Brigadier General Williams, who disliked volunteer troops, commanded the brigade to which the 6th Michigan was assigned. The dislike soon turned to hate which was returned in full by the men. On the brigade's first foray into the field, Williams ordered no one was to allow slaves to follow them to freedom and there was to be no foraging from rebel households. When Williams caught a private from the 6th with a turkey he charged him with theft. The man swore he paid for the bird and Williams couldn't prove otherwise so in disgust he dropped the charges. As Williams walked away the entire regiment began to yell gobble, gobble. From then on many of his orders were met with the same refrain.
The 6th along with the brigade was transferred to New Orleans where the regiment suffered from the climate, the officers, and the ever-present pestilence in the field. Williams literally drilled the men to death in malarial swamps and marshes. At one point the 6th was housed in the New Orleans mint until Williams ordered them to set up camp, without tents, in inhospitable wetlands. The 6th's Lt. Colonel refused the order as did the major. Both were dismissed and Williams turned to the regiment's captains to carry out the order. One after another refused until Williams threatened to have the next captain who refused the order put before a firing squad. That is only one of several jaw-dropping instances the reader will find here.
In spite of Williams who was killed in battle and officers who were either drunks or cowards and ran when a shot was fired the 6th performed admirably in battle. If they were magnificent in a fight they were equally impressive at foraging and outright theft. The 6th suffered more deaths, from illness and battles combined than any other Michigan regiment. In 1863 the 6th was converted to a heavy artillery unit. The author makes great use of soldiers' diaries and letters giving a-you-are-there intimacy to the narrative. Faust has written an engrossing and eye-opening regimental history. The book contains maps, numerous photos, and includes a complete regiment roster. I'm looking forward to the author's earlier book on the 11th Michigan which I hope to review this fall.
The 6th Michigan Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster by Eric R. Faust. McFarland and Company, 2020, $49.95 pb.
The following is a brief sampling from the book but they come with a warning. You'll be very tempted to buy the book.
A woman called the sheriff because she was upset by the number of deer hit by cars near the deer crossing sign. She asked the lawman if the sign could be moved to a spot where it would be safer for deer to cross. A man impressed by the number of trout he saw in the Leland River asked a local what they were biting on. With a straight face, the man said trout were crazy for Barbie Dolls to which you just added hooks. Within days a Barbie Doll couldn't be found in any Traverse City store. Another downstater asked if the salmon trying to jump the Leland River dam were freshwater porpoises.
Then there was the charter boat captain setting lines out near North Manitou Island for his customer when he asked the captain, "Where exactly is Lake Michigan?" Lastly, a man who wasn't a native of Leelanau County but had moved there three years earlier asked if he was now considered a local. After some discussion and rumination, it was decided he qualified as "perma-fudge."
I dare you not to laugh out loud at this good-hearted and very funny book. It sure brightened my day and I know I'll never get tired of returning to it now and again whenever I need a laugh. It also presents a wonderful mosaic of the character and characters of Leelanau County.
Laughing in Leelanau or, I Swear It'sTrue by Scott Craig, Illustrated by Henry Coleman. Mission Point Press, 2020, $14.95.
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