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Ann Arbor and the Civil War

Memories of Civil War times in Ann Arbor are contained in records which, according to Ann Arbor historian Lela Duff, "fairly vibrate with the shock, the frantic activity, the frustrations and heartbreak of the period." Following the firing upon Fort Sumter in April 1861, the city was alive with war preparations and rumors of conspiracy. At a mass meeting held in the courthouse on April 15, Ann Arbor rallied to the Union. Local businessman George D. Hill offered a resolution asking that the people of Ann Arbor "stand by the President of the United States in the proper and continued performance of his duties in executing the laws of the United States." He further requested that Ann Arbor's citizens be organized into military companies "to be ready to meet a draft upon the State of Michigan." Both motions carried unanimously.

These gestures were largely ceremonial. In 1859 some of the city's German residents formed the Steuben Guards. With news of war, this unit offered itself for military duty as part of the First Michigan Infantry. Proudly decked out in their uniforms, they received the cheers and good wishes of an expectant citizenry and departed the train station for Detroit and regimental headquarters on April 29. Throughout this day of celebration and farewell the official escort for the Steuben Guards consisted of Relief Fire Company No. 2 and the newly formed Barry Guard. Commanded by ex-Mayor Robert J. Barry, this unit in June 1861 was reorganized as part of the Fourth Michigan Infantry. The students of the University formed a third unit, the University Battalion, while a fourth unit formed in May 1861 was christened the Ann Arbor Silver Greys.

The Silver Greys, or the Ann Arbor Home Guard, was an assemblage of men forty-five years of age or older. Supposedly too old for active combat, the Greys included the town's most illustrious citizens. University President Henry P. Tappan and local businessmen Elijah Q. Morgan, Daniel E. Wines, and William S. Maynard were among those who agreed to drill on the second Saturday of every month (weather permitting). Failure to appear, their bylaws warned, would result in the fine of one dime. The war, fortunately, never moved close enough to permit a test of the Home Guard's military competence.