1st Michigan Volunteer Infantry
The First Michigan Volunteer Infantry was mustered into Federal service on May 1, 1861 at Fort Wayne, in Detroit, with 798 officers and men. They were the only 3 months regiment from Michigan. On May 16, they arrived in Washington D.C. well uniformed and fully equipped, the first western regiment to reach the nation's capital. Being one of the first regiments to arrive from the north, Abraham Lincoln was heard to say as they marched past "Thank God for Michigan." Just seven days following their arrival, the First Michigan entered Arlington Heights and captured a troop of cavalry, 150 men, their horses and equipment.
At first Bull Run, the regiment made four charges at the Confederate batteries and made the furthest penetration of any Union regiment that day. Their grim proof of this claim being that the bodies of their dead were found nearest the enemy line following the battle.
Following Bull Run, the First Michigan's three month term of enlistment expired, and they returned to Michigan and were mustered out of Federal service on August 7, 1861. The regiment was reorganized throughout the remaining summer and early fall and by September 1861 left once again for Virginia.
In command of the reorganized regiment was Colonel John C. Robinson, a West Point graduate whose influence would set the standards for the regiment's early service. An observer in April 1862 noted ""the Michigan 1st are all richly dressed much better than we, and are well drilled. They are better in the minutiae than any regiment I have before seen." Due to the truth that led to this observation, the 1st Michigan at this stage in their career were known as the "white glove regiment."
The First Michigan was assigned to the Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac in time to fight at the battle of Mechanicsville, and through the balance of McClellan's Peninsular Campaign.
The First was heavily engaged in the 2nd day's fighting at Gettysburg in the Rose Woods, east of the Wheatfield and in front of the Trostle Farm resisting the final assault of Longstreet's Corps. The Fifth Corps, including the First Michigan, was part of the column following Lee on his retreat in the aftermath of Gettysburg.
As testament to the hard fighting and hard campaigning experienced by the 1st Michigan, a regimental order of August 1863 bemoaned that the First was now known as the "dirtiest regiment in the Dirty brigade."
The First took part in all the maneuvers and countermarches that made up the rest of 1863, In February 1864, 213 men of the regiment "veteranized" by renewing their enlistments for another three years. Upon their return, the First became part of a nine regiment brigade, 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 5th Corps, made up of other small, hard fought units. This brigade included the 20th Maine, 44th New York, 16th Michigan, and 83rd Pennsylvania.
Their division was the first engaged in the Wilderness which began Grant's Spring Campaign of 1864. Spotsylvania, North Anna, Jericho Mills, Bethesda Church, and the siege of Petersburg followed. The First filled the balance of 1864 engaged in the battles south of Petersburg in a movement to extend "the Union lines and surround beleaguered Army of Northern Virginia." The list of these engagements is extensive including Weldon Railroad, Peebles Farm, Hatcher's Run, and Nottoway Courthouse. This continued on through the winter of 1864 and spring of 1865 to the engagement and subsequent surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court house in April.
Following Lee's surrender, General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain chose the 3rd Brigade to accept the surrender of the Rebel Army. When Confederate General Gordon led his division to surrender, it was the 3rd Brigade that went to the "right shoulder" as a salute to their defeated enemies.
On July 9, 1865 following the Grand review of the Army of the Potomac, and after a brief assignment in Kentucky, the First Michigan was mustered out of Federal service and returned to Michigan.
Engaged in 49 battles, the regiment lost 12 officers and 103 enlisted killed in action, 3 officers and 32 men died from wounds, one officer and 92 men died of disease, being a total of 243 casualties in all.
The 1st Michigan Volunteer Infantry was reactivated by Don Ashley and Robert Zink in May of 1964 during the Civil War Centennial. There were nine charter members when it stood inspection for membership in the North-South Skirmish Association (N-SSA). While none of the original members remain active today, the men and women who have followed in the ranks after them continue to skirmish in the same spirit of camaraderie and competitiveness.
The 1st fields teams in rifle musket, smoothbore musket, carbine, single shot rifle and revolver matches and wins its share of national and regional awards. Boasting several experienced and excellent shooters, it is common to see members among the top competitors in individual matches as well.
While the 1st is a Civil War shooting sports unit and not reenactors, authenticity is still important. The unit has uniform regulations and works to present an honest reflection of the original men of 1861-1865 who fought under its honored colors.
The 1st Michigan Infantry also participates in the American Civil War Shooting Association (ACWSA).