It’s been 153 years since the first shot of the Civil War was fired on April 12, 1861. Here’s the take of the weeks leading up to it and the aftermath from the viewpoint of a Union soldier, my great grandfather, Harmon Camburn. This is an excerpt from his memoir, Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier.
It had been my intention to continue working summers and teaching winters, and with the money so earned to work my way through college. But the political ferment that had been so long brewing between the North and South began to assume proportions that boded trouble to the nation. The threat of the Southerners to dissolve the Union was being discussed all over the country.
Rumors of troops being raised to resist the government began to reach us.
The excitement was growing so intense that little else was talked of in the family circle, on the streets, or in public gatherings. Resistance to southern outrages was even preached from the pulpit.
While watching the course of events with absorbing interest, I had made up my mind to embrace the first opportunity, should there be any call, to enlist to help put down the coming rebellion, which no one thought would be more than a summer campaign.
Notwithstanding the boasts and threats of the South, the firing on Fort Sumter fell like a thunderbolt on the people.
[On April 12, 1861, Confederate warships fired on Union soldiers at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, to begin the Civil War.]
Immediately, the whole North began to organize military companies; and war meetings were held everywhere.
Then came the call of President Lincoln for seventy-five thousand men for three months. Michigan was asked for one regiment of ten companies under this call. Two companies were started in Adrian: the Hardee Cadets and the Adrian Guards.
The Guards being the oldest company, I thought they would be the first accepted; and consequently chose that company, thinking that perhaps that would be the last chance I would ever have to serve my country as a soldier.
On the morning of April 20, 1861, my father said to me at breakfast, “If you will harness the horse, we will go to Adrian and hear the latest news from Washington.”
On our arrival at Adrian, Father left me at liberty while he transacted some necessary business, and I made my way directly to the recruiting office of the Adrian Guards where I signed a pledge to enlist in the company for three months. I soon met Father and told him what I had done. After presenting all the arguments at his command to dissuade me from going into the army, and finding me still resolute, he said, “Go and do your duty, and if I was as young and strong as you, I would go, too.” When my father had gone home, I returned to the recruiting officer and signified my readiness to begin the life of a soldier at once.
Being required to write my age upon the enlistment paper, I wrote “nineteen years.” The recruiting officer sarcastically remarked, “Yes, three years ago.” And when I assured him of the truthfulness of my statement, he laughed immoderately.
My great grandfather served for the next three years until he was shot and captured in the Battle of Knoxville in late 1863.