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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Who Were the 42 Unknown Soldiers of Chesaning Michigan?

by Gordon Thorsby

21st Michigan (Geo. Schanzel was in the regt.)

From my youth, I have seen the dull red obelisk and have always wondered. Who were the Forty-two that the monument was dedicated to and why just 42 and not to all soldiers?

At the front of Wildwood Cemetery in 1908, a group of about 25 members of the “Paps” Thomas Post 121 of the Grand Army of the Republic dedicated an eight-foot tall obelisk on Memorial Day to the "42 unknown" that died in the Civil War. It is recognized that all GAR posts recorded members who died through the years. The Chesaning Post added men who also died in the war. Many have markers who are not really interred there.

There is no documentation explaining the monument but it is theorized that it is a dedication

to those who died and were never able to return home alive or dead. Specifically, who were the men is another theory after two years of research. It is based on soldiers enlistments, residences, recordings in the GAR book and proximity of them to the town of Chesaning. The specific names were never recorded.

The Numbers

The men were all in Michigan regiments, 19 lived in Chesaning, 13 were New Haven, six were Maple Grove, two from Brady Township (completely wilderness of the time), one from St. Charles and one from Havanna Mills. Twenty-eight died of diseases, 5 were killed in battle, 5 died while in prisons, only one died of wounds, two died of accidents, and one died of unknown causes with no details.


Why did so many die of diseases? The case is often explained that men from the country were not exposed to as many diseases as city enlistees and picked up illnesses. Illnesses from spoiled food, was normal among the entire population at the time, inadequate food preservation, and dirty water were other major causes. Several diseases were prevalent of the time; Typhoid, Tuberculosis, and Small pox.

The 42 were younger than the average soldiers then with a median age of 24. There were three seniors among the 42, Looney 46, VanHorn 45 and Rosa 40. There were two sixteen year-olds, James Stewart and Eli Day, and two seventeen year-olds, George Dunn and Willet Day.

Thirty-one died in the Western Theater, 11 died in the Eastern Theater. The regiments the

men were from various regiments but the most were from the 23rd Michigan-5, 3rd Michigan Cavalry-5, 14th Michigan-5, 4 in the 6th Michigan Cavalry and 4 in the 16th Michigan.

The brothers, Eli and Willet Day are probably two and they actually lie in the same cemetery at Louisville National, They both died of disease. Willet enlisted in the 23rd Mich and died 96 days later at 17. For some reason, Eli could not wait, joining the 4 Michigan cavalry on 12/27/1863 and died 37 days before Appomattox at 18. He was 16 at enlistment.

Lost in Battle

The Battle of Gaines Mill was the single worst battle for the 16th Michigan and Lewellyn and Alfred Miller were among the men killed in darkness. A few days later, a friend of theirs, Josiah Wadsworth was killed when a shell fragment exploded over his wagon killing him instantly. All three were from Chesaning and are part of the 42. Lou and Al are buried somewhere unknown.

At Stones River, William Allen in the 13th Michigan in Harker’s Brigade of Wood’s Division was heavily involved in the surprise flank attack on Dec. 31,1862. The brigade did their best and Allen suffered mortal wounds in the fighting. He is buried in the National Cemetery at Stones River.

George Schanzel aka. Shancell (there are multiple spellings) was with the 14th Michigan advancing toward the Chattahoochee River in 1864. The fight is a small footnote but to those there, Vining's Station was some of the sharpest skirmishing, "the severest and most continued cannonade the rebels had ever used upon us" was reported. Schanzel was one of the killed and was buried at Vinings Station. He was reburied in1866 at Marietta National when the national cemeteries were established.

Post 121 taken abt 1885.

Died in Prison

Seth Hinckley of the 6th Michigan Cavalry was pursuing the retreating Confederate Army after Gettysburg. On July 11th, Hinckley was captured at Hagerstown, MD. He was sent to Libby Prison where he died of starvation and his remains are today at Richmond National.

George Terry died at Salisbury Prison of Typhoid Fever. He was a member of the 7th Cavalry captured at Trevilian Station and I have previously written about him. He is actually buried in the mass trenches at Salisbury, NC.

Welcome Hall from Brady Township was captured July 30,1864 at Petersburg and wounded, was sent to Danville Prison. He had just enlisted on March 25 as a replacement in the 2nd Michigan Infantry when he became a number in the casualty report of the Crater at Petersburg. The Second Michigan was part of Detroit native Maj. Gen. Orlando Wilcox's division of the IX Corps and the battle ranks among the greatest failures in the Civil War. Hall probably would have been sent further south but he was reported to have died before being transferred. He is buried at Danville National.

Abram VanHorn was taken prisoner on September 19, 1864 at the Third Battle of Winchester. One source reported his being taken at Berryville that is near the town of Winchester. There was no further information.

At Chickamauga, John Tibbets, a New Haven resident was captured and like Hall, was sent to Danville where he died of unknown and unreported causes three months later on December 27, 1863.

Accidental Death

Of the causes that one could die from in the Civil War, the accidental deaths might be hardest to accept. Silas Williams died from drowning when he fell overboard in the Ohio River while the regiment was crossing over to reinforce the Army of the Mississippi after the capture of New Madrid on April 10, 1862. Silas is buried in Illinois. Joseph Miller of the 3rd Michigan Cavalry died eight days later at New Madrid by an accidental gunshot wounding. Details do not exist.

Today, many are buried in distant national cemeteries but Lew Soule, Abram VanHorn, Seth Hinckley, John Tibbets, George Terry and Alfred Miller’s precise locations are unknown. If one were to visit the men who are buried in the cemetery, you will pass by the obelisk for the Forty-two Unknowns who rest in fields far away.


River Rapids Library, Chesaning Township,

GAR Book

Historical Data Sources, Inc. P.O. Box 25, Duxbury, MA 03332.

The Chicamauga Campaign, by Powell, David A., 2015, Savas Beatie.

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Douglas Walser
Douglas Walser
Sep 21, 2023

Credit: 1996-04-28 Tri-County Citizen from Chesaning, Michigan. About 28 members of the Pap Thomas Post GAR. Louis Walser is 7th from the left.

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