27th saw combat before it went to war

Copper Country's past and people

State of Michigan photo The preserved remnants of one of the regimental flags of the 27th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

While the 16th Michigan Infantry, like the rest of the Union Army of the Potomac, was being wasted under incompetent generals in Virginia, the next wave of Copper Country volunteers would see blood before they set foot on a battlefield.

The 27th Michigan Infantry’s first three companies were organized in Ontonagon, Houghton, Keweenaw, and Marquette counties. Company A, commanded by Captain Daniel Plummer, was made up of Ontonagon County men almost exclusively. Company B’s captain, Samuel Moody, was a resident of Houghton, while its second lieutenant, Nelson Trucky, was from Marquette. Captain William B. Wright of Eagle River commanded Company C, where he was authorized by Michigan’s governor to raise the company.

The three companies left the Copper Country to rendezvous with others to form the regiment at Port Huron, Michigan. It was here that the men of the Copper Country companies learned that filling the ranks was not going well. The 27th would be organized with the few companies being organized into the 28th Michigan Infantry, because neither organization had been able to reach regulation strength. A regiment was made up of 10 companies of 100 men and officers each. In January 1863, the 27th only contained Companies A through D.

It was in the early spring of 1863 that the 27th was ordered into civil action in Detroit. On Feb. 26, a tavern owner named William Faulkner was arrested and charged with raping two girls, one black and one white. Faulkner’s conviction sparked a race riot in Detroit on March 6. While the charges were never substantiated, the outrage of the community was sparked because the supposed crime was rumored to have been a black man sexually assaulting a white girl. Faulkner was convicted without evidence, and his race was not then, or now, verified.

In the rioting, shops and businesses were destroyed; homes torched; men, women, and children were attacked and beaten by white mobs.

The sheriff, unable to control the situation, requested military aid. Federal troops from Fort Wayne were sent, and the (now) five companies of the Michigan 27th were ordered to Detroit. While the troops, and much of the city’s white population, did their best to protect the black residents, 200 black families were burned out; over 100 were wounded; and at least one black and one white were killed before the rioting was suppressed. The men of the three U.P. companies discovered that things were much different in the Lower Peninsula than in the Lake Superior mining districts.

The 27th, having returned from the Detroit race riot, consisted of eight companies now and was mustered into federal service on April 10, 1863. Two days later, the regiment was ordered to Kentucky. The other two companies would join the regiment within a couple of months.

On the morning of June 2, the men of the regiment were tired. Footsore from a week’s heavy marching over bad roads, the 27th, in the company of the 36th Massachusetts Infantry, were permitted a one-hour rest to make coffee. The men had just stacked arms when part of the 27th was attacked by a Confederate cavalry force of some 300 men. In the sharp exchange of fire, none of the regiment was wounded, and one Rebel cavalryman was captured.

The next day, the 27th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment was assigned to 1st Brigade, 1st Division, IX Army Corps. The men of A, B and C Companies, from small hamlets and towns scattered along the shore of Lake Superior, had never seen a collection of humanity in one place as large as an army corps.

The IX was a veteran corps with a solid war record. It has seen action at Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam and Fredericksburg. It had known many of the same defeats and humiliations as had the Ontonagon County men of the 16th Michigan’s A Company.

The IX Corps was an independent Union organization, meaning it was not officially assigned to any particular army. When the 27th joined it, the corps was in the field of operations of the Department of the Ohio, which included Kentucky and east Tennessee.

The Lake Superior men of Companies A, B and C of the Second Infantry would share much in common with their comrades in the 16th Michigan. But they would experience differences, too. For example, Co A, 16th Infantry, was decimated during its first real engagement, the battle of Gaines’ Mill in Virginia. The 27th’s first combat was just a skirmish in which there no casualties.

There were other differences. As a result of bad leadership and constant defeats, the men of the 16th suffered from low morale. Seeing so many comrades killed and wounded in battle after battle, only to meet with constant defeat, left many men wondering what the point was. The men of the 27th were, in June 1863, fresh, cocky, and happy; at least for now.

As June 1863 unfolded, the 27th, along with IX Corps, was ordered west to join and reinforce Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Union organization, the Department of the Tennessee, in his advance on Vicksburg, Mississippi. In the west, the IX Corps and its divisions, brigades and regiments, would lose men. The men of the Second Michigan would see death, maiming and destruction on a scale no recruit could dream of. But unlike the men of the 16th, they would not have to wonder at the point: victory would be their answer.