Struck by Lightning; the Third Michigan Cavalry Arkansas,1864
by Gordon Thorsby
Disease and battle took many soldiers in four years and permanent wounds to many others. The best the soldier could do is to take the best steps to stay alive. By 1864 and after 2 1/2 years of soldiering, those still on their two feet were tough, battle hardened men.
The 3rd Michigan Cavalry spent winter quarters at La Grange TN and guarding in St. Louis for 3 months until the new position at Duvall’s Bluff on the Arkansas River. They had gone from cushy and comfortable back to open country. In June, they still did not have mounts to counter spring marauding. As it was, troopers complained that their equipment was lacking with most without carbines.
On June 15, 21864 the men of the 3rd Michigan were settling in on the Bluff. HH Carson wrote home about the Shiawassee/Saginaw boys as they called themselves. All of them lived near the two named rivers in Michigan. "There are eight of us living together all from Shiawassee and Saginaw…and have things comfortable. Soldiering isn’t all that bad if we do it this way."
From Corunna, there was Harrison Carson (HH), his best buddy, George Lafler (just joined up
in January in Tuscumbia.
From Chesaning, there was Albert (called Rex) Andress, and Nelson Phy.
From Owosso there was Silas Currier and William Case (just call me Case).
Russel (Russ) Ryness of St. Charles.
From New Haven there was Fred Delano, John Kelley, and Asa Whitney.
On the morning of June 17th after a thunder storm the previous night, there was a commotion outside their tents and everyone came out to discover the cause. Feet away, Private Alfred D Wheaton, 32, had decided to take his bed out of tent under a tree to get some cooler air from the stifling Arkansas heat. He was dead. There were no outward marks to indicate cause of death. He was healthy the evening before and a surgeon’s inspection revealed nothing more. After further discussion, came a conclusion.
“The tree is not struck, but I think it was the shock, as the storm was heavy.”
Wheaton had not been with the regiment three weeks after joining it in St. Louis. (Government reports confirm the information in the letter.)
Carson’s wife had written about a neighbor, Charles H Collier (called CC), a friend of the family that was missing in Virginia.
Sketch by Alfred Waud
The incident involving Wheaton disturbed Carson such that he wrote his wife. He added that he hoped that CC had not been captured and that he was doing well.
It took a while for the Carsons to find out about Collier. Charles Collier, 37 was a private in Co. H of the 5th Michigan Infantry traveling in Birney's Division, Hays' Brigade of Hancock's II Corps. He was killed May 6, and his term of enlistment was two months from expiration. A friend, the same age as Carson, and gone just like that.
The veterans' first fights were at Island No.10 and New Madrid. It seemed like forever. Now, they were seeing the collapse of the South, west of the Mississippi River, in Tennessee, and in northern Mississippi.
After the war was over, the 3rd Michigan Cavalry was ordered to Texas to guard the Mexican border. The frailty of these men surviving continued though fighting had ceased.
George Lafler died less than two months later after the last surrender on June 22, 1865, while the regiment was enroute to Brownsville TX. He was sent to Indiana because he could not shake whatever had gripped him. It turned out to be Typhoid Fever.
Harrison Carson went home to farm again and raise the family. Unfortunately, while leading his horse to the Shiawassee river to drink water on a pitch black winter night, HH slipped, fell into the frozen river and went below the ice. His frozen mittens were found on the shore two days later. Like in the army, caring for the horse came first.
Russ Ryness and others died peacefully like old soldiers should. For Russ it was in the Old Soldiers Home in Grand Rapids, MI.
Charles Collier’s remains are reported buried in Oak Grove in Owosso. In such fighting like the Overland Campaign, it is often that headstones in Michigan are cenotaphs. Many soldiers' families did not have the money to bring remains home if identified.
Alfred Wheaton is buried at Little Rock National Cemetery, Grave 319.
Historical Data Sources, Inc.
The Civil War Letters of Harrison Heny Carson, edited by Len Thomas.
American Battlefield Trust, Battle of Wilderness.
GAR Book, River Rapids Library, Chesaning, MI.