1864 : Company K Faces Action at Battle of Spotsylvania Court House

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May 9, 2020 all-day
2020-05-09T00:00:00-04:00
2020-05-10T00:00:00-04:00

Company K of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters, made up of Michigan Indians, faced its first baptism of fire in the Battle of the Wilderness, as part of Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomoc. Here is a graphic account of some of the action:

The Federal line, advancing with a cheer met the charging enemy in a dense thicket of pines, and in the hand to hand struggle that followed, the Union forces were slowly driven back. On a little rise of ground the Fourteenth New York battery supported by the Second and Twenty-Seventh Michigan Infantry and the First Michigan Sharpshooters, was doing its best to hold the ground. Every now and then the Confederates would fight their way up to the battery and lay hold of the cannon to turn them upon the Union forces. But to touch one of those guns meant instant death at the hands of the sharpshooters. In this desperate encounter, the little band of Indians was commanded by Lieutenant Graveraet…. Under a perfect storm of lead their number seemed to melt away, but there was no sign of faltering. Sheltering behind trees, they poured volley after volley at the zealous foe, and above the din of battle their war-whoop rang out with every volley. At dusk the ammunition gave out, but with the others the Indians ran forward at the shout of “Give them steel boys!” from the twice wounded but still plucky Colonel Deland. When darkness came to end the bloody day, Lieutenant Graverat was among the one hundred and seventeen wounded sharpshooters, and a few months later he died of his wounds.

Source: Historical Collections Vol. XXVIII– Annual Meeting 1898 By Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society, Michigan State Historical Society, Michigan Historical Commission Published 1900 Starting page 446

For more information about Company K, see January 12, 1863, mustered into the army, and July 30, 1864, Battle of the Crater at Petersburg, Virginia. Source: Twice Told Tales of Michigan and Her Soldiers in the Civil War, Michigan Civil War Centennial Observance Commission, 1966, p.46-47.

A beaded headband made by the Native American soldiers of Company K of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters as a gift for their commanding officer, part of the Michigan Historical Museum Civil War collections in Lansing, Michigan.

Many of the Native Americans who formed Company K of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters had tried to enlist at the beginning of the war, but they were rejected, along with black volunteers. When the United States began allowing Indians to serve in 1863, they joined Company K, and served honorably to the conclusion of the war.

“Company K made important contributions to the war effort, especially in the fighting around Petersburg, Virginia, in 1864,” said Sandra Clark, director of the Michigan Historical Center. “We appreciate the loan of this significant artifact, which gives visitors a tangible connection to these soldiers who saw their service as part of their commitment to defend their homeland.”

The men of Company K came from Michigan tribal communities that had just spent 30 years fighting against removal to western lands in Kansas and Oklahoma. Individual Anishnaabek communities had negotiated a series of treaties to keep their lands and rights in Michigan. Their commanding officer was Colonel Charles V. Deland. Editor of the Jackson Citizen newspaper before the war, Deland formed the 1st Sharpshooters in 1862, after serving with the 9th Michigan Infantry. The loan to the museum also includes the telegram Deland sent home after he was injured at Petersburg.

When the fighting in the trenches surrounding Petersburg reached a stalemate, Union engineers exploded a large mine under Confederate lines on July 20, 1864. Union troops attacked across the crater left by the explosion and were decimated by fire from above. Private Antoine Scott of Company K was cited for a Medal of Honor for his actions that day and later during the attack on General Robert E. Lee’s retreat from Petersburg. He never was officially recognized for his repeated acts of bravery. He died at the age of 37.

When Petersburg finally fell to northern forces, the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters were among the men who first raised the Union flag at the Petersburg Courthouse. It is not known if men from Company K helped hoist the flag.

Source : Gladwin County Record and Beaverton Clarion, January 20, 2015.

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