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Answering the call

By Kevin Brown

Proud U-M student militia captains posing for the camera, a book by a woman who served as a soldier and a Medal of Honor are among items on display in “Rally Round the Flag,” an exhibit commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

Presented through June 30 in the Bentley Historical Library Reading Room, the exhibit celebrates local connections to the Civil War period, its beginnings and legacy.

Matthew Adair, a graduate student from Fenton in the School of Information — and a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War for 10 years — is the exhibit’s creator.

“There’s just so much about the Civil War. The stories of the individual men and women that served in the war are just phenomenal. The generals wouldn’t have gone anywhere without the people they commanded,” Adair says.

When the call to rally ’round the flag was issued, Michigan responded by sending nearly 90,000 soldiers, sailors and Marines to war. About 14,700 would never return.

Adair says the biggest surprise in assembling the exhibit was discovering a Medal of Honor in the Bentley collection. The medal had been awarded to Conrad Noll of the 20th Michigan Infantry. Accompanying the medal is a letter to Noll from the War Department. “This noncommissioned officer seized the colors, the color bearer having been shot down, and gallantly fought his way out with them, though the enemy were on the left flank and rear,” it states.

Also on display is a letter to the parents of Franklin Buell, detailing his death from disease. The letter is from his brother Sidney Buell. Both served in Battery D, First Michigan Light Artillery: “He then took his ring & (said) give it to mother to remember him by,” the brother wrote. “Most soldiers in the war died of disease rather than wounds,” Adair says.

One photo depicts captains of three U-M student militia companies in uniform. The companies adopted colorful names, including the University Guards, Chancellor Greys and Ellsworth Zouaves. “They would form their local militia unit and offer it to the state,” Adair explains. “When Lincoln made the first call for troops, that was how they filled their initial quota. Early on the men elected their own officers.”

Published in 1865, the book “Nurse and Spy in the Union Army, The Adventures and Experiences of a Woman in Hospitals, Camps and Battle Fields,” is on display. It tells the story of S. Emma Edmonds. “She was able to disguise all through her Army service that she was a woman, until she got sick and was sent to the hospital. That’s when she became a nurse,” Adair says.

A handbill from April 10, 1865, celebrating the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee proclaims, “200 guns will have fired on the Campus Martius (in downtown Detroit) at 3 o’clock today, April 10, to celebrate the victory of our armies.”

One legacy of the war was the formation of the Grand Army of the Republic, which boasted hundreds of thousands of Civil War veterans and held political clout into the next century. One exhibit photo shows a GAR parade on the streets of Detroit during a national encampment in 1891.

Other documents in the exhibit include a copy of an Ann Arbor abolitionist newspaper published from 1841-48, photos of Michigan regiments drilling at Fort Wayne in Detroit, newspaper accounts of the opening days of the war detailing troop movements and a flier describing the work of the Soldier’s Aid Society of Detroit.

Exhibit hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays.

PHOTOS: Top right — Captains of three U-M student companies heading off to fight in the Civil War were, from left, Charles Adams of the University Guards, J.H. Elliott of the Chancellor Greys and A. Nye of the Ellsworth Zouaves.

Bottom right — On April 16, 1861, a U.S. flag flies high over a government office on Griswold Street in downtown Detroit as Army volunteers are sworn in as soldiers in a public ceremony, as a crowd looks on.

Photos courtesy Bentley Historical Library.

Kevin Brown is staff writer for the University Record.