1864-1868 – Three letters from a Michigan Civil War Medal of Honor Awardee: one reporting on actions in Tennessee, one describing the aftermath of the crater explosion at Petersburg and the third recounts his new post-war life in Missouri during the Reconstruction
Petersburg, Virginia and Knob Noster, Missouri: 1864 & 1868. Envelope or Cover. The first of these three letters contains four pages and is datelined “Annapolis Maryland / April 8th 1864. Although unsigned, it is in the same hand as the other two letters and was found in the same lot, so it is safe to assume that it was written by the same author, Corporal John A. Falconer, a Civil War Medal of Honor Awardee, assigned to the 17th Michigan Infantry Regiment. The letter is enclosed in an evelope addressed to Mr. M. H. Thomas (a miner per the 1860 census) of Cherokee Flats, Butte County, California. The cover is franked with two 3-cent Franklin and one 2-cent Jackson stamps and postmarked with a circular Annapolis handstamp dated “Aug / 9 / 1864”. In nice shape; the Jackson stamp has some postal damage.
In this letter, Falconer reports that he is well and goes on to inform Thomas that
“we had hard times in Ten . . . we suffered everything cold hunger fatigue we had to make shoes out of raw hide . . . we lost a good many men in the fight at campbells station . . . we had two other skirmishes one at Mossy creek and Strawberry plains lost a man both times we have got lots of recruits our col just came from home last night . . . there was only one fight at Knoxville and the rebs got licked so bad they will not try it again. there was a song made up a bout it there is a picture of . . . a charge made by our regt in the night on. . . a brick house we drove them out burnt the house and only lost two men . . . we left Tenn for the purpose of going on an expedition with Gen Burnside the first mich colored regt is here in our camp and soon Indian sharpsooters I don’t know where we will go we will start in 3 or 4 weeks I think . . . we have got all of the battles on our colors that we have taken part in South mountain Pet’burg Jackson Knoxville and east Tenn east Tennessee is to represent all the fights and suffering there"
The 17th Michigan Infantry was raised in 1862, with soldiers recruited in south-central Michigan; one of its companies was composed almost entirely from students attending Michigan State Normal College (today, Eastern Michigan University). The regiment fought with distinction at the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam, earning the sobriquet, the “Stonewall Regiment.” Assigned to the Army of the Tennessee, it fought valiantly in numerous skirmishes and small battles throughout eastern Tennessee as the rear guard of the Union’s IX Corps and during the Siege of Knoxville, after which it was ordered to Annapolis where 200 fresh recruits replenished its ranks. After departing Annapolis, the 17th participated in General Grant’s 1864 campaign and fought at the Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, and the Crater. Falconer, at the time a corporal, was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading the action during the Siege of Knoxville that he described in his letter.
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Corporal John A. Falconer, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 20 November 1863, while serving with Company A, 17th Michigan Infantry, in action at Fort Sanders, Knoxville, Tennessee. Corporal Falconer conducted the "burning party" of his regiment at the time a charge was made on the enemy's picket line, and burned the house which had sheltered the enemy's sharpshooters, thus insuring success to a hazardous enterprise.”
The unit of ”Indian sharpsooters” mentioned by Falconer was Company K of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters. It was organized in 1861 and composed of Saginaw Chippewa (Ottawa-Ojibwa) warriors. After initially serving in garrison duties, the company joined Burnsides at Annapolis and went on to fight at the Crater and the Battle of the Wilderness.
The First Michigan Colored Regiment, later redesignated the 102nd Regiment of Colored Troops was organized in Detroit with volunteers from Detroit and Canada in 1864 (1863 according to some sources). It saw limited combat in several minor battles, and served as the second line of defense at Port Royal in garrison duty on the outskirts of Jacksonville, Florida. Of its nearly 1,500 members, six were killed in combat, five died of wounds, and 129 succumbed to disease.
Cherokee Flatts (now Cherokee) was a gold mining town in Butte County, California. The area was inhabited by the Maidu Indians prior to the Gold Rush when they were displaced by a band of Cherokee miners from Oklahoma who established a claim on the site in 1849. During the 1850s, they were joined by a number of Welsh miners, and a first-rate town was soon formed. After Thomas Edison purchased and electrified one of the mines, in-mine lighting spread throughout the community. The Cherokees were the first to perfect hydraulic mining which, although very efficient and highly profitable, wreaked havoc on the land. In its heyday, the mines of Cherokee Flats were among the most valuable in California.
The second letter has two pages and is datelined “before Petersburg Va Aug 4th 64”. No mailing envelope as it was enclosed inside a newspaper that described the Battle of Petersburg. It was sent by Private John A. Falconer, a Civil War Medal of Honor Awardee. In nice shape. Some of the highlights include:
“I send this inside of a paper it has the account of the fight we had here last saturday I saw it all but the blowing up of the fort. I was not up to front soon enough but I saw all I wanted to some of the wounded laid in the field 36 hours through the hot sun it was awful to see the dead piled up this paper will give you some sight into it so I will not write anything about it it will not stop here yet old grant will try them another hack before long I think our rgt is in the rear . . . we are making . . . about the size of a common flour barrel they are much like a willow basket and used for fortification . . . we drawed cold fish last night for the first time we live better now than we ever did before in the army there is another call up of 500000 men to be drafted after the 1st of sep if not filled up by volltr before. . ..”
The third letter consists of three pages and is datlined “Knob Noster Mo. July 2nd 68”. No mailing envelope. It was sent by Falconer from his new home in Knob Noster, Missouri. In nice shape. A transcript will be provided.
Its content is wide-ranging; Falconer discusses his homestead, growth of the town, the Pacific Railroad (Missouri Pacific Railroad), a murder, and reconstruction politics in Missouri. Excerpts include:
“I came here about 3 months ago I have been at work masoning I have mad from $5 to $6 aday . . . the country is improving fast . . . good fruit and grains [and] winter wheat . . . we have bought 120 acres of land here 110 acres of prairie 20 of timber for $2200. . .. 2 years ago this place did not have hardly a house now it has about 40 stores and shops of business it is on the P.R.R. you can see from two to 6 and 7 freight trains in here at one time. “I was sitting in the depot one evening when a couple young men of this place got to fighting and one of them shot the other dead they tryed the one that shot but acquited him. . .. I may take a ride with some of the Knob Nosters for some one ought to take pity on them for they are anxious to go there is a Radical meeting here this afternoon there is lots of Rebs here but Union is to strong for them and they Beef cool. . ..”
Knob Noster was named for two large hills that protrude from the flat prairie. When the Pacific Railroad (later the Missouri Pacific Railroad) reached the town in 1867 after years of delay, it consisted of about 30 businesses and a population of around 450. When the owner of the land needed for the depot refused to sell his property, another citizen sold the railroad space about a mile south, and the entire city relocated to the new location. That explains Falconer’s comment about 40 stores springing up almost overnight.
In antebellum Missouri, nearly everyone opposed abolition, even the most ardent Unionists. That changed after the war and the population split into Radical and Conservative factions. The Radicals wanted to give blacks full civil rights and punish secessionists. The Conservatives wanted to preserve as much of the old social order as possible. In time, the Radicals joined the Republican Party; the Conservative remained Democrats.. Very good. Item #009949
(For more information see, the American Civil War Database, “John A. Falconer” at the Military Times Hall of Valor website, “17th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment” at the Civil War in the East website, “Company K of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters” at American Battlefield Trust website, “102nd United States Colored Infantry Regiment” at Wikipedia, “Reconstruction Politics in Missouri” available online, and “History” at the City of Knob Noster website.)
A fine grouping of firsthand accounts by a Michigan soldier that includes an account of the action for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the assembling of Union forces (including Native American sharpshooters and a regiment of Colored Troops in preparation for Grant’s 1864 campaign, the aftermath of the explosion of the Crater at Petersburg, the country’s westward expansion, and Reconstruction life in Missouri following the Civil War..