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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

The Well Traveled Saddle of Alonzo Bull in the 10th Michigan Cavalry

by Gordon Thorsby


In a history museum in Chesaning, Michigan is located a seemingly ordinary saddle. The museum is in an old church near what was once the edge of town. It was once the saddle of a civil war soldier of Private Alonzo Bull and possessed by a relative of the family until its donation to the museum.

The saddle is not one typical for a cavalryman in the Union army. The accepted understanding is that the government issue saddle was the "McClellan" saddle as pictured below but in additional questioning, the folks were emphatic that this was Alonzo Bull’s military saddle and carried down through the years.


Born on 27 August,1842 in Monroe County, New York, Alonzo enlisted into Company F, Tenth Michigan Cavalry on 19 October,1863 in Chesaning at the age of 21. SUVCW and other sources have him listed as Ball but it was B-U-L-L. He had a brother, Charles in Company L 4th Michigan Cavalry. Alonzo’s regiment was officially organized on November 18th,1863 in Grand Rapids, and they immediately departed for Kentucky. Winter had set in and their duties were limited in the first few months.


The regiment had Spencer Carbines and thus well armed. The Tenth Michigan Cavalry’s first movements were smaller anti-guerilla expeditions, reconnaissance, and skirmishes east of Knoxville. In September,1864, the Tenth was the only regiment in eastern Tennessee since all other cavalry units were sent on the Atlanta campaign. They were involved in the apprehension of Confederate Col. John Hunt Morgan (resulting in Morgan's death). In October,1864, the regiment was in heavy action at Bull’s Gap where Union forces were pushed back to Knoxville and the army lost control of the always important gap between east and west. It was in December that required the regiment's greatest effort. Gen. Stoneman, wishing to redeem a poor career so far conducted an expedition that started a long distance raid that attacked Saltville on 12/20-21 (Second Saltville.) Combined Infantry and Cavalry broke the Confederate defense, destroyed salt wells and ended its ability to supply needs for the Confederate armies.


Grant, Sherman, and Thomas subsequently ordered a raid for Stoneman to lay waste to the Carolinas and eliminate supplies to Joseph E. Johnston’s army. The raid included the Tenth Michigan and it rode through western Virginia and North Carolina destroying military supplies, railroads and bridges that would hamper Confederate resistance. Over the next few days, the troopers moved quickly from Knoxville through east Tennessee. On March 28, the raiders entered North Carolina. Bull’s F Company was involved in the following action “where they tore up railroad tracks in and around town. All told, the Tenth destroyed over 150 miles of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. As a final gesture, Stoneman also sent a small detachment to create havoc as far as the outskirts of Lynchburg.” In mid-April the Tenth was ordered to pursue Jefferson Davis and 6,000 Confederate cavalry in his escape and later to move into Charlotte, NC and across the border to guard bridges across the Catawba River in South Carolina. Stoneman’s raid in March,1865 into western Virginia and North Carolina was one of the last military operations of the Civil war and the Tenth Michigan cavalry and Alonzo Bull was part of it.


Alonzo Bull's story, like may has gaps in it. He was part of the flourishing town of Chesaning in the late eighteen hundreds. He was with the regiment as it marched through Kentucky and east towards Virginia in early 1864. He was written up as reported deserted 2/15/1864 at Horsehoe Bottom near the newly created state of West Virginia. Bull was arrested at Somerset, KY and returned on 31 March 1864 (from his Captain's Shepard reports.) Was he discharged dishonorably, jailed, put in lesser duties, or shot for desertion? The answer is no but documentation does not indicate any of the options. My theory is that he was probably placed back into the line, denied any future leave requests (documented in papers), placed on extra duty, given hazardous assignments, lost all pay, and watched carefully. For the next year, life would have been most miserable, surviving on only minimal army food, and dangerous, but he was with the regiment.


Alonzo remained single for the rest of his life, living with his parents, and working at carpentry. In the 1880 census, he resided with his parents in Iowa. Bull reportedly was collecting a veteran’s pension beginning in September,1890 (unverified.) Alonzo Bull is in the GAR book of Paps Thomas Post 121 and is buried in Wildwood Cemetery near other veterans though without a marker. It is reported that he did not request a veteran’s grave, nor did others request it for him. In a Veteran's Census in the 1890, he reported that he did not remember his unit or dates of service and the Census taker placed a question mark in notes. Alonzo may have preferred to forget those one and half years in the Civil War. He is under review with the National Graves Registration Project that would supply a marker. We'll never really know his thoughts or the fuller story.


General cavalry issue was the McClellan saddle shown right. It is a light saddle and yet the saddle shown appears to also be light. He might have lost his issue and used the above

saddle. Soldiers often improvised clothing and equipment when issued equipment was insufficient or worn out. We don’t know the explanation but the folks at the museum were emphatic that it was Alonzo Bull’s cavalry saddle.

The ladies of the museum do a great job of collecting and keeping artifacts of the town in the 19th and 20th century. The folks there know the town from its earliest settlers.


Alonzo Bull passed away on 4, September,1916 and is buried beside his parents in Wildwood Cemetery in Chesaning and just a few yards from many other Civil War veterans of the town.


Sources:

John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina (1963).


https://www.essentialcivilwarcurriculum.com/stonemans-1865-raid.html


Source: Official Records ARMY OF THE OHIO.


Historical Data Systems, Inc., PO Box 35, Duxbury, MA 02331


Chesaning Twp History Museum, Broad St. Chesaning, MI


Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.


Alonzo Bull (1842-1916) - Find A Grave Memorial


Additional contributions from P. Fuller in producing this article. Thank you Ms. Fuller.



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