Christopher Conrad Gunn: Civil War and the Move to Michigan
Christopher Gunn b. 1 Feb 1848 Wayne, Ohio; d. 2 Aug 1922 Watervliet, Michigan
Helen Alford b. 7 Jun 1847 Alamo, Michigan; d. 15 Dec 1924, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Conrad Gunn b. 29 Jun 1886 Oshtemo, Michigan; d. 1 Dec 1968 Kalamazoo, Michigan
Irwin Gunn b 10 May 1888 Dustin Lake, Michigan; d. 24 Jun 1968 Three Rivers, Michigan
The 1860s were a critical moment in the history of the country. When Abraham Lincoln, a known opponent of slavery, was elected president in 1860, the South Carolina legislature perceived a threat. Calling a state convention in January 1861, the delegates voted to remove the state of South Carolina from the union known as the United States of America. The secession of South Carolina was followed by the secession of six more states — Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas — and the threat of secession by four more — Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. These eleven states eventually formed the Confederate States of America. At a convention in Montgomery, Alabama, the seven seceding states created the Confederate Constitution, a document similar to the United States Constitution, but with greater stress on the autonomy of each state. Jefferson Davis was named provisional president of the Confederacy until elections could be held. 1
Lincoln was inaugurated in March 1861. In April, when the new President planned to send supplies to Fort Sumter, he alerted the state of South Carolina in advance, in an attempt to avoid hostilities. South Carolina, however, feared a trick; the commander of the fort, Robert Anderson, was asked to surrender immediately. Anderson offered to surrender, but only after he had exhausted his supplies. His offer was rejected, and on April 12, the Civil War began with shots fired on the fort. Fort Sumter eventually was surrendered to South Carolina. The attack on Fort Sumter prompted four more states to join the Confederacy. The first Battle of Bull Run occurred in July 1861. The war was on.
Two of Westrall’s nephews enlist: William Orrin’s son, Seymour, enlists in the Wisconsin 1st Cavalry and Noble King’s son, Alanson, dies of typhoid in Baton Rouge while on duty there with federal forces. And two of Westrall’s sons enlist: Perry and Christopher. Perry enlists in Company H of the 18th Wisconsin Infantry, serving nine months. He was injured at the Battle of Pittsburg Landing (also called the Battle of Shiloh), and was discharged from the service.2
The Battle of Pittsburg Landing was a major battle in the Western Theater of the Civil War, fought on April 6 and April 7, 1862, in southwestern Tennessee. Confederate forces under Generals Albert Sidney Johnston and P.G.T. Beauregard launched a surprise attack against the Union Army of Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. The Confederates achieved some initial success on the first day but were ultimately defeated on the second day.
On the first day of battle, the Confederates struck with the intention of driving the Union defenders away from the Tennessee River and into the swamps of Owl Creek to the west, hoping to defeat Grant’s Army of the Tennessee before it could link up with Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell‘s Army of the Ohio. The Confederate battle lines became confused during the fierce fighting, and Grant’s men instead fell back in the direction of Pittsburg Landing to the northeast, to a position on a slightly sunken road nicknamed the “Hornet’s Nest.” The men in the divisions of Brig. Generals Benjamin M. Prentiss and W.H.L. Wallace provided critical time for the rest of the Union line to stabilize under the protection of numerous artillery batteries. General Johnston was killed during the first day’s fighting, and Beauregard, his second in command, decided against assaulting the final Union position that night.
Reinforcements from General Buell arrived in the evening and turned the tide the next morning when he and Grant launched a counterattack along the entire line. The Confederates were forced to retreat from the bloodiest battle in United States history up to that time, ending their hopes that they could block the Union advance into northern Mississippi.
Christopher Conrad Gunn, called “C.C.”, was only thirteen years old when the war began, but he managed to enlist on the 16th of January 1864 in Company E of the 6th Ohio Cavalry when he was not quite 16 years old. He joined his regiment at Warrenton, Virginia. At that time the 6th was attached to the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, until October, 1864; then to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, until May, 1865; and finally to the Department of Virginia until August, 1865. Christopher was in the 6th Ohio during the following actions in 1864-65:
Custer’s Raid into Albemarle County — February 28-March 1.
Action near Charlottesville — February 29.
Stannardsville3 — March 1.
Burton’s Ford, Rapidan River — March 1 (Detachment).
Rapidan Campaign — May 3-June 15.
Todd’s Tavern — May 5-6.
Wilderness — May 6-7.
Todd’s Tavern — May 7-8.
Corbin’s Bridge — May 8.
Sheridan’s Raid to the James River — May 9-24.
Childsburg and Davenport — May 9.
North Anna — May 9-10.
Ashland, Ground Squirrel Church and Yellow Tavern — May 11.
Brook’s Church or fortifications of Richmond — May 12.
On line of the Pamunkey — May 26-28.
Haw’s Shop — May 28.
Totopotomoy Creek — May 28-31.
Cold Harbor — May 31-June 7.
Sumner’s Upper Bridge — June 2.
Sheridan’s Trevillian Raid– June 7-24.
Trevillian Station — June 11-12.
Mallory’s Cross Roads — June 12.
Black Creek or Tunstall Station and St. Peter’s Church, White House — June 21.
St. Mary’s Church — June 24.
Siege operations against Petersburg and Richmond — June 24, 1864, to April 2, 1865. Warwick Swamp — July 12, 1864. (Poolesville, Md. — July 12, Detachment.)
Demonstration north of the James — July 27-29.
Deep Bottom and Malvern Hill — July 27-28.
Lee’s Mills — July 30.
Demonstration north of the James — August 13-20.
Strawberry Plains, Deep Bottom — August 14-18.
Six Mile House, Weldon Railroad — August 20-21.
Dinwiddie Road near Ream’s Station — August 23.
Ream’s Station –August 25.
Arthur’s Swamp and Poplar Grove Church September 29-October 2.
Expedition into Surrey County October 16-19.
Boydton Plank Road, Hatcher’s Run–October 27-28.
Stony Creek Station December 1.
Reconnaissance to Hatcher’s Run and skirmishes December 8-10.
Dabney’s Mills, Hatcher’s Run, February 5-7, 1865.
Appomattox Campaign March 28-April 9.
Dinwiddie Court House March 30-31.
Five Forks April 1.
Amelia Springs and Jettersville April 5.
Sayler’s Creek April 6.
Farmville or High Bridge April 7.
Appomattox Court House April 9. Surrender of Lee and his army.
Expedition to Danville April 23-29.
Duty in Sub-District of the Appomattox, Dept. of Virginia, till August.
The regiment lost during service 5 officers and 52 enlisted men killed or mortally wounded, and 4 officers and 177 enlisted men killed by disease. A total of 238 men lost.4
Christopher was at the siege of Richmond and the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, as well as in numerous battles, both large and small. He was on the Richmond raid and in the battles of Todd’s Tavern, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor (where the Union lost 7,000 men in 20 minutes), Five Forks (the battle sometimes referred to as the “Waterloo of the Confederacy”), and the second battle of Weldon Railroad (where the Confederate forces lost control of the vital Weldon Railroad to the Union Army during the Siege of Petersburg). He was in the Campaign of 1864 under Sheridan and was present at the surrender of General Lee to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, five days before the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He was honorably discharged at Cleveland, Ohio, on August 7 1865. The family story is that he had his horse shot out from under him three times, but was never wounded except slightly in the knee.
The Move to Michigan
In 1867 Westrall, Betsey and other members of the family move to Michigan, most to Vermontville in Eaton County, but Christopher settles in Kalamazoo County. Both locations make sense, Kalamazoo was on the new Erie & Kalamazoo Rail line and Eaton County is just south of the unlikely new state capital in Lansing, and also connected by rail to Detroit.
Until 1847 the sleepy settlement of Lansing, heavily wooded and with less than 20 people, was an isolated settlement in the wilderness. But then a change to the state constitution required that the capital be moved from Detroit to a more centralized and safer location in the interior because of a concern about Detroit’s close proximity to British-controlled Canada, which had captured Detroit in the War of 1812. The United States had recaptured the city in 1813, but these events led to the perceived need to have the center of government relocated away from hostile British territory. In addition, there was also concern about Detroit’s strong influence over Michigan politics, being the largest city in the state as well as the capital city.
Since the 1830s Detroit had been constructing radial roads from the city center, some based on old Indian trails. They were originally laid out as military roads extending from Detroit to outstate. This effort made Detroit the gateway to the Northwest and helped promote the settlement of Michigan. In 1836 the 4’10” gauge Erie & Kalamazoo rail line began operation between Toledo and Adrian, Michigan. In the first year the cars were pulled by teams of horses, but a steam locomotive was put into service in 1837. In 1847 the Michigan Central line reached Kalamazoo from Detroit. Lansing was reached via a stage coach from the rail station in Jackson, Michigan; soon after there was direct rail service. By January 1852 the Michigan Southern Railroad reached LaPorte, Indiana.
Surveyed land was sold at government land offices in Detroit from 1818 and at other offices located in Monroe, White Pigeon, Kalamazoo, and Flint. As happened elsewhere, purchase of land and the settlement of the state was encouraged. With the new communication technology–canals, trains, and telegraph–Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin became an accessible new frontier, offering exciting opportunities.
The early trains were dangerous and uncomfortable. The “strap rails” were flimsy and the nails used to secure them would sometimes work themselves loose under the weight of the locomotives and cars. In the summer, the heat would bend and distort them out of shape so that they would pop out of place and punch through the bottom of the cars, occasionally injuring or even impaling passengers. “Snake heads,” as these strap rails were called, were not the only worries that passengers faced with early 19th century railroads. The cars were really only converted stage coaches. Many offered no protection from the outside elements. The heat, cold, and burning cinders from the locomotives’ wood fire would enter the cars and cause great discomfort among the passengers. Also, though the locomotives were built of steel and iron, and seemed amazingly strong, boiler explosions were common and life threatening.
After his disability discharge from the military, Perry went to Michigan where most of his family had gone. He married Charlotte Elizabeth Harris in Galesburg, Kalamazoo County, on June 5, 1864, and they settle in Vermontville, Eaton County, where his parents and several of his siblings are living. Their first child died in infancy, but they have three more children. Unfortunately, in July 1890 Perry died at the age of only 53 of Bright’s Disease, a disease of the kidneys more commonly known now as chronic nephritis. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Vermontville.
Christopher Conrad also went to Michigan after the War. In 1892 his (and his wife’s) biography was published in Portrait and Biographical Record of Kalamazoo, Allegan & Van Buren Counties, Michigan by Chapman Brothers, pages 838 and 841:
Conrad Christopher Gunn, a resident of Oshtemo Township, Kalamazoo County, was born February 1,1848, in Ashtabula County, Ohio. ……
Our subject worked on a farm until fifteen years of age, when he enlisted in the army on the 16th of January, 1864, in Company E, Sixth Ohio Cavalry. He joined his regiment at Warrenton, Va., and did picket duty inside of three months’ time. He was in the campaign of 1864 under Sheridan. He participated in the battle of the Wilderness and was on Richmond raid, fighting all the time. He was also in the battles of Todd’s Tavern, Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, Five Forks, Chickahominy, Malvern Heights, and the second battle of Weldon Railroad. At the last-named place, they stopped doing picket duty until the spring of 1865, when they broke camp and followed the rebels on retreat and continued to fight until Lee’s surrender. The regiment then staid [sic] at Warrenton on detached duty for three months, and Mr. Gunn was mustered out, August 7, 1865, and was honorably discharged at Cleveland, Ohio.
On leaving the army, our subject made a short visit home [Ohio] and then came to Kalamazoo. He remained but a short time, however, as he went to live in Indiana [where sisters Carrie and Arminta were living], where he remained for seven years. From there he removed to this township [Oshtemo], in 1876, and was married to Helen C. Slack, in the same year. Mrs. Gunn was the widow of John Slack and a daughter of William Alford, a native of Massachusetts [sic]. Her grandfather participated in the Revolutionary War. A fife that was played by him in the battle of Yorktown and at the surrender of Cornwallis, and afterward by his son William Alford, in the War of 1812, is in the possession of the family. The father of Mrs. Gunn was married at the age of twenty-nine years, in Canada, having moved there soon after the War of 1812. He lived in Guelph, Ontario, but at the time of the Rebellion in Canada, not wishing to fight for or against his own country, sold his property and came to Michigan, taking up land in Alamo Township, in 1837, where he resided until his death, which occurred in 1849. His good wife is still living and makes her home with her son in Texas Township. She bore her husband fourteen children and was again married in 1852 and became the mother of one child.
Mrs. Gunn was married to her first husband [John Slack] in 1864. He died March 30, 1875. By this marriage, one child was born, William, who is now studying medicine. By her second marriage, Mrs. Gunn has become the mother of two children: Conrad Glenn, born June 29, 1888 [d. 1968], and Irwin Simpson, born May 10, 1886 [d.1968].
Our subject is a member of Orcutt Post, G.A.R., at Kalamazoo. [The G.A.R. or Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army who had served in the American Civil War.] Mrs. Gunn had two brothers in the late war, William and George. The latter was wounded at Port Hudson [Louisiana] and died from the effect of his wounds. He belonged to Company D, Sixth Michigan Light Artillery. William was in the Nineteenth Michigan Infantry, Company F, and was wounded at Resaca, Ga., was taken prisoner, March 6, 1863, at Spring Hill, Tenn., and confined in Libby Prison twenty-seven days.
It is interesting that Christopher’s sister Carrie also moves on to Michigan about the same time, to Eaton County. Their parents and several of their siblings had moved to Eaton County sometime in the late 1860s. Whenever possible, the family stays close together.
Among the more challenging mysteries in the Thomas Gunn family tree is identifying the origins of William Alford, Helen’s father, who came to Kalamazoo, Michigan from Canada, with his wife and 14 children, in 1838. Many of the pieces passed down in family stories, along with information in records that are now available, are beginning to bring into focus a much clearer picture.
Continue to “The Alfords.”
- Timeline of the Civil War http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/cwphtml/tl1861.html. ↩
- Portrait and Biographical Record of Kalamazoo, Allegan & Van Buren Counties, Michigan (Chapman, 1892), pages 838 & 841. ↩
- In March 1864 Greene County suffered the inroads of General Custer and about 1,500 Union soldiers, who were on their way to Charlottesville. They burned bridges and mills, and in Stanardsville took the local men hostage until the troops’ return from Charlottesville. As the Union Troops retired through Greene County there was more sporadic firing. These scrimmages, which were written up and vividly illustrated in the March 26, 1864 issue of Harper’s Weekly, under the title ‘General Custer’s Raid,’ are now remembered as the Battle of Stanardsville. ↩
- Source: http://www.ohiocivilwar.com/cwc6.html. ↩