The 14th Michigan Mounted Infantry; Temporarily
by Gordon Thorsby
From Currier and Ives
The 14th Michigan Infantry was officially organized in the Detroit area but only three companies came from Wayne County. The rest came from between Grand Rapids and Saginaw. Upon completion of brief training in Detroit, they went immediately into the field joining the forces moving on Corinth in May, 1862.
When the regiment reached Pittsburgh Landing, Nathan Burtch was a recruit from the crossroads of Brant and enlisted at sixteen. Now, the army reports he was eighteen, but the army discovered otherwise. They corrected the matter when Burtch was arrested and jailed until after the Battle of Perryville in Louisville and sent home to his parents in Michigan.
The regiment was unique because in the fall of 1863, the Army of the Cumberland lacked mounted forces. Colonel Henry Mizner had the 14th converted into mounted infantry and fought guerillas for the next few months. Horses were obtained by foraging around Nashville by receipt if a Unionist, and by “conscription if a Southern sympathizer. They were sent Spencer Repeating Rifles and revolvers from the State of Michigan*. The 14th was the only mounted infantry regiment from Michigan during the war. In January, 1864, the regiment
returned with 413 soldiers re-enlisting for three more years. Expecting to remain a mounted unit, the Army of the Cumberland disagreed, and the men were returned to infantrymen. They did get to keep their firearms. and they joined the Atlanta Campaign.
At Jonesboro on September 1, the 14th distinguished itself with leading of a gallant charge. As reported by Mizner, “my regiment advanced with its brigade, assaulted and carried the enemy's works, capturing Brig. Gen. Govan, who surrendered his command.” Mizner continued that "the regiment captured 8 pieces of artillery, with caissons, and the battle-flag of the First Arkansas.” Brig. Gen. Daniel Govan was exchanged, was severely wounded at Nashville, but recovered and surrendered at Bennett Place in 1865).
The 14th continued on the March into Georgia and then on through the Carolinas. One soldier, Harrison Hedglen of Chesaning was captured on 3/3/65 at Hornsboro/. There was one report that a large number of foragers had been captured by Wheeler’s Cavalry around that time. Hedglen may have been one of the foragers. He was lucky. War had become vicious on both sides. Foragers were being hung regularly and foraging included burning homes of Southern civilians and confiscation of all food and means of survival. Hedglen was released in Virginia upon the Fall of Richmond.
The regiment was engaged at Averasboro and here would begin the 14th’s hottest fighting in their service. Just as at Jonesboro, they tangled with Hardee’s Corps. "They advanced on the enemy's works and carried the first line but were unable to take the main line. Losses were severe." Three days later at Bentonville, the Brigade that included the 14th held a position on the right of the Corps when the entire line collapsed. Vandever's front line consisted of the 16th Illinois and the 14th Michigan. The back line consisted of the 10th Michigan and the 17th New York, and they quickly constructed fortifications. The 78th Ill deployed as skirmishers and the 60th IL held the flank.
In his report, Lt. Col. G.W. Grummond wrote, “About 4 o'clock the enemy's fire advanced rapidly to your right. The indications were plain that they were about to charge directly in my front. Lieut.-Col. Vernon, Seventy-eighth Illinois, sent me word that he was nearly out of ammunition and did not think he could hold his position. I sent him word if he to fall back to pass clear of me to the rear and not stop in my works, as it would only interfere with my movements. He was soon driven in.”
The Gray lines came to within thirty yards when a destructive fire was poured into them. In successive charges the Confederates reached and climbed the works and that is when the 14th countercharged with two companies of the 60th Illinois. Grummond reported, "The enemy advanced steadily, firing rapidly until within thirty yards before I opened on them. I then gave the command. The men rose steadily as one man and poured into the enemy the most terrific fire I ever listened to; nothing could withstand it. [The regiment] kept up this fire for about seven or eight minutes. I then felt the time had come for me to charge. I gave the command to "cover the works and charge for them." We were on to them before they had recovered from the shock of my fire and captured about 125 unhurt and 38 wounded. I afterward had [the wounded] carried to the rear. About 70 dead lay in the field. Among the captured were about 30 officers. One colonel commanding brigade was mortally wounded and died on the field. One general officer was taken, but I think escaped from the guard in the swamp going to the rear. I also captured the flag of the Fortieth North Carolina. Soon after this I heard firing directly in my rear. I concluded there was trouble."
Almost simultaneously, the 10th MI and 17th NY charged with bayonets but the Confederates lines did not stop. The 78th IL were driven from the works and the men in gray went over the works and into the Union defenses. The 14th and 60th IL were ordered to about face and charged hitting the lines, the 17th charged from the other side and Palmer’s (Confederate) Brigade dissolved.
Grummond retold the response to the new threat. “I then discovered the enemy had broken through some part of the line farther to the left and was occupying the works in my rear first occupied by the Tenth Michigan and had planted their colors on the works. I immediately opened a severe fire on them and five minutes after charged the works, carrying them, capturing about 100 prisoners, a number of officers, and the flag of the Fifty-fourth Virginia. I gathered up the prisoners, sent them to the rear, and finding the rear cleared of the enemy returned to my works and threw out a strong skirmish line of five companies, two from the Sixteenth Illinois and three from my own regiment.”
Between Averasboro and Bentonville, the 14th experienced its greatest number of casualties of their three-year existence. Grummond reported total losses in the two battles, 6 commissioned officers and 95 enlisted men.
He added, “I cannot speak too highly of the behavior of officers and men; it is impossible to particularize. All did nobly. For the brave dead it is enough for me to say they died with their faces to the enemy.”
The regiment mustered out of service in Louisville on July 18, 1865.
Note: Pvt. Lewis Daniels of Havanna Mills went through the campaigning but apparently tired of trapsing about so when the regiment was being sent back west after the parades in Washington, he decided he would rather go back to Michigan and he deserted.
*Additional note. Confirmation as to the financing of Spencer rifles is not documented in this article.
Bentonville, by Hughes, Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, Jr. University of North Carolina Press, 1996, 106-109.
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Vol.XLVI.
Historical Data Sources Inc., PO Box 25, Duxbury, MA