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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

What Secessionville Wrought for a Small Place in Michigan

by Gordon Thorsby

The 8th Michigan Infantry performed in some of the bloodiest actions in both the eastern and western Theaters of the war. Of Burnside Bridge at Antietam, Fredericksburg, 2nd Bull Run, the Crater at Petersburg, Cold Harbor and the Wilderness, the one battle where the regiment suffered the greatest was the little known battle at Secessionville, SC.

At Secessionnville, the 8th Michigan was the lead regiment and the troops were told to hold their fire assaulting the parapets. Confederates also held their fire until the lines of blue were close and then volleyed. The men of the 8th Michigan were "mowed down in swaths" from "a shower of musket balls and discharges of grape and canister" from the Confederate cannon, according to one Union officer. The charge was sheer stupidity and rarely discussed. Another soldier wrote, “Many a poor fellow fell around me there, some wounded and some fell without a murmur.” For a small part of Michigan, many families lost loved ones that day.

The soldiers listed below were from a ten mile strip of sparsely populated land, of few roads, where the Shiawassee and Flint Rivers flowed north, of an Indian reserve, and new farms. There were the villages of Montrose, St. Charles, Flushing, Chesaning, Havanna, New Haven and Maple Grove. A couple of towns of 500, many nothing more than half a dozen structures. Several of the men were close before the war.

Milton Barrows--enlisted Co. A, 6/19/1861, age 19. Originally corporal, he was promoted to sergeant. On 6/16/62, he was wounded in the charge at Secessionville. He succumbed to wounds on 7/3/1862 aboard the steamer Argo making its way north to Washington. His place of burial is unknown (at sea?) and his cenotaph is in St. Charles.

Gilbert Cooper-- 19 when he enlisted in 1861. He was honored with the rank of color sergeant, wounded at Wilmington Island GA near Savannah on 4/15/62, promoted to 1st Sgt, promoted to 1st Lt. , wounded again at South Edisto River in Sherman's advance through the Carolinas while under fire building a bridge. He is buried in St. Charles.

Cassander Ackley-enlisted 9/21/1861 in Flint, survived South Carolina, Cass was wounded at Antietam on Sept 17, and after stabilizing him, transported him to a hospital in Frederick, a few miles away. At some point, complications set in and he died where he died on 12/3/1862. We do not know his wounds. He is buried at Antietam Cemetery.

George W. Call- was 16 or 17 when he enlisted on 9/10/61 at Flint as private. A Flushing resident, George was in the company who went down at Secessionville on 6/16. Mortally wounded and taken prisoner, George was released to Union authorities to be cared for but died a week later on 6/23/62. He is buried as unknown, George has a cenotaph in Flushing.

Eliel Miller— enlisted as Corporal 7/13/61, in Flint. A Medina, OH native, he moved to Chesaning in 1854 at 27 and purchased 320 acres. A lot of land, to start a grand life. He was wounded at Secessionville on 6/16/62, Records show his transfer to New York City for longer term care and discharged for his wounds on 2/14/63. The nature of his wounds are not known. He lived to 71 and is buried in Kansas.

James Wright enlisted at 19 in 4/14/1861 in Flint, a man who responded to the firing at Ft. Sumter. He lived in Montrose, a town of just over 500 at the time of the war. Unfortunately, his ending was quick and tragic. On June 16, 1862, he was killed instantly in the charge on the Confederate works. The added tragedy is that his remains were never found and he is believed to be buried in a mass trench.

Eugene D. Young- enlisted at 17 in Co. I at Corunna on 9/23/61 as private. A western NY native, he dislocated his hip from a shell fragment impact at Secessionville. He was promoted to Corporal. Five months later, he received a wound in the left foot and was captured at Fredericksburg. Part of the foot was amputated and he was exchanged to recover in a

Washington area hospital. He was discharged 3/27/1863. Maybe less a part of a foot but he survived. He is buried in Chesaning.

Gibson Dutcher enlisted at 18 as Private on 9/5/1861 a resident of New Haven in Co. I. His father Benjamin also enlisted at the same time but at 39, the army booted him out for poor physical condition in Annapolis. Secessionville, 2nd Bull Run, Antietam and Fredericksburg were all bloody fights that he survived. When the regiment was stationed at Newport news, Va, with no fighting, Gibson was hospitalized there and died of an unknown disease 3/7/1863. He is buried somewhere in Virginia.

Of the 22 young men who went off with the 8th in this area, four were killed or mortally wounded and two died from disease. seven eventually returned home alive, and six of the seven having been wounded to tell their stories. The 8th suffered a 40% casualty rate in the Civil War when killed, mortally wounded, died in prison, discharged from wounds, and died of disease are tallied. A high rate for union regiments. There may have been others but they did NOT make it home on a battlefield or cemetery.

Fortunately, Brig. Gen Henry Benham, who thought the idea to attack the Confederate parapets at Secessionville was a good idea, never received a field command again.


Historical Data Systems, Inc., P.O. Box 35, Sudbury, MA.

Montrose Telephone Museum, Montrose MI.

Flushing History Museum, Flushing, MI.

GAR, Post 121, Chesaning Library, Chesaning, MI.

Hoyt Library, Saginaw, MI.

Dan Masters Blogspot, “A Wolverine at Secessionvile.” 2021.

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