A guest column today, from a distinguished guest, who wields an able pen and camera, the chairman of the Michigan Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee, Brian James Egen:
With the National Parks now back open to inspire visitors at the many locations where soldiers paid the ultimate sacrifice during the American Civil War, they can once more serve as a touchstone to the past and help illustrate the sacrifices made to ensure our freedom today.
As we are in the midst of the 150th Anniversary of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga campaign of 1863 (described afterward by one Confederate soldier as “…the death-knell of the Confederacy"), we take a moment to share with you recent Sesquicentennial activities by Michiganders in observance of that struggle one hundred and fifty years ago.
With permission from the Chickamauga National Military Park, the Michigan Historical Commission’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee placed a commemorative wreath at the Loomis' Battery (1st Michigan Artillery, Battery A) monument on the Chickamauga Battlefield. The wreath, made of Michigan evergreen boughs and white pine, was placed on Friday, September 20, 2013, in honor of all Michigan soldiers who fought and sacrificed during the Chattanooga and Chickamauga campaigns of 1863.
The 1st Michigan Light Artillery, Battery A (Loomis' Battery), is featured in the new Park Service film at the Chickamauga Visitor Center and was the subject of the ranger-led talks on the battlefield both Saturday and Sunday. Park ranger Chris Young, who portrays the battery’s commander, Lieutenant George Van Pelt, in the film, led the tours. Starting at the Visitors Center and concluding at the Loomis’ Battery Monument, ranger Young recounted and shared the 1st Michigan Artillery story with great passion, inspiration, and conviction making the sacrifice made by those Michigan men during the battle relevant and personally meaningful for all those in attendance. On Saturday alone over fifty people, including many youth, braved the damp cool rain to visit the monument and to hear the Battery’s story.
During this weekend, Matt Switlik of Monroe and others from the state of Michigan exhibited many original artifacts and items from Loomis' Battery at the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center. Among the original artifacts on display from Michigan was the Parrott gun #23, one of the six Loomis’ Battery cannon that was engaged and subsequently captured on September 19, 1863, during the Battle of Chickamauga. Also on display were nearly one hundred reproduced images of battery members, many of whom fought at Chickamauga, which allowed guests to see up close those original participants who struggled so mightily to preserve the country they inherited.
The Loomis' Battery monument was dedicated on September 19, 1895, in a ceremony where surviving Battery members spoke that on this day thirty-two years ago Michigan “laid upon the altar of freedom” their comrades in defense of flag and country. This impressive monument has a visually stunning bronze bas relief illustrating the battery in action while the obverse details in stone their story during the battle. The monument stands at the location where Lt. George Van Pelt and five other battery members were killed while defending the guns. After the battery had fired 64 rounds of canister and percussion shell, Confederate infantry rushed upon it in overwhelming numbers, compelling the Federal infantry support to fall back. With nearly 46 horses killed, many cannoneers killed or wounded, the battery was overrun, losing 5 of its 6 ten pounder Parrott guns. Several of the Loomis’ guns were re-captured during the fighting the following day, and all were re-claimed previous to the end of the war.
It was during the American Civil War that the country lost approximately 2.5% of the population – new research puts the number of deaths closer to 750,000. It is so vitally important, especially during the Civil War Sesquicentennial period, to commemorate and to not forget the sacrifice made by our ancestors. As we move into the beauty of Fall and the fast approaching Holiday season, let us take a moment to reflect upon those, past and present, who serve in the defense and protection of our country.