|First Michigan Engineers & Mechanics|
|By Rick Reuss, Keith Rocco & Rob Girardi|
|Col. William P.Innes - Commanding Office, 1st Michigan Engineers. Oct.1861-Nov.1864|
| The First Michigan Engineers and Mechanics served an important service to the Union Army in the Western Theater. It enabled the great armies of General Rosecrans, Sherman, Thomas and others, to move and attack. Possibly more than any other organization, the regiment worked in detachments, often at widely different places. Their skillful services were required in the mechanical construction of bridges, pontoons, boats, forts, blockhouses, saw mills and in the destruction of the enemy’s railroads. Their efforts throughout the war to self sufficiently build bridges across wide rivers and over deep chasms from material s growing nearby in the forests shows their craftsmen were truly geniuses.
Wright L. Coffinberry, Baker Borden, Perrin V. Fox and James W. Sligh of Grand Rapids went to the office of William P. Innes wanting to raise a Michigan Engineering regiment.
Mr. Innes sent out a wire “Will the War Department accept a regiment from Michigan on the same terms as Colonel Wilson’s of Chicago?” Their reply from the War Department was “Yes, with the approval of the governor of the State”. Governor Blair was then asked by the Hon. W.D. Foster. Mr. Innes was called in and was soon given authority to raise ten companies to be officered and equipped as infantry and provided with implements for engineering service. They were to be known as the “First Michigan Engineers and Mechanics”.
The War Department accepted the regiment with the same pay and allowances as engineers of the regular army. Line officers were allowed horses and the ranks were given implements for engineering service.
Capt. H.R. Mizner, U.S. Army mustered the regiment into service on Oct. 29, 1861 at Marshall, MI.
Officers at organization were as follows:
Colonel William P. Innes, Grand Rapids
Lt. Colonel Kinsman A. Hunton Marshall
Major Enos Hoskins Jackson
Surgeon William H. Decamp Grand Rapids
Asst. Surgeon Willoughby O’ Donoughue Albion
Adjutant Clement F. Miller Kalamazoo
Quartermaster Robert S. Innes Grand Rapids
Chaplain D. Burnham Tracy Petersburg
Captain John B. Yates - Ionia
1st Lieutenant Frederick W. Huxford - Albion
2nd Lieutenant Horace C. Gilson - Albion
Captain Baker Gordon - Grand Rapids
1st Lieutenant John W. Williamson - Grand Rapids
2nd Lieutenant John W. McCrath -Grand Rapids
Captain Wright L. Coffinberry - Grand Rapids
1st Lieutenant James D. Robinson - Grand Rapids
2nd Lieutenant Edwin Baxter - Grand Rapids
Captain Perrin V. Fox - Grand Rapids
1st Lieutenant Joseph C. Herkner - Grand Rapids
2nd Lieutenant William T. Hass - Grand Rapids
Captain Silas Canfield - Ionia
1st Lieutenant Lucius F. Mill - Ionia
2nd Lieutenant Albert B. Culver - Ionia
Captain James W. Sligh - Grand Rapids
1st Lieutenant Albert H. Kimball - Grand Rapids
2nd Lieutenant William F. Nevius - Grand Rapids
Captain Garrett Hannings - Kalamazoo
1st Lieutenant Elias H. Boadwell - Kalamazoo
2nd Lieutenant Franklin Fisk - Kalamazoo
Captain Marcus Grant - Jackson
1st Lieutenant Edson S. Frary - Petersburg
2nd Lieutenant Solon S. Grant - Jackson
Captain Heman Palmerlee - Grand Rapids
1st Lieutenant Joseph J. - Rhodes
2nd Lieutenant Theodore H. Prall - Pontiac
Captain Emery O. Crittendon - Marshall
1st Lieutenant Lorenzo D. Mason - Boston
2nd Lieutenant Arthur Connelly - Grand Rapids
The regiment left Michigan on Dec. 17, 1861, with 1032 men for Louisville, KY. There they reported to General Buell and the Army of the Ohio. Gen. Buell divided them as follows:
First detachment-Col. Innes in command. Co. B, E & I to General McCook at Munfordsville, KY.
Second detachment-Lt. Col. Hunton in command. Co. D, F & G to General Thomas at Lebanon, KY.
Third detachment-Major E. Hopkins in command. Co. C & H to General Nelson at New Haven, KY.
Forth detachment-Captain J. Yates in command. Co. A & K to General Mitchell at Bacon Creek, KY.
These commands remained with their divisions during the winter, engaged in various duties. Companies D, F & G under Lt. Col. Hunton was involved in the battle of Mill Springs, KY. 19th Jan. 1862.
The detachment with Gen. Mitchell (Co.A & K) were among the first to occupy Bowling Green after the Confederates fled. Buell’s Army arrived in Nashville soon after the capture of Fort Donaldson by Grant. The regiment was concentrated and engaged in building railroad bridges during March from Franklin, Columbia, Murfreesboro and the other places. On the 3rd of April Col. Innes and staff and Co. B, C, E, I & H left Nashville and were joined at Columbia by Co. D, F & G. The combined force marched with Buell’s Army of the Ohio to re-enforce Gen. Grant at Shiloh, TN. They built several bridges quickly, thus enabling Buell to reach Shiloh in time. In the meantime, Co’s A & K command by Capt. Yates, and marched from Nashville with Gen. Mitchell’s division, through Murfreesboro to Huntsville, AL. cutting the railroad communications there. Eight companies were with the army in its advance on Corinth, engaged in building defenses, placing siege guns and constructing miles of corduroy roads through the swamps.
After the evacuation of Corinth, June 1, 1862 these companies started on the march toward Decatur, AL. building bridges on the Memphis & Charleston RR. During June about 3000ft of bridges were built and put in running order, all the way to Decatur, AL. Companies A & K worked for the Tennessee River bridges at Decatur. In July the entire regiment was at Huntsville. In August Col. Innes, with five companies, marched to Nashville and commenced rebuilding bridges on the Louisville and Nashville RR which had been destroyed by Confederate Gen. Morgan. As Gen. Bragg advanced into Kentucky, in September, the regiment was with Buell’s Army hastily concentrated at Louisville. On Oct. 6th, the detachment under Major Hopkins, (Co’s. A, C & H) with Rousseau’s Division of McCook’s Corps took part in the battle of Perryville, with 17 men wounded. The regiment was reunited after Perryville and marched to Nashville.
When Gen. Buell left the army, he complimented and made personal mention of Col. Innes, Lt. Col. Hunton and Maj. Hopkins. Gen. Rosecrans, now in charge, concentrated the army at Nashville. During November and December, the regiment built bridges over Mill Creek and other streams on the Nashville & Chattanooga RR, preparing for the advance on Murfreesboro.
During the last few days of December, the army advanced on Murfreesboro, with the battle of Stone River on Dec. 31, 1862 and Jan. 1 & 2, 1863. Col. Innes was ordered to take position at Lavergne, Tennessee to protect our communications and supply trains passing to the battle. Gen. Wheeler, with 3000 to 4000 cavalry and a section of light artillery, swung around and attacked the supply trains.
At noon on New Year’s Day, Wheeler attacked Lavergne, where Col. Innes and 390 officers and men behind an improvised corral of wagons and brush held off seven distinct charges. It lasted until dark with the frail defenses managing to hold and inflict Confederate losses.
“The operation of the enemy in the rear of our army during the memorable conflict (Battle of Stone River) reflects no credit on the intelligence and energy with which there were resisted. The silver lining to this cloud was the most gallant defense made on the 1st of January by Colonel Innes’s First Michigan Engineers and Mechanics, 391 strong fighting behind a slight protection of wagons and brush, which repulsed repeated charges from a slight more than ten times their number of Wheeler’s Cavalry.” (2)
A correspondent of the Cincinnati Commercial Newspaper, in an account of the battle written on the field, says, “Colonel Innes with the First Michigan Engineers, posted at Lavergne to protect the road…..when Wheeler’s Cavalry brigade made a strong dash at the position. Colonel Innes had protected himself by a stockade of brush, and fought securely. The enemy charged several times with great fury, but was murderously repulsed. About fifty rebels were dismounted, and nearly a hundred of the horses were killed. Wheeler finally withdrew, and sent in a flag of truce demanding surrender. Col. Innes replied ‘We don’t surrender much’. Wheeler then asked permission to bury his dead, which was granted.” (3)
The next morning one of Thomas’ brigades passed through Lavergne on it’s way up, and an officer has left a description on the scene: “The turnpike as far as the eye could reach was filled with burning wagons. The country was overspread with disarmed men, broken-down horses and mules. The streets were covered with empty valises, trunks, knapsacks, broken guns and all the indescribable debris of a captured and rifled army train”.
From January 1st to June 29th, 1863, the regiment was stationed at Lavenge, Murfreesboro, Smyrna and Nashville. During this time they built bridges, blockhouses (to protect bridges), magazines, buildings for commissionary and ordnance stores besides relaying railroad tracks.
In 1862, Congress passed that all volunteer organizations mustered in service were put at the same level as Regular Army units. This allowed the First Michigan Engineers twelve companies of 150 men each, same as the Corp of Engineers. In the winter of 1863-1864, recruiting parties were sent home from each company. They secured 913 recruits which allowed two new companies (L & M) and filled out the existing companies. The officers of the new companies were:
Captain George D. - Emerson
1st Lieutenant Elias H. Broadwell - Kalamazoo
2nd Lieutenant ?
Captain Edson P. Gifford - Grand Rapids
1st Lieutenant Daniel M. Moore - Rome
2nd Lieutenant Douglas Nelson - Isbella City
2nd Lieutenant Caleb A. Ensign - Jonesville
The Officers of the battalion were John B. Yates, commissioned Major May 28, 1863; Perin V. Fox commissioned Major Dec. 15, 1863: and Garrett Hannings commissioned Major January 1, 1864.
On June 29, 1863, the regiment moved south with the army from Murfreesboro in the advance on Chattanooga and was engaged in repairing the railroad from Murfreesboro to Bridgeport, building bridges, blockhouses and etc. The Bridge over Elk Creek , 460 feet long and 40 to 60 feet high, was built in eight days from surrounding timber forests. The Duck Creek Bridge was 350 feet long and took about the same length of time. Later detachments were engaged in repairing the railroad to Bridgeport, AL. this included bridges and repairing the rails.
One battalion, under Capt. P.V. Fox, accompanied the advance of the army to Chattanooga. The detachment consisted of Co.’s D & K and commanded by Lt. Herker and Lt. Curtis. Besides building pontoon and trestle bridges at Chattanooga, it took the most active part in the construction of a pontoon bridge at Brown’s Ferry across the Tennessee River . This opened the well-known “cracker-line” from Chattanooga to Bridgeport. In connection with this affair, the following correspondent was sent:
“During the night, Capt. P.V. Fox, company D. Michigan Engineers and Mechanics, in command of three companies of that regiment, with forty of him men and ninety-eight of the Twenty-First Michigan Infantry, volunteered to place the pontoon bridge in proper position across the river at the contested point, which they accomplished in seven hours, and only a short time was consumed in the construction of fifty-two pontoon boats and their formation into a serviceable bridge.”
During the latter months of 1863 and the early months of 1864, the regiment was engaged in the construction of the Nashville and Northwestern RR from Nashville to Chattanooga, and in the construction of storehouses and ordnance buildings at Bridgeport and Chattanooga. Companies L & M completed the defenses at Stevenson, AL. in June 1864, the regiment, with the exception of two companies at Stevenson, and company C, at Chattanooga, took up the line of march with the army under General Sherman in its advance on Atlanta, rebuilding bridges, repairing railroads and materially assisting in the advance of the army. The regiment arrived in Atlanta on September 28th, where its headquarters were established.
On November 2nd, the original term of the regiment expired. Colonel Innes and such officers as desired to do so were mustered out: also the enlisted men whose term of enlistment had expired. The re-enlisted veterans, together with recruits who had joined the regiment from time to time, enabled it to maintain its full strength and organization entire. Colonel John B. Yates succeeded to command of the regiment.
Ten of the companies were at Atlanta, GA. Nov. 1, 1864, employed in the constructing defenses and destroying public property that was useful to the Confederates. Companies L & M were in Tennessee and did not accompany General Sherman on his March to the Sea.
The regiment was attached to the Fourteenth Corps and made the march to Savannah, GA., its service often being required in the construction of bridged and laying pontoons so the army might not be delayed on the march. Upon arrival at Savannah, the regiment destroyed a vast amount of railroad track leading out of the city and assisted in constructing defenses and fortifications.
On this memorable march the regiment was required to keep pace with the movements of the army, traveling over twenty miles a day, and during the time, was employed in tearing up railroad track, twisting rails, burning bridges, repairing and making roads through marshes, and building bridges. The regiment left Atlanta November 16th and arrived before Savannah on December 11th. The following extracts taken from a diary kept during the march will give a better idea of the work done, and the hardships on the march:
"Nov. 17th - Companies K, D, C, G, E & I, with three days rations, left the main column and struck the Atlanta & Augusta RR at Lithonia; tore up the track and twisted the rails for several miles; then followed the large bodies of infantry from the Fourteenth Corps until the reached Covington, twisting the track rails.”
“Nov. 18th – After reaching a point beyond Covington, the six companies left the railroad about dusk and marched three to four miles until we reached the direct road to Eaton, not far from the Oleonfanbacher River. The day’s march was very hard on the men, some of whom fainted by the way.”
“Dec. 2nd – Marched as usual. Reached Buckhead Creek at 1pm; repaired two or three bridges partly destroyed by rebels. General Slocum present in person waiting to cross his troops and train. Crossed over and camped near Buckhead Church about dark.”
“Dec. 3rd – Moved down the river toward Millen and Augusta. Then marched to near Horse Creek, on the road to Sylvania; the last few miles were made after dark; men very tired; halted in the road near water; supper at 11pm; sleep about midnight.”
“Dec. 4th – Reveille at 4am. Marched at 6am; repaired several bad places in the road, one in particular near Little Horse Creek; cut down small pine trees and with fence rails made a passable for the trains. Part of the men on duty at this place all night, keeping road repair and assisting trains to cross.”
“Dec. 10th – Marched at 7am. At Telfair, we turned off on the railroad. Formed column by companies and closed in mass. Waited orders; soon discovered an engine up the track carrying a mounted cannon, which opened upon us. After a few shots we moved across the track into the woods. One man, Robert Brown of Company H was mortally wounded by the cannon ball. Soon after, the regiment was ordered on to a canal where a dam was built to prevent the rebels overflowing the ground between us.”
“Dec. 11th – Major Henning, with Companies C, E & I and B, moved over to the Charleston & Savannah RR. After finishing the dam across the canal the balance of the regiment moved out under fire and went into camp near General Sherman’s headquarters.”
“On Dec. 24th, the regiment moved into Savannah. Here a very comfortable camp in the suburbs and the men are enjoying a well-earned rest.”
After the fall of Savannah, the regiment was embarked on transports for Beaufort, S.C. and then started on the long march through the Carolinas for Goldsboro, N.C. During the march a vast amount of the public property was destroyed, railroad iron heated and twisted and almost numberless bridges built and repaired, the men often working all night so the army could march the next morning.
Companies L & M, that had been left in Tennessee were assigned to duty with the Army of the Cumberland and were busily engaged during the year in building blockhouses, guarding railroads and were frequently attacked by the enemy. Another source states that Co. L & M were stationed at Stevenson, AL. working on fortifications there and on the Nashville & Chattanooga RR blockhouses, etc. till December 1864; then at Nashville, TN till arch 1865. They participated in the siege of Murfreesboro, TN., Dec 5-12, 1864. Near Murfreesboro on Dec. 15th Company “L” was captured.(5) March 1, 1865, these two companies proceeded by rail to New York where they were sent by steamer to Beaufort and afterwards joined the regiment at Goldsboro, N.C. on March 25th.
The regiment advanced on Raleigh, N.C. April 10-14 with the occupation on April 14th. They were present at Bennett’s House on April 26, 1865 for the surrender of General Johnston’s Army. (4)
After the surrenders, the regiment left on April 29, 1865 for Washington, D.C., marching through Richmond, VA. on the way. They arrived in Washington on the 20th of May, and took part in the Grand Review on May 24th.
The regiment received orders to march to Louisville, KY. On June 6th, and hence to Nashville, TN. There were stationed there from the 1st of July until 22nd of September, where they were used to construct better defenses. The unit was mustered out on Sept. 22, 1865, and marched back to Jackson, Michigan, arriving there Oct. 1, 1865. The solders were then paid and disbanded.
1) “Record of the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics during the Civil War” State of Michigan Newberry Library F 8349.4925 Vol. 43
2) “The American Conflict” Mr. Greely
3) “Campfires and Battlefield” Mr. Johnson 973.7Joh Northbrook Public Library (oversized book.)
4) “Compendium of the War of the Rebellion” By Frederick Dyer Newberry Library, Chicago History E 491.d99 1978