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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Brothers, Comrades and Almost Neighbors in the Fourth Michigan

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

by Gordon Thorsby

The Fourth Michigan Infantry mustered in at the southern tier town of Adrian, Michigan Michigan in 1861. Amongst those joining up were four men that traveled from the Saginaw/Flint area to be amongst the first volunteers to represent Michigan. A fifth man would join up one month later. Photographer Matthew Brady captured several of men from the Fourth in a series of Photos in 1862.

Zouave regiments were organized in many states in the Fourth Michigan mustered in as a Zouave Regiment and joined the Army of the Potomac in the East. Their first major actions happened in the Peninsula in June, 1862.

At Beaver Dam Creek in the Peninsula Campaign, the 4th moved up to reinforce against repeated Confederate assaults and where the Union defense was a brick wall that could not be penetrated. That night, the Federals withdrew to a new line of defense, Powhite Creek.

The next day at Gaines Mill, the sides clashed again with heavy casualties on both sides. Confederate lines pounded Griffin’s Brigade who turned back three assaults from Joseph Anderson's butternut regiments. The Fourth Michigan, a part of Griffin's Brigade, fired from well prepared defensive breastworks as the Confederate regiments descended from one side of the bank, waded across waste deep Boatswain’s Swamp and then climbed the opposite bank all the while under heavy fire. The Men of the Fourth had smoothbore Springfield muskets with ball and buckshot ammunition that spewed lead from ten pound rifles but only accurate to approximately 100 yards. When the Fourth exhausted their ammunition exhausted, they withdrew farther back and out of line of fire.

Cracks appeared in several parts of the Union line simultaneously, with men trickling back from the line at first and became an unraveling. Escape became the new priority. It is here, that the lives of the five men changed.

John Wheeler enlisted in Co. I as private and born in England, in December, 1840. John was wounded at Gaines Mill on June 27,1862. When the Fourth made its escape John was not with the rest and went missing. In the darkness and early the next morning, he was snapped up by Confederate patrols and made a prisoner while being treated for his wounds. He was paroled and hospitalized in Alexandria where he recovered and was discharged for his wounds on October 11, 1862.

Jacob Kesselring was private in Co.I and 22 at his enlistment on the same day as John 6/20/1861 also in Adrian. He was also captured in the breakthrough at Boatswain’s Creek on June 27. He too was eventually paroled and returned to Alexandria Hospital where he was discharge due to unknown disabilities 11/15/1862.

Abraham Mosher born September 3 1833, in New York served in Co. H as private and enlisted

at Flint on 11/21/1861 at 28 in Company with his brother. He fought his way through most of the Peninsula Campaign. Unfortunately, the awful marches proved too much as his legs developed vericose veins and he was discharged for the disability July 7, 1862 at Harrison’s Landing.

The retreat from Gaines Mill and eventually south to Malvern Hill was sheer misery as recorded by John Bancroft, “March and wait and march and wait and then countermarch May you never experience how tired we were.” At Malvern Hill, the 4th was in position in the Northwest portion of the freshly harvested hill and beat back successive assaults that never could penetrate the blue line on the crest of the hill. The Fourth lost their Colonel Dwight Woodbury and 116 men.

In 1863, in their hurried, exhaustive marched to catch the Army of Norther Virginia going to Gettysburg, they were in critical need of supplies and most were still clothed in the Zouave uniforms and tassled hats. Resupply of clothes would have to wait as food and ammunition took priority.

They arrived on July 2nd and took position near the Trostle Farm. It didn’t take long for the Confederates under Hood and McLaws to slam into a just forming Union line. Union commanders attempted to counter pressure coming from several points at once and the Fourth was called on to frequently adjust to them. In the end, the Fourth fought at several famous places on the field that day including the Rose Woods, and the Wheatfield. While fighting in the Wheatfield, the regimental flag went down and several officers converged at once to recover it. Colonel Jeffords commanding the regiment wrestled with a rebel who attempted to take the standard until his brother struck the rebel down. It was then that Jeffords was run through with a bayonet by another Confederate soldier. Eventually, the regiment’s position collapsed and fell back to Cemetery Ridge.

Frank (Franklin) Truair who achieved a Corporal’s stripe, was in Co. D. He was 27 when he enlisted in the Southern tier town of Adrian, Michigan on June 20,1861. He suffered wounds or from an unrecorded disability and he was transferred to the Invalid Corps at the end of the Gettysburg Campaign in August.

Nate (Nathaniel) Mosher was almost sevens years junior to brother Abraham (above), and also originally a Brit. He enlisted in the same company H but he enlisted with the others the very same day. He was the survivor of the group. He served his full term of enlistment, he reenlisted, detaching to the 1st Michigan Infantry until the Fourth reorganized late in 1864.

Nate, Frank, Jacob and John traveled to Adrian together to join up. Abraham joined later probably to keep an eye on younger brother Nate. In the end they all survived the war, passing away in 1910, 1904, 1916, 1897, and 1900 respectively. The interesting part is that no matter where life took them during and after the war, they all wound up back in the neighboring small towns of St. Charles, Chesaning, Taymouth, New Lothrop, and Flushing.

Somehow, we always return home.


A Bloody Day at Gaines Mill, Woodard, Elmer, McFarland & Co., 2019.

Extraordinary Circumstances, Burton, Brian K., Indiana University Press, 2001.

Gettysburg, The Second Day, Pfanz, Harry W., University of North Carolina Press, 1987.

To the Gates of Richmond, Sears, Stephen W., Houghton Mifflin Co, New York, 1992.

Note: Photos, courtesy of Library of Congress, names of men in the group photos are unknown. The one individual photo is that of Richard Cramer, Co. I.

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