May 26 • 12:28 PM

Courage, honor never forgotten

Area's Civil War heroes' stories come to life through local connections

Veterans Andrew Curry, August Stuever, Henry Reisch and Julius Jonas pictured at the Woman’s Relief Corp. 112 Memorial Stone erected in Capac on October 2, 1928.

August 20, 2008
Editor's note: This is the first in a two part series bringing the amazing history of the Civil War and the local men who served in it to life, written by popular columnist Doug Hunter. Hunter, a writer, historian and farmer lives in Lynn Township and is a descendant of the founder of the Capac Journal which was incorporated into the Tri-City Times..

The search lasted over a half a century but I guess patience has its rewards. Last Saturday, August 9, a lifetime dream became a reality for me.

Since I was six years old and helping my grandparents prepare items for Capac's 1957 Centennial celebration and I learned of my great-great grandfather who had served and died in the Civil War, obsession has driven me to see and touch actual items that were truly part of the Battle of Chickamauga where he died.

For 30 years I have at least a dozen times roamed and climbed the edifice of Chickamauga Battlefield and Snodgrass Hill scouring the sacred soil for any remnant of that great battle of so long ago. The many books, stories, historical accounts, sketches and facts I have pursued over 50 years fill four bookshelves in my home.

The artifacts in museums that are authentic are always glass-covered and the pictures are not always worth a thousand words. Scavengers over the last 145 years have taken the genuine remnants and in effect have raped the grounds.

The hills, valleys and streams are original but only monuments mark the sacred sites. To feel the actual carnage and destructive forces that took place there on Sept. 19 and 20 in 1863, I wanted the sensation of touch and feel that were used on this once blood-soaked terrain. I sought a physical record that was a true witness to this event. It had become an obsession to me. The quest became a reality in part from this column that I have been writing for the Tri-City Times. The resolution to this pursuit was always so close it is ironic!

Jotham Austin Vincent of Clyde Township enlisted in Company "C," 22nd Michigan Infantry on August 11, 1862 at Port Huron for a three year stint. Four days later Noble Hunter of Capac also enlisted in the same unit for three years. Both men were mustered into service on August 14 and their lives became entwined forever.

This story actually begins on July 15, 1862 when Gov. Austin Blair issued General Order No. 154, raising six regiments of infantry. He then designated the 5th Congressional District, composed of the counties of Livingston, Lapeer, Macomb, Sanilac and St. Clair to comprise the 22nd Michigan Infantry.

Field officers were Colonel Moses Wisner of Pontiac, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert L. LeFavour of Detroit and Major William Sanborn of Port Huron. Line officers of Company C were Capt. John Atkinson of Port Huron and First Lt. Jefferson J. Wilder of Capac.

Having reached full strength on Sept. 4, the 1,000 officers and enlistees of the 22nd broke camp at the fairgrounds in Pontiac and headed to the war and their unknown destiny. Before leaving, two young ladies of Pontiac, Miss Emma Adams and Miss Julie Comstock, presented Colonel Wisner an embroidered silk flag and the state colors that are paramount to this story.

After leaving Michigan the 22nd eventually became part of the Army of the Cumberland, led by Major General William S. Rosecrans and Major General George H. Thomas. For 14 months the 22nd traversed the Western Front, involving itself in many skirmishes and campaigns usually as reserve corps performing engineering and quartermaster tasks until the greatest battle of the Western Front began.

The word Chickamauga is Cherokee for 'River of Death,' and that is exactly what the creek running through the battlefield became on September 19 and 20, 1863. The combined casualties for this two day battle were 37,129. They compare with totals of 23,582 at Antietam, known as the bloodiest day in American history, and Gettysburg, where 43,454 were lost over three days.

Authentic Civil War artifacts include diaries of Jotham Austin Vincent, whose descendants still live in the area. photo by Catherine Minolli.

September 20, 1862 was the day that the 22nd Michigan Infantry gained immortality and respect for the sacrifices made by them.

After taking Chattanooga, Tennessee with little resistance, Gen. Rosecrans crossed the Tennessee River into Georgia with a vision of splitting the south and marching on Atlanta. Underestimating the combined strength of Gen. Braxton Bragg and Lt. Gen. James Longstreet of the Confederate States of America, the forward thrust soon became a massive retreat back to Chattanooga and across the Tennessee River. Gen. Rosecrans ordered Gen. Thomas (who later became known as the Rock of Chickamauga) to hold a hill on the Snodgrass Farm to allow for the evacuation of the Army of the Cumberland. Time was of the essence to recross the Tennessee River or a major disaster was at hand.

Three regiments were ordered to hold the entire Army and accompanying cavalry of the Army of Tennessee, a much superior force. The Ohio 89th, 125th and the Michigan 22nd were ordered to hold the hill at any cost and to "select their targets carefully and fire only at their hearts." The assault started at three in the afternoon. Wave after wave of rebels attacked the crest of the hill. The dead and dying covered the hillside. The cannon fire, musket fire, screams and moans of the wounded filled the air along with the agonizing sounds of the horses and mules. The naturally red clay of Georgia was blood red all along the Snodgrass Ridge.

As darkness approached, the lines of communication between Rosecrans, Thomas and the three regiments was broken and the final orders to retreat were not received. Completely surrounded and out of ammunition, Lt. Col. Heber LaFavour gave the last defensive order of the day, to "hold the ground at all hazards, stand firm and use cold steel."

With a great battle cry the men charged downhill into the combined forces with bayonets, swords and rifle butts of the 6th Florida, 24th Virginia, Preston's Division and Buckners Corps. The following is the official account according to the Record of Service published by the State of Michigan:

"The slaughter was fearful. Color Sgt. Philo Durkee of Co. A was struck in the breast with grape shot. Falling mortally wounded clasping the flag and colors in his arms, he sealed his devotion with his blood upon its folds. Corp. Richard A. Stansell of Co. H took the flag from the dying grasp of Sgt. Durkee and charged down the hill. A musket ball passed through his brain. Corp. Pearl Mitchell of Co. F raised the flag amidst the storm of shot and shell that soon carried away his left arm. Corp. Jotham Vincent of Co. C rushed to the flag and defiantly waved it in the face of the enemy then fell severely wounded. Col. LeFavour shouted 'Take up the flag!' First Sgt. William F. Atkinson of Co. C took the flag and handed it to Sgt. Oscar Kendall who with the knowledge of the enemy's determination put down the flag, threw down his rifle and with a courage and daring that was customary of the 22nd, planted it at his side as erect and fearless as God ever made man stand for any cause..."

Corp. Noble Hunter took a miniball in the chest, passing through and out his right arm. Mortally wounded, he and the others crawled back to the crest of Snodgrass Hill as determined and defiant as ever....

Don't miss next week's Lifestyles section for the dramatic conclusion and amazing local connection to this historic story.

Castle Creek
Milnes Ford
05 - 26 - 19
Site Search

Thanks for visiting Tri City Times