Lost, Then Found, George Terry of the 7th Michigan Cavalry
Updated: May 9
by Gordon Thorsby
The years of1861-1865 was a chaotic time for people in America. There is simply no way for us to understand how people dealt with life and death in the war and many people certainly did not. Here is the story of George Terry of Chesaning, Michigan.
It is probable that George A. Terry was not anxious to go off to war. He was clearing new ground on very flat land close to the small village of Chesaning with his new wife, Eliza Mildred Davis, aged 20. They were just trying to make a better life. George was new to Chesaning but Eliza and her parents had resided there for a few years. When War came in 1861, George and Eliza continued to build the farm and get a good crop in the ground that spring. When the call came again in mid-1862, Chesaning men enlisted knowing that other men from town had been killed or in one case, returned home to die. George did not enlist. He stayed home because Eliza was pregnant. It was on February 14, 1863, when Eliza gave birth to a girl. Eliza suffered from complications and she did not recover, passing six days later on February 20th.
There is no information as to George’s state of mind from the loss of his young wife. The baby was named Eliza Mildred Terry, the same name as her now dead mother. It is believed that George asked to give young Eliza to his wife's parents. With the child in the care of George and Caroline Davis less than two months later, on April 18, 1863, George enlisted in Co. K of the 7th Michigan Cavalry.
Did George go to forget? Did he go because Eliza was the reason he stayed home? Was it that George had little reason to live and the war was his vehicle to join his wife? There is no idea. Communications ceased immediately from George and the grandparents feared the worst and that George had been killed.
Almost immediately when George met up with the regiment in the field, he went into battle. The 7th entered into heavy non-stop engagements under command of George Custer for almost 6 months until winter conditions prevented further actions. The spring brought new offensives especially by Federal Cavalry in non-stop fighting with heavy casualties. In all of these fights, George fought through suffering with barely a scratch.
The 7th earned a reputation for fighting at Gettysburg fighting J.E.B. Stuart and George was promoted in the Fall of '63 to Sergeant. In 1864, Custer, now with the Wolverine Brigade fought at Haw’s Shop, Yellow Tavern, and Trevillian Station. Again, George got through it all. When Sheridan took Custer’s Wolverines into the Shenandoah to clear the valley of Early's Army, and Confederate raiders, that George was suddenly documented on October 15 to be lost. Five other 7th Michigan troopers disappeared that day from Companies D, I, and K. Confederate cavalry were harassing the Union rear and it is believed the men had been on picket duty near Middletown and snapped up near their posts. Nobody actually understood where Sgt. George Terry was or if he was dead. He simply vanished.
(The Field of Salisbury Cemetery)
At the end of October, George was documented in Confederate records as entered into the Salisbury Confederate Prison Camp in North Carolina. The Camp was started in 1861 and the prison population numbered around 500 during the earlier part of the war. Those numbers changed in 1864 with Grant’s Overland Campaign. About the time of Terry’s entrance into the camp, the prison population had ballooned to approximately 9,000 POW's.
George survived through November, then December but George disappeared in January. There may have been men who knew George. One was Ephraim Ensign, from nearby Montrose, MI. who had been captured at Weldon Railroad. Unfortunately, the other comrades captured at the same time had been returned or were awaiting official exchange in Annapolis, MD. Three were actually back on duty though not in the saddle fighting. George was gone.
In late February, Gen George Stoneman led a mounted force east from Tennessee, cutting through western Virginia, down through North Carolina cutting rail lines from the west when he hit Salisbury Prison Camp to free the camp. Most of the prisoners had been moved to Wilmington but several hundred invalid prisoners were rescued. Stoneman proceed to burn every building to the ground and to erase any semblance a camp once existed. Where was George A. Terry? Nobody knew.
After the war was over in August 1865, Clara Barton searching for missing soldiers along with a team proceeded to Andersonville to re-inter the dead in coordination of the establishment of national cemeteries. Their results was that over 80% of the burials had names on their markers. At Salisbury, few names of the dead were recorded and the ability to repeat such identification was less hopeful. Three years later, in 1868, the Government Printing Office published a report on the prisoners of Salisbury Prison Camp and the over 5,000 men that died there. It is then that confirmation was made that George A. Terry was died there. George was a victim of pneumonia and died of its effects on January 16, 1865, almost thirty days prior to the freedom of the camp. George had become one of the dead wagon’s inventory, where as many as thirty men were buried every day. George, buried in the red clay of North Carolina had been found.
Eliza, his wife, was buried at Wildwood Cemetery, in Chesaning and her grave was unmarked for several years. It is unknown when her parents passed away, but they are buried close by along with two of Eliza’s brothers. Someone placed a marker (app. 1868) at Eliza’s grave for both George and her (George's remains still in North Carolina.) On the combination headstone, it says, “ w/o George, 22 years 4 mos. 3 days.” There is a smaller headstone next to Caroline, the grandmother. The inscription is not legible. There is no further record of young Eliza. She may be lost or she may be found.
At Salisbury National Cemetery, there are eighteen trenches where over 5,000 men rest there, who left this world too soon. Terry is one of the soldiers.
(Caroline and the illegible ,unidentifiable marker)
-By Scott C. Patchan, The Last Battle of Winchester, Savas Beatie, 2013.
-The Roll of Honor, Chap. 14, Salisbury Prison, Washington Printing Office, 1868.
-National Historical Data Sources Inc., P.O. Box 25, Duxbury, MA, 02331.
-Grand Army of the Republic, Paps Thomas Post 70, River Rapids Library, Chesaning Twp, MI.
-Salisbury National Cemetery, Salisbury, NC