Veterans Day, Who Went and Who Didn’t

Virtually every family in America has a veteran in the family tree, usually lots of veterans. My family is no exception, Revolutionary War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, First World War, Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan; we’ve had relatives in all of them.

There’s a lot of history to be learned when we find out about our families. For me there were the Blood brothers. My husband is a descendant of a Revolutionary War general, Francis Blood. Francis had a grandson also named Francis who was born in New York, but eventually settled in Kent County, Michigan. Francis had five sons who survived to adulthood all coming of age during the Civil War. He also fathered three daughters, but that’s another story for another time. In order of birth we have Orrin, 1834, Charles, 1839, Hiram, 1844, Ephraim, 1846, and Francis, born in 1848. How they dealt with the War seems to me to be a microcosm of Civil War history.

Who went? Orrin, Ephraim, and Hiram all served. Orrin and Ephraim joined the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics, Orrin at age 27 and Ephraim at 18. The 1st Engineers and Mechanics were similar to the Army Corps of Engineers of today. In a history of the regiment Rick Reuss and his co-authors say, “Their skillful services were required in the mechanical construction of bridges, pontoons, boats, forts, blockhouses, saw mills and in the destruction of the enemy’s railroads. Their efforts throughout the war to self sufficiently build bridges across wide rivers and over deep chasms from materials growing nearby in the forests shows their craftsmen were truly geniuses.” . While the regiment clearly served with honor and endured many hardships they rarely faced battle. The Regiment lost 13 men to enemy fire and 351 men to disease. While the Engineers and Mechanics are a bit atypical, in general, more men died of disease than died of gunshot wounds during the Civil War.                                                                                                                      1st Mechanics Building a Bridge

Did the brothers join because of the relative safety of the regiment or because they knew their skill would be put to best use there? I have no idea. They both survived and returned to Michigan.. Beyond the fact that he survived the war I don’t know much about what became of Ephraim. Orrin married Susan Goodrich in 1868, had 9 children and died in the Old Soldiers Home in Grand Rapids in 1914.

Hiram joined the Michigan 3rd Infantry in July of 1862 at the age of 18 and died one year later at Gettysburg. Was he eager to join, did he have the blessings of his family? Again I have no idea.

Who didn’t go? Charles married Hannah Post in November of 1862. Their fist child was born in April of 1863, and yes I can count and it’s none of my business. In 1863 as the casualties mounted and enthusiasm for the war was declining the North instituted a draft. The South had already begun drafting young men the year before. Charles was subject to this draft and his solution was one that would be unavailable today. He hired a substitute, a young man named Jerome Stickney who served in his place. The 17 year old Jerome signed up on Jan. 2, 1865. He was mustered out on June 13, 1865 and died less than 3 weeks later on June 31. Was his death due to war injuries or disease? Again, I have no idea. Charles Blood fathered 7 more children with Hannah and died in 1899. His death was ruled a suicide. And again I have no idea.

Which brings us to the youngest son, Francis. Born in 1848 he was probably too young to be drafted before to end of the war. He died in 1867 at the age of 18 after being kicked in the head by a horse. Then, as now, farming is a hazardous occupation.

To the best of my knowledge the facts of the Blood story are true. We can only guess at their thoughts, feelings, and motivations. But , then as now, it is a good and useful thing to consider who serves in our military and who doesn’t and why.

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