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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

The Thirteen Michigan Light Artillery, They Needed no Letter

by Gordon Thorsby

(Ft Stevens, Washington City, LOC)

The Thirteenth Michigan Light Artillery was technically named the Thirteenth Battery of Michigan Light Artillery. On every headstone veterans received simply “13 Mich L. A.” Maybe the name was too long?

Many artillery units in the civil war were named by battery letters (i.e. A, B, C, D) and their numbers might vary. This was not the case in Michigan Batteries as they were the First Michigan Light Artillery and then their letter designation provided specificity. Sometimes, a battery that earned a reputation for excellence and received a special name (i.e. De Goyler, Loomis). The pattern changed with the mustering of the Thirteenth Battery Independent Michigan Light Artillery.

(Let’s stop to note a common mistake that is made. Battery M and the 13th were two different batteries. Battery M was actually the twelfth battery. M was stationed in Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee.)

There were men from the Chesaning, Montrose, Flushing and Burt Michigan area, who joined the Thirteenth Artillery. Three joined the battery in December 1863, upon its organizing in Grand Rapids and eight would join later. Men began gathering in Grand Rapids in as early as October and waited for the battery to build strength. November and December came and went and still there were not enough men. By the end of January, as many as twenty-five had left camp. Illnesses and disabilities were also sapping off gunners. The battery left for Washington in March, to be part of Grant’s spring campaign and the battery was still understrength. The three men were James Crane, 20 of Flint, the first man from the area to join the 13th, Charles Goyer, 23, of Montrose and Elias Palmer 43 of Flushing.

Since understrength the battery remained in the Washington defenses moving between Forts Reno, Stevens, Foote, Slocum and Sumner. In July, Confederate Maj. Gen Early invaded the Shenandoah Valley and advanced on Washington. On July 11-12, the Thirteenth Michigan helped man the defenses adjacent to Ft. Stevens. The attack was sustained and Washington recovered.

In late August, the other eight men from the area (one-year enlistments) joined Lt. Wetherald and arrived at Fort Foote, MD where the battery was then camped. These men were Jerry D. White 30 of Flushing, Nathaniel Call, 41, William Chase of Brady, 26, William Hicks 38, from near Montrose, John Hunter 43 of Flushing, Robert Lapworth 25 closer to Flint, Will Ottaway 22, Asa Sheldon 37 of New Lothrop.

The Thirteenth watched while other regiments and batteries traveled on to Petersburg. Other units had been ordered up. They waited, they wondered… when? In the meantime, the battery continued fort duty in the defenses of Washington until mid-February when their services were called on. They were required to do something no other Michigan infantry or artillery regiment did. They became mounted cavalry February 27 and began clearing from Maryland parties of Confederate guerillas. Their camp remained at Fort Reno. Guerilla activity in the area was impeding supplies and cavalry units in Washington were almost non-existent. The Thirteenth became the only Michigan infantry or artillery unit to become a cavalry regiment and patrolling was its sole duty until Lee’s surrender in April.

(How their uniforms appeared)

Upon the assassination of Lincoln, the Thirteenth was once again in the saddle seeking out conspirators. Its specific targets were David E. Herold and Dr. Samuel Mudd. Herold had guided Payne to Seward’s home and who also accompanied Booth out of Washington. Once Herold and Mudd were in custody, their sole duty was continued patrolling of Washington and Maryland as the country transitioned from wartime to peace.

(hanging of the Lincoln Conspirators LOC)

On June 15, the battery was dismounted, sent to Jackson, MI and mustered out July 1, 1865, where they returned home to friends and family. The battery suffered one man killed and 14 died of disease, and the men are all reported buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

To the Thirteenth Michigan Light Artillery, war was not a very bloody affair. They did see history in the making. It is interesting that in all of the cemeteries of across mid-Michigan, nine from the Thirteenth Light Artillery would be buried in one place and the other two buried a few miles away.

Note: The draft may have been the reason for many of the desertions. Two are known to have substituted for other man and may have bounty jumped.


Michigan in the Civil War, by Belknap, Charles Eugene, Bentley Library, University of Michigan,

Historical Data Systems, Inc., P.O. Box 35, Duxbury, MA 02331.

A Desperate Engagement, by Leepson, Marc, Thomas Dunne Books, 2007, ppg 175-199.

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