With Lincoln winning the election of 1860 the fears of the South finally came to fruition, an administration with Lincoln at the head was going to put a stop to their dream of the continued expansion of slavery into the newly won lands in the west.1 This threat was too much for many Southerners and a few short months after the election was over, seven Southern states declared their succession from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. Of course the federal government and the majority of citizens of the United States regarded this as a rebellious act of treason.2
On 12 April 1861 the Confederate army decided to commence hostilities on its fellow citizens and fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The Federal Government responded by calling on volunteers to put down this outrageous rebellion, an act that energized four other Southern states into joining in the succession. And so started the bloodiest war to ever occur on our own soil.
It was about a year and a half later, on 15 August 1862 at St. Joseph, Michigan, that Wallace Rosa (age 34), one of four Rosa brothers who enlisted, made the decision to join in the fight to preserve the Union.
|Sophia Smith Rosa
The 19th Michigan Infantry, Company I was Wallace’s first foray into enlistment. We say first because as his wife Sophia testified in her application for pension “he did not like the company there was so many ol cuntry people.” On 26 September 1862 while the company was at camp in Gravel Pit, Ohio Wallace was noted as ‘deserted’ on his military service record. According to Sophia he had been with the company for a few months (although his military record shows it was just over a month) and then suddenly showed up at home. That same evening soldiers came to take him back to his unit as he was AWOL. He went back to his regiment with out any trouble and was gone for maybe six months, after which he showed up at home again, only staying a few days. Sophia didn’t know whether he was on furlough or not and Wallace didn’t say one way or the other. Wallace did tell her that he wanted to join the same regiment his brothers were in and that he was never going back to Company I. After that conversation he disappeared. It is apparent that his family was worried about him because sometime in late 1863 to early 1864 his brother Abram, while back in Michigan on sick leave from his own regiment, decided to go searching for Wallace. Abram eventually “found him at Camp Douglas in Illinois answering to the name of Benjamin Freeman.” Wallace had re-enlisted 22 April 1863 in the 1st Regiment Michigan Sharpshooters, Company F which was now stationed there. After having finally found his brother, Abram asked him why he had changed his name and was informed by Wallace that “he heard they were after him to take him back to his regement; and thought it might not be well with him.” So he bought himself some hair dye and colored his hair and whiskers then headed to Kalamazoo to re-enlist.3 As he stayed with the regiment, he apparently had no quarrel with this bunch of boys.
Shortly after Wallace enlisted in the 1st, the regiment was ordered to pack up its gear and head for Dearborn, Michigan. Life for the regiment was mostly drilling and guarding. The only excitement the regiment saw was their engagement with Morgan’s troops of the infamous Morgan’s Raid, in July of 1863. About a month later on 16 August 1863 the Sharpshooters received orders to vacate the Dearborn arsenal and proceed immediately to Camp Douglas in Chicago. Addressing the companies before they departed Colonel DeLand admonished the men, “It is hoped that the hurtful and disgraceful practice of whiskey drinking will be discontinued, that the disgraceful scene of our former march [those who had been chasing Morgan through Indiana understood his reference] may be avoided.” The soldiers were then loaded into passenger cars on the train and headed to Camp Douglas. Most of the men were disappointed that they still weren’t heading to the front. Their duties at Camp Douglas were once again guard duty, but this time they were going to be guarding rebel prisoners. When they arrived on the 17th there were only 49 prisoners at the camp. Eventually it filled up to hold over 4000, nearly all of whom were Morgan’s men.
On St. Paddy’s Day, 17 March 1864 long awaited orders finally arrived. The Sharpshooters were to depart Camp Douglas for the front. None of the men in the regiment had any regrets about leaving after 7 months of boredom, guard duty and drilling. They happily boarded the train to Baltimore, then transferred to the ship that took them to Annapolis. They arrived about 7 in the evening on 21 March. The weather was rainy for a good two weeks after they arrived causing much illness in the camp, but they were now part of the 9th corps.
The Sharpshooters received their first order on April 22. They were to head out to join the Army of the Potomac that was 44 miles away. A nasty thunderstorm drenched the men on their march the night of the 24th. The next morning they walked ten miles over muddy roads and through a creek to Washington, DC. When they arrived they were told to make themselves presentable, for they were going to pass in review in front of the president. Crowds were lined up along the streets, apparently never tired of seeing soldiers marching in review. The President stood on a balcony at the Willard hotel overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue. During the march the men were energized with excitement. Various regiments sang martial tunes, cheered in unison, or quoted poems to the president as they went by. It was a celebration, and the excitement of it all helped the men forget, for a short time, the fatigue of the march the previous few days.
1 The Mexican–American War was an armed conflict between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848 that started when in 1845 the U.S. annexed Texas which Mexico considered part of its territory despite the 1836 Texas Revolution. American forces finally captured Mexico City and forced Mexico to agree to the cession of its northern territories to the U.S.
2 It will be noted that no other country in the world ever acknowledged the Confederacy at any time during its existence.
3 Sophia M. Curtis application for pension, widow of Wallace Rosa aka Benjamin Freeman; case number 387817; microfilm Can No.:1181; Bundle No.: 3, NARA, Washington, D.C.