28 ©' THE GRAND RAPIDS PRESS, Wed., May 10, 1961
Centennial Highlights Her$*es
Lowell Cavalryman Finds\
Service. No Life of Ease
In observance of the Civil W ar
centennial, The Press is publish'
ing from time to time stories
drawn from letters and diaries
of Civil War veterans whose descendants are local area residents. Persons possessing such
material are requested to call
Bob Day, GL1-3511, even if
doubtful of its historical value.
The life of a Civil War cavalryman was no bed of roses, despite envious looks east his way
by foot-slogging comrades.
Early in the war, few Union
cavalrymen were horsemen;
most had to be taught to ride.
As a result, they were badly-
outclassed by the Confederate
cavalry, made up of men who
had been riders since childhood.
Becaues of this ineptitude,
and because few top Union
commanders at this stage of the
•war knew how to use cavalry;
the horseback soldier was the
frequent target of gibes from
the infantry: "Who ever saw a
Mast Care for Horse, Too
But the foot soldier was bitterest when the cavalry passed
him on a muddy road. Flying
hooves daubed the infantryman
with mud, arousing his fury and
But where the foot soldier
had only himself to care for,
the rider, must also- tend to his
mount. And this was no small
matter, as James M. Sabin, a
Lowell man, was quick to point
out to his wife.
Writing from Benton Barracks, just outside St. Louis,
Mo., on Dec. 3, 1861, Sabin explained he had .a horse "to feed,
water and clean and go nearly
a mile to do that.
"You may think strange of
that," he added, "but you must
remember there is many of
them (horses) and can't be all
in one place." :__
Much Gear to Maintain
Sabin also noted he had more
gear than the infantryman.
"• . . . there is a halter, saddle,
two bridles . . . one surcingle
(and) two blankets." These were
his to maintain in addition to
his personal equipment: " . . .
one cap, one hat, one pair of
shuse (shoes), two pairs of
socks, four of shirts, two of
drawers, one suit of close, one
pair of overhales . . . spurs,
belt, saber, revolver and carbine, that is a short rifle." -
Sabin, a native of New York,
was 42 years old when he en-
listed in Company F of the 2nd
Michigan Cavalry on Aug. 21,
1861. Although somewhat advanced in years for a cavalryman in that young man's—often boy's—war, he served nearly two years, being discharged
April 12, 1863", at Franklin,
Tenn;, on a "surgeon's certificate of disability."
357 KNAPP. N. E.
Two Blocks West of Plainfleld
Look for Our Big A,©.
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Nothing is known of Sabin's
life after the war, since only
the letters he wrote from Benton Barracks -were obtained by
Herman Smith, 1437 Lewison
Ave. NE, from a Greenville antique dealer several years ago.
Big Greeting in Detroit
Judging from his four letters.
Sabin was as eager as younger,
men when he enlisted at Grand
I Rapids. But when his train
i paused at Lowell en route to De-
jtroit and war, the sight of his
' wife and children took some of
the luster from the great adventure.
"Some times." he wrote her on
Nov. 17, 1861, "I almost wished
that I had not seen you at all."
! But he enjoyed the rest of his
| train and boat trip to St. Louis.
j "We were cheered in every
town and almost every house
that was in sight." At Detroit,
the new soldiers were greeted
j by long tables lavishly spread
! with food.
"They told us to fill our hav-
| ersacks with vittles and our can-
! teens with coffee or beer," he
; wrote. "They said there had not
I been such a regiment in the
' place before by the way they
; treated the boys with segars."
i Whiskers Freeze in Missouri
■ Camp life appealed to Sabin.
i ". . . it is a beautiful place that
General (John C.) Fremont took
from the rebels and fitted it up.
There is about 20,000 (Union
soldiers) within four miles of
here and expect about 25,000
But the weather in Missouri
was not always as pleasant as
the camp. One December morning, he told his wife, "as I went
to see to my horse, my whiskers
He added: "I wish you could
see the little drummer boys.
There is some as small, and
yes, smaller than E C 's
"I wish you could see the artil-
ary trane," he continued. "They
have six horsis attached to one
gun and they will be a going say
east on a good trot and sooner
that you could turn one horse
and buggy they would be a going west on the same gait." "\
Whips Horse Into Control
His own horse, Sabin reported,
was at times somewhat less
tractable than the artillery
teams. On Dec. 14, 1861, he
wrote: ". . . he (the horse) has
drilled very nice until yesterday. I tried to make him go
with spurs but no use so I took
a whip ... he reared a few
times and then threw himself,
catched my foot a little."
But Sabin had a remedy:
"Soon got my foot from under
him, got on his head and held
him down and whipped him as
long as I could hold him down."
Brutal, but it worked, he wrote.
"Then got on Mm--and her was
ready to mind."
About this time, the rookie
cavalryman got an idea of what
was in store for him as a soldier. In conversation with some
other cavalrymen in the camp,
he heard some of the vivid—
and gory—tales of the hot little
fight Nov. 7, 1861, between
7,000 Confederate troops and |
3.500 Union soldiers, under command of Gen. U. S. Grant, at j
Shoot Own Horses
"There was one regiment thatl
did not fetch out but some 2001
or 300 i men). They came into I
camp the day we got here. Somel
had slight wounds and some with I
a number of bullet holes in their f
pants and not wounded/' ,
Although Gen. Grant in his I
■memoirs fails to claim Belmont
as a victory, the men to whom
j Sabin talked felt they had won]
the fight. "Our men whipped them
and took their cannon and turned
! the same on them but the enemy
were reinforced and hoisted a
Union flag and they were dressed
like some of our men so they deceived them (the Union troops),
i they supposing that they were our j
'men. The river was on one side
and the enemy on every other
: - '"Then they hoisted a rebel flag. |
i There was no other way for our;
rmen to 'go) than to cut their wayj
through and so at it they went.
i They went with -a great loss and |
retreated to their boats, the enemy following. After they were on I
the boats, they shot their horses I
so that the enemy should not have |
Officers Special Targets
"They soon got two gun boats j
in a position to play on the enemy," Sabin added. "The lanel
i where our men came down to the!
j river was full of the enemy (and) f
I they was mowed down by hundreds. The enemy placed a cannon on the bank to sink the gun-
j boats, but the second shot that|
our men made hit the old can-
mon and sent it 10 feet in the air|
! and that was the last of it."
One of the soldiers who recount-1
ed the battle, Sabin wrote, "saidl
he knew that he shot six or seven |
I (Confederates) and run his bayo-
Inet through one. There was six|
corporals in his company killed. [
j Everyone that wore anything thatl
showed he was an officer was|
picked out on both sides."
A Union colonel, Sabin added,!
"had his horse shot from under!
him. He then took a musket andl
fired away until they (the Feder-[
als) took their (the Confederates')
battery.8 Then he jumped on a|
cannon and said, 'Boys, wheel it |
around and fire on them!'
Unit Battles Forrest
"It was done until they werel
out of -reach. Then the colonel!
took the musket again until (he)
got a secesh horse. He was then
wounded in the thigh. After that
he spiked two of the enemy's guns]
and got on the boat."
Sabin didn't have to wait longl
for some battle experience him-l
self. His unit in May, 1862. was I
placed under command of one of I
the Civil War's most legendary [
leaders, Col. (later General) Phil-1
ip H. Sheridan. Under doughty I
"Little Phil," the 2nd Michiganl
took part in a day-long cavalry I
and infantry fight near Boone-1
ville, Miss., in June of 1862 andl
the next month engaged in thel
battleLpf Perryville, Ky., the big-[
gest Civil War fight in Kentucky.!
Before his discharge, Sabin alsol
may have caught a glimpse of |
the war's most legendary cavalryman, the Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, whose specialty was fighting his cavalrymen dismounted to defeat Union j
forces twice or more the size of
his own unit. The 2nd Michigan
clashed at least three times with
Forrest before Sabin returned to
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