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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

The Last Cavalry Regiment From Michigan, the Proud Eleventh

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

by Gordon Thorsby

Veterans were proud of the regiments they served in during the Civil War, but they were more proud of the country they served for and the cause of freedom. The Eleventh Michigan Cavalry was not famous but what it contributed toward an end of the war was significant. They were a late war, mustered in latter 1863. The regiment suffered over 10% deaths in casualties, 28 from battle and 114 from disease. More than 200 were wounded in battle and 128 who became prisoners of war.

One of the veterans was John Quincy Adams. A quite presidential name given John by his father, Squire, and his mother, Ruthala. John was born November 29, 1845 in Romulus, Michigan. He grew up in the town west of Detroit that was a rail stop on the way to and from Jackson and eventually Chicago. Two months prior to his eighteenth birthday, Quincy as he was sometimes called, enlisted in Company E of the 11th Michigan Cavalry at Ypsilanti as private and Bugler.

The eleventh’s initial role in early 1864 was to gain experience since Confederate cavalry had been veterans for two years. The troopers gained that experience by patrolling behind the lines to prevent guerilla raids in eastern Kentucky on supply depots and rail lines. Starting in 1862, Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan raided into the north terrifying supply lines and northern towns. Morgan had to be stopped and it was at Cynthiana on June 9-12, 1864, the 11th Michigan took a significant role in the action that routed Morgan’s force and drove them into the mountains and ultimately Morgan's death.

In September through mid-October, A joint expedition was begun with a force of just under 5,000 troopers including two new colored regiments of cavalry on a raid to Saltville, VA with the objective to destroy the saltworks mine (largest in the South and protected by 25,000 men.) The raid ended in disaster and the Eleventh Cavalry suffered 86 casualties (including the regiment’s commander) in killed, wounded and missing.

In the freezing and drizzling cold of mid-December, the 11th Cavalry joined in a raid to North Carolina, in the direction of Abington, VA resulting in taking 250 prisoners and an undetermined

number of artillery. With this mission accomplished, they moved on to Mt. Airy where Union troops had never been and where badly needed supplies awaited shipment for Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. These supplies were put to the torch while Lee’s troops were starving in the trenches at Petersburg. With the mission fully accomplished, they moved on to revisit Saltville.

The first time being unsuccessful, the 11th returned in another attempt on Saltville. They had to fight their way in under heavy firing but when achieved, they went to work for two straight days. Troopers filled the wells with rail iron, solid cannon shot and anything that would prevent salt production. The three forts that protected the works were destroyed along with two ammunition arsenals, thirteen guns, five locomotives and over 80 rail cars. The smoke was noticeable for miles. With their mission complete, egress was as difficult as ingress. As rapid as the force moved to get back to base, Confederate troops aggressively pursued. Stoneman's force did return home but it wasn’t in the same condition as it left. The horses had broken down or died due to forced speed, distance and a lack of forage. Over three fourths of the troopers returned on foot and cavalry as infantrymen was not the ideal mode of travel for a trooper in any army.

The regiment rested, refitted and transferred to Tennessee where they joined another raid under Maj. General George Stoneman to slice through North Carolina. In the 11th Michigan cavalry’s final raid of the War, they started in East Tennessee and proceeded east into North Carolina destroying military supplies. As Stoneman was tearing North Carolina from the west, Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman simultaneously marched his army north through the Carolinas. Stoneman's raiding force reached Salisbury (near Charlotte) on April 12th, where in heavy fighting, Stoneman’s force took 1,800 prisoners, and 22 artillery guns. They continued south destroying public property and eventually reached Carnesville, GA. Their last act on May 1, was in skirmishing and eventually capturing a portion of Confederate Jefferson Davis’ escort cavalry.

In latter may, the Eleventh was assigned to Gillem’s Cavalry with the need to strike guerilla bands that raided in the eastern Kentucky. In June, the 11th patrolled remote areas in northern Mississippi performing similar roles of scouting, guarding and raiding to keep guerilla activity at a minimum.

With the war now over, cavalry was still needed to patrol the Southern states against guerilla violence. The Eleventh Michigan was mustered out and disbanded on July 20, 1865 at Pulaski, TN, but John Quincy’s term of enlistment was not up yet. He was transferred into Company K of the Eighth Michigan cavalry. The 8th had seen some hard service in the Atlanta Campaign in the Summer of 1864. A large number of men had been captured and sent to Andersonville. The 8th Michigan was mustered out at Nashville on September, 22, 1865, the men transported to Jackson, were paid off and disbanded.

For John, he took a short rail trip back home and the war was over. He never traveled far from other War veterans as he was member of Penoyer GAR post #90 in Saginaw after his marriage. In life after the war, he married Mary Frances Chambers, 24, in 1872 and after her death in 1901, John married Ida Fairchild. John passed away on October 25, 1927 in Saginaw. at 81 years of age. Today, he lies next to Mary.

Photos are representative only.


Descendant contribution by Wayne James Adams of Chesaning, Michigan.

The Eleventh Michigan, by William Belknap, Bentley Library, University of Michigan, 1908.

Find-a- Grave.

American Civil War Research Data.

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