In 2010-11, former Tri-City Times columnist, Rick Liblong, researched, wrote, and published the story of Almonters who served in the Civil War – “Answering The Call to Duty.” It is a marvelous story of the “farm boys” from in and around Almont who enlisted and fought in the Civil War. It contains detailed stories on many of the over 250 men from Almont who enlisted and the over thirty who died.
After reading this book, one is struck by the tremendous impact the town of Almont had on the outcome of the Civil War. This begins with the story of Melvin Brewer who recruited and commanded a company of men for the 1st Michigan Calvary Regiment. Rick’s story on Melvin Brewer was the starting point for the six-part series I wrote last year. For three years before he was killed-in-action at the Third Battle of Winchester, Lt. Colonel Brewer commanded units of the 1st Michigan Calvary Regiment and later the 7th Michigan Calvary Regiment, both part of the 1st Michigan Calvary Brigade under General George Armstrong Custer. During this time he repeatedly was responsible for leading his men in actions which were decisive in the outcome of several engagements and battles. One time, it was under his leadership that the Brigade was saved after being surrounded.
Lt. Colonel Brewer recruited Norvell Francis Churchill, who would become the orderly for a number of high-ranking staff officers—Generals Banks, Mansfield, Slocum and Custer. On July 2, 1863, Norvell Churchill saved General Custer’s life. The next day, Custer led the 1st Michigan Calvary Regiment on a full gallop saber charge against a vastly superior force led by Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart. Stuart’s forces were trying to attack the Union line on Cemetery Ridge from the rear at the same time Confederate General Pickett was attacking from the front. Stopping Stuart’s attack saved the Union Army, won the battle for the Union, and ultimately won the war. This would not have happened if General Custer had been killed the day before. This charge into Stuart’s superior force has been pronounced by many military historians to have been the “finest cavalry charge made during the war.”
During this charge, another Almonter was gravely wounded and died two days later, Philip Wilcox. He is buried in the Gettysburg National Cemetery on Cemetery Ridge.
On July 4th, in action against the retreating Confederates, Pvt. Charles Sitts of Almont was killed-in-action and also buried in the Gettysburg National Cemetery on Cemetery Ridge.
Henry Dygert of the 16th Michigan Infantry was killed at Gettysburg on July 2nd while defending Little Round Top.
Six Almont men were captured at Gettysburg—three each from the 5th Michigan Cavalry and the 1st Michigan Cavalry. James Conner, David Pierce and James Sumner were captured from the 5th Michigan. Sumner would die in Libby Prison in Richmond and Conner was killed in action at Morton’s Ford. George Edgerton, Caleb Hall, and Thomas H. Shepard were captured from the 1st Michigan. Edgerton would be killed in action in 1864 and Hall would die of disease the same year.
Sgt. Thomas Shepard was the regimental flag bearer and was directly behind Custer during the charge against Stuart. He was captured and imprisoned for 505 days before being exchanged. He was imprisoned in several prison camps including the infamous Andersonville in Georgia. During all this time, he hid the regimental colors from the Confederates.
Almonter Lt. William B. Hamilton Jr. enlisted in the 22nd Michigan Infantry regiment and saw action in the Western Theater. After the war, he would become a doctor, write the first history of Almont, and write the poem “The Rock of Chickamauga” about General George Thomas. He was captured at the Battle of Chickamauga on September 20, 1863 and sent to Libby Prison in Richmond and eventually to Andersonville in Georgia before being released.
Pvt. Benjamin Johnston of the 5th Michigan Calvary Regiment was captured on June 11, 1864 at the Battle of Trevilian Station, the same battle in which Lt. Brewer was wounded. He was first sent to Libby Prison and then to Andersonville. At the end of the war he was released and taken to Vicksburg, Mississippi. At Vicksburg, the army arranged transportation to take over 2,300 Union soldiers up the river on the steamship, “Sultana.” Late at night on April 26th, after leaving Memphis, the boilers on the overloaded ship (capacity less than 400) exploded. Fortunately for Benjamin, he was on the bow of the ship and was able to leap from the burning ship. He was rescued the next day. The sinking of the “Sultana” resulted in the highest death toll of any United States maritime disaster—even greater than the Titanic! Due to Lincoln’s recent assassination and the loss of life during the war, the story was not headline news. It was printed in the back pages of the nation’s newspapers.
Benjamin Johnston returned to Almont and opened a furniture store and was involved in community service. Johnson Street is named in his honor. Why the spelling is different is not known. His home on Johnson Street was cut in two by his descendants, with one section being moved to Cherry Street.
Dr. Addison Stone at the age of 34 enlisted with the 5th Michigan Calvary Regiment as an Assistant Surgeon in September 1862. During the Civil War, as many soldiers died of disease as from wounds. Lack of sanitation and working in field hospitals with poor conditions while under fire were the primary causes of this situation. Unfortunately, Dr. Stone contracted typhoid, pneumonia and developed lung problems. After the Battle of Gettysburg he was sent to a hospital in Washington, D. C. and discharged in September of 1863. He returned to Almont and opened his practice from an office next to his house. His home and office were located on what is now called Stone Street in his honor.
Not included in Rick’s book is the story of his second-great grandfather, Joseph Carpenter, who was a Union soldier during the Civil War. He qualified to be a member of Hiram Berdan’s 1st United States Sharpshooters, Company K. To qualify, he had to fire ten consecutive shots and place them within five inches of the “bull’s-eye” at a distance of 200 yards. This unit was the best marksmen from around the country and they were provided with the latest and best rifles. Though not from Almont, Rick’s ancestry ties to an elite unit from the Civil War.
This is only a small sample of the stories included in Rick’s book. A few copies of the book are available for purchase at the Almont Community Historical Society’s museum on Main Street. Cost is $15 and the museum is open from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s Homecoming book, “Remembrances of Almont 2020”can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or firstname.lastname@example.org or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.