Memories of War From David Webb, 3rd Michigan Infantry
by Gordon Thorsby
David Webb, a veteran who survived the war, lived into the depression era dying in Chesaning, MI in 1936. We are fortunate David James Webb was kind enough to recount some of his life story in old age to his granddaughter Bernice. Some of the memories he told may have faded so additional research has been done to document and clarify his story.
Webb's words have been provided by Jeff Coke. Thanks Jeff.
Webb was born in Mason, MI in 1842. He drove a stage in his teens to help family income and the choice for transportation was by water or over the few roads that but cut out of the wilderness. The railroad was still seven years away in the area. He enlisted 5/13/1861 in the 3rd Michigan Infantry, Co. B as private at Grand Rapids at the age of 19. David was part of the original call for 75,000 from President Abraham Lincoln and David was in the earliest fighting in 1861. He recounted that he was underage but he age minimum since he was nineteen when he enlisted.
At First Manassas: “I saw my first man killed. He was about 8 feet from me. A cannon ball took his head off. We quit fighting at 5 o’clock (I had had the next man to me killed three different times – those nights I couldn’t sleep.)” The end of the fighting turned into a rout from the field for the Union army.
Webb further explained regarding April, 1862, “we got on boats, went down to the sea (by the Potomac) to Fortress Monroe. The York and the James Rivers were on either side. They fetched our supplies up the York River because the Rebels were on the other side of the James.“ He was 100% accurate as he explained it.
The 3rd Michigan was involved in tough fighting around Williamsburg. For David, the bloodiest was at Fair Oaks (aka Seven Pines) on May 31st. He recalled:
“At Fair Oaks we were so near to Richmond that the fellows who climbed the trees could see the steeples there. Sent our supplies up the York River as far as they could float a scow; then we had laid a railroad for thirteen miles as far a man’s farm named Savage – called Savage Station. In the battle of Fair Oaks I was so close to the Reb that shot me that I could see just what was on his mind. Thinks I, If I don’ts shoot him, he’ll get me. Well, he winged me first. You can still put your fingers in the holes where the bullet went through just above my right elbow. I always figured I was lucky it wasn’t any worse. After I was wounded on May 30 1862, I walked to Savage Station.” The 3rd suffered 175 casualties that day, a large percentage for a regiment at that that time in the war.
Webb recounted to Bernice that that he and the 3rd Michigan fought at Mechanicsville (aka Beaver Dam Creek on June 26) but since he was severely wounded several days prior to Mechanicsville, he did not fight there. He was in the process of being evacuated by steamship back to Washington and was down near the shore at Harrison's Landing on the James River.
Webb recalled his time in Douglas Hospital. and yes, he was there. Douglas Hospital was Senator Stephen A Douglas’ mansion that was turned into a hospital. “A doctor came out and said my arm ought to be cut off or I would lose my life (It had been five days without attention). I said, “Doc, I’m a poor boy, how’ll I earn a living without my right arm?” He agreed to doctor it and kept a man putting ice on it for three days. Doctor Bronson did the work, and thought I could never open my hand or use my fingers much, I have a lot to thank him for.”
Douglas Hospital (former Stephen A Douglas mansion)
Webb’s wounding ended his fighting and he was discharged October 3, 1862 in northern Maryland. It was also near the encampment of the 6th Michigan Cavalry after Antietam and where Webb said went to work as a sutler or as a teamster of supply wagons. He spoke of a Lyne Patten who sent him to his brother Hood Patten. David erred on the regiment (Fourth Cavalry was in Tennessee.) Lyne (believed to be actually George T. Patten, Quartermaster Sergeant. As a Sergeant, he was not authorized to hire so he sent Webb to his brother, Charles Hood Patten, 1st Lieutenant of the Company. George was killed July 14, 1863 one week after Gettysburg, a trooper in the Wolverine Brigade under Brigadier Gen. George Custer.
Webb continued being a wagon driver while working at home around St. Charles and he married after the war to Alice Colin, 16 at the time. He also began work in lumbering moving logs down the Bad River for one Lou Penoyer (Lou's two brothers were in the 23rd Michigan.) Lou was indeed in the lumber business.
David Webb’s story included many names and places that made the story easy to document. He passed on his story and Bernice was kind enough to pass it onto her descendants.
David Webb and wife Alice
Webb's story exemplifies what many soldiers experienced that he survived. Bernice got to see the hole above his right elbow reminding everyone that Grandpa fought in the Civil War.
Even at 93, David Webb was up early every day and working hard. His end came suddenly from a fall while doing chores in his barn. Webb was the last surviving veteran of Chesaning, MI; rugged until the end.
If others would like help researching Civil War portions of their ancestor’s story feel free to let me know.
Note: Webb’s story related here is abridged due to length.