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150 years: The Civil War at home

Fred Wilder, an Ortonville Civil War veteran. His boots are on display at the Old Mill. (click for larger version)
April 13, 2011 - A pair of old black boots, a Union belt buckle and musket balls— a few of the Civil War relics on display at the Old Mill in Ortonville.

The historical artifacts belonged to some of the 15 area Brandon Township residents who served in the Civil War.

April 12 marked the 150th anniversary of the Confederate bombardment of Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, a battle that nudged the country into a four-year war. When the war ended in 1865, more than 600,000 Americans had been killed.

Area historian Lee Stewart, 67, retired Lt. Col. U.S. Army, has researched many of the local soldiers.

"The men that served were local farmers and workmen who had a sense of patriotism and duty to leave home on foot and serve their country," said Stewart. "Living conditions were pretty rough. They lived in tents, including through the winter months."

Stewart said three local soldiers died as a result of the war.

Pvt. John Tucker was killed in action during a battle at Williamsburg, Va. Pvt. Egbert Smith died of dysentery and Andrew Smith also died from war-related injuries, added Stewart.

"Many of the deaths during the war were due to a lack of decent heath care following injuries," said Stewart.

Local Pvt. Tom Tucker served in the 22nd Volunteer Infantry and participated in several battles during the Civil War.

"Tucker provided a day-to-day account of the war through a diary," Stewart said. "He participated in battles in Kentucky, Tennessee and the Battle of Atlanta. He also served in the Battle of Chicamauga/Chattanooga."

Tucker described the Cabbage Hill fight near Covington, Kentucky:

"Well, we marched three miles south of Covington on a side hill and formed a line of battle in a large cabbage patch. We could hear guns going off about one mile south of us. We only had one cartridge each and the ball was too large for our guns, so we had to shave the bullets before we could get them down the barrel of our guns. One of our company was out on the skirmish line and several of them was taken prisoners. But finally our men drove the reb's back and we went up on to the hill."

Stewart said many of the Civil War veterans returned to Brandon Township, including James Fred Wilders, who served in the Fourth Michigan Cavalry Regiment. Following the Civil War, Wilder continued to serve in the Indian wars in the western section of the country.

A 1930 local newspaper account included a tribute to Wilder, the last surviving Civil War veteran during the Memorial Day parade.

On the journey to the cemetery, a momentary tribute was paid to Fred Wilder, 91, as they passed his home, the only Civil War Veteran still living in Ortonville. This Memorial Day is only the second time that Fred Wilders has missed attending the patriotic services in a period of 49 years. The first absence was two years ago when illness kept him at home. The parade stopped to pay him homage while he sat at the window in his home.

Wilder died in 1936.

(Editors note: This is the first in a series of stories about area Civil War soldiers who served.)

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