During the summer of 1862, the state of Michigan began recruiting men to fill the ranks of the newly established Seventeenth Michigan Volunteer Infantry. On August 11, 1862, Company “E,” of the 17th Michigan was mustered into service in Ypsilanti, Michigan. A majority of men that joined the ranks of Company “E” were students at Michigan State Normal School, now known as Eastern Michigan University. Due to the large number of students in the ranks, Company “E” acquired the nickname the “Normal Company.”
The field and staff officers of the 17th Michigan Infantry Regiment consisted of:
Colonel William H. Withington Jackson, Michigan
Lt. Colonel Constant Luce Monroe, Michigan
Major George Collins Lyon Jackson, Michigan
Surgeon Abram R. Calkins Allegan, Michigan
Assistant Surgeon Jonathon Beviere Grand Rapids, Michigan
2nd Assistant Surgeon Albert Daniels Richland, Michigan
Adjutant William V. Richards Ann Arbor, Michigan
Quartermaster Charles Ford Jackson, Michigan
On August 27, 1862, the 17th Michigan, under the command of Colonel William Withington left Detroit enroute to Washington DC. The ceremonies on the day of their departure included a parade through downtown Detroit (Woodward to Fort to Cass to Jefferson to Rivard to Congress to Woodward again) and finally to Campus Martius for speeches. The regiment then marched to the Michigan Central Railroad wharf to board the steamboats “Cleveland” and “May Queen” traveling from Detroit to Cleveland, Ohio. They then boarded a train that took them to Washington City. Upon their arrival, they were assigned to the 1st Brigade (Colonel Benjamin C. Christ), 1st Division (General Orlando Wilcox) of the 9th Corp under the command of General Ambrose Burnside. From there they were dispatched into the Maryland Campaign, under the overall command of General George McClellan.
Less than two weeks after leaving the state of Michigan, the Regiment was hotly contested at the battle of South Mountain on September 14th, 1862. During this battle, the 17th Michigan gallantly charged Confederate forces that had taken up a defensive position along a stone wall. The charge by the 17th routed the Confederate and the Regiment acquired the nickname the “Stonewall Regiment.” The aftermath of the battle resulted in twenty-seven (27) men killed and one hundred and fourteen (114) wounded. Among the wounded was Lt. Galligan, who later died of his wounds in Middletown, MD, on September 24th. On September 17th, 1862, the Regiment was engaged at Antietam, sustaining a further loss of 18 killed and 87 wounded. After this battle, which is still known as the single bloodiest day in American warfare with a combined loss on both sides of 23,000 men killed, wounded or missing, the Regiment left with its command and returned to Virginia.
On November 29th, 1862, the Seventeenth left Waterford, VA, and marched by way of Warrenton to near Falmouth, Virginia, where it encamped from December 8th-12th. The Regiment crossed the Rappahannock River with the Union Army at Fredericksburg, Virginia on December 12th, 1862, but they did not participate in the battle that ensued there.
From February 14th, 1863, to May 1863, the unit was in transport between cities, including Newport News, VA, Baltimore, MD, Louisville and Bardstown, KY. In June the 9th Corp was ordered to reinforce General Grant in Mississippi in the siege of Vicksburg. After Vicksburg, the unit participated in the assault in Jackson, Mississippi, July 11th-18th, 1863.
In October of 1863, the Regiment was assigned to the Army of the Tennessee. On October 14th, 1863, the Regiment, then attached to the 3rd Brigade, of the 1st Division, or the 9th Corp, marched from Knoxville to Louden, Tennessee, to oppose the advance of Confederate General James Longstreet, then moving on to Knoxville. It lay under its arms during the night, and on the following morning commenced falling back, closely followed by the Confederates. It continued to retreat, acting as a rear guard for the rest of the Corp. While crossing Turkey Creek, Longstreet’s men attacked in force, causing a severe engagement to occur. In this action, the Regiment lost 7 men killed, 19 wounded, and 10 missing. During the retreat to Knoxville, and during the Siege of Fort Sanders, the men suffered greatly, especially while being besieged from the want of proper and sufficient rations. When the siege was lifted by the retreating Confederates, the 17th was ordered to Annapolis, MD, where 200 new recruits were incorporated into its ranks.
From Annapolis, the Regiment set out with General Ulysses Grant’s campaign of 1864; when in May of that year, it lost 7 men killed, and 39 wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness. On May 12th, 1864, the 17th Michigan was actively engaged in the battle of Spotsylvania Court House, and charged the southern Confederate works at Spotsylvania Court House. In this charge, the Regiment lost 23 killed, 73 wounded, and 93 taken prisoner. The loss in prisoners was owing to the Regiment being surrounded by a greatly superior force under the command of General James Longstreet.
On May 16, 1864, the regiment was designated as an engineer troop and served in that capacity the remainder of the year. It moved with its Corp from the North Anna River, thence to Cold Harbor, across the Chickahominy and the James Rivers, to the Siege of Petersburg, where it remained until the city fell. From the time it arrived in front of Petersburg, until its fall, the Regiment was actively building and reconstructing fortifications, all the while being held in reserve, if needed, as infantry.
After Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, the Regiment proceeded to Washington D.C. to participate in the Grand Review, remaining there until June 3rd, 1865, when it was mustered out of service and started for Detroit, arriving there on June 7th, 1865, to be paid off and disbanded.
During their term of federal service, they were engaged at:
Total enlistment: 1079
Deaths: 7 officers, 128 enlisted men killed in action
154 enlisted men died of disease
Total: 289 fatalities (25.8%)