the hot sun off a man’s ...

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We Have Seen a Pretty Hard Campaign

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pp. 177-194

Some Confederate soldiers paid a terrible price for the bayoneting of Harrison Jeffords in the weeks after the fighting at Gettysburg. According to an officer in the division with the 4th Michigan, many Rebels were killed in retribution at Wapping Heights near Manassas Gap on July 23. “We found over 100 bodies of rebels, who had been killed or wounded and afterward bayoneted by our men, who have not forgiven the rebels for their atrocities at Gettysburg and ...

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They Say Let the War Go On [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 195-206

The march back from the cancelled winter offensive continued on December 2. The men of the 4th Michigan complained that they rose and began moving about seven, without food or coffee, and tramped several hours into the early afternoon to the town of Stevensburg. The next day their corps moved across the Rappahannock, and the Second Brigade of the First Division marched on to Bealton Station, part of the Fifth Corps’s deployment along the railroad ...

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I Am Well but Don’t Know How Long

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pp. 207-222

General George Meade halted two of four Union army corps in the Wilderness on the night of May 4, expecting that Gen. Robert E. Lee would keep his forces in defensive positions nearby. The Fifth Corps, of which the 4th Michigan was part, bivouacked in the woods off of the Orange Turnpike, west of the Wilderness Tavern. But Lee anticipated the advance of the Union army would stop when his forces attacked through the woods, giving his outnumbered men ...

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The Regiment Is in a Bad Situation at Present

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pp. 223-234

In the wake of the failed attack at Cold Harbor, General Grant decided to quietly move his army in order to launch a new off ensive from south of the James River. Less than two weeks following the terrible losses of June 3, the first of several Union army corps began a march down the York-James Peninsula. Some of the soldiers were sent to board transports to make their way to the region’s rivers to reach the James, but most trudged in the dust and heat to points where they ...

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We Have Broke the Backbone of the Rebellion

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pp. 235-250

Several days after the reorganized 4th Michigan Infantry left Adrian, its men arrived at the scene of a major battle in the western theater of the Civil War—the defense of the Union-held town of Decatur, Alabama, in late October and early November 1864. This was the first of two battles for which this regiment was present, though it was not heavily involved. It was a long trip for the regiment to reach Nashville, and the men were quickly moved on ...

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I Saw Passing a Great Army

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pp. 251-266

In the early 1870s the survivors of the 4th Michigan, like thousands of other veterans, began to gather at yearly reunions. The veterans of the regiment timed the event for the anniversary of June 20, the day the first volunteers who comprised the 4th Michigan were sworn into the service of the United States in 1861. For the next half-century these annual reunions were held in the southern Michigan towns (and on occasion, Indiana and Ohio communities) ...

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Roster of the 4th Michigan Infantry Regiment

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pp. 267-364

This roster was compiled with information from the Michigan Record of Service, vol. 4, service and pension records in the National Archives, and other military records and genealogical sources. All enlistments are for the 4th Michigan and for three-year terms of service, except where noted otherwise. The designation VV in parentheses indicates a Veteran Volunteer; for a description, see chapter 12. Abbott, Henry H., Reading, Hillsdale County. Enlisted in Company E, corporal, June 20, 1861, at Adrian, age ...


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pp. 365-398

Bibliography / Index

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pp. 399-412

E-ISBN-13: 9781609171988
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870139734

Page Count: 560
Publication Year: 2010

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Subject Headings

  • Michigan -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Regimental histories.
  • United States. Army. Michigan Infantry Regiment, 4th (1861-1864).
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Regimental histories
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