Shortly after Fort Sumter was attacked in April 1861, President Lincoln called for volunteer troops to help preserve the Union. When the First Michigan Volunteer Infantry arrived in large numbers nearly 150 years ago, Lincoln was heard to exclaim “Thank God for Michigan!” Eventually, 23 percent of Michigan’s male population would serve in the Union Army during the American Civil War.
In addition to the local militias, Michigan also had a State Militia, which had participated in these Ante Bellum events: the War of 1812, the Blackhawk War, the Toledo War, the Patriot War, and the Mexican War. So it was only natural that Michigan would generously answer Lincoln’s call for help in 1861.
Congress, later in 1861, authorized the acceptance of 500,000 volunteers nationally, with Michigan’s portion of this set at 21,337. By December 1861, Michigan sent to the front 13 infantry regiments, 3 cavalry regiments, and 5 batteries of light artillery, with a total strength of 16,475 officers and men. Of these, 10 regiments, one battery, and one company had been clothed, partly armed, and provisioned by the State of Michigan.
The American Civil War was fought in the United States from 1861 to 1865. The result of a long-standing controversy over state rights, war broke out in April 1861, when Confederates attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina, shortly after President Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated. The nationalists of the Union proclaimed loyalty to the U.S. Constitution. They faced secessionists of the Confederate States of America, who advocated for states’ rights to expand slavery.
Over the course of the war, some 90,000 Michigan men (about 23 percent of the 1860 male population of the state) served in the Union forces. This figure includes some 1,600 black soldiers. Michigan raised a total of 30 infantry regiments, eleven cavalry regiments, one light artillery regiment, two light batteries, two companies of sharpshooters, and the 1st Michigan Engineers. A “Roll of Honor” of causalities prepared upon order of the Michigan Legislature in 1869 contains 14,855 names.
One of Michigan’s more celebrated units was the 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, which, as a part of the famed Iron Brigade and suffered considerable losses at the Battle of Gettysburg while defending McPherson’s Ridge. Also, General George Armstrong Custer’s “Michigan Wolverine” Cavalry Brigade effectively battled Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart at Gettysburg. Michigan was known during the war for its cavalrymen and its horses.
The Michigan Military Heritage Museum features a cannon that was used during the Mexican War in 1836 and the civil war by the state of Arkansas. (see above photo)