A Recruit in Company M Two Days after His Eighteenth
by Gordon Thorsby
Albert Brockitt, Company M, Sixth Michigan Cavalry
Albert Brockitt (sometimes Brockett, sometimes Brackett) was the second born child, of a second generation to North America on February 12th or 18th, 1846, and in Canada by sources. Some families migrated to the St. Charles, Michigan area from Canada. Some migrated from Western New York. For the Brockitts, it was actually both; one side from England to Canada, then Michigan. The other side migrated from Canada to Western New York, and then to St. Charles, Michigan. Their Travel included wagon, walking, and flatboat and there were only rivers and walking paths to St. Charles. Like most soldiers in the Civil War, we can only try to understand what life might have been like for Albert.
Our story begins not in 1861 or 1862 but in 1864. The Civil War had been raging for almost three years. Albert turned eighteen on February 18th, 1864 and he went off immediately to join up in Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids was the headquarters for recruiting of Michigan cavalry brigades and he joined Company M, as Private, into the Sixth Michigan Cavalry of February 20th. The regiment had been fighting since the Fall of 1862 and had been in heavy action at Gettysburg and the follow up campaigning in the fall as part of the Wolverine Brigade.
Albert joined the Sixth around Culpeper, VA and went on to fight in some of the most vicious cavalry action of the entire war. If you were in the 6th Michigan, you were a proud trooper in the Brigade and the troopers rode hard and fought hard. He arrived in time to participate in the Overland Campaign as Union Cavalry became a fighting arm under the Army of the Potomac under Philip Sheridan. Albert was at Yellow Tavern where Sheridan dealt a blow to the Confederate Cavalry and the death of Jeb Stuart. The Sixth Michigan was at Trevilian Station where the Wolverine Brigade was surrounded and the brigade had to fight their way out.
The Sixth was part of Sheridan's Force that burned the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 and tussled with Rebel guerilla John Mosby. Albert was never wounded though he may have earned a scratch or two and undoubtedly suffered from the same diseases that everyone else experienced. There are no known letters that speak of Albert and there is no known photograph of him. What is certain is that in his fourteen months of the War, he saw the razor thin space between life and death where many around him survived while others died. Albert experienced much and then the Sixth Michigan was transferred west in mid-1865 where they patrolled the Bozeman Trail against Arapaho Warriors. Albert was discharged May 10, 1866 in Detroit. In May, 1866, he would have ridden the Michigan Central Train to Owosso and then the stage to St. Charles. There was no train in 1866 to St. Charles so John Griswold would have been the coachman. (John's son William was wounded in 1862 but survived and returned home to Chesaning in June,1865.)
Personally, Albert had two other brothers and four other sisters. At twenty-eight he married Martha Marie Blount, 19, in 1874. Martha would have been nine when Albert was fighting in Virginia in 1864 but she would have experienced the home front as the men came home or the news of their not coming home was learned. Albert and Martha went on to have five children and lives continued to today.
Later in life, probably after Martha had passed in 1905, Albert went to live with one daughter, Pearl and her husband, Elmer in the St. Charles area. They had their eight boys and girls and things would never have been boring in that household.
The Brockitts and Elmer McKeage family lived close by in the St. Charles are in the early 1900’s. What might it have been like on November 25th, 1912?
Their families might have gathered on Thanksgiving Day at the McKeage household for a wonderful feast that would never be without turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. Outside in the front yard, there was a buckboard wagon that brought the Boist family and two buggies that brought the Brockitts and Timberlakes. With everyone relaxing inside, the horses grazed on the grass outside. The meal would have been served at around one o’clock in the afternoon.
While the meal was being prepared by the ladies, the men would have sat in the living room and discussed their farms or politics of the day and made sure to pull Albert into the discussion. As talk continued, Albert’s thoughts may have drifted off to another time, to Martha, the days with her, and then farther back of the times in Virginia with guns booming, of the long marches, the lack of sleep, of the comrades he knew who did not return and those who did return. The conversation getting a little louder would bring him back... but his attention would not remain. Another memory lightly nudged his attention, and it was as if he could smell the fields in the Summer of 1864.
Note 1: Albert passed away in 1924 in St. Charles and is buried in Riverside Cemetery as is Martha and three of the children.
Note 2: Descendant Jill Stevens provided many of the family facts and background.
Note 3: The ending to this story was written based on holiday gatherings around St. Charles with permission of Ms. Stevens to help bring Albert back to life even for just a day.