Replacements for the Second Michigan Infantry Before Petersburg
by Gordon Thorsby
The Second Michigan Infantry was cooking up rations when a large group of new soldiers walked into the camp near the North Anna River. On May 23, approximately 200 mostly drafted replacements arrived that doubled the size of the regiment. Their arrival was a pleasant surprise because they filled depleted ranks and their inexperience was the cost.
There was Tom Howard, 18, of Taymouth assigned to Co. I and Andrew McMurray, 19, of Flushing to Co. G. One man who stuck out from the group was Welcome Hall, 41 of Brady in Saginaw County. The vast number replacements were in their late teens to 24 and Hall was simply out of place. The three may have become acquainted with Cpl. Henry Banks 23 of nearby Montrose.
Welcome Hall had left his wife, Chloe, and a daughter, Ida, 7 to attempt to work their new homestead. Around 1860, the family moved west from Brainard, Massachusetts and carved out a farm from the Michigan wilderness west of St. Charles. Henry Banks of Montrose enlisted in May of 1861 and fought at First Bull Run. The Second Michigan also fought at the Peninsula, Antietam and Fredericksburg, and then gone west where it participated at Vicksburg and even Knoxville. Banks was promoted to Corporal in 1862 after Fair Oaks.
The replacements' first major action came on June 17 at Petersburg. At two o'clock and led by Brigadier Gen. John Hartranft (right), Col. William Humphreys reported,
"...we were moved to the left and front preparatory to a charge on the enemy's second line of works. By some error the lines were not formed correctly, but so formed that when the advance was ordered and the column moved forward it moved not toward the enemy's line it was intended to carry but along his front in a direction parallel to this line.”
The regiment suffered tremendous enfilading fire from canister artillery and musket fire into the left flank. Soldiers of the brigade "...ran pell-mell cheering and yelling like demons, they crested the ravine” where the Confederate line waited on the opposite end of the field. The regiment moved along the front of the enemy's pits for some 200 yards exposed to a sharp fire on their flank.
The Southern defenders withheld musket fire until their targets were easy and when they did, they poured fire into the lines of blue. The angled advance of the Second resulted in 77 of 95 in the leftmost companies going down in the “hailstorm.” . Losses in killed and wounded were heavy. The assault was over in a mere twenty minutes. The brigade lost 840 of 1900.
The Second Michigan suffered additional casualties the next day. They advanced “forward to break the Norfolk railroad and they achieved some success even though they had to cross Taylor’s Branch, the marsh and open fields. When the day was over, Willcox's division had only 1,000 men left standing. With replacements in May, Humphrey reported, “On July 17, the regiment numbered 310 men present for duty. "I lost in killed, 19; wounded, 156; missing, 13; giving a total of 188, or over 60 per cent." 122 men remained. The three replacements and Banks all survived without a scratch.
On July 30th, a section of the Confederate works was detonated and the Second Michigan was to the trenches to the immediate left of the Crater. The regiment was behind the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters and in front of the 20th Michigan. Fighting was heavy at 8-8:30 when the second wave went forward. As the Michiganders approached, they came under severe canister fire from a Confederate battery that tore holes in the lines. They entered the trenches between the 46th Virginia and the 23d South Carolina sweeping up prisoners but Confederate reinforcements pushed the Michiganders back out. Humphreys reported 6 killed 14 wounded and 37 missing in the chaos (40%), and unfortunately Welcome Hall, the old man among the four was the captured.
The Mine entrance at the Crater (LOC)
Welcome Hall was reported by Confederate authorities as having died of disease less than a month later on 8/27/64. Henry Banks fulfilled his three-year enlistment and was discharged forty days after the Battle of the Crater. He returned home to Montrose. Howard and McMurray survived the war and mustered out in June after the parade returned to Taymouth and Flushing respectively.
Welcome Hall of Brady Twp of Saginaw County rests in the Danville National Cemetery in Pittsville, VA.
Note: Danville prison consisted of six tobacco warehouses in downtown area that held just over 2,400 officers and enlisted men at one point in late 1864. By the end, 7000 men went through its doors and 1,400 took up a more permanent residence. Originally buried in mass trenches, the bodies were exhumed after the war and buried in individual graves.
One warehouse remains standing today.
A Campaign of Giants, by Green, A. Wilson, University of North Carolina Press, 2018 ppg 157-160.
Official Records from the War of the Rebellion, Official Records
Ppg. 587-80 Operations in SE VA and NC., Chapter LII.
[Series I. Vol. 40. Part I, Reports. Serial No. 80.]
Historical Data Sources, Inc.. P.O. Box 25, Duxbury, MA 03331.
History and Roster of the Secon Michigan Infantry, edited by Charles E. Belknap, Bentley Library, University of Michigan, 1908.
Salisbury/Danville National Cemeteries Organization.