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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Honoring Those Who Served

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

by Gordon Thorsby

Wreaths placed at Arlington National Cemetery (Courtesy of Wreaths Across America)

There is something most serene to a light December snowfall on the graves in our military cemeteries. A permanent peace that they earned through blood and sacrifice. Each year for the past several years something has been added, evergreen wreaths to headstones. Each year 2.7 million wreaths are placed on the graves of veterans at over 3700 locations. This year, the wreath placing will occur on December 16th. Among these veteran graves are thousands of Civil war veterans who for many gave their lives and gave away their youth to keep America free.

At one location, Grand Rapids, Michigan, many Civil War veterans lie buried. They finished their final days on earth at the Old Soldiers Home. Four were Chesaning, MI area residents. Samuel Andress, 44, of St. Charles was ancient for Union soldiers when he enlisted in the 29th Michigan in August 1864, an uncle to soldiers Edwin (1st Michigan Sharpshooters) and Albert (3rd Michigan Cavalry). His regiment fought at Decatur, AL in October 1864 before Hood’s invasion of Tennessee, successfully fought at the Battle of the Cedars on 12/7, and Winstead Creek 12/13 against Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. He died November 19,1900 a date just passed, and he receives his wreath each year in Grand Rapids.

Russell Ryness, a St. Charles resident just a couple miles away from Chesaning joined Co. G of the 3rd Michigan Cavalry with almost thirty other Chesaning young men at the old age for a horseman of 39. Tentmates with Henry Harrison Carson, the Chesaning fine liquor store owner Lafayette Homer, and cigar store owner Harvey Hopkins, he spent four hard years fighting Confederate regulars and irregular partisans in the Trans-Mississippi theater. Luckily discharged in June 1865, he suffered for years the consequences of poor diet and hard riding with chronic diarrhea and rheumatism. Ryness at 72 married Sarah in 1894 to help care for him until his condition required constant care at the Soldier’s Home. He died 10/6/1902 and receives a wreath at his final resting place.

GAR Post 121 George "Paps" Thomas Post, Chesaning, MI circa 1888.

James H. Taylor, 31, enlisted in the 11th Maine Infantry 9/1/1861 at Vassalboro, ME. He fought with the regiment on the Peninsula in 1862 before they moved to the Carolinas in 1863 campaigning. In 1864 he volunteered with a party of 100 volunteers who converted to artillerists handling 10” Siege mortars to reduce Ft Wagner. The fort withstood naval bombardment and repeated infantry assaults (reference the Movie "Glory") for over a year. It was reported that they “carelessly, coolly and unhesitatingly they went into action took their introduction to artillery under a heavy artillery fire… from Fts. Wagner, Moultrie, Gregg and Johnson.” Taylor participated in the initial offensives at the Siege of Petersburg before his discharge in November. After the war, Taylor migrated to Chesaning where he began collecting a pension 11/15/1884. He had a dependent child when he passed in 11/17/1890 at 59. He receives a wreath each year on his headstone and he has a cenotaph in Wildwood Cemetery in Chesaning.

Andrew Jackson Wilson was just 18 when he volunteered with the 126th NY at Phelps in August 1862, an area many Chesaning settlers migrated from before and after the war. His unit was urgently sent to Harper’s Ferry to meet Lee’s Maryland Invasion. Unfortunately, the defense was poorly handled against the excellent Confederate General Stonewall Jackson in September prior to Antietam and the entire garrison of over 12,000 was surrendered. Wilson suffered head wounds from artillery shelling and went home to recuperate. Upon his return, the 126th went to Gettysburg where it was heavily involved in fighting on July 2nd in front of Cemetery Ridge and where Wilson was separated and feared captured or dead. He later showed up at a hospital in Maryland once again with head wounds. Due to his wounds, Wilson was transferred to the Veterans Reserve Corps until discharge in 1865. After the war, he came to Chesaning and was a proprietor at the Hotel. His war injuries required beginning his invalid pension at the age of 33. His wounds were the source of chronic blood poisoning, with degenerative and generally untreatable side effects at the time. At some point after 1900 he was admitted to the Old Soldier’s Home and died 2/6/1918. His body was transported back to Chesaning after his death and where he rests in Wildwood Cemetery. Andrew Jackson Wilson does not receive a wreath but he is at peace among over 200 veterans at the Cemetery in Chesaning.

The Chesaning Old Post Hotel, where Wilson was employed for a time.

For the Civil War veteran, the war was an arduous journey. At his time of year, may we grant that they and every person who served our country the serenity they so much deserve. For many, they receive an evergreen wreath from Wreaths Across America.

Courtesy of Wreaths Across America


- is a Non-Profit Organization accepts donations and Volunteers in an effort to place wreaths on every American Veterans' Grave.

-Story of the 11th Maine Infantry Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion, New York 1896, p137-138.

-Record of the 3rd Michigan Cavalry, Civil War, 1861-1865, Kalamazoo, MI, Ihling Bros. Everard Printers, 1905, Bentley Library, University of Michigan.

-Record of the 29th Michigan Infantry Volunteers, Civil War, 1861-1865, Kalamazoo, MI, Ihling Bros. Everard Printers, 1905, Bentley Library, University of Michigan.

-Roster of the 126th New York Infantry, compiled by the New York Adjutant General's Office, 1893-1905.

-Wildwood Cemetery, Chesaning MI.

-Holt Library, Saginaw Michigan.

-Chesaning Argus, River Rapids Library, Chesaning, MI. all veterans mentioned. all veterans mentioned.

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