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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Brutality in Fighting With the 23rd Michigan

by Gordon

The 23rd Michigan experienced the war when it became its ugliest. Soldiers no longer spoke of glory, grand victory, or defending the colors; not even solemn death. It was simple barbarity.

The Twenty-third Michigan mustered in at East Saginaw on September 13, 1862 recruiting heavily from Saginaw and Genesee Counties. A couple of 16th Michigan soldiers resigned their positions and were instrumental in the organization of the 23rd. Those two men were Benjamin Fisher from Chesaning, and Henry Woodruff of East Saginaw.

Campbell’s Station in the Knoxville Campaign might be considered its first major engagement. Union Gen. Burnside ordered a delaying action so that the army could get its supply wagons and troops inside the fortifications of the city against Confederate Lt. Gen. Longstreet's advances. The 23rd was one regiment called upon and it performed admirably earning special commendation for its efficient work under the most trying circumstances.

In May, 1864, Sherman issued orders at the start of the Atlanta Campaign for a demonstration at Rocky Face Ridge while a flank advance was in process. The 23rd was one unit selected for the job. The cost for that demonstration was instantly realized as they incurred 63 casualties in a mere few minutes.

In November, the XXIII Corps raced back from Georgia to join Thomas at Nashville but Gen. John B. Hood caught up with them at Spring Hill, TN. The Federal army managed to sneak through Confederate lines who were only yards away. A Confederate captain who wandered into the column in search of his own men was grabbed by flankers of the 23rd Michigan and foiled discovery of the Union escape.

At Franklin, the 23rd Michigan was to the left of the Columbia Pike when the Confederate line collided with the defenses in the greatest charge of the entire war. The 23rd beat off repeated assaults with the gray lines dissolving in front of the breastworks. Private Wayne Morris of Ovid, MI recalled how the dead and dying piled up before them. He recalled the sounds of “groaning, praying and pleading,” and he said “God knows I do not want to war again." After Franklin, the men of the regiment would never have positive memories of the experience of the war. Unfortunately, the war was not over.

At one point during the fighting at Franklin, Col. Spaulding ordered company B from the right of the regiment over the works into the dead on their front to fire a volley into the nearby embankment. Confederates had sought any kind of cover on the pike and the embankment was the only place.

After Nashville, the 23rd traveled by steamer and rail to Washington where it loaded on transports for Wilmington, NC. The regiment's contribution was fighting in front of Ft. Anderson at Town Creek.

On February18. 1865 the soldiers faced 9 -32lb guns on barbettes and with infantry inside the fort. They demonstrated in front while naval guns from the river screamed overhead to try to reduce the defenses. When the 23rd advanced on the 20th, Confederates had abandoned the fort except for a few and the 23rd was first in taking 375 prisoners. Wilmington was taken and it closed the last major trade to the South from the outside world. The fate of the Confederate armies were sealed.

Some of the soldiers from the Saginaw/Genesee/Shiawassee area included:

Albert Smith, a Chesaning resident and a sub for another drafted man. Smith died of disease in the swamps of Wilmington.

Frank Sisco of Montrose, wounded in skirmishing at Columbia, TN and had to be left during the retreat. His right leg was amputated and he was discharged to returned home.

Brothers Andrew and John Hosie of Flushing; Andrew was killed at Resaca one week after Rocky Face. John died of disease exactly two months later in a Chattanooga hospital. Both are buried at Chattanooga National.

Richard Johnson was a farmer from Flushing. He was wounded in the desperate fight at Franklin but survived the war. He retreated with the Union army to Nashville the day after the battle.

James Parmalee of Maple Grove was captured after Resaca, imprisoned at Andersonville that had just opened and where James rests today.

Daniel Clough of New Haven was killed in the demonstration in front of Ft Anderson. His remains were returned home for burial.

The Twenty-third was not a Washington Parade goer. It remained in Salisbury where it mustered out on 6/28/65. The men may have preferred not to attend for war was not something to celebrate, not even its ending. They had survived.

Note: An ancestor, Sylvanus Cornford, bugler in Co. B, of Birch Run was 42 when he enlisted in the 23rd. His age made him susceptible to the camp diseases and he was dead of disease three months after muster at Lebanon, KY. He is buried today at Lebanon National Cemetery, Kentucky.


Record of Service of Michigan Volunteers 1861-65.

For Cause and Country, by Jacobsen, Eric A, and Rupp Richard A., O'Moore Publishing, p.234.

The Wilmington Campaign, by Fonvieville, Chris E., Savas Publishing, 1997.

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