Cunningham, A Pioneer Family
Written by Robert Lee Cunningham and Gregory Robert Cunningham, November 19, 2002
Michael Hayes Brannigan Cunningham was born in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania on April 11, 1842. He was the first of nine children to be born to John and Susan (Deam) Cunningham. Michael Cunningham’s active and adventurous life started at a very early age. The Cunningham family left Pennsylvania by wagon train with the Stoner and Deam party shortly after Michael's birth. Those in the covered wagon train that traveled westward in 1842 were: David Stoner, his wife Elizabeth Ann (Deam) Stoner, their two children John and Suzannah, John Cunningham, his new wife Susannah (Deam) Cunningham, their first born Michael H. B. Cunningham, and George and Ellen Deam (brother and sister to John, Elizabeth, and Susannah Deam). Also in the party were John Deam, Sr. and Elizabeth (Ayre) Deam (parents of all the Deam travelers) and newly weds John Deam and Elisabeth (Hughes) Deam. Rounding out the party were David Hughes (brother to Elizabeth Hughes) and his wife. The Stoner's, Deam's, Hughes, and the Cunningham's totaled fifteen in all. Most were following the calling of the Latter Day Saints and were heading for Nauvoo, Illinois to join with prophet Joseph Smith, Jr.
Before I begin the story of the son, Michael H. B. Cunningham, I need to describe the father, John Cunningham, and his pursuit of the American dream. I will also detail the life of the brother-n-law, Henry H. Deam, because John Cunningham’s life will become closely intertwined in Deam’s endeavors. John Cunningham was born May 10, 1818 in Huntingdon County Pennsylvania, and after ten years worth of genealogical research the names of his parents have eluded the authors. John’s future wife, Susannah Deam, was born March 14, 1822 in Bedford County Pennsylvania. We believe her parent’s were John Deam, Sr. and Elizabeth Ayres. John Deam, Sr. was a soldier in the Continental line in the War of the Revolution, and his wife Elizabeth did faithful service as a nurse in the military hospital at Valley Forge. Cunningham’s desire of obtaining something better for his family led him to take chances. Chances he would be willing to take with his brother-n-law Henry H. Deam who had already found the “promised land”, in the state of Illinois, in a city called Nauvoo. Deam had found a religion that promised salvation and a leader that would protect his flock. When Henry Deam invited his wife and family to join him in Nauvoo, to share in the freedoms he found, John Cunningham wanted the same for his family and joined in the trek west.
John Cunningham probably became involved with the Latter Day Saints sometime around 1836-1841 when he lived in Pennsylvania. A Latter Day Saint elder came and held meetings near where they lived. John's brother-n-law Henry H. Deam and his wife Elizabeth Eddleman started attending meetings regularly and were baptized shortly after their marriage on September 22, 1836 (see bio written by William Henry Deam, son to Henry H. Deam, History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Volume 3, Chapter 38, pgs 732-734). Henry Harrison Deam was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, March 5, 1817 and was the son of John and Elizabeth (Ayre) Deam, Sr. The Deam family is of German descent, while the Ayre family is of French descent. His wife, Elizabeth Eddleman (often spelled Ettleman), was born September 11, 1815 in Bedford County and was the daughter of Valentine and Sarah (Regan) Eddleman. The Eddleman family is of German descent and the Regan family is of Welch descent. Her ancestors were known as Pennsylvania Dutch.
Henry Deam at first opposed the Latter Day Saints, while his wife defended them. She told him, “You will yet be a Mormon preacher yourself.” Shortly after their marriage they both entered the waters of baptism. As his wife prophesized, he was ordained an elder and soon went west, leaving his wife and two young children behind, to Illinois where he did missionary work. Henry’s son William Deam wrote, “Going without purse or scrip and leaving wife and young children in the care of God, my father left them without any visible means of support, except faith in the Lord that He would provide.” When one of the children complained that their mother was working to hard without her husbands help, she said, “Your father is doing what is right. Think how few there were when this work first started. I do not regret it. My rest will be hereafter.” Henry Deam traveled hundreds of miles preaching, while his wife was at home praying for his success with an abiding faith that God would not forsake her.
The Latter Day Saints had already been forcibly removed from their homes in Jackson County, Missouri in the winter of 1833-1834. They were forced over the Missouri River into neighboring Clay County where they were able to live peacefully until June 1836. The non-Mormon citizens of Clay County, who were appalled at the treatment the Mormons received in Jackson County, also began to view the huge influx as a threat to them politically and economically. In December 1836 the legislature chartered Caldwell and Davies counties as a “solution” to the Mormon problem. As an unwritten compact, the Mormons agreed to limit their major settlements to Caldwell County and non-Mormon Caldwell residents were encouraged to sell their properties and move to neighboring counties.
The failure of the Kirkland, Ohio economy in 1837 led to the collapse of this large Mormon community by the end of that year. This led to the flight of 700 families to Far West, Missouri including Joseph Smith, Latter Day Saint President, and Sidney Rigdon, Ohio spiritual leader of several groups and early convert who would become part of the First Presidency. The First Presidency was made up of Joseph Smith and his two counselors, Frederick Williams and Sidney Rigdon. A revelation in 1835 specified that the First Presidency was to consist of three high priests. The families settled in large numbers in surrounding counties. The “Gentile” residents feared that soon the Mormons would dominate the economic and political life of the whole area (The Church Through the Years, by Richard Howard, and Our Legacy of Faith by Paul Edwards were used heavily for the background information).
Alienation between the Mormon and non-Mormons grew all through 1838 and persecution against the Saints in Davies, Carroll, and Caldwell counties of northern Missouri increased. Attacks and counterattacks increased in fury into October 1838. The Battle of Crooked River on October 25 and Haun’s Mill Massacre on October 30 took the lives of many Saints including the deaths of Apostle David Patten and Gideon Carter. Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs called out the militia on October 27 and ordered General John Clark to “drive the Mormons from Missouri”. General Lucas was placed in command of the state militia and was approaching Far West, Missouri on October 31, 1838. Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders came out to talk to the approaching column of militia. Instead of discussion they were taken into custody and General Lucas conducted a court-martial on November 1 and sentenced the group to death. General Lucas ordered General Alexander Doniphan to carry out the order, but he refused. In mid-November Joseph Smith, Lyman Wight, Alexander McRae and Sidney Ridgon were instead transferred to the jail at Liberty, Clay County to await trial for treason, murder, arson, burglary, robbery, larceny and perjury.
The militia continued to harass the LDS settlements in Caldwell and Davies counties. Through November and December 1838, members of the Council of Twelve Apostles (“special witnesses” who were to preside over the church where they were), together with other leaders, began to organize the Saints for an exodus from Missouri. Henry Deam arrived in late 1838 from Illinois where he was doing mission work, and suffered in their final tribulations before the Saints’ were forced to leave Missouri. On one occasion Elder Henry Deam was driving through a town in Missouri with a team of oxen, his wife and children being in the wagon. William Deam wrote, “A mob rushed out with pistols and knives and demanded to know if he was a Mormon. Deam told them no. They then asked him if he was a saint. He evaded their last question by saying he did not know whether he was a saint or a sinner.” Some in the mob said, “They ain’t Mormons. Let them go.”
Elder Deam was made a member of the churches seventies in 1839 and helped the transfer of families north. The Quorum of Seventy is made up of selectmen who form “traveling quorums, to go into all the earth, whithersoever the Twelve Apostles shall call them” (see D. Michael Quinn, “The Evolution of the Presiding Quorums of the LDS Church”, Journal of Mormon History 1 (1974): 34). This is reminiscent of Moses and Christ appointing seventy men for ecclesiastical purposes. From January through most of March 1839, the exodus took them north into Illinois. They found temporary haven around Quincy, Illinois. The Saints came from Missouri 5,000 strong.
Joseph Smith and the other imprisoned leaders escaped their captives in April. Smith made his way to Quincy, Illinois on April 22, 1839 and went right to work organizing. Large tracks of land were purchased in Commerce, Illinois, using twenty-year loans and were subdivided into blocks and lots. By selling the lots Smith hoped to retire the debt and enable orderly settlement. Smith renamed Commerce to Nauvoo in April 1840, which he explained meant “Beautiful Place” in Hebrew. The land lay in a swampy area and an epidemic of malaria would take many lives those first three summers (1839 – 1841). The Nauvoo city charter granted by the Illinois legislature in December 1840 allowed Nauvoo to become almost a sovereign political realm. Joseph Smith became the Chief Magistrate of the city’s municipal court and mayor in the spring of 1842.
By 1842 the Nauvoo settlement was becoming stabilized and developed, so Henry Deam sent for his family back in Pennsylvania. This brought the wagon train west bearing the Deam, Cunningham, Stoner and Hughes families to the settlements being established in and around Nauvoo, Illinois. The Cunningham family first settled near Lima, Adams County, Illinois or two and half miles north over the border into Hancock County in the little town of Yelrome (called Morley Settlement by the Mormons) with the Ettleman's (family friends and cousins) in 1842. The Deam’s settled further north in Nauvoo.
The Mormon leadership continued to petition Missouri officials, and the United States government for redress of the losses they endured in there forced exoduses. Another petition forwarded to the United States Senate and House of Representatives dated November 28, 1843 from Nauvoo, Illinois, stated: “The Memorial of the undersigned inhabitants of Hancock County in the State of Illinois respectfully sheweth . . . . after the Society had forcibly left Jackson County, Missouri, their buildings amounting to about two hundred, were either burned or otherwise destroyed, with a great portion of their crops, as well as furniture, and stock which they have not as yet received any remuneration. The Society remained in Clay County, nearly three years, when in compliance with the demands of the Citizens there, it was determined to remove us to Caldwell County. In August 1838 a riot commenced growing out of a member of the Society to vote, which resulted in creating great excitement and many scenes of lawless outrage. A large mob under the conduct of Cornelius Gilliam came into the vicinity of Far West, drove off our stock and abused our people, another party came into Caldwell County took away our horses and cattle, burnt our houses, and ordered the inhabitants to leave their homes immediately.”
The petition goes on and continues to describe losses of the Society (Mormons) at the hands of the Missouri mobs, but ends with the following comment, “Your Memorialists would further state, that they have heretofore petitioned your Honorable Body praying redress for the injuries set forth in this memorial, but the Committee to whom our petition was referred, reported, in substance, that the general government had no power in the case; and that we must look for relief to the courts and the legislature of Missouri. In reply, your Memorialists would beg leave to state that they repeatedly applied to the authorities of Missouri in vain. That though we are American citizens, at all times ready to obey the laws and support the institutions of the country, none of us would dare enter Missouri for any purpose. Our property was seized by the mob, or lawlessly confiscated by the State, the exterminating order of the Governor of Missouri is still in force and we dare not return to claim our just rights.”
The petitions final comment proclaims, “Had any foreign State or power committed a similar outrage upon us, we cannot for a moment doubt that the strong arm of the general government would have stretched out to redress our wrongs, and we flatter ourselves that the same power will either redress our grievances or shield us from harm in our efforts to regain our lost property, which we fairly purchased from the general government. Finally, your Memorialists, pray your Honorable Body to take their wrongs into consideration, receive testimony in the case, and grant such relief as the Constitution and Laws you have the power to give.” This petition was signed by Mayor Joseph Smith, Counselor Hyrum Smith, Counselor Brigham Young, and hundreds of petitioners including: Henry H. Deam, Elizabeth (Eddleman) Deam, their children including Sarah E., Catherine A. and Isaac M. Deam, Henry and Christina Eddleman, Henry J., Samuel, Marian, and Phillip Eddleman, and John and Elisabeth (Hughes) Deam (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Chapter 7, page565-614).
After a year of peaceful co-existence, the “promised land” was being tarnished by the growing hatred from the local population. Again, the non-Mormon population became threatened by their prospering neighbors and began lashing out violently. John Cunningham and his family were right in the middle of this anti-Mormon movement. By June of 1844, the Morley settlement was under attack and would soon be destroyed.
An affidavit written by John Cunningham and Hiram Mount that appeared in Smith’s History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vol. 6, p. 509 shows just how dangerous these times were. They testified that on Saturday, 15 June 1844, five men came to them at Morley Settlement, Adams County, Illinois, and “demanded their arms.” When it was revealed that the Mormon’s had none, the men required of them to make a choice. Either they must bear arms that the men would supply and go up to Nauvoo to take Joseph Smith or they must evacuate their homes at Morley Settlement and go join in Smith’s “fate”. The mob planned to draw upon two thousand men from Missouri and Illinois and kill any men, women, and children who would not align against Smith. Joseph Smith, the president and prophet of the Mormons “fate” was sealed; he would be killed June 27, 1844 by a mob in the prison he was being held.
The Morley settlement was burnt to the ground and the Cunningham's and other Mormon's in Adam's county were forced to escape further north to the city of Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois. As before, they were safe for a while and protected by the Nauvoo Legion (Mormon militia). For the next three and a half years the Cunningham’s continued to live about 15 miles outside of Nauvoo (T6R6 section 9) and were probably farmers. John Cunningham worked in an iron furnace back in Pennsylvania, so in addition to farming he probably put his other skills to work. John Cunningham stayed active in the Church of Later Day Saints, becoming a Seventy when he received his endowments in the Nauvoo Temple on February 2, 1846. He would later play a pivotal role in the foundation of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints church (RLDS).
It was required by state law for Illinois counties to maintain a military unit as part of the state militia. The Nauvoo charter provided the city a militia largely independent from the statewide system. The “Nauvoo Legion” commanded by Lieutenant General Joseph Smith would have 4,000 uniformed men, between the ages of 18 and 45, by 1844. The Legion provided colorful social events in Nauvoo with its weekly parade. John Cunningham, who was 27 years of age in 1844, was more than likely an active participant in the Nauvoo Militia’s activities and maneuvers.
In 1844 Joseph Smith would ordain Henry Deam a high priest. A High Priest was a priest of the Melchizedek order and a chief proponent of the churches doctrine. He has the authority to officiate in all the lesser offices, holds the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church, and has the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.
In March 1844 Joseph Smith created a secret council that became known as the Council of Fifty. One purpose of the council was to petition the U.S. Congress for recovery of the Saints’ losses through the many persecutions. They also looked into alternative settlement sites for the Saints. They knew the “Gentile” citizens would react strongly to a political kingdom on earth headed by Joseph Smith, so the council would work behind the scenes.
In 1844, the secret reality of polygamy in the upper levels of the church leadership became public knowledge (pages 293-295, The Church Through the Years, by Richard Howard). The outcry was swift and sustained. Illinois newspapers editorialized and satirized on the theme. In early spring 1844 disaffected members united under William Law to try to reverse the direction the church leaders were taking. Law resigned earlier from the church’s First Presidency over the polygamy issue and other points of difference. In May 1844 Law’s group issued notice of publishing the Nauvoo Expositor to expose the wrongs of church leaders. It’s first and only issue appeared on June 7, 1844, accusing Joseph Smith and church leaders of setting up a royal government and held Smith responsible for introducing the plural marriage doctrine into the church. At the strong urging of Mayor Joseph Smith, the city council ordered the destruction of the rebel press. The city marshal and its forces executed the order and destroyed the press on June 10, 1844.
Seventeen days later, on June 27, 1844, Joseph and his brother Hyrum Smith would be killed by a mob at the Carthage, Illinois jail. They were being held there awaiting a hearing on charges of riot for their part in crushing the Expositor. Thousands of mourners in a solemn procession viewed the bodies of the slain leaders at the Mansion House (Smith’s home in Nauvoo).
After the death of LDS president Joseph Smith in June 1844, church members differed on who should lead the church. The Illinois state legislature revoked Nauvoo’s charter on January 24, 1845 and did not provide them with an alternative plan of governance. Joseph Smith had suggested various possibilities for prophetic succession over the past ten years and even designated his eldest son Joseph III as his successor, but being only 11 at the time of his father’s death he was not a viable candidate. Under these conditions, the Council of Twelve, under the leadership of Brigham Young, directed the church and did their best to preserve community order. They doubled their efforts to complete the Temple, which was sanctioned in Doctrine and Covenants 107:10f-11s. It proclaimed,” I command you, all ye my Saints, to build a house unto me: and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me, and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me. But, behold, at the end of this appointment, your baptisms for the dead shall not be acceptable unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment, ye shall be rejected as a church with your dead, saith the Lord your God.” Before they could do anything, stay and fight or flee again, they had to finish the temple.
About 5,000 Saints were able to receive their temple endowments during the months prior to the decided departure westward (Utah movement). John and Susan Cunningham received their washing, anointing and endowments in the Temple on February 2, 1846. John Cunningham was listed as a member of the Seventy. Henry and Elizabeth Deam received their endowments in the Temple on December 22, 1845. Henry Deam was listed as being a High Priest. Mormon leaders dedicated the Temple on April 30 and May 1, 1846. The Temple was not completed fully, but merely sufficiently completed to allow them to flee Nauvoo. Two thirds of all Mormons decided to follow Brigham Young to Utah to establish a new church under his leadership. Brigham Young left Nauvoo on February 15, 1846, but he continued to control what went on in the Temple. Some went with Moses Smith to Voree, Wisconsin and later migrated to Michigan with James Strang. Others followed Lyman Wight and George Miller to Texas. Many stayed in the area, including the Cunningham and Deam families, who all moved to Potosi, Grant County, Wisconsin.
After the murder of Joseph Smith in Carthage, Illinois, John Cunningham’s brother-n-law, Henry Deam, would join up with James Strang. Henry Deam moved to Potosi, Wisconsin and did mission work on his behalf. Many Illinois Mormons came north to the Mormon Potosi diggings to acquire capital. The Potosi lead mines, also known as Snake Hollow, was a significant Mormon preaching ground, by at least 1841. Strang had produced a letter that he claimed was written by Joseph Smith, which declared that James Strang would become the successor of Joseph Smith and leader of the church in case of his death. Deam would become treasurer of his own branch of Saints in Potosi, Wisconsin in 1848.
The Nauvoo Temple was abandoned before it could be completely finished in 1846 due to growing opposition from neighboring settlers and the planned migration of Brigham Young westward. The Cunningham and Deam families decided not to follow Brigham Young during this exodus and moved to Grant County, Wisconsin to the Mormon lead mines. William Deam would write, “My father was raised on a farm, but subsequently learned the coopers trade after coming west. In later years he followed milling at intervals.” Henry Deam was one of sixteen Saints who established a church in Potosi. He became the church treasurer in 1848. John Cunningham moved his family to Potosi in 1846 and took a job as a lead smelter. The 1850 Grant County Census also listed his occupation as Smelter. I would not be surprised if John Cunningham learned the smelting trade back in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania where there are several important iron furnaces in the area including one named Cunningham Furnace. They would live in the Potosi area for the next five years. Since John Cunningham shared his brother-n-laws faith, he more than likely worshiped in the same church that Henry Deam helped establish.
The June 1846 Grant County Census showed John Cunningham with 25 members in his household. They were most probably fellow Mormons who were also forced to leave Nauvoo, Illinois. They came to work in the lead mines to acquire capital. The poorer Mormons who could not make the westward movement stayed in the area making enough money to make the trek later. Many ended up staying and settling the area. After five years of hard work in Potosi, John Cunningham would move his family to Wingville (present day Montfort) in 1851 where he continued working as a lead smelter for eighteen months. John Cunningham’s future death from agonizing stomach cancer may be related to these primitive living and working conditions.
The Cunningham’s and Deam’s continued with their faith even after the death of Joseph Smith. They were persecuted in Missouri and Illinois, but stayed faithful to their religion. They worked and lived in Nauvoo even after the death of Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1844 and only left in 1846 when the mass exodus began. They received their temple endowments under Brigham Young, but much debate continued to fracture what was once a cohesive group. Henry H. Deam at first lent his support to James Strang who produced a letter that showed Joseph Smith declared him the successor in case of his death. Deam showed this support in a letter he wrote to Benjamin Wright. Wright was ordained a high priest under James Strang in 1846 and was appointed president in 1847 over the western district of Wisconsin in Voree (present day Burlington, Wisconsin). The letter Deam wrote said in part, "I long to be in Voree, and be heart and hand with you. The saints all send their love to you, as also to our beloved prophet”. This letter was written March 3, 1848 from Potosi, Wisconsin, and published in the Gospel Herald, volume 2, on page 259. The Gospel Herald was the newspaper published by James Strang. Printed in the same Gospel Herald publication on February 7, 1848 was a notice that said, “Samuel Blair and Henry Deam reported preaching to crowds of visitors in their Potosi branch, and having a shortage of hymnbooks.”
John Cunningham did not have any direct association with James Strang, unless it was through his brother-n-law Henry Deam. Both John Cunningham and Henry Deam would later become known as a “Josephites”. This was a belief that the “seed” of Joseph Smith, Jr. would come forward to lead the church. That would come later, but in 1848, it was James Strang who was considered by many as the new prophet and successor to Joseph Smith. This Potosi group of Latter Day Saints would later join up with the Yellowstone Branch (located in present day Blanchardville, Wisconsin) led by Zenos Gurley, and other area groups, in creating an organization called the Reorganized Latter Day Saints. The next few paragraphs will give an introduction to this new organization or Re-organization and the profound impact it had on both John Cunningham and Henry Deam.
John Cunningham first met Zenos Gurley while the latter was preaching at Wingville, Wisconsin and he was convinced to unite with him in his Yellowstone branch (The Messenger, vol. 2, p. 17). Cunningham would move his family, to what is present day Blanchardville, Wisconsin, but then was called Zarahemla (“city of God”) by the Saints, in 1853. John Cunningham would buy forty acres of farming land and became very active in the new organization.
Zenos Gurley was one of the most prominent leaders of the Reorganized Latter Day Saints, but had an earlier start under Joseph Smith. Gurley heard James Blakeslee preach near Ontario, Canada in 1837 and was very impressed. The preaching was so much like John the Baptist that Gurley asked to be baptized by Blakeslee (description of Zenos Gurley is given by his son E.H. Gurley in Church History, Volume 3, Chapter 38, pages 742-745). E.H. Gurley wrote, “In 1838 my father left Ontario with a team and traveled to Missouri, arriving at Far West just in time to be driven out. They took refuge in Illinois, settling in Commerce, afterwards known as Nauvoo. In June 1838 James Blakeslee named Gurley an elder. While at Far West he was ordained to the office of seventy. Gurley was called to go do mission work. At the April 1841 General Conference held in Nauvoo Gurley was appointed as one of eight to travel and collect the means for building the Nauvoo Temple. After the death of Joseph Smith in 1846 Gurley investigated the claims of the various leaders, and finally accepted those of J.J. Strang as being the most reasonable. Gurley returned to Canada to do mission work on behalf of Strang. At the June 1850 conference held at Voree, Wisconsin “Gurley was sent to the northeastern parts of Wisconsin, on the presentation of President Strang” (see conference minutes). It was probably while on this mission that Gurley raised up the Yellowstone branch.”
Elder Zenos Gurley was visiting the Fretwell family near present day Blanchardville in 1850 and administered a funeral for the Wildermuth's who had two children die earlier. He was convinced to stay and he soon converted and baptized the Wildermuth's into the Mormon faith in the nearby Yellowstone River. Neighboring families, the Newkirk’s and Cline's (family friends and blood relatives) joined them in the faith. By the winter of 1851-52, Gurley had succeeded in building up a congregation of 24 members. Other area Mormon groups knew this group as the Yellowstone Branch. They were called Strangites, or followers of James Strang, until a man named Jason Briggs would lead them all into a new direction.
Jason Briggs, who later became the interim president of the Reorganized LDS in 1853, also got his Mormon initiation in Potosi. He united with the Mormon church in Potosi on June 6, 1841. He was ordained an elder in 1842 and worked in the church consistently in the Beloit, Wisconsin area from 1842 to the mid-1850s. He established branches of the church at Waukesha and Beloit, presiding over the latter for several years. Briggs and his Beloit Branch remained tied to the church led by Brigham Young and the Council of Twelve until about two years after the death of Joseph Smith. They then cast their lot with the James Strang faction, which Briggs served as an active minister until early 1850. He would leave Strang in 1850 over his autocratic leadership style and his support of polygamy. He then supported William Smith’s group (younger brother of Joseph Smith), which supported lineal successorship (a son of Joseph would lead) in church presidency. Briggs confidence in him faded after a year, because on October 6, 1851 Smith declared sole rights of prophetic successorship and he publicly opted for polygamy.
Briggs became disillusioned after this October 6, 1851 meeting with William Smith and went home to think. He stood on his farmland near Beloit, Wisconsin on November 18, 1851 and was pondering the future when he received the following revelation, “…let the elders whom I have ordained by the hand of my servant Joseph, or by the hand of those ordained by him, resist not his authority, nor faint in the discharge of duty, which is to preach my gospel as revealed in the record of the Jews, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants; and cry repentance and remission of sins through obedience to the gospel, and I will sustain them, and give them my Spirit; and in mine own due time will I call upon the seed of Joseph Smith, and he shall preside over the high priesthood of my Church, and then shall the quorums assemble, and the pure in heart shall gather, and Zion shall be re-inhabited. …Write the revelation and send it unto the Saints, and whomsoever will humble themselves before me, and ask of me, shall receive of my Spirit a testimony that these words are of me.”
Henry H. Deam had become an influential member of the Yellowstone Branch when he moved to the area in 1850 and settled near the Wildermuth farm and Zenos Gurley. He heard of Jason Briggs and his revelation, which made declarations against James Strang, Brigham Young accusing them of supporting polygamy. He wrote a letter of inquiry asking for more information. Jason Briggs was familiar with Henry Deam from their earlier association in Potosi, Wisconsin and decided to send Brother David Powell to the Yellowstone Branch. Here is what was reported back to Jason Briggs: (see The True Latter Day Saints’ Herald, Volume 2, January, 1876) “When I found Brother Deam, he did not fight your letter or revelation, as he was evidently tired of Strang’s rule. We counseled on what was the best way to save Brother Gurley and the branch he presided over from the evils of Strangism. Knowing he had great influence in the branch, we thought proper to labor with him privately, and on February 23, 1852 we went to see him and laid the matter before him as plain as we could; but he could not see it as we did. We went to work digging (Gurley worked with Br. Newkirk in mining) close by, and saw him almost every day for two weeks; still he did not yield the point. At length I became impatient, and went to Br. Gurley and told him if he did not go to preaching and expose Strangism, I will do it. His reply was, ‘if you do, I will give you an all-to-pieces whipping.’ I said, ‘My shoulders are broad and I had rather take your whipping than go away and not warn the people.’ Gurley promised to get his Doctrine and Covenants and pray on the subject.”
Br. Powell agreed to wait for his answer. Powell said, “On this condition I left Gurley and went to Wingville, where he found Br. John Cunningham. And from there to Potosi and British Hollow, in Grant County, where I found Br. Samuel Blair, and Br. Ethan Griffith. The result was, they all came into the Reorganized LDS Church; and I returned to Yellowstone about the first of June (1852). Br. Gurley received confirmation of your revelation and turned the whole branch. He did not lose a member and there was great rejoicing in the branch, to think that God was going to call upon one of the seed of Joseph Smith.” Br. Gurley wrote to Jason Briggs saying, “We have received evidence of your revelation”. According to Gurley, during a group prayer meeting the Holy Spirit declared, “The successor of Joseph Smith is Joseph Smith, the son of Joseph Smith the Prophet. It is his right by lineage, saith the Lord your God.”
Members of the Yellowstone Branch published a declaration in the Mineral Point Tribune declaring that the Yellowstone Branch of the Church of the Latter Day Saints protested against the practice of polygamy and other abominations that were practiced by Strang, Brigham Young and their followers. They withdrew their fellowship with their groups. David Wildermuth, Cyrus Newkirk, William Cline, and Henry H. Deam signed this published document (see The Story of the Church, by Inez Smith Davis, pg 401).
The Cunningham family became intertwined with all these early pioneer families and leaders of the “Reorganization”. For example, the youngest daughter of William and Elizabeth (Wildermuth) Cline married John Cunningham’s oldest son Michael Cunningham on March 26, 1865. Her name was Hannah Cline. John and Susan Cunningham's relationship with the Cline's is long and friendly. They even named one of their son's William Monroe Cline Cunningham when he was born in Blanchardville on January 3, 1854. Michael's second wife was the cousin of his first wife. Her name was Laura Luella (Newkirk) Lieurance and they married on April 14, 1878. Her parents were Noble and Elizabeth Jane (Newkirk) Lieurance. The daughter of Samuel and Celia Gates Cline, Charlotte, married Michael's brother, Henry H. Cunningham, on May 23, 1880.
Gurley had a vision (confirming Jason Briggs revelation) in which he was told to leave the teachings of Prophet Strang and support the son of slain leader Joseph Smith, Jr. Jason Briggs sent a call for a meeting and the different branches settled to meet in conference on the 12th of June 1852 at the Newark Branch, in the town of Beloit, Wisconsin. A general survey of the condition of things relative to the Church, and the numerous false shepherds that had arisen were discussed. Zenus Gurley, S.H Briggs, A. White, David Powell and Jason Briggs addressed the conference. Eight resolutions were offered, and unanimously adopted. The resolutions rejected the assumption of power by Brigham Young, James Strang, James Brewster, and William Smith and set down that the seed of Joseph Smith (Joseph Smith, III) will lead the Church. At the close of the conference they adjourned and voted to meet again at the Yellowstone Branch of the Church, in Lafayette County, Wisconsin, on the 6th of October.
The group had their first General Conference of the Reorganized Church of the Latter Day Saints at the Newkirk’s gristmill (in present day Blanchardville) on October 6, 1852. Elder Briggs presided over the conference. They discussed ways of encouraging the younger Smith to take his “rightful” place. They presented and voted on a resolution for a temporary presiding officer. "Resolved, the one holding the highest priesthood in the Church is to preside, and represent the rightful heir to the presidency of the high priesthood, in a presiding capacity."-Church Record, page 7. Much discussion was made on “who” was the “highest” amongst them. The bands renounced all would-be leaders, and were waiting in confidence for promised light and wisdom. Two representatives were sent to meet with Joseph Smith, III in Nauvoo to present a letter from Jason Briggs encouraging him to take his rightful place as leader of the church. Joseph Smith, III refused to come forward to lead the church, because he did not receive any revelation that this was his future. He would not receive confirmation of his destiny until 1860.
On March 20, 1853 a group of elders came together to pray and fast for instructions from God on “who” should be the presiding president of the church. Henry H. Deam received the following revelation: (see The true Latter Day Saints’ Herald, Volume 2, April, 1876)”Verily, thus saith the Lord, as I said unto my servant Moses, see thou do all things according to the pattern, so say I unto you. Behold the pattern is before you. It is my will that you respect authority in my church; therefore let the greatest among you preside at your conference. Let three men be appointed by the conference to select seven men from among you, who shall compose a majority of the twelve apostles; for it is my will that that quorum should not be filled up at the present. Let the president of the conference, assisted by two others, ordain them, (the senior of them shall preside); let them select twelve men from among you and ordain them to compose my high council. Behold, ye understand the order of the Bishopric, the Seventy, the Elders, the Priests, Teachers and Deacons. These organize according to the pattern. Behold I will be with you unto the end. Even so. Amen.”
The new Reorganized Church of LDS again met on the 6th of April 1853 where the group planned to completely cut themselves off from the established Mormon Church and Brigham Young. This was a bold and probably frightening step. At this meeting Elder Gurley said, "I have been a member of the church for twenty-three years, and in the course of my ministry have witnessed the manifestation of the Spirit in many of the branches, but never had witnessed what I did that evening. God was truly with us, and many felt to say with the poet, 'Angels are now hovering o'er us’ (The Story of the Church, by Inez Smith Davis, pg 408)."
At the opening session, the revelation of March 20th was presented to the conference, and was accepted as such by unanimous voice vote. They named Jason W. Briggs to serve as acting President High Priest. Henry H. Deam was named Clerk of the Conference. Ethan Griffiths, William Cline, and Cyrus Newkirk were chosen to select seven men for ordination to the office of apostle. Apostleship was the second highest office in the church. They were charged with preaching, converting the “gentiles” to the faith, and representing the church wherever they went. They selected Zenos Gurley, Henry H. Deam, Jason Briggs, Daniel Rasey, John Cunningham, George White, and Reuben Newkirk. These men were chosen as the first seven to be ordained into the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. Others present were ordained seventies. The seven apostles met to choose a president of the Quorum. After Zenos Gurley and then Henry Deam declined, Jason Briggs was voted President. He would serve until the "rightful" leader Joseph Smith III would step forward. Even though Joseph Smith III declined an earlier invitation to take his rightful place, the Reorganization decided to be patient and wait for his coming. The first stake for the Reorganized Latter Day Saints was established in Argyle, Lafayette County, Wisconsin. William Cline was elected stake President and would serve in that position for the next eighteen years.
Numbers of new converts were added to the church during the summer and autumn, throughout the branches. The Reorganized Latter Day Saints met again on October 6 – 8, 1853 at Zarahemla (present day Blanchardville), Lafayette County, Wisconsin. The seven apostles were again sustained in their offices. Jason Briggs was authorized to publish a pamphlet titled “The Voice of the Captives Assembled at Zarahemla to Their Brethren Scattered Abroad.” Members were given jurisdictions to spread the gospel. Henry Deam, George White and John Cunningham were sustained to do mission duties in the jurisdiction of Green Prairie.
Henry Deam was growing impatient, since Joseph Smith III did not immediately accept the leadership of the RLDS church. By January 1854 Deam conceived the idea that the expected son of Joseph had neglected to comply with the will of God, and had forfeited the right. It was their duty to go forward and fully organize. Henry Deam met with Jason Briggs at Beloit, Wisconsin. The consultation lasted two days, during which he urged his views at length. Late on the second night Henry Deam proposed that Jason Briggs make himself the legitimate president. Henry Deam said, "Let this position be taken and we will carry to whole church except Brother Gurley and a few personal friends, and they will soon fall in too." See Church History Volume 3, Chapter 10 for full details. Jason Briggs answered that Elder Deam should not teach, or take any step looking to any change in the organization, only in concert with the brethren of the Quorum of the Twelve. This was urged by Jason Briggs and agreed to by Elder Deam and he returned to Zarahemla.
Those who followed Deam's feelings became known as the "Deam Party". At the April 6, 1854 Annual Conference it was resolved, after some discussion, that manifestations of the Spirit, in anything relating to the church as a body, should be written and submitted to a body of high priests before circulating or teaching them to the church, and only then on their approval. This later became known in church history as Resolution 15 and it outlined the penalty for any such future transgressions. It stated, “If any member of the church assumes to teach as law or doctrine, any revelation or manifestation before being presented to this council, shall be considered a transgression of the law and proceeded against as such.” This resolution was put forward in response to Deam's earlier efforts to change the leadership roles. It would be used against Henry Deam and his supporters later on in October to force him out of the church. Jason Briggs was sustained in the Office of President of the twelve and Legal Representative of the Rightful Heir. The apostles and seventies were also sustained during the April 1854 conference.
In July 1854, Aaron Smith, the first convert to James Strang, and one of his chief witnesses and counselor, came to Zarahemla and united with the Reorganized LDS Church by baptism. At this time the question of re-baptism was first prominently brought forward. Elders Henry H. Deam, John Cunningham, Ethan Griffith, Aaron Smith and other members believed that all should be re-baptized as a test of faith. Others, including Zenos Gurley and Jason Briggs, felt that rebaptism should be required only of those who did not have any evidence of a legal baptism. The later group established the church’s final position on the matter. A degree of harmony followed this conference and the elders did considerable labor and many additions were made to the church.
Before the October 6, 1854 Semi-Annual Conference Henry Deam, John Cunningham and others held a conference separate from the main RLDS conference. Their two differences with the main body were over rebaptism and a “perfect organization” of the first presidency, or the triumvirate, which leads the church. The attendees of this separate conference called Henry Deam as president and Aaron Smith as first counselor, apparently founding a new church.
Meanwhile, the main RLDS conference met on October 6, 1854. A motion was put forward by Zenas Gurley and seconded by William Cline to cut off Henry Deam and John Cunningham from the Church. The motion was sustained and all members of this “Deam Party” were disfellowshipped. This is recorded in church history as Resolution 18, and it also states, “That this conference suspends from the exercise of their priesthood all holding the same, and also disfellowship all such as have departed from the faith and from the jurisdiction of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at Zarahemla, until they return and make satisfaction.” Henry Deam and John Cunningham were expelled from the Quorum of the Twelve for "apostasy and an assumption of authority" (History of the Church, Volume 3, Chapter 10, pg 230). The process was probably painful for both groups, because the Cunningham, Deam, Cline, and Newkirk families became very close through marriage and friendship.
In 1890, in an editorial in the Expositor, H.P. Brown had this to say about Henry Deam and his expulsion from the RLDS, “We lived at Zarahemla in 1853 and was a neighbor of Brother H.H. Deam. We knew him intimately; have traveled, and preached, and prayed, and administered to the sick, and suffered poverty and reproach for the sake of Christ and the gospel together, but never did any man see or know of a dishonorable thing of Henry Deam. He was one of the purest of men we ever saw. He was kind, gentle, obliging, full of sympathy, and well and intelligently posted in the gospel of the Son of God. We loved him dearly, and he only of all the saints at Zarahemla, when we left there in December 1853, followed us with his letters until his last sickness in 1860, and death claimed him. The fact that he became to some extent disaffected with some things in the Reorganization, we are well aware, and so did a great many more; but they looked for the coming of Joseph Smith, III just the same, and we believe if Brother Deam had attended the Amboy Conference in 1860, he would have been solid in the work. When Brother Deam left earth’s service, the saints and church parted with a good, a wise, and discreet counselor, and an honest man. He was no fanatic, but a cool, clear-headed, intelligent Latter Day Saint. May his memory ever be cherished by all the good and pure.”
John Cunningham decided to ask for reinstatement to the main body of the RLDS church at the October 6, 1855 Conference. Zenas Gurley, Samuel Gurley, and Cyrus Newkirk spoke in favor of receiving Brother John Cunningham. The conference decided that he could rejoin only if he was re-baptized. John must have seen this as rather ironic, because the “Deam Party” had asked everyone to be re-baptized as a test of faith and were over ruled by the leadership. The leadership established that “proof of original baptism” would be acceptable and that re-baptism should be done voluntarily. John Cunningham never acted on being re-baptized and was disfellowshipped again as a brother at the 1857 Conference.
As a final aside on the subject of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints I would like to share part of a letter I wrote to the Church headquarters in Independence, Missouri on February 6, 2001. Near the end of the letter I wrote, “My final question is this: Is there a way that I can have my great-great-great grandparents endowed in the church again? From the information I have, I really believe John and Susan Cunningham wanted to be with your church. They followed Joseph Smith out to Nauvoo, Illinois in 1842. John put his life on the line for the movement (see the information on Hancock County, Illinois). John Cunningham was endowed a seventy on February 2, 1846 at the Nauvoo Temple. He became active in the Reorganized LDS in 1852 and was named an apostle. He was expelled in 1854, but petitioned to be reinstated in 1855. I believe this showed his true desires. I am a Roman Catholic myself, but I respect their wishes and understand their inspiration. John Cunningham’s death in 1861 did not give complete closure in his life. If there is a way for them to be reinstated in good standing, please let me know?”
I received this response, dated February 16, 2001, from A. Bruce Lindgren, For The First Presidency, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, “We do not have a procedure for complying with your request, but we do not feel that God is bound by what is or is not in our records. We believe that God will judge and bless them according to his grace and in keeping with their desires and intentions. I am sorry that we cannot do what you wish, but the material you have provided to our archives is very helpful in our understanding of their commitment and faith. We consider them to be a brother and sister in Christ, and we are grateful to you for bringing this matter to the attention of the church.”
John Cunningham followed agricultural pursuits until his death on April 28, 1861. It is believed he is buried in a Mormon cemetery near Blanchardville, Wisconsin. Being the eldest child Michael took over the support of the family when his father became ill with stomach cancer. Michael continued to work in the lead mines and on the family farm. During the last three years of his father's life and after his father died the support of the other eight children rested on his shoulders. Partly out of patriotic duty, but also as a way to help support the family Michael would soon be in the midst of the Civil War as a Union soldier.
Michael Cunningham’s mother would later remarry becoming first Susannah Steele in 1861 and later Susannah Wages (Wagers). She remarried some time before the marriage of her son William Monroe Cline Cunningham who was married on March 14, 1880. She is listed as Susannah Wages on the marriage certificate, but she is listed as Susannah Wagers on her death certificate. She lived a full life until her passing in the spring of 1893. She is buried in the Cunningham plot, Rockbridge Cemetery, Richland County.
Now that we have learned about the father, John Cunningham, it is time to return to the son, Michael H. B. Cunningham. Times were hard and hints of Civil War were in the air. The November 4, 1860 elections arrived giving the Republicans a 20,000-vote margin of victory in Wisconsin. On March 4, 1861 Abraham Lincoln became the 14th United States President and in early April Wisconsin Governor Randall visited Lincoln with a pledge of support. News coming from the East shocked many in Wisconsin. Fort Sumter was attached on April 12th and soon surrendered. From the editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel came, “Fort Sumter! Fort Sumter is taken! The flag of our fathers hauled down! Bold hearts of the Union awaken, and prove you are sons of renown. All ties of your party now sever, and flock round you’re standard so true; Compromise now? Oh, never! No! Never! The sword and the red, white, and blue.”
President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to serve 3 months to stop the insurrection. Governor Randall asked for citizens to sign up and report for service. Ten companies were needed, and within a week 36 were organized and offered their services (Wisconsin in the Civil War by Frank Klement, State Historical Society, Madison, 1997). The fall months of 1861 were trying times for farmers as wheat and corn prices slid lower and lower. The whole state was in a depression. The war did not start well and Governor Randall decided not to run for re-election. Louis P. Harvey won election and became known as “the soldiers friend.” The state had earlier agreed to pay $5 per month to the family of every enlisted man, but the state was broke and failed in its commitment. Governor Harvey urged that soldier’s families be given preferential treatment and had to fight to get money placed in the relief fund.
Nineteen-year old Michael H. B. Cunningham heard the call, and on December 17, 1861 enlisted in the Eagle Light Infantry, which thereafter was formalized as Company B, 18th Wisconsin volunteer infantry for a term of service of three years. Michael was the first to sign the roll that day. Other friends signed right after him or joined soon after. They were Michael Dearth, William Newberry, William Denson, Thomas Bateman, John Conklin, Enuell Ross Blake, John Driscoll, Peter Van Norman, Francis Smith, and Esek Sisson. They went to Monroe in Green County where they were mustered into the 18th Wisconsin, Company B by Captain Charles Jackson. Michael and some of his friends boarded at the home of old Mr. Bagington, the father of their companies 2nd Lieutenant Sam Bagington.
Near the end of January they were ordered to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where they were mustered into state service on January 26, 1862. During the first winter of enlistment the companies were quartered in the city of Milwaukee, mostly in vacant store buildings. Company B was quartered on West Water Street opposite the Second Ward Bank in the American House run by Ave Veerhime. Michael wrote, “We had light snacks while we were in those quarters. Getting plenty to eat with nothing to do but get into mischief which we often did.”
They had little opportunity for company drill except in the manual of arms. When the 9th Regiment, which was quartered in barracks north of the city along the lakeshore, was ordered to the front, Michael’s regiment occupied the vacated barracks. This camp was called Camp Siegel, but was renamed to Camp Trowbridge in honor of Captain Trowbridge of the regular army who mustered them into United States service. They were issued uniforms and Belgium rifles. The snow was quite deep, rendering it impossible for the regiment to do much in the line of regimental and battalion drills. The men did become fairly proficient in the manual of arms and company maneuvers. Captain Trowbridge of the regular army completed its muster into the United States service on the 15th of March. Their Company B officer's were Captain Charles H. Jackson, 1st Lieutenant L.A. Jackson, 2nd Lieutenant Sam Bagington, and Orderly Sergeant Jacob Walkey. Colonel James Alban, Lieutenant Colonel Beall, Major Crain and Adjutant Coleman completed the field of officers.
They were camped a mile and a half north of Post Office Square. A great many Irish were living in shanty small frame houses near the camp. All of them seemed to have whiskey to sell. Michael wrote his girl friend back home, “The Irish sold pure whiskey at one cent a glass or five cent a pint. A boy could get hilarious for a small sum and I’m here to tell you they embraced the opportunity. The guard house did not have a lack for tenants.”
The regiment left the State on the 30th of March with secret orders to report to Saint-Louis. They marched out into columns of four and marched to the depot. Michael wrote, “We were soon all aboard and the train pulled out amid waving of flags and the shouts of the boys.” They went through Chicago and headed south. By Tuesday they arrived at Blood Island near Saint-Louis and stayed there until the late afternoon. They saw their first signs of war, which were twenty thousand stacked arms that were captured from the Confederates at Fort Donnellson. After an hour's march the regiment embarked on the steamboat John Warner and started up the Tennessee River.
The men did not know where they were going, but it was felt by all that they were being massed at some point up the river to prepare for an engagement. They were equipped with Belgian muskets, which were heavy and awkward. At St. Louis they received forty rounds of cartridges.
On Saturday morning, April 5, 1862 the boat touched at Savannah Tennessee, and they reported to General Grant who had his headquarters there at this point. The regiment was ordered to Pittsburgh Landing, some ten miles further up the river and they arrived around noon. Not much to see, but a few log cabins. The place was probably selected, because it was the nearest point on the river to Corinth. It was only twenty-three miles distant to where it was known that a rebel army was gathering.
The regiment formed and marched two miles southwesterly, going into camp near a small field known as Spain Field. They broke camp after a rest and marched another two miles arriving at General Prentiss' headquarters about dark. They were assigned to the command of General Prentiss. The Eighteenth Regiment formed part of Miller's brigade, which occupied the extreme left of Prentiss' division. No provisions arrived, so their first army experience in the field was lack of supper. The pickets were sent up about half a mile that night. They heard occasional shots in the direction of Corinth, but nothing was thought of the firing until early in the morning. The shots became more frequent and volleys were heard on the right. The Commanding General neglected the usual precautions. No enemy was supposed to be within ten miles of the position.
The regiment fell into line for its baptismal of fire on the morning of April 6, 1862. The enemy had marched up during the night to within two miles of the Union line. The right was the first to engage the enemy around 5 o'clock in the morning. The skirmish line was being driven back before the main body of the rebel army, and the battle soon raged along the entire line of Prentiss' division. The raw regiment met the advance without flinching. The division opened fire along the whole line. The rebel troops in front of the Eighteenth were Chalmers' brigade of five Mississippi regiments. The enemy came in overwhelming numbers and by 8 o'clock succeeded in turning the right flank. Regiment after regiment fell back in order to avoid certain capture. The Eighteenth held its ground until the enemy, by means of the deep ravine on its left, succeeded in turning that flank. The regiment was now exposed to fire from the front and both flanks.
If the regiment had been lined up on the brow of the ravine or taken position on the ridge to the rear they would have been in a good position. Instead they were in an open field giving all the advantage to the rebels. The officers knew nothing of war and the troops were green. They slowing fell back about three-quarters of a mile to a ravine in the rear. Acting Adjutant Coleman fell severely wounded. In crossing the ravine, the regiment was exposed to a raking fire from the rebels on the flank and front. They moved up the opposite hill and joined the main line and fell back. The fighting became irregular and fire was independent of orders. Regiments became mixed. After seven hours of fighting the portion of the Eighteenth, which was still together, was nearly surrounded by the enemy. Many retreated in confusion, but the general and 1,000 soldiers (including Michael H. B. Cunningham) rallied to form the center of a new defense line in a wooded area along a sunken country road.
The Confederates now had the Union campgrounds, but eleven charges at Prentiss men were repulsed at the road. It became known to the Rebel army as the Hornet's Nest. Prentiss' stand spoiled Johnson's plan to sweep behind the Union army and drive it into the swamps around Owl and Snake creeks. Grant ordered Prentiss to hold fast. General Johnson led a new charge against the Union line and was mortally wounded. General Beauregard took command. Prentiss' command and part of the division of General W.H.L. Wallace were isolated when the Union troops on both sides of them gave way under the shelling of 62 Confederate pieces. Colonel James Alban (who supervised the organization of the regiment in early 1862) was shot through the body by a sharp shooter dying the following day and Major Crain fell dead by eight bullets from a volley of rebel flankers. Before they could think of retreat, the enemy was among them taking prisoners, firing almost in their faces. Attacked on three sides, Prentiss' Sixteenth Division broke.
General Prentiss continued to fight until 5:30 p.m.; about 12 hours after the battle had begun. Then he surrendered with 2,200 men. Historian Bruce Catton said, "They were prisoners, but they kept the Union army from being destroyed." Adjutant General Gaylord, of Wisconsin, in his report, says this of the Eighteenth Wisconsin: "The terrible list of casualties shows that on this blood-stained field they sustained the reputation of Wisconsin soldiers." Governor Harvey, who lost his life on April 19th looking after the Wisconsin sick and wounded on the field, wrote this shortly after the battle, "Many regiments of that fight may well covet the impression which the Eighteenth Wisconsin left, of personal bravery, of heroic daring and determined endurance."
Many of the 174 men of the 18th Wisconsin who were captured in the battle were part of this surrendered force along with some of the 16th Wisconsin. Besides the captured, the regiment lost 24 killed and 82 wounded. The Colonel and Major were killed; Lieutenant Colonel Beall and Acting Adjunct Coleman were severely wounded. Captain Compton of Company G was killed. Among the captured were Captain Millard, of Company A, Lieutenant Jackson and Corporal Michael H. B. Cunningham, of Company B, Captain Layne, of Company C, Captain Fisk and Lieut. Wilson of Company D, Captain Bremmer, of Company E, Lieutenant Stokes of Company F, Captain Saxton and Lieutenant Woodworth, of Company H, and Lieutenant Ford and Southmayd, of Company I. Private's Hiram Bailey and William Spencer died with Company B and his guard in prison at Tuscaloosa, Ala, shot Redmond McGuire on April 10th.
Michael H. B. Cunningham was confined in the Confederate prisons at Tuscaloosa (April 16), Mobile, and Montgomery (May 15), Alabama and Macon, Georgia. He was moved to Richmond, Virginia where he was paroled from the infamous Libby prison. He was paroled back to union forces at Aikens Landing, Virginia on October 19, 1862 after a confinement of six months and thirteen days. He started his recovery from the prison ordeal in Saint Louis, Missouri. After two months he was transported to Washington, D.C. where he was confined to a hospital bed until March 1863.
He rejoined his regiment in April 1863 in Louisiana and before long Corporal Michael Cunningham was back into the thick of things. He then fought in the following battles: Raymond (May 12, 1863), Jackson (May 14, 1863), Champion’s Hills (May 16, 1863), Black River Bridge (May 17, 1863) and the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi (May 18-July 24, 1863). During this campaign he was with the Army of the Tennessee under Major General Ulysses S. Grant, XVII Army Corps under Major General James B. McPherson, Seventh Division under Brig. General Marcellus M. Crocker, 1st Brigade under Colonel John Sandborn and the 18th Wisconsin commanded by Colonel Gabriel Bouck. Captain Jackson of Company B was the most senior Captain present after the battle of Shiloh and took command and remained in command until Colonel Bouck arrived. Governor Harvey promoted Captain Bouck to colonel of the regiment after the battle of Shiloh.
The Eighteenth Wisconsin reported to General McPherson on the 13th of May 1863 and joined the attack on Jackson. They formed in line of battle, and with the division charged upon the enemy driving them from the field and capturing the city. Passing over the rebel works they found them deserted. The casualties as officially reported were 6 killed or died of wounds and 16 wounded.
On the 16th they started for Vicksburg and took part in the battle of Champion Hills around noon. The Eighteenth was in the reserve and was not actively engaged, but were exposed to a severe fire. 1 was killed and 5 wounded. The enemy retreated about 3 o'clock p.m. followed by the troops. They crossed the Black River on a floating bridge on the 18th and proceeded to the rear of Vicksburg. The Eighteenth did not take part in the assault on the 18th of May, but acted as sharpshooters to hold a position in front of a rebel fort and cover the advance of the assaulting column. 9 were killed or died of wounds and 7 wounded. On May 26th they made a reconnaissance between the Black and Yazoo rivers and destroyed several mills. They remained chiefly engaged in skirmish duty until the surrender of the city on July 4, 1863.
On September 11, 1863, they moved with the division now commanded by General Smith, to Helena, to reinforce General Steele. General Sherman had received orders to reinforce General Rosencrans at Chattanooga. General Sherman was able to obtain the division of General Mower, to which the Eighteenth Wisconsin was attached and headed for Chattanooga. An attempt by rail failed so the regiment instead marched 250 miles through Northern Mississippi and Alabama and Southern Tennessee. They reached Bridgeport on the September 15th and Chattanooga on the 19th. With the Army of the Cumberland, with which the corps of General Sherman was connected, the Eighteenth crossed the Tennessee River on the 24th of September.
They reached the northern end of Missionary Ridge and halted, believing he was in position to relieve General Grant's forces to the south. He was mistaken. Confederate General Bragg orders Cleburne's division to meet Sherman's threat. At about 3:30 Cleburne's troops arrive at the northern end of the totally undefended ridge. Cleburne's Texas brigade under A.J. Smith blunted Sherman's advance. Bragg orders the Missionary Ridge position to be prepared for heavy defense. Cleburne expected to be ordered to retreat, but at 9 p.m. he received the order to dig in.
At dawn, September 25, 1863, Sherman realizes his mistake about not being at the ridge at all. It was too late, but he tells his brother-n-law General Ewing to attack. By 2 p.m. Cleburne's reinforced division has stopped Sherman in his tracks. Grant became nervous, because Sherman was stopped. At 3 p.m. he sent four divisions of the Army of the Cumberland (Wood, Sheridan, Baird, and Johnson) on an uncoordinated attack up the ridge. The struggle up Missionary Ridge lasted almost an hour. The initial Union breakthrough occurred in the area of Tucker's Mississippi Brigade of Anderson's division. Bragg had no reserve to close the breach. The Confederate position ran along the top of the ridge so there was no lateral movement of the defenders. By 5 p.m. the Federal Army stood atop Missionary Ridge. The Eighteenth Wisconsin joined in the pursuit of the retreating Confederates as far as Ringgold, GA before returning to Chattanooga on the 28th.
On October 3, 1863 Michael wrote down his thoughts about what the war was doing to the country. He wrote, “I hope to be permitted to return home when this cruel war is over and live in a land of peace. It is hard to look at the country through which we have passed this spring and summer. Five years ago it was the pride of America and was the home of her most wealthy sons and daughters and now those homes are heaps of smoldering ruins and the aromas of them fill an unknown grave. I hope and pray that the day not to distant when our glorious old flag shall wave free in the breeze in every city and hamlet in the United States. And that the din and tumult of war be heard no more in our broad land.”
Michael had no idea where they were going next. The rumors said they were going to reinforce General Rosencrans or move to Corinth, Tennessee. He watched many ships unload troops and supplies while they were in Memphis, Tennessee. He hoped they would not have to go with them. He only knew that he was cold and tired. Michael wrote, “We have had a hard time here with no tents and no blankets to cover us and it’s rained very hard and is very cold. There is nothing to eat except hard tack. I would sooner eat sawdust if it was salted than to eat them. I tell you a soldier’s life is a hard one. There are some pleasant spots in it. When we look at the mighty reason that we are fighting for the preservation of the Union it moves us on and gives us new courage. But it has cost the lives of a great many brave men and is likely to cost a great many more. This is the prettiest country that I have saw since I left the north and there is plenty of cold water here. I have seen the time I would have given five dollars for a good drink of water and could not get it.”
On October 5th they left Memphis and traveled to Corinth by train. They then marched 12 miles to Glendale, Mississippi. Michael wrote home on October 9th, “I was taken sick on the road and they hauled my knapsack for me. If they had not I would not have been able to carry if for it was all I could do to carry my gun and ammunition. The doctor at the hospital said I better take care of myself or I will have a hard spell of sickness.” He went on to say, “There are a great many boys sick. Bill Denson, Bill Newberry and Mike Death are all in the hospital. Ross Blake and I are all that is left in the regiment of the Blanchardville boys and nineteen of us went out with it. How I wish for the comforts of home over camp life. I hope the time may speedily come when the war will end and we can all come home and enjoy the sweet comforts of home and enjoy the company of dear friends. It’s all woods here, but we can not go outside the picket line unless in squads of 20 or 30 and have our guns for the Rebs pick up anyone they find.”
Michael could hardly believe the changes that had occurred in the last three years. He wrote, "It makes me shutter to see the changes that a few years have made in this nation. Three years ago we were the most prosperous nation on the globe. All nations looked up to us and now we are fighting and killing each other as fast as we can. And all the other nations laugh at us for doing it."
From the 3rd of December 1863 to the 1st of May 1864 the Eighteenth Wisconsin were employed in guard, outpost and provost duty from Bridgeport, Larkinsville, Woodville, and Huntsville, Alabama and Cartersville, Georgia. While Michael was in Bridgeport Alabama, on December 12, 1863, he wrote a letter back home to Hannah Cline that said in part; “The last letter I received from you was just before the Battle of Chattanooga. You came down hard on the war in pretty strong terms. You said you would like Old Abe to do his own fighting for all that you care. We are not fighting for Old Abe any more than for you or anyone else. The rebels are trying to break down one of the best government that men ever had and we are trying to keep them from doing it. If things keep up the same way they have for the last six months we will whip them back into the Union.” The regiment was about to march 60 miles to Huntsville Alabama. The tired Michael said, "They say we will stay the winter in Huntsville. I hope we will for I am tired of marching. In the last campaign we marched nearly one thousand miles and whipped the Johnnies along the way."
They were still in Bridgeport on December 12th when Michael had time to respond to a letter from home. He wrote, "You are correct in supposing that had I been home that I would not of went to the Democrat meeting for I consider the leaders of the Democrat Party traitors of the blackest sort and there actions prove them such. I don't think that the wives, brothers and sisters of soldiers ought to honor them enough to attend their meeting. I think any soldier that votes for McClelland is voting for one thing and fighting for another. For the men that nominated him are in favor of giving the south all they ask for. It was his popularity that gave him the nomination. Had he been nominated on a different platform he might have been elected, but never now."
Michael's strong opinion was reinforced when he went onto say, "Vallandigham, Seymour and Lang are not fit men to trust with the reins of government. If they had power they would send every Union soldier to the bottom of the sea. I never want to see the day that such men have control of our government. You may not approve of my sentiments, but I cannot help that." The sentiments might have been too vocal, because Corporal Cunningham was demoted (“Reduced to the ranks”) to Private Cunningham on December 16, 1863.
On the 4th of January 1864, Colonel Bouck resigned. Lieutenant Colonel Beall had already resigned on the 3rd of August 1863, so Major Charles H. Jackson was appointed Lieutenant Colonel, and Captain J.P. Millard was appointed Major. From the 1st of May till June 19th, the regiment was engaged in guard duty at Whitesburg, Alabama. Michael enjoyed this break from long marching and fighting. He had more time to think about the future. Michael wrote this to Hannah on January 12, 1864, “I often think of the happy times we will have when this cruel war is over and peace once more blesses our beloved county. You believe the war is an abomination. I think different. The way it stands is this. The South is trying to break up this Union and build up an aristocratic government. We are defending the Union and a republican form of government. And you must say it is the best government the sun ever shined on. It has protected us so far and now when we are called upon to protect it ought not we to do it? As for my part I will stay to fight as long as there is an armed rebel in the South.”
Another family member was about to join Michael in trying to save the Union. Michael's seventeen-year-old brother Henry Harrison Cunningham (named after his uncle Henry Harrison Deam) joined the Thirty-seventh Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, Company C, when it was organized at Camp Randall, Madison, Wisconsin. On April 28th the first six companies, followed two days later by two more, left the state and proceeded to Washington, D.C. On the 30th of May the regiment left for the front. On June 10, 1864 the regiment marched to Cold Harbor Virginia where the regiment joined the Army of the Potomac and was assigned to the Ninth Army Corps. It reached the enemy's lines before Petersburg and participated in the charge on the rebel entrenchments on the 17th of June. The casualties, during the Cold Harbor Campaign, were 65 killed or died of wounds and 93 wounded. Second Lieutenant Freedman Riddle of Company C was one of the killed.
From that time until the surrender of the Confederates in the following April, the regiment was frequently engaged with the Ninth Corps in the numerous battles about Petersburg and Richmond. Including the attempt on the Petersburg location by exploding a bomb under its fortifications on July 30th. The Thirty-seventh lost 57 killed and 53 wounded on that disastrous and ill-conceived battle. After the surrender of Lee the Thirty-seventh participated in the Grand Review at Washington and remained about the city until the 26th of July. It was mustered out of service of the United States and returned to Madison Wisconsin and disbanded.
Frustration with the slow progress of the war and bad news from the home front led to an anguished letter from Michael. He wrote from the hospital in Huntsville, Alabama on March 2, 1864 the following, “I have given up the idea of re-enlisting and in nine and a half months my time will be up. I thought that everyone in the north would do as much towards putting down the rebellion as we have done. If this was true I would be willing to go again. We are here staying and fighting and they stay home making money out of it. If they would come down here and spend a year or two they will learn how to appreciate the comforts of home and if we do not re-enlist they will have to come and take our places. We will then go home and enjoy the good things of life while they are marching and fighting like good soldiers. If they get whipped we will blame them just as they do us. They will find that talking is one thing and soldiering is another. The good news is that Sherman is at Selma with 30,000 men. We expect to leave here in a few days. Destination unknown.”
The unknown destination turned out to be Whitesburg, Alabama. While in Whitesburg, Alabama Michael wrote a response to Hannah Cline on May 10, 1864, “You said in your letter that if you had thought that I loved my country better than I did you that you would not have been against my enlisting. I think that a man that has no love for his country and will not take arms in her defense in her time of need is not fit for a women to love.” Michael’s inherited strong will and determination sure comes out in his words and actions.
The May 10th letter began by detailing a frightening experience that Michael Cunningham just encountered. Michael wrote, “I am very tired as we have just came in from scouting for bushwhackers. Yesterday I was on picket and Jim Davis and I went to a house about a half a mile from the post to get some milk, butter and eggs. After about an hour we started back to the picket post. The road ran along the front of a mountain and brush was very think on one side and a cleared field was on the other. We were turning into the field to the post when a bushwhacker fired at us with buckshot and ball. The ball hit Jim’s left hand and tore it nearly off. The buckshot struck all around us and the ball that struck Jim just missed me. We did not have any guns with us so the best thing we could do was to give leg tail until we got out of range of the cut throats.” Jim Davis’s hand had to be amputated.
The next morning Private Cunningham returned with eighteen volunteers, but they did not catch the “cut throats”. They were not able to bring in any prisoners, but were able to capture a number of guns. The Calvary caught three rebels and they were hung. Michael wrote, “We are 10 miles from Huntsville on the banks of the Tennessee River to keep the rebs from crossing the river. There’s plenty on the other side of the river. They come down to the waters edge on their side and talk across the river with any boys having an agreement not to fire at each other. A gunboat came down the river from Bridgeport and past by our camp. The Johnnies hollered across the river asking the name of the boat. They said she was no account and while they were talking the boat came back in site and the Johnnies got back in their fort in a hurry. The boat came opposite the fort and gave them a broadside and you ought to see them dig out of their holes and make for the hills.”
The regiment was transferred to Allatoona, ninety miles south of Chattanooga, and arrived on the 13th of July. Private Michael H. B. Cunningham, as promised to Hannah Cline, did not re-enlist as a veteran and was detached to the Pioneer Corps by Brigadier General Smith. On July 28, 1864 Michael wrote from the Pioneer Corps, 3rd Division, 15th Army, outside of Cartersville, Georgia that, “The bushwhackers are very troublesome. They kill a good many of the men who go out in the country. They never take any prisoners. Death is the lot of all that fall into their hands. I never go without being well armed a couple of revolvers and the best friends in the country. There has been some hard fighting at the front in the last few days. The losses have been very heavy on both sides. General McPherson was killed the 22nd. He was one of our best Generals. We were under him at Vicksburg. The Rebs are getting the worst of it. Our Army has them nearly surrounded and if they try to get away. They will lose a lot of men. Our batteries are only a mile from Atlanta. I hope they will capture the city. It is one of the places the Rebs took me to when I was a prisoner and is 90 miles from Macon where I was kept most of the time I was in prison.”
Michael was finally getting a little rest while in Cartersville, Georgia. On August 6, 1864 he wrote, "I know what it is to be lonesome and homesick for I was both when I was in the Reb prison. But here in the Army there is plenty to keep a man company. We do not have much duty to do at present. My partners and I have been pretty busy building a house. We have the best in the camp. It is made of nice pine boards, has two windows and at the back end is a window hung on hinges so we can let the fresh air in. Our door is a glass one and it’s the top of an old showcase. We have a good bunk and a lot of nice straw. There are a couple boys in here now and are playing chess. Its all the go in camp."
The Eighteenth Wisconsin occupied Allatoona until the 22nd of August before they were marched to Chattanooga and then into Eastern Tennessee in pursuit of the rebel General Wheeler who was raiding Sherman's communication lines. They camped at Cowan, Tennessee until the 19th of September before they were ordered back to Allatoona and rejoined their brigade.
After the surrender of Atlanta, Georgia the rebel General Hood attempted a raid on Sherman's railroad communications. Hood destroyed the Atlanta Railroad at Big Shanty and sent General French and a large force to attack Allatoona and capture the immense stores. Sherman sent General Corse, who was at Rome, to reinforce the garrison at Allatoona. He arrived on October 4th with a brigade of infantry. The Eighteenth Wisconsin was deployed as skirmishers. At daylight, the enemy batteries were seen about 1,200 yards south of the defenses. An artillery duel commenced until about 10 o'clock when the enemy skirmishers made their appearance on the right and rear. They demanded the surrender of Allatoona to prevent further bloodshed. The order was promptly refused.
The rebels advanced repeatedly, but were repelled in all their attempts. Finding all their efforts to capture the place unavailing, the enemy retired leaving at least 1,500 killed or wounded. The three companies: E, F, and I, of the Eighteenth Wisconsin were stationed in a blockhouse near the railroad bridge two miles south of Allatoona when they were attacked and refused surrender. The eighty men under Captain McIntyre, of Company I, withstood the attacks of a regiment of infantry. It was not until dark, and the heavy artillery had been brought to bear on them, and their blockhouse was set on fire that the garrison consented to surrender.
On the reenlistment of the Eighteenth at Huntsville in the winter and spring of 1864 the troops were supposed to get a furlough. It was found impossible so they remained on duty during the summer and fall. 45 of the enlisted veterans of companies E, F, and I who were suppose to be on furlough instead were taken prisoner and languished in prison pens of the South. During the battle of Allatoona 4 were killed, 11 wounded and 78 taken prisoner.
Good news was filtering into the camp in Cartersville. On October 12, 1864 Michael reported home that, "There is some big move a foot, but what I can not tell. Most of all of Sherman’s army has passed through here in the last three days. We have heard very heavy cannonading in the direction of some thirty miles distant. The report is that Lee has evacuated Richmond and is moving his army into east Tennessee to try and get in Sherman’s' rear. Old Hood is going back by the way of the Blue Mountains to try and form a junction with Lee. We hear that Sherman has got ahead of Hood. If he has Hood's army will be captured. For Hood has only about 50,000 men and Sherman has twice as many with him and plenty more only a short ways behind. If Lee gets into Tennessee and Grant follows and Sherman falls in with him there will be one of the fullest battles that would ever be witnessed and the last for the Rebs who will get the severest whipping that they ever got. We are very busy fortifying and making ready to give the Jonnies a warm reception if they come here. We are under orders to march at a moments notice."
A couple days later on October 14, 1864 Michael added the following to his letter of the 12th, “As the mail has not left I thought I would write a bit more. This is the first half-day that I have been off duty for two weeks. We have the fortifications finished and all the timber cut down within a half mile of the Rebs. We are ready for them anytime they are a mind to make us a visit, but we are not anxious to see them. The Rebs have a new battle cry. It is “Hurrah, McClelland!” They charged with that cry at Allatoona. Before that a good many of the boys was Little Mac men, but joined in hurrahing for Lincoln and liberty.”
Michael reported again to his family on November 3, 1864 that, "I have had the hardest time the last three days that I have had since I came south. There was 400 men and 100 teams detailed to Georgia Infantry to get corn and fodder for the teams. I thought I would go along and do a little foraging on my own account and get some sweet potatoes, chicken and other things necessary for a soldiers comfort." They thought they would get back the same day, but it did not work out that way. Michael went on to say, "The Rebs had got a head of us and got all the stuff the natives said there was, but there was plenty of forage six miles further. We traveled to near sun down and did not find any corn. The teams by this time were tired and not able to get back to camp." They decided to go into camp for the night.
Michael continued writing about two things the soldier often wrote about: food and the bad weather. Michael continued by saying, "Just before they went into camp I had just got two bushels of sweet potatoes. I went to a house to buy some bread, but they did not have any. There was a big kettle setting on the porch and when I went back to camp it went with me. I built a fire and put some potatoes on to boil. One of the boys had killed a hog. I traded him some potatoes for a piece of pork and broiled it on the coals and ate my supper. I and several of the boys started out again and jay hawked a couple of turkeys, some ducks, and a couple of chickens for it was so cold and we had no blankets so we could not sleep. In the morning we got the teams ready for the ten-mile journey back. We marched till eleven o'clock at night. When it got so dark and began to rain so they went into camp. It rained so hard it put out our fire and then we had to stand and eat raw, cold food. It was so cold a blowing I thought I should freeze. I never in my life suffered as much in one night." It did not get any better the next day.
"At day light we started again. Got within five miles of quarters and the Rebs had burned a bridge over a mountain terrace so we had to turn back and go around about way over 16 miles of the worst roads I ever saw. I tell you we made the hogs and chickens suffer. It rained all the time and was so cold that I liked to shivered all my teeth out and to make matters worse I jumped off the wagon and busted the whole side out of my boot and then I had to ride and nearly froze."
"We saw a small parties of Rebs, but they did not attack us. After a good deal of whip and swearing we got to Cartersville at 10 o'clock at night. Wet, hungry and tired I was glad to get to camp. The report is that we will move in a few days and that the 15th and 20th will move on Mobile. Our division is all concentrating at this place. As soon as they all get together we will pull out and I expect after we start there will be no chance to send my mail. So don't be alarmed if you don't get any letters for some time." Michael did not know it yet, but a short furlough finally was coming.
After the battle of Allatoona, the non-veterans and new recruits were assigned to the Ninety-third Illinois, and accompanied General Sherman on his march to Savannah and Goldsboro. Lewis Jackson, of Company H, was reported killed at Fayetteville, N.C. The veterans finally received their furlough on the 28th of November. They reassembled in Milwaukee on the 28th of December. Before General Sherman resumed his grand march he directed the men on furlough and new recruits to report to General Steadman at Chattanooga where they would be organized into a Provisional Division and be sent to their respective units.
The veterans of the Eighteenth Wisconsin arrived in Chattanooga on the 5th of January 1865. They were assigned to the First Brigade, First Provisional Division, Fifteenth Army Corps, and embarked at Nashville. They traveled down the Cumberland River and up the Ohio River to Cincinnati. Then they went by rail to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Baltimore, Maryland and boarded steamers and arrived at Beaufort, North Carolina on February 2nd. On the 8th they moved by rail to Newbern where they camped till the last of March.
Michael Cunningham left his detached duty with the Pioneer Corps, and was mustered out of Company B, 18th Wisconsin Regiment while in Savannah, Georgia after having served three months more than his time. He received his honorable discharge March 16, 1865 at Madison, Wisconsin and returned to Blanchardville, Lafayette County, Wisconsin and married Hannah Cline on March 26, 1865. The rest of the company joined the forces of General Sherman at Goldsboro and rejoined with the First Brigade, Third Division, and Fifteenth Army Corps. They moved with Sherman to Raleigh were Johnson surrendered. They moved with the Fifteenth Corps by way of Richmond, to Washington, D.C., where they took part in the Grand Review. They preceded to Louisville and were mustered out on the 18th of July and reached Madison on the 29th and disbanded.
Regimental Statistics: Original Strength, 962. Gained by recruits in 1863, 619; in 1864, 103; in 1865, 34; by substitutes, 28; by draft in 1864, 200, in 1865, 71; by veteran reenlistment, 178; total, 1673.
Loss by death, 220; missing, 78; deserted, 208; transferred, 23; discharged, 265; mustered out, 843.
By the end of the war in 1865, Wisconsin had furnished 52 regiments of infantry to defend the Union. In addition, the new state furnished four regiments and one company of cavalry, 12 batteries of light artillery, one regiment of heavy artillery, one company of sharpshooters and three brigade bands. Slightly more than 130 Wisconsin men served in the U.S. Navy and 165 with the African-American regiments. In all, Wisconsin furnished 91,379 soldiers, including 79,934 volunteers and 11,445 drafted men and substitutes. The total was 1,362 more than the state’s quota.
In his inaugural address of January 1, 1866, Governor Lucius C. Fairchild, who had lost an arm serving with the 2nd Wisconsin at Gettysburg, said about one of every eight Badger soldiers (10,753) died while in the service. What was remarkable was how the citizen-volunteers returned to civilian life in 1865. Fairchild said, “A million of men have returned from the war, been disbanded in our midst, and resumed their former occupations. The transition from the citizen to the soldier was not half so rapid, nor half so wonderful, as has been the transition from the soldier to the citizen.” This is exactly what happened to Michael H. B. Cunningham. His transition from a soldier, to husband and father, and businessman was quite rapid.
When Michael H. B. Cunningham returned after the war he stayed involved with his old comrades by joining in the Grand Army of the Republic and the Andersonville Survivors Association. He was united in marriage to Miss Hannah M. Cline on March 26, 1865. Hannah Cunningham died much to young on October 24, 1877 at the age of 35 having born six children. Two of the children, Myra and Katie, died the same year as their mother. After farming a few years he was forced to retire from active farm labor due to rheumatic troubles. He opened a restaurant in Blanchardville. He moved to Rockbridge, Richland County, Wisconsin in March 1867 and opened a general store at Rockbridge. It is also believed he was involved in the cheese making trade.
He prospered in the mercantile trade for the next twenty-six years. The General Merchandise Store is still a landmark in Rockbridge. He was also engaged in buying and shipping livestock and in the lumber business. Michael brought a steam sawmill in 1883 and built a mill in Rockbridge. He was nick named the "Lumber Baron" and everyone called him “Mike”. He accumulated 610 acres of valuable farming land. Cunningham Lane and Cunningham Lane Bridge still carry it’s name sake and stand as reminders of his prosperity in Rockbridge, Wisconsin. He retired from the mercantile trade in 1893 and sold his lumber business in 1905. Michael remained active in supervising his extensive farming interests.
Michael was a stalwart adherent of the Republican Party and was active in politics. He ran unsuccessfully for the office of Sheriff in November 1876 against Doctor G.N. Mattison. He lost his bid for office 2084 to 1563. He did serve one term as treasurer of his township. He was President of the local 'Odd Fellows' Club in Rockbridge.
Michael and Hannah Cline Cunningham had six kids. The following family information is derived from a published historical study in 1906 from the Western Historical Association. William Hayes Cunningham was engaged in business at Rockbridge (married Mary Anderson on April 25, 1891) as was John Glazier Cunningham (married Pernina F. Heath on October 15, 1900), Frank B. Cunningham was a resident of Shoshone, Idaho, Frederick Michael Cunningham (married Ruth Ella Moore on March 6, 1898) was a railway mail clerk and lived in Avalanche, Vernon County, Wisconsin, Myra died at the age of four, and Katie died at the age of two.
The same 1906 study also describes Michael's second marriage. Michael's second marriage on April 14, 1878 was to Miss Luella (Newkirk) Lieurance (cousin to Hannah). Thirteen children were born of this second marriage. The first child died in infancy; Bernard George Cunningham (married to Mildred Thompson) became a lawyer in the state of Oklahoma; Ruby died in childhood; Winifred Mabel Cunningham (married to Richard W. Huffman) and Earl Thomas Cunningham (married to Mildred Hietz) remained at the parental home; Marguerite Susan was deceased by this study, Hayes Farrall Cunningham (later became a doctor of dentistry), Kenneth Noble Cunningham (died on leave during World War I of the Spanish Flu) and Doris Elizabeth Cunningham were still members of the home circle. Herman is deceased, and the two youngest children were Margaret and Donald Scott Cunningham (married to Lillie Blumer).
Over the generations many of Michael's children and grand children went on to serve their country in its time of need. Michael's son Earl T. Cunningham went on to become a Private, Medical Training Department, during World War I. Hayes T. Cunningham also was a Private, but he served with Company B, 341st Infantry. Kenneth Noble Cunningham served with the United States Marines, and sadly died from the Spanish Flu, which was at epidemic heights in Wisconsin, on September 22, 1918 while on leave. Michael's son Frederick Michael Cunningham had a famous war hero for a son who fought during World War II. He was Commander Winfield Scott Cunningham who was commander of Wake Island in the Pacific. Retired Rear Admiral Winfield Scott Cunningham went on to write a riveting book called Wake Island Command, which retold the events on Wake Island and the Japanese imprisonment ordeal. He was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism. See a companion short story written by Greg Cunningham called “The Life of Winfield Scott Cunningham.
Michael's brother William Monroe Cline Cunningham had three children who served in World War I. They were Sergeant George Hugh Cunningham, Private William A. Cunningham, and Private Monroe C. Cunningham.
Michael's two marriages produced nineteen children and many grandchildren including the authors of this history. Author Gregory Cunningham is the Great-Great Grandson of Michael Cunningham and Hannah Cline and Great-Great-Great Grandson of John Cunningham and Susannah Deam. Michael's son Frederick Michael Cunningham was my Great Grandfather and Ruth Ella Moore my Great Grandmother. Their son Rex Cunningham married Bernadette O'Brien and conceived four children including my own father and co-author Robert Lee Cunningham. My father married Marilynn Viola Wakeley and conceived four children of their own including Gregory Robert Cunningham, as stated above, one of the authors of this history.
Michael H. B. Cunningham died on April 28, 1918 at the age of seventy-six years. He is buried in the Rockbridge Cemetery, Cunningham plot, along with his first wife Hannah M. Cline (died October. 24, 1877), and second wife Luella Lieurance (died March 12, 1951). His mother Susan C. Deam (died March 14,1893), son John G. (died April 14, 1939) and his wife Nina F. Heath (died 1946) are also with him. His cherished two daughters Katie E. (died July 6, 1877) and Myra E. (died December 25, 1877), and son Kenneth N. are buried right next to him forever (died September 22, 1918). His brother Henry H. (died May 28, 1925) and his wife Charlotte L. Cline and her parents Samuel and Celia Cline, and grandson Chester B. (died July 27, 1962) round out the loving family that is buried in Rockbridge.
The inscription on Michael Cunningham’s tombstone is a fitting tribute. It read, “I tried to do my duty”. I believe this is a good description of what he did with his life. His family and country were the better for it.
Each member of my extended family deserves a documented history of his or her own, which I will attempt with gusto with my father who is a much better genealogist.
Much of the information I used in detailing this history of Michael H. B. Cunningham was obtained from Quiner, Military History of Wisconsin, 1866, G. S. Martin, 16th Wisconsin, and History of Richland County Wisconsin, by the Western Historical Society, 1906. I also had the great fortune of having copies of quite a few of Michael's letters he wrote home to his girl friend and future wife, Hannah Cline. Although he had very little formal schooling, finishing only third grade, Michael was well read and his letters are remarkable for their vivid use of language particularly considering the conditions under which he wrote.
See www.centerplace.org/history for many of the details I used in describing the RLDS History of the Church. Other very good sources on the history of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the RLDS is The Story of the Church, by Inez Smith Davis, Herald Publishing House, 1964 and Early History of the Reorganization by Apostle Edmund C. Briggs, Price Publishing Company, 1998 edition. The Church Through the Years by Richard Howard also became a very good source of historical data. I also obtained a copy of the early minutes of the Reorganization Conferences from the archivist at the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Independence, Missouri for the dates April 6, 1853 to October 6, 1857. For the details that I used pertaining to the history of the 18th Wisconsin see http://www.secondwi.con/wisconsinregiments/18th [broken link], http://www.shsw.wisc.edu/roster [broken link], and http://badger.state.wi.us/agencies/dva/museum/cwregts/18wisinf [broken link]. See http://www.nps.gov/vick/vcmpgn [broken link] for battle details on the Vicksburg campaign. Copies of the correspondence from Michael H. B. Cunningham back to the home front during the Civil War are in the author’s personal collection and the originals are at the archives of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin.