Civil War - Comrades in Arms
Author: Margaret M. Freeman
In the summer of 1862, four young men from Ypsilanti Township enlisted in the Twenty Fourth Michigan Infantry Regiment, Company F, in Detroit, Wayne County. It later became known as the “Iron Brigade.” Recruiting had been designated to begin on the 19th of July but recruiters were not actually organized until the 26th of July. Sheldon E. Crittenden, age 25, the oldest, enlisted on July 30th, Levi S. Freeman, age 22, enlisted on August 3rd, and brothers, William R., age 22, enlisted on August 13th and Frank T. Shier, age 19, enlisted on August 23rd. Recruiting ended in August, with the maximum limit of 10 companies of 1,030 men.
All four of these men were sons of early pioneer farmers who lived less than a mile from each other, about one to two miles from the Village of Rawsonville, in Ypsilanti Township, Washtenaw County, Michigan.
Mortimer and Jeanette (Hurd) Crittenden were the parents of Sheldon, who was born on October 23, 1837 in Gorham, New York, the third child in a family of ten, five sons and five daughters. The oldest five children were born in the state of New York, while the youngest five were born in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan. The family came to this area in about 1842, when Sheldon was 3 years old. The Register of Deeds in Ann Arbor, recorded on August 21, 1844, that Mortimer Crittenden purchased a farm of eighty acres on the west half of the southeast quarter of section 14, T3SR7E, Ypsilanti Township, Washtenaw County, State of Michigan, from Warren and Frances Pease for the sum of eleven hundred and twenty five dollars ($1,125.00). By 1850 the Agriculture Census showed 60 acres of improved and 15 acres of unimproved land. The five acres not accounted for could have been designated for the Crittenden school house adjoining the farm.
Adam and Almira (Mason Dexter) Freeman were the parents of Levi, who was born on August 21, 1840 in Ypsilanti Township, the seventh child in a family of eight, six sons and two daughters. The oldest son was born in the state of New York, the rest were born in Ypsilanti Township. This was a second marriage for both Adan and Almira, both previous spouses were deceased. Five children were born of Adam's first marriage, only one was living in late 1831. Six (Dexter) children were born of Almira's first marriage, all living in 1831. Their combined families came from New York in 1831 and on February 10, 1832, Adam Freeman purchased 80 acres of public land from the government for $1.25 per acre on the west half of the northwest quarter of section 14, T3SR7E, Ypsilanti Township in the Territory of Michigan. By 1850 the Agriculture Census showed 60 acres of improved and 20 acres unimproved land. Michigan became a state January 26, 1837.
George K. and Anne (Tice) Shier were the parents of William, born on November 29, 1839 and Frank, born October 5, 1842, the fifth and sixth children born into a family of seven, five sons and two daughters. The oldest six children were born in Paterson, New Jersey, only the youngest son, John was born in Ypsilanti Township. The Register of Deeds in Ann Arbor recorded on April 5, 1872, that George K. Shier purchased 80 acres of land on July 22, 1844 in Ypsilanti Township, on the southwest quarter of section 13, T3SR7E, from Thomas and Elizabeth Watling for the sum of one hundred and thirty dollars ($130.00). The 1850 Agriculture census showed 67 acres improved and 13 acres unimproved land. On the Ypsilanti Township 1856 map, oldest sons, George and Henry Shier were owners of this property and in the 1860 population census, the parents and younger family members were living on section 23 across the road from the Mortimer Crittenden Family.
All three families consisted of children born between the corresponding years of 1829 to 1848. The Crittenden children were born between 1834 and 1848. The Freeman children were born between 1830 and 1847. The Shier children were born between 1829 and 1845.
When the Freeman family moved to Ypsilanti Township in 1831, Michigan was still a Territory, the land was wilderness and early houses were constructed of logs. By the time the Crittenden and Shier families arrived in about 1842, Michigan was a state. Houses were mostly of frame construction. Still, the woods were full of wild game: large herds of deer, wild turkeys, all kinds of game, even bears. One could go out anytime and shoot a mess of squirrels or partridges. Hunting for meat was a way of early pioneer farm life.
In 1915-1916, Sheldon Crittenden wrote a series of articles that were published in the Ypsilanti Record newspaper about the early days of his youth. Other folks wrote comments about these articles and also wrote stories of their own experiences in early pioneer days. Some of these stories will be shared here.
On November 11, 1915, Sheldon wrote that the Crittenden school house, that he attended, stood on the hill (next to his farm home on the 1856 Ypsilanti Township map), and was a frame building. Church services were also held in the school house, but his family attended the Presbyterian Church in the town of Ypsilanti. Sheldon went on to mention some of his teacher's names. His first teacher was Lucinda Francis, among others were Helen Buck, Louise Waldron and Ms. Norton.
John Shier, the youngest son of his family, wrote a letter to his sister (in-law), Susan that was published in the Ypsilanti Record on December 9, 1915. It stated that Sheldon's stories “helped me remember quite a lot from the year 1845, when I moved to the old Shier homestead ......at a time when Rawsonville was on the map, and (about) the old schoolhouse on the hill where we learned to chew tamarack gum, slide down the hill and fight the Freeman boys and incidentally become “highly educated.” The schoolhouse was the neighborhood place of meeting and the Crittenden well of water was where the busy students procured that necessary element. It was considered a special mark of the school ma'am's favor if selected to “pass the water” to the always thirsty scholars.” (The 1850 population census shows some children of these families attended school into their 19th year of age.) “Tell “Shell” to give another chapter or two. It brings back the good old days before the war.”
By the late 1850's, economic rivalry existed between the industrial North and the agricultural South. The Northern state's economy was based upon industry and finance. The Southern states’ economy was based upon producing tobacco, cotton, and sugar, much of which was grown on large plantations worked by slaves.
On June 16, 1858, in Springfield, Illinois, upon accepting the Illinois Republican Party's nomination for state senator, Abraham Lincoln gave an acceptance speech. The most quoted phrases predicted coming events. “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free......but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become one thing or the other.” In 1860, the United States was composed of 19 free states and 15 slave states.
On November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln, anti-slave proponent, was elected the 16th president of the United States. On March 4, 1861, Lincoln was inaugurated in Washington, D. C. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed over five weeks by six more Southern states.
At 4:30 a.m. of April 12, 1861, fifty Confederate cannons opened fire upon Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The Civil War had begun. On April 15, 1861, President Lincoln called for 75,000 military troops to suppress the insurrection. Two days later, Virginia and three more states seceded from the Union. This brought the total to eleven Southern states.
Many Northerners believed the Union could win the war by defeating the Confederates in one battle. The Northern defeat at the first battle of Bull Run on July 21st proved this to be wrong. The South won more battles and the North retreated back to Washington D. C.
On June 28, 1862, President Lincoln appealed for an additional 300,000 volunteers to quell the rebellion. Michigan had already sent 17 infantry regiments. The War Department asked for a quota of 6 more. Recruitment rallies, referred to as war meetings, were held throughout Michigan. One of these “Call to Arms” war meetings held on July 15th at Campus Martius in Detroit turned into a riot when a few Southern sympathizers, among the crowd, shouted down several speakers. To erase the embarrassment of this incident, Michigan's Governor Blair, encouraged by his patriotic wife, raised this quota from 6 to 7 more regiments. Thus began the recruitment of the 24th Michigan Infantry Regiment.
So it came to be that these four new enlistees of the 24th Michigan Regiment, Company F,
Sheldon Crittenden, Levi Freeman, William and Frank Shier, all sons of pioneer Ypsilanti township farmers, all boyhood chums, were now destined to become comrades in arms.
Mustered into service on August 15, 1862, they learned basic military maneuvers at Camp Barns in Detroit. They left Campus Martius on August 29th, cheered on by a multitude of family and friends. The men of the 24th Michigan, Company F, left the Detroit dock aboard the boat “Cleveland”, crossed Lake Erie, arrived in Cleveland, went by rail to Pittsburgh, then on toward Washington, D. C. All along the route, they were greeted by large patriotic crowds.
First, held in reserve to help protect Washington D. C., on Thursday, October 9, 1862, the 24th Michigan was formally admitted to the Army of the Potomac. They were assigned to the “Iron Brigade” of the First Army Corps which previously had included the tried and true “Black Hat” warriors of the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin, and the 19th Indiana. By comparison, the 24th Michigan men were amateurs and were given a cool reception by the original regiments. The 24th Michigan received the honor of wearing the Hardee “Black Hat” after proving themselves worthy at the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862.
From the time of their assignment into the Iron Brigade, the 24th Michigan Infantry men were engaged in the major Battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor and the Siege of Petersburg.
Most of the military information in this article was documented from the book by Orson Blair Curtis, “History of the Twenty-Fourth Michigan of the Iron Brigade, Detroit, 1891.” Mr. Curtis was a veteran of the Twenty-Fourth Michigan Regiment, Company D., who, prior to enlistment, had been a student at the University in Ann Arbor.
The following information was also gleaned from this book and the statistics were directly quoted. Based on the number of casualties, the Battle of Gettysburg was the most famous of the above noted battles. It was the first decisive victory for the Union and a crushing defeat for the South. Commanded by Colonel Henry A. Morrow, the 24th Michigan, Iron Brigade was noted for suffering the most casualties of any Union regiment in the battle. On the first day of the battle, July 1, 1863, the 24th Michigan fought in close combat against the Confederate 26th North Carolina, who suffered the most casualties of any Confederate regiment.
“The two regiments faced each other down to death. These statistics (see chart: Statistics – Battle of Gettysburg) tell the pointed story of the terrible combat…Of the 24th Michigan only 99 men and 3 officers could be rallied to the flag on the second day of the battle, out of the 496 who had followed it into action that first morning.”
The Battle of Gettysburg proved to be a turning point in the War. The South never recovered from their horrible loss of men and never again invaded the North. All of our four Ypsilanti men were statistics of the Battle of Gettysburg. Sheldon E. Crittenden was wounded and taken prisoner, but was released soon after and returned to his regiment. Levi S. Freeman was wounded in the body but was present in the next Battle of the Wilderness. Frank T. Shier was wounded twice. William R. Shier was wounded, captured and taken prisoner.
As the Civil War progressed, after Gettysburg, our four men fought on, into more battles.
Private Sheldon E. Crittenden was again taken prisoner on June 22, 1864, after the Siege of Petersburg. He was captured on “Brook's Expedition” a 32 man raiding team that had been sent out to destroy some enemy bridges. On January 20, 1916, Mr. S.E. Crittenden wrote in the Ypsilanti Record, “After the capture, we were marched through the country about 150 miles, then put on a freight car and taken to Wilmington, N. C. Here we were confined in a place which before the war had been used for auctioning slaves. After four weeks we were taken by train to Charleston and put in jail for about a month.” From there, Sheldon ended up at Andersonville prison. He was paroled in December 1864, then hospitalized for a few months to recover his health, after which he returned to his regiment on March 1, 1865. Sheldon was promoted to Sergeant on April 1, 1865.
Corporal Levi S. Freeman was taken prisoner at the Battle of Wilderness on May 5, 1864. Taken south, he was incarcerated at Andersonville prison, therein suffering unspeakable conditions. Levi spent some of this time at the Andersonville hospital, which was housed in a few tents next to the prison, where conditions were equally terrible. Exchanged on April 13, 1865, he was discharged as a paroled prisoner at Camp Chase, Ohio on June 8, 1865.
According to George D. Shier, author of “Henry T. Shier in the Civil War,” Private William R. Shier had been wounded at Gettysburg in the left hand, was captured July 1,1863, taken prisoner to Richmond, and was paroled August 26, 1863. Returned to his regiment, he was later wounded at Spotsylvania in 1864 with a loss of part of his left index finger. William was promoted to Corporal on January 1, 1865.
Private Frank T. Shier's obituary stated that he was wounded at Gettysburg and also narrowly escaped death when a Confederate bullet seamed his scalp in a battle other than Gettysburg. Frank was promoted to Corporal and then to Sergeant on dates unknown.
Sheldon wrote a detailed newspaper account on January 20, 1916 for the Ypsilanti Record of the horrible conditions that he experienced at Andersonville prison in Georgia. He described in detail the brutalities of the Confederate guards, the inner social controls by fellow prisoners, the physical appearance of the prison grounds, the polluted drinking water, the small rationed quantities of partially cooked food filled with vermin, and worst of all the suffering of fellow prisoners from wounds, lack of medicine and medical care, dysentery and disease. In August and September (1864) about 300 men died every 24 hours.
On March 25, 1865, Confederate General Lee attacked Union General Grant's army near Petersburg, Virginia, but was defeated. Lee attacked again on April 1st and lost. On April 2nd, Lee evacuated Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital. General Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, at the McLean house in the village of Appomattox Court House, effectively putting an end to the American Civil War.
On the evening of April 14, 1865, at Ford's Theater in Washington D. C., President Abraham Lincoln was shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth. He died at 7:22 a.m. on April 15, 1865.
Sheldon E. Crittenden, William R. and Frank T. Shier were among the men of the 24th Michigan “Iron Brigade” regiment selected as escort at the funeral of the assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. Levi S. Freeman was not with the regiment due to imprisonment. The other three men were later mustered out on June 30, 1865 in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan.
After the war, our four Ypsilanti veterans returned to their family farms in the township. They returned home. They were among the lucky ones.
On August 20, 1883, Sheldon Crittenden, age 43years, in a General Affidavit in testimony for a pension for Levi Freeman stated that they were personally acquainted for 5 years and “I am personly (sic) acquainted with the aplicant (sic) Levi Freeman. We was boys together. Lived near him till 1871. I was in the same Regiment & same Company. Also in Andersonvill (sic) prison with him. I think it was in August or September he began to be lame in hips & legs. Soon after he was moved outside in hospital. I saw nothing more of him until after we was discharged. From that time up till 1871 we lived within half a mile of each other. Both farmers. From the time of Discharge for about two years I think he was scarcely able to do any work. Then he got some better. But has never been able to do half a dayes (sic) work since.”
In 1887, the Michigan Legislature appropriated $20,000 for the erection of monuments for Michigan's Regiments on Gettysburg's Battlefield. In the spring of 1889, the monuments were completed. That of the 24th Michigan Infantry was located in the western part of McPherson's Woods where its first battle line had been formed. It is quite elaborate.
On June 3, 1889, Detroit newspapers sent out a plea for flowers to adorn the graves of the dead heroes of Gettysburg at the Dedication of the Michigan Monuments.
On June 21, 1889, in the Ypsilanti Commercial's, Ypsilanti Township column, was noted this article, “Messrs. Frank and Wm. Shier, Sheldon Crittenden and Levi Freeman took the trip to Gettysburg last week.”
When Sheldon E. Crittenden returned home, he was in charge of the family farm as his father, Mortimer had been struck by lightning in 1865 and killed. Sheldon married Elizabeth Eaton on September 4, 1867. Four children were born of this union, two sons, Mortimer and Eaton and two daughters, Susan and Fanny. The family moved to Kansas in 1871, where they lived for about 12 years. They then returned to Ypsilanti Township and farmed on section 6, when upon retirement, they moved into Ypsilanti city. Elizabeth died December 25, 1921. Sheldon died November 9, 1928, age 91 years. Both were buried in Highland Cemetery, Ypsilanti.
Levi S. Freeman returned to his family farm home. His father, Adan died in 1867. He and his brother, Charles (died 1880) and sister, Lucinda cared for their mother, Almira until her death in 1882. Levi married Anna Blanche Cheshire on October 8, 1881 in Ann Arbor. Two children were born of this marriage, Richard C. and Lucinda A. Son, Richard was tragically killed in a lumber railroad accident in Louisiana in 1905. Levi and family remained on the original Freeman family farm homestead until 1911 when Levi rented the farm and moved into town. He retained ownership of the old homestead up to his death. Levi died at his Ypsilanti city home on October 5, 1919. Anna Blanche died April 16, 1923 at the same home. Levi, his wife and children were buried on the same plot in Highland Cemetery. Levi's gravestone exhibits military credentials, while son, Richard's depicts a “Woodmen of the World” tree stump.
William R. Shier returned to his farm home. On May 1, 1867, he married Susan Ann Eaton in Ypsilanti. Four children were born of this marriage, Henry, Harry, Alice and Robert. At the close of the Civil War, they, their 2 brothers and parents, moved to Kansas, and farmed, where they remained for about 8 years. His father, George K. died and was buried in Kansas. Older brother, Henry and family remained in Kansas. After William's return to Ypsilanti, he worked for over fifteen years for the U. S. government as a mail carrier for the city of Ypsilanti. He retired in 1909 due to poor health. He suffered a stroke in the summer of 1910 and died November 28, 1911. Susan died July 17, 1929. Both were buried in Highland Cemetery.
Frank Tice Shier returned to his farm home. He married Hester E. Barney on May 21, 1867 in Ypsilanti. Two children were born of this marriage, daughter, Annie and son, S. Morris. They also moved to Kansas and farmed for about 8 years, after which they returned to Michigan. In Detroit, for 22 years, Frank was eighth Ward foreman for the Department of Public Works. Also, for 18 years, Frank was a grocery store merchant on Michigan Ave. near Fourth St. in Detroit's old “Corktown” neighborhood. Frank died February 28, 1928 in Detroit. Hester died January 20, 1928 in Detroit. Both were buried in Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit.
All four men returned home alive but the war took its toll. Their pension records tell of ongoing lifelong disabilities resulting from injuries and imprisonments. Fortunate were they to have large, loving families eagerly awaiting their return and willing to nurture their recovery.
In this year of 2011, we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War.
Blessed be the memory of all who fought there.
(Margaret Freeman is a family historian who belongs to the Ypsilanti Historical Society and the Genealogy Society of Washtenaw County and enjoys researching and sharing information about our ancestors.)
Photo 1: (left) Corporal Levi S. Freeman in his government issued uniform in August of 1862. (right) Corporal Freeman after his release from Andersonville Confederate prison in Georgia and his recovery from injuries.
Photo 2: The 1856 Map of Ypsilanti Township with the family homesteads identified along with the location of the Crittenden School House.
Photo 3: Casualty Statistics for 24th Michigan
Photo 4: This eagle banner appeared in the Friday morning edition of the Ypsilanti Commercial on April 14, 1865.
Photo 5: The monument erected in 1889 on the Gettysburg battlefield to honor those who served in the 24th Michigan Regiment. It is located in the western part of McPherson's Woods where the 24th formed their first battle line.
Photo 6: Sheldon E. Crittenden moved with his family to Kansas in 1871, then after 12 years returned to Ypsilanti Township and eventually to the city of Ypsilanti. Sheldon and his wife Elizabeth are buried in Highland Cemetery.
Photo 7: Levi S. Freeman and his family remained on the original Freeman family farm homestead until 1911 when he rented the farm and moved into town. He retained ownership of the old homestead until his death in 1919.