Cut off During the Siege of Nashville, the 29th Michigan
And the story of John C. Davis
by Gordon Thorsby
Please allow a bit of background on the 29th Michigan. The recruits of the 29th Michigan came from a variety of areas in Michigan. The new settlers that wanted to be part of Michigan, often migrated from western New York through three paths; through Canada, through a stop in Pennsylvania, or through a stop in Ohio. For one John C. Davis, it was via the Ohio route. John's family originated from Massachusetts, where John was born. This is about as much as is presently known.
The first assignment for the 29th Michigan was to proceed to Decatur, Alabama and join a small force to block Hood’s route. The men of the 29th arrived in Decatur (pictured above) and immediately occupied newly dug rifle pits when Confederate troops assaulted that day. Every Butternut advanced through fog but was repulsed and Hood decided to prevent further casualties and bypassed the brave small force of defenders. The 29th had performed admirably in their first engagement. With the Confederate army headed north, the 29th’s need was also north and they were sent to Murfreesboro arriving on November 27th. The historical battles of Spring Hill and Franklin happened a few miles away on November 29-30 and the garrison at Murfreesboro was cutoff while Nashville was under siege.
With the onset of Civil War, It is often an assumption that regiments raised in 1864 saw little combat but from May of 1864 to April of 1865 as many casualties occurred in 11 months than the entire war previous two and half years. The war at this time was deadly, vicious, and inhuman. For John C. Davis, there is an indication that he enlisted in Ohio and then nothing further was recorded or identified. He could have been discharged for disability or he could have deserted (desertion not as common in 1861 as in 1864 when the draft was full force). In 1864,
John was a farmer and resided in St. Charles with his wife, Charity George (maiden), whom he married in 1850. John enlisted in Company F at the age of 36 on August 29, an older man for an enlistee and was instantly made sergeant. His Captain was George Swimm, another St. Charles man. The regiment mustered in at East Saginaw on September 3 and after one month of continued recruiting, they broke camp. Their rail transport proceeded to the Nashville, TN just in time for Confederate John Bell Hood’s Fall offensive into Tennessee. Hood’s Army of 30,000 was headed straight for Nashville. and the 29th would be surely involved in the defense.
Returning to the action in Tennessee, on December 5-7, a large Southern force attacked Murfreesboro and the 29th was dispatched west of Murfreesboro to a place called Overall (many mistook the name for Overalls) Creek to create a demonstration but the expedition was fully isolated. While covering the crossing, the Battle of the Cedars took place where a strong force under command of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was turned back at Murfreesboro. On the 13th, the regiment was dispatched to escort of a Railroad train and procure wood for the locomotive, when they were set upon by a superior force of infantry and artillery near Winstead Church. Outnumbered two to one, the Union force fought off the Confederate attack. The regiment lost 17 total casualties.
During the fight, Confederates put a cannonball into the locomotive, disabling it, and tore up tracks. The 29th re-laid the tracks and they resolved the locomotive problem by hauling it by hand almost twelve miles back to Murfreesboro.
They were not done with fighting yet. On the 15th and 16th, they were again attacked while guarding another train near Alexandria on the Shelbyville Pike. The locomotive engine was a sitting duck because it was out fuel and the boys in blue of the 29th got the train moving again and they were able to return under the protection of Ft. Rosecrans. However, it was not a peaceful venture. A brigade of Confederate advanced in several places only to be beaten off. The green regiment had become in very short order, a veteran regiment.
It was on February 12, 1865, John Davis received a discharge as a result of disability for undisclosed reasons in Anderson, TN (near Knoxville) and where he was most likely being assisted to recover from a probable illness.
John, who was a resident of a small town called St. Charles lived only a few years after the war, suddenly died on April 22, 1872. "He had been to Saginaw and returned on the five o'clock train, and a few minutes after he got off from the cars and fell dead. right in the middle of town at the railroad stop. He had not been ill and it was his forty-fifth birthday.
John might have been thinking that Charity made a nice dinner. He would be able to sit and listen to his three young kids’ chatter as they were excited to celebrate his birthday. They knew that a birthday meant that at the end of the day, there would be cake and candles for dessert. Unfortunately, the planned celebration would not occur. As reported by the local papers, “Mr. Davis leaves a wife and a family of small children to mourn his death, besides a number of friends.”
What was the cause of John’s heart attack, a birth defect, the side effect of some earlier disease, the difficulty of his time in the army and the cause of his discharge? We will never know. John C. Davis' small contribution is part of the reason we have freedom today.
Shrouds of Glory, Groom, Winston, Grove Press, 2004.
Saginaw Daily Courier, May 2, 1872. John C. Davis' Obituary.
History of the 29th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, Belknap, William. Bentley Library, University of Michigan 1908.
Civil War Research Data, John C. Davis, St. Charles, MI.
Photo: of the person is that of Pvt. Edward Corseon who died of disease on New Year's Day, 1865 in Murfreesboro.
Contributed by Tiffany Cody.
and Tamara Bussinger Krzyniak