God, Family, and Country: Three Generations of Wisconsin Fighting Men
Written by Robert Lee Cunningham and Gregory Robert Cunningham - April 10, 2003
PART 2: Michael Hayes Brannigan Cunningham: The Fight to Preserve the Union
Now that we have learned about the father, John Cunningham, it is time to learn about 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 Sumpter was attached on April 12th and soon surrendered. From the editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel came, “Fort Sumpter! Fort Sumpter 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 Donelson. 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 Dearth 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 Johnies 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 Johnies 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 Johnies 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. (Words in italics added).
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). (Words in italics added).
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. Cunningham (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. Cunningham are buried right next to him forever (died September 22, 1918). His brother Henry H. Cunningham (died May 28, 1925) and his wife Charlotte L. Cline and her parents Samuel and Celia Cline, and grandson Chester B. Cunningham (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, http://www.shsw.wisc.edu/roster, and http://badger.state.wi.us/agencies/dva/museum/cwregts/18wisinf. See http://www.nps.gov/vick/vcmpgn 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. This information was submitted by: [Greg R Cunningham] and for that we thank him.
Some graphics created by SuziQ for:
This site is affiliated with the American Local History Network,
Inc. (ALHN). No claim is made to the copyrights of individual submitters.
This site is affiliated with the American Local History Network, Inc. (ALHN). No claim is made to the copyrights of individual submitters..