Creating and managing a website dedicated to the Fourth Michigan Infantry and its role in the American Civil War, was never written on a “to do list” at any point in my life. In fact, neither was the idea of becoming a researcher / historian for that regiment. But yet, here I am posting my very first blog on this website. On this site I hope to share with you much of the information that I have gathered over several years while researching the history of the men of the Fourth Michigan Infantry. This website, and much of the information found on it, was only made possible by the assistance of so many great people that have led me to this point. I’ve listed many of them on the home page of this site as a credit to them for their contribution and encouragement. I ask that you visit that page in recognition of their support.
So how did I get here?
Back in 1968, I remember bringing books home from the school library that I believe were published by American Heritage, among others. Through those books and the wonderful maps found inside, I had developed a passion for European and American military history, especially the conflicts from the time period of the mid 1700’s up to and through the 1860’s. Napoleonic styled warfare seemed to just fascinate me, and I spent a lot of my “homework” time reading about the battle of Waterloo, the American Revolution, the French and Indian War, and the American Civil War instead.
As I grew older my military interest eventually focused on the Civil War exclusively and I began collecting items pertaining to the “War Between the States”. In 1986 I had been operating an antiques business for a couple of years and a “picker” came into my shop. After selling me a van load of antiques and collectibles, he offered to sell me a brass belt plate with an eagle cast into it. It appeared to be of military origin and so I took a chance, paid him his asking price of $20, and started on my very expensive way down the road to collector’s poverty. In case you’re wondering… after a little research, I learned that very first relic in my new hobby was an authentic Federal Pattern 1851 waist belt plate, which I still have to this day.
My Civil War collecting interests were pretty broad for the first few years and I bought items from both “sides of the fence”, discovering in the process that items from one side (the Confederate) were typically much more costly. Due to that fact, most of the items I had purchased were from Union soldiers. I had purchased a few canteens, about four drums, three swords, an artillery jacket, a Federal forage cap, etc., etc. A few years later I acquired my very first Civil War image, and that’s when things went to whole new level in the “What in the world are you doing with all of your money?” routine often discussed in marriages. After spending a few years and several thousands of dollars in Civil War images, I came across the historical account of a local hero from here in my hometown, Dexter, Michigan. It told of the heroism of Colonel Harrison Jeffords, an officer of the Fourth Michigan Infantry. I read of his patriotic sacrifice made while attempting to retrieve the Fourth Michigan’s flag in “The Wheatfield” at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, and I knew that I had finally found my calling. However, it was financially impossible for me to continue collecting other relics and photographs if I was to pursue this newly found “Holy Grail”. So I sold all of my image collection as well as my relics, except that belt plate of course, and began passionately seeking all things “Fourth Michigan Infantry”. In the future I will write another blog where I will share the trials and tribulations that I came across as a “regimental specific” Civil War collector rather than take it up here.
This newly discovered collecting interest eventually made me realize that research was going to be a very fundamental requirement if I wanted to fully appreciate where all of my time and money was disappearing to. And so I began. I traveled to the National Archives in Washington D.C. several times over the ensuing years scanning, or ordering hundreds (of the 2000 plus) military files for the men of the Fourth Michigan. I visited many museums and libraries, both large and small, in an effort to get copies of many of the letters, photos, and diaries that you’ll find on this site. My search had led me to dozens of the various battlefields on which the regiment fought or were present at approximately 150 years earlier. At some point along the way, I expanded my effort and took an interest in locating and recording the graves of the men of the regiment. That led me to travel to over 400 cemeteries across a dozen or so states. That too, will quite likely probably be the topic of another blog here in the future.
As the years went by and my collection and research records grew, it became apparent to me that I needed to share what I had gathered over the last twenty five years or so. In actuality, I was obligated to do that, not only for the sake of those men who served, but for those who had entrusted me to do something relevant with the contributions they had made over the years on my behalf.
A couple of books had been written about the regiment during the last several years but I found that they had major limitations that a website would overcome. Unlike a printed account, within this website you’ll find not just portions or excerpts of letters or diaries written by those that were actually there, but rather the whole letter and the complete diary of the soldier, thus enabling you to get a better and more accurate sense of what they themselves wrote, thought and felt. This site provides scans of the actual letters when available, and transcriptions as accurate as possible (while acknowledging the possibility of human error on my part) of those letters as well as the diaries I’ve shared. In addition to that, changes and corrections can, and will be made, when errors are discovered, which are quite unlikely in a book, unless it is reprinted or an addendum is issued.
So in summary, while I never would have thought that years ago I would create this web-site, a passion, an obligation, and the assistance of many wonderful friends and colleagues led me to do just that. It’s been a tremendous and exciting undertaking and I hope that it’s worth your visit. I invite you to follow along as we together look into the life of the soldiers of the Fourth Michigan Infantry during the American Civil War.