TRAVERSE CITY —
Wilderness dominated the Grand Traverse region during the Civil War, but that doesn't mean area residents sat it out.
Dr. Morgan Leach, the area's first historian, estimated that one-sixth, or at least 200 of Grand Traverse County's total recorded population of 1,286 in 1860, enlisted in the Union Army.
Years later, Leach would tell the story of A.K. Fairbanks, an early Whitewater settler from upstate New York, who arrived in Elk Rapids by boat on May 6, 1861, to find the whole population waiting along the waterfront "with eager inquiries."
Had the War of the Rebellion started?
It had, three weeks before on April 12, when 50 Confederate cannons fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C. By the time Fairbanks arrived in Elk Rapids, the 1st Michigan Infantry, hastily made up of trained downstate militia units, prepared to travel to Washington, D.C., the next week.
The story illustrates just how isolated and sparsely populated the Grand Traverse Bay region was during the Civil War. Accessible only by boat and Indian trails, it had no railroad or accompanying telegraph lines. The first state wagon road into the region from Newaygo County opened in July 1863. Even then, it was a rough ride.
In winter months, the area was on its own until the ice broke. News about President Abraham Lincoln's assassination also arrived two weeks late.
It's unclear whether Leach's enlistment estimates included a dozen Leelanau County Indians recruited in 1863 to serve in Company K of the Michigan 1st Sharp Shooters. Company K has the distinction of being the only all-Indian unit in the Union Army east of the Mississippi.
Overall, 140 mostly Odawa and Ojibwe Indians from Michigan served in the unit. About half of the company came from native villages stretching along Lake Michigan from Pentwater to the Straits of Mackinac.
Statewide, about 90,000 Michigan men and at least one woman served in the war. Overall, 2.7 million served in Union and Confederate forces and casualties totaled 1.1 million.
Probate Judge Curtis Fowler's sons were among them.
Curtis Fowler Jr. was wounded in late July 1861 in the First Battle of Bull Run at Manassas Junction, Va., and sent home. His brother, Francis Z. Fowler, who enlisted after his brother was wounded became "the first Martyr from Grand Traverse County to the Slaveholder's Rebellion," as the Grand Traverse Herald put it. He was killed in the Second Battle of Bull Run in late August 1862.
No matter how remote the Grand Traverse region, it could not escape the nation's fevered political debates during the mid-1800s: slavery, American expansion and sectionalism.
The abolition movement traveled to Michigan in the hearts and minds of settlers from the Northeast. About a quarter of Michigan's population in 1860 came from New York state alone.
Morgan Bates, who founded the region's first weekly newspaper in 1858, was a fervent abolitionist. His twin brother, Merritt, a retired abolitionist minister from upstate New York who moved here in the early 1860s, was considered radical.
The 13 people who founded Benzonia and a Christian college in the wilderness in 1858 came from Ohio's Oberlin College, a Congregationalist center for abolitionist activities and a stop along the Underground Railroad, an informal network of safe houses along back roads that helped fugitive slaves travel through northern states to Canada.
J.B. Haviland, who served four terms as Grand Traverse County clerk-register of deeds from 1874 until his death in 1881, was the son of Laura Haviland, a Quaker activist. In 1837 she and her husband, Charles, founded Michigan's first integrated school, the Raisin Institute, in Lenawee County. It served all students regardless of race, gender or creed. She also helped establish one of Michigan's first Underground Railroad stations in Lenawee County that is said to have helped 40,000 to 100,000 fugitive slaves get to Canada.
Laura Haviland died in April 1898 when she was 89, and the headline over the Grand Traverse Herald story read, "Death of Aunt Laura Haviland."
"When the Civil War broke out she went at once to the front, devoting time and labor as few others did to the welfare of the soldiers in camp, hospital and field, and 'Aunt Laura' was a household name among thousands of boys in blue," the newspaper reported. "In her visits to this place she made many attached friends with whom her memory will long be green."
Over the war years, the Herald recorded departures of 144 area men who enlisted from 1861 to '65, but noted that they were partial lists. These men left in various—sized groups on Sept. 13, 1861, in August 1862, on March 2, 1863, and the summer of 1864.
"God Bless them and give them victory!" the Herald said when the first group left.
Unlike today, soldiers of that time were recruited by counties, which had to fill quotas set by the federal government. The men generally served together in the same units. The two largest contingents from northwestern lower Michigan became part of Company A in the 26th Michigan Infantry and Company K in the 1st Michigan Sharp Shooters infantry regiment.
About 370 men in seven northwestern Michigan counties from Oceana to the Straits of Mackinac enlisted in the Union Army over the course of the war. About 100 lost their lives in battle, to injuries or hardships in Confederate prisons.
The Civil War had many impacts, and The Homestead Act of 1862 was a big one.
Before the Civil War, northern lawmakers wanted to open the West to settlement. They believed homesteads, a transcontinental railroad, and land grant colleges were crucial. Southern members of Congress opposed the act because they feared new western states probably would vote to ban slavery.
Southern states' secession and formation of the Confederacy in 1861 removed that roadblock, and Congress passed the act on May 20, 1862.
The law accelerated settlement in the western territory — and northern Michigan, too — by granting adult heads of families 160 acres of surveyed public land for a minimal filing fee and five years of continuous residence on that land.
It would have a tragic effect on Odawa and Ojibwa Indians still trying to select and obtain patents on federal lands they ceded in 1836 and 1855 treaties.
Settlers pushed into Michigan and reservation lands. They often squatted, cleared land and built sawmills to make lumber for houses and building. In some cases, Indians helped land speculators obtain title to reserve lands in exchange for cash payments, said James McClurken, a Michigan Indian historian and author of several books.
Regional lumbering didn't really take off until the mid-1870s, when railroad companies extended tracks into Traverse City, Manistee and Petoskey.
Federal censuses reflect what was happening. Grand Traverse County would almost quadruple from its 1,286 population in 1860 to 4,443 in 1870. By 1900, it would record 20,479 people.
Coming Monday: The 1899 Civil War veteran encampment.