The Gallant Stand of the 22nd Michigan, September 20, 1863
Updated: Jul 7
by Gordon Thorsby
Organized at Pontiac, Michigan and mustered in on August 29, 1862, the 22nd Michigan departed for Kentucky to fight in the Army of the Cumberland that Fall and General Edmund Kirby Smith's Confederate Army. The Confederate invasion threatened the entire Western U.S. of 1862 where numbers were more urgent than trained soldiers. The 22nd's first experience in battle was in the primary role of advancing skirmishers but the entire unit had never been issued their initial rounds of ammunition. Fortunately, no action occurred on their front and disaster was avoided. This story was based on personal recollections of officers and soldiers after the Civil War.
Photo by William Henry Jackson circa 1920
As the 1863 campaign season heated up, the regiment was added to General James Steedman’s Division of General Gordon Granger’s reserve Corps. Their time to contribute was about to avail itself on Saturday and Sunday, September 20, 1863.
The men had just been distributed sorely needed rations of hardtack and bacon and cooking up the food while the sounds of booming artillery and rifle volleying was heard in the distance. Stomachs growled with anticipation as the meat was being fried up. Suddenly, bugles sounded and chaos erupted as men ran to and fro grabbing rifles and equipment and fall in. New orders were received to form up and advance down the road to the front to support General George H. Thomas' troops on Horseshoe Ridge.
One soldier described “that the regiment marched down the road with bacon still hanging from their bayonets in case there was time that they might stop shortly and could light fires. That moment never came and the bacon was flipped to the side of the road by the men. After a distance, the regiment formed a line of battle just to the left of the road that ran to Ringgold with the 89th Ohio on the opposite side of the road.”
The 22nd advanced in line across some fields until they encountered considerable dense brush. The regiment approached buildings and a few barns where these were converted into hospitals and filled to overflowing with hundreds of wounded soldiers. In the open grass outside, dead and wounded after treatment laid mixed together and were plain to see but the regiment moved on. Heavy firing was ahead.
Charles Belknap described the action, “The 22nd came to the hill and about 2:30 pm charged up and over Horse Shoe Ridge [sic] at the right end of the Federal line and took its place to the right of Brannan’s division of regiments. During the charge Lt. Colonel Sanborn was in the thickest of the fight when he was seriously wounded. The 89th (Ohio) took its place to the right of the 22nd. Col. Le Favour instructed the men “select your men and for at their hearts.” Once loaded, they laid on the ground to await Longstreet’s men to advance and to be within easy range. The 22nd had received its 40 rounds for its boxes that day and they also were given an additional 40 rounds that were in their pockets.
“On the rebels came and the air was full of lead. Men and Officers began dropping wounded and dying from the heavy Confederate fire. Flag bearer Durkee was struck in the breast by grape shot and fell holding the flag. Stransell of Company H took the flag until a musket ball passed through his brain. Corporal Pearl Mitchell raised the Regiment Flag standing in the storm of shot and shell until within a few moments, his arm was carried away. Corporal Jonathan Vincent of Co. C rushed over and picked up the flag, waving it defiantly before falling severely wounded. Sgt. Oscar Kendall tossed his rifle away, picked up the flag until he dropped.” In spite of heavy losses, the Confederate advance was being blunted.
"By 5PM. men were running down to their last rounds of ammunition. The fighting continued. By 6:00 pm. the entire Federal line was beginning to unravel as the regiments – out of ammunition, lacking communication, and unable to hold their positions as their flanks were exposed – began pulling back from the ridge. But as they were in the process of retreating the 22nd MI, 21st Ohio, and 89th Ohio were ordered back up the hill to “hold the ground at all hazards,” and ”stand firm and use the cold steel.” Ammunition and reinforcements were promised, but nothing was happening and by 7:00 pm. In the fading light," It was at this moment that the men in butternut and gray made a last desperate charge.
Belknap continued, “Colonel Le Favour directed Captain Keeler to the right to get orders until the Colonel could wait no longer and also went. Neither returned." It was dark and blue or gray could not be discerned. He continued, "Men were approaching our right and rear. Their colors were gray. Then came the command for us to lay down our arms. The 22nd was about to be marched away by the 6th Florida and the 54th Virginia when another Confederate regiment fired into both blue and gray. They were told to stop which was done. By 7:30 it was all over."
At Chickamauga, 455 men of the 22nd Michigan went into the fight on Horseshoe Ridge; 32 were killed, 96 wounded, and 261 men became prisoners or /missing, for an aggregate casualty rate, of 85%, the heaviest rate for Chickamauga. Roll call was taken the next day that tallied one officer and 93 men present for duty. Of the 997 men that left Detroit the previous September, 187 men remained. A total of 178 men and 14 officers, including Colonel Le Favour were now prisoners on their way to Libby, Dansville, and Andersonville Prisons from which few returned.
For the remainder of the war, the regiment received road engineering and provost duties, On June 26, 1865 the regiment was mustered out of service in Nashville, TN. It was on September 20, 1863 that their bravery and determination was needed most and they provided it.
Photographer: Henry M Jackson
Colored sketch: Alfred Waud
Both from Library of Congress
History of Michigan Regiments at Chickamauga and Chattanooga, Charles Belknap, Lansing R Smith, printers, 1897. University of Michigan Bentley Library.
Record of Twenty-second Michigan in the Civil war, 1861-1865, Ihling Bros& Everard, Printers, 1905. University of Michigan, Bentley Library.