Death and Burial of Major-General Israel Bush Richardson
An Account Written In The Style Of The Period Of His Life And Service To State And Country, On The Occasion Of The One Hundred Fiftieth Anniversary Of His Final Moments
Memorial Tribute Ceremony, Oak Hill Cemetery, Pontiac, Michigan
November 3, 2012
The Death and Burial of Major-General Israel Bush Richardson
The circumstances attending the wounding and death of “Fighting Dick” (General I. B. Richardson) and the return home to his final resting place ought to be put in permanent form for the use of the future historian, for no history of Michigan would be complete which did not give large space to the heroic deeds of this great Civil War soldier.
Among what should be the most precious memories of Michigan’s role during those stirring times are those which cluster around the person and character of Richardson. He entered his country’s service upon passing the requirements of the United States Military Academy in 1841, soon thereafter serving with distinction in the War with Mexico. His fine record continued to be established in postings on the frontier. After distinguishing himself as an officer under the nation’s flag, he ceded the uniform in favor of a peaceful occupation in the young state of Michigan, tilling the soil and hoping never again to take up arms.
We can esteem him for abandoning the comfort of everyday life and responding in April 1861 to the defense of the United States soon after the assault on our flag at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. We can envision him in that initial major battle of the War, at First Bull Run in Virginia, chafing under orders to hold in but a supporting role as the day hung in the balance, and then, with firm resolve, acting as commander of the Union rear guard to defend Washington from the pursuing Rebel army. We can find him alongside his troops on the James Peninsula in early 1862 as he led his brigade of infantry through that campaign, again required to experience defeat from the inadequacy of leadership by his superior commander. Richardson’s martial ardor undoubtedly could have led the Union Army into the Rebel capital of Richmond, had he but been engaged to do so. Always without regard to ceremony, he engaged with the private soldiers who cherished service under his command—as all through the campaigns he appeared at the head of his column or in the heat of battle always quick and daring.
Always so – for, at last unfettered, his sword was unsheathed when the Rebels invaded Maryland in the Fall of 1862 in hopes of destroying the sacred Union of States established by the genius of the founders in the American Revolution.
Especially, then, should we love to recall him during that most bloody of days in the nation’s history, the 17th of September, 1862. Amid the horrors of war on the battlefield of Antietam during that long and fearsome contest, he led his division courageously toward the Rebel line, fortified in a sunken wagon road at the central position on the battleground – forever after known as “Bloody Lane” – and there as with a spearhead pierced the Confederate lines, opening the day to complete victory by the national arms … had not an enemy artillery shell struck him down at the very moment of triumph.
How well can it be envisioned the distress felt by his fellow citizens at home, finding the name of Michigan’s highest ranking officer on the list of casualties. On September 19 the Detroit Free Press reported that “General Richardson, commanding a vivision [sic], was severely wounded” in an advance upon the Rebel lines.
For weeks the General lingered in a battlefield hospital until the fated day arrived, after which the somber news was reported in the Free Press, under date of November 4, this lamentable banner, “Death of Gen. Richardson”, followed by more detailed information all Michiganders had hoped never to see: “Major General Richardson died at half past seven o’clock last night.”
While in hospital, President Lincoln had visited his bedside, and spent some minutes in the dying chamber of his brave chieftain. The President, taking his hand, no doubt grieved the mortal injury to such an able military leader. The only witness to the event, Captain Charles Stuart Draper, later reported that the President had assured General Richardson that he would assume greater command upon recovery.
“It is with a sad heart we announce the death of one of the bravest men of the nation, Major General Israel B. Richardson,” the Free Press reported. “He was wounded in the terrible battle of Antietam so severely that he could only be removed to the hospital on the field of battle, where he lingered until the evening of the 3d of November, when he expired. … Gen. Richardson was known and recognized throughout the army as one of the best of our fighting Generals. Wherever the battle raged the fiercest, there he was the most at home. … There was no braver man in the army, and few whose death will be more sincerely regretted than that of Major General Richardson. He was ever held to be one of the bravest of the brave.”
The General’s remains arrived in Detroit on Saturday morning, November 8, 1862, by the Cleveland boat. They were met at the Michigan Central Railroad dock by the Committee of Reception and Escort, and at half past noon the procession started for Jefferson Avenue, then on Brush Street to the Detroit & Milwaukee Railroad depot, where a special train waited to convey the coffin and escort to Pontiac. Pall bearers U.S. Senator Zachariah Chandler, Detroit mayor William C. Duncan, Michigan Republican Party chairman William A. Howard, and other prominent citizens bore the casket in utmost respect.
On Tuesday, November 11, the funeral of the late lamented General took place in Pontiac. The body lay in state on Monday in the Court House and was visited by hundreds. The room was decorated with American flags draped in mourning. “The city was thronged with people who had come to pay the last tribute of respect to the mortal remains of one whom they had long and favorably known as a citizen, and who had won their esteem and admiration as a patriot and soldier.” The morning train from Detroit was filled with mourners. The funeral service commenced at 11 o’clock, after which the cortege marched to Oak Hill Cemetery followed by an immense concourse of citizens and to the accompaniment of martial salutes. Upon arriving at the grave, a beautiful and impressive service of the Episcopal Church was read, after which the coffin was lowered into its receptacle. An honor volley was fired over the grave by the Detroit Light Guard, and the crowd slowly departed from the spot where rested all that is mortal of the brave Richardson.
No incident of mortality, since the death of Andrew Jackson, occasioned more painful regret than this. General Richardson was forty-six years of age. He left a widow and one child.
Thus passed away, amid the exciting scenes of the War for the Union, one of the bravest and most selfless commanders that the Great Lake State has ever been home to. Long will her sons and daughters recount the story of his achievements and mourn his untimely departure.
“He drew his sword for his country, 1841.
And sheathed it without dishonor at Antietam, 1862.”
Life and Record of Service of Israel Bush Richardson
Born December 26, 1815, Fairfax, Vermont
Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1841
Brevet Second Lieutenant, 3d U.S. Infantry, July 1, 1841
Second Lieutenant, September 30, 1841
First Lieutenant, September 21, 1846
Brevet Captain, August 20, 1847, “for gallant and meritorious conduct at Contreras and Churubusco”
Brevet Major, September 13, 1847, “for gallant and meritorious conduct at Chapultepec”
Captain, March 5, 1851
Resigned September 30, 1855
Farmer, Pontiac, Michigan
Colonel, 2d Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment, April 25, 1861
Brigadier General, U.S. Volunteers, May 17, 1861
Married Frances A. Travor, Detroit, May 29, 1861
Son Israel Philip Augustus Richardson born, March 18, 1862, Alexandria, Virginia
Major General, U.S. Volunteers, July 4, 1862
Wounded in action, Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862
Died of wounds received in action, November 3, 1862
 Known to the present day as “The Old Guard,” oldest active-duty regiment in the U.S. Army and honor guard for the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.