More Monroe County residents died during the Civil War that from all other wars combined including the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the War on Terror. About 436 county men perished during the Civil War. About 70% of them died from disease while 65% died from disease nationally. At least 35 local men died at the Andersonville prison camp and at least ten died at the epic Battle of Gettysburg. At least two pairs of fathers and sons from Monroe County died in the Civil War as well as a number of sets of brothers. At least two county soldiers were executed by Confederate forces. The battle that took the most local lives was Malvern Hill, where seventeen county men met their deaths. When Abraham Lincoln sent out his call for volunteers to save the country, Monroe County responded very well with great sacrifices made by local men and perhaps just as much by their families.
Monroe County soldiers served in every Michigan regiment as well as other state and U.S. regular army regiments. They fought and died in the well known battles of Shiloh, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Stones River, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Spotsylvania Court House, Chickamauga, Atlanta and Petersburg.
There were at least two pairs of fathers and sons that died during the Civil War from Monroe County; David and Oliver Dusseau of Bedford and George and Abram Hartwig of Ida.
There were at least thirty-five county men who died at the Andersonville prison camp in Georgia and more that died in other prison camps.
There were nine county men who perished when the steamboat Sultana exploded on the flooded Mississippi River in April 1865. It was filled with about 2,300 returning Union POW’s and approximately 1,700 were killed in the explosion. It was the worst maritime disaster in American history, exceeding the death toll from either the Titanic or the USS Arizona.
George A. Custer of Monroe was nationally famous for his Civil War exploits and was the youngest Union general at the time of his promotion to Brigadier General at age 23. He had eleven horses shot from under him during the battle charges that he led. “Custer’s Luck” was well known, as he should have been wounded or killed numerous times.
Colonel John Oliver of Monroe and his 15th Michigan Infantry, were heavily engaged in the Battle of Shiloh and were initially sent to the front without ammunition!
The 7th and 15th Michigan Infantry regiments and Company H, First Michigan Light Artillery trained in Monroe before going off to war.
One of the key actions of the Battle of Gettysburg, which was the turning point of the war, was when General George Custer ‘s Michigan Cavalry Brigade defeated the previously undefeated General J.E.B. Stuart and his Confederate Cavalry known as the “Invincibles”. Custer and his men were outnumbered but they still prevailed.
Another key action at Gettysburg was when Colonel Norman Hall of Monroe and his third brigade, including the 7th Michigan Infantry, rushed into the open gap created by the Confederate forces at the “Angle” of the Union line, stopping “Pickett’s Charge” from succeeding.
There are monuments at Gettysburg National Battlefield Park for General Custer and the Michigan Cavalry Brigade and Colonel Norman Hall and the regiments under his command.
General George Custer and his Third Cavalry Division were the main reason that General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House as Custer’s men had blocked their path to Appomattox Station and their supplies.
The table that Grant composed the surrender terms on at Appomattox was purchased and given to Elizabeth Custer by General Sheridan. He wrote to her: “My Dear Madam: I respectfully present to you the small writing-table on which the conditions for the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was written by Lt.-General Grant, and permit me to say, madam, that there is scarcely an individual who has contributed more to bring about this desirable result than your very gallant husband.”
Monroe County produced four Army generals and eight Medal of Honor recipients during the Civil War.
“The Highest Decorated Soldier”
Thomas Custer of Monroe was the highest decorated Union soldier in the Civil War and was the first two time recipient of the Medal of Honor in American history. He received both awards for actions during the Civil War and was the only person in that conflict to receive the decoration twice.