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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

The First Illinois Artillery at Shiloh, 39 Were Michigan Men

By Gordon Thorsby

Governors raised recruits from about their respective states but in 1862, that was not entirely true. As casualties mounted early, enlistments dried up. Governors needed to fill regimental quotas of1000 men for infantry and 85-100 for artillery batteries. In Michigan, there were multiple examples where regiment numbers could not be achieved. As a result, partial regiments had to be disbanded and others were placed in regiments in other states. The 23rd Illinois had 235 Michigan men. The 1st New York Cavalry had 102 Michigan men and the 47th Illinois had 220 men. In the case of Battery I, 1st Illinois Light Artillery, 39 men of a six-gun battery were from western Michigan.

Battery I was officially mustered February 10,1862 at Camp Douglas, Chicago for three years. Edward Bouton sold his business and funded much of the cost of the battery and became its Captain. Men were another matter. Fewer than one third were Illini and only half of the officers were from the state. Michigan men became available while awaiting an artillery battery formation. The Michigan men quickly filled a large portion of his manpower needs for artillerists. (Research reveals that many of these Michigan men were enlisted in the 1st Michigan Artillery (I) as well as enlisted in the 1st Illinois (I).) The battery itself consisted of an amalgamation of lumber men and farmers from the Northwest frontier. These big and rangy Midwestern types were key to handling the guns of the battery and almost one-third were from a new state of Michigan.

The 39 Michigan men were tall and some were short. Few were average (Civil War average 5’ 6-1/2”.) Jerome Vinton of Cooper was 18 but only 5’ tall. George St. John of Hartford, 22, was 6’ 1”. Many of the Michigan men were mostly born in New York and most were farmers, but they included two mechanics, carpenters, two blacksmiths and there was Charles Darling, 20 and a telegraph operator in Kalamazoo. They were from Kalamazoo and Marshall area, but a group came from Traverse City. They aged from 17 for Orzo Lattin to 47 for Moses Getchell. Fairfield Goodwin from Oakland County had served since mid-1861 in Taylor’s Chicago Battery. He had already seen action at Belmont, Pea Ridge, and other places. John Litzua of Glen Arbor was an immigrant from Prussia and became the battery’s bugler.

The battery's guns consisted of six14-pound James Rifles (see right at Shiloh NMP, courtesy of NPS) also known as 3.8-inch rifles. Its caissons and limbers carried: 64 solid shot, 320 common shell, and 256 canister shot. Their guns were especially adapted at throwing canister that contained 240 projectiles and when hard pressed they could double-shot and could fire six rounds per minute, or 2880 missiles from each gun per minute. A horrible experience to face or charge by anyone.

Battery I’s largest battlefield test was at its first fight, Shiloh. On 6 April, the battery was supported by the 15th and 16th Iowa Infantry where they had to endure the masses of panicky stragglers. The battery took position on the right to hold Snake Creek until Lew Wallace’s division would arrive “about a thousand yards in front of the Landing and a little to the left of the Corinth Road…and where they became engaged with a Rebel Battery of 6 six-pounder guns …which lasted until after sundown” and where two of battery I's guns had to be left on the field until after fighting the next day. They would lose 54 horses during the fighting over the two days. Another report described that the, “…the guns could sweep the Landing and intervening space” if pressure increased on the flank. “A Rebel Battery of 6 six-pounder guns took position well in front and opened fire at about 600 yards distant on Bouton’s left front, which was promptly answered. All other firing in the vicinity seemed for the time suspended, and interest centered in the result between the two opposing batteries," while they banged away at one another.

“After the thundering combat had raged hot and furious for half an hour, a Mississippi Battery of four twelve-pound howitzers took position and opened fire on Bouton’s right front at short range, thus bringing him under a heavy cross-fire. Bouton then wheeled his right section of two guns and brought it to bear on the Mississippi Battery and answered their fire shot for shot. Both batteries failing to drive him from the ridge, Jackson’s Brigade of Mississippi Infantry charged his battery in front. This charge was met with guns double shotted with canister,” and the charge was broken.” In the duel of April 6, Bouton’s Chicago Battery fired 723 rounds of ammunition, and it fired more rounds than any other Union Battery during the two-day battle expending 1370 rounds.

After a furlough in the summer of 1864, the Battery was attached to Hatch’s Cavalry Division when it was involved in heavy action around Nashville in December 1864. On December 15, It was attached to Colonel Datus Coon’s Second Cavalry Brigade. Approximately six hundred men hoisted one of the guns up the almost perpendicular face of a high hill well in the rear of the left of the Rebel army, and at daylight fired the Signal shot for the commencement of the attack on the Rebel position.

On the second day, Hatch’s troopers assaulted the Confederates and were under terrible artillery fire from Confederate redoubts. Hatch “…ordered artillery moved up to the top of the hill (two guns from Battery I.) Using ropes and tugging brought two guns up the side of an adjacent hill;” and began to pummel the hill with 50 rounds some 500 yards aways away.

What became of the Michigan men of Battery I was like many other Civil War soldiers. Darius N. Keep invalided out but enlisted in the 17th Michigan (Capt. Brook’s Co.) Information exists that Keep also served in Co. E 56th Illinois in 1865. Fairfield Goodwin, who was a Corporal and was wounded at Iuka recovered in St. Louis. He was returned to private for unknown cause and he was discharged for the wound. While recovering back home in East Bloomfield (possibly Birmingham), he recruited Company C, 8th Michigan cavalry and was made

Captain. Two Michigan men died of disease. By the end of August 1862, and amidst bad water in Corinth, as many as twelve Michigan men were discharged for disabilities. Officers of the battery went back and recruited an additional batch of men from Wisconsin and Ohio to replace men lost since March. Moses Getchell at 47 deserted in the Summer of 1862. Nobody would blame a 47 year-old man from leaving and the army really was not interested in getting him back. Let's be honest. A cannoneer in a battery was a young man’s job.

The battery mustered out in July 1865.

Pvt. Henry Gower (a typical cannoneer in the Battery I)


The "Fairfield Goodwin Papers (1861-1862), "Clement Library, University of Michigan.

Corinth, by Smith, Timothy B., University Press of Kansas, 2012, p.65.

Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, Sword, Wiley, University Press of Kansas, 12994.P364.

Events of the Civil War, by Bouton General Edward, Library of University of California, 1903, P21-24, 85-87.

Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois, Illinois. Military and Naval Department, Internet Archives.

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, The Union Army, vol. 3.

#civilwar #military #history #michigancivilwar #illinoiscivilwar #civilwarartillery

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