Both of Adolphe’s parents were born in Detroit and were married in 1834 in Grand Rapids, Kent County. Adolph’s uncle Louis Campau -- one of the founders of Grand Rapids -- and his second wife Sophia (de Marsac, sister of Emily) had no children of their own, and so they reportedly adopted Adolphe when he was an infant and he lived with them for many years (or so Adolphe claimed later). Nevertheless, by 1860 he was working as a cabinet-maker and living with his parents Toussaint and Emily in Grand Rapids’ Third Ward.
Adolphe stood 5’9” with black eyes, black hair and a dark complexion and was 19 years old and probably still living in Grand Rapids when he enlisted with the consent of his parents in Company A on May 13, 1861. (He is not found in the 1905 Third Michigan Regimental history, although he is found in the Regimental history for the First Michigan Engineers and Mechanics. See below) Although he was reported as sick in the hospital in July of 1862 and missing in action on August 3 at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, Adolphe had in fact been captured on June 30 during an engagement near White House Landing, Virginia, and was reported to have been held “at the hospital on the York River, held by the rebels”. He was paroled on July 10, 1862.
Campau himself said many years after the war that “owing to the menacing attitude of the Union forces, the Confederates were unable to send the Union boys to prison, and were obliged to house and guard them in the field.” While a prisoner, it seems that one of his guards, a Sergeant Major, took his “silver watch that he had carried with him from his home.” Campau “promptly reported the loss of his watch to the Rebel General, J. E. B. Stuart, but his pleas for its return were disregarded. He then went to the Confederate General Stephen D. Lee, giving the number of his watch, and Lee immediately took the matter up, ordered the men out into a hollow square and told Campau to pick out the man. He at once did so; and the fellow said that he had bought the watch in Richmond. Said General Lee upon examining the watch: ‘It seems strange that there should be two watches bearing the same number; you are hereby reduced to the ranks,’ and the guilty fellow bore the humiliation of losing his stripes in the presence of his Regiment.”
Campau was soon paroled and reported at Camp Parole, Maryland on July 13, 1862. He was subsequently hospitalized, at the U.S. General Hospital in Annapolis, Maryland, and was reported among the paroled prisoners-of-war at Camp Parole, at Annapolis in late August and again in late October. During his stay in the Marine hospital at Annapolis, he told a newspaper reporter many years later,
the sick and wounded received through the sanitary commission many comforts that camp life denied. Among them [Campau] received was a pair of home-made socks, with the name of the sender appended to a brief note inside one of them. Mr. Campau still has the note in his possession and it is as follows: “The task of knitting these socks has been a pleasant time one, thinking they might come into possession of some brave soldier suffering from the want of these very socks. Please accept my best wishes, May you go forth in the strength of the God of hosts, true to yourself and your country. I have a degree of curiosity in regard to the disposition of these socks, name of wearer and so forth. Any information would be acceptable to Catherine H. Kingsbury, East Foxboro, Mass.” Illness at the time prevented his acknowledgement of the receipt of the present and when again in the field the exigencies of war were such that time forbade his doing so. The days in the hospital passed wearily, but occasionally the monotony was varied by some incident that can never be effaced from memory. In a moment of delirium a soldier heard the bugle call in the morning. He was instantly roused, thinking it a call to arms. Springing to his feet he started for the door and before an attendant could reach him, he fell in a collapse apparently dead. He was carried to the dead house, where a post-mortem was to be held to determine the cause of his death. With scalpel in hand, the physician began his work, when to the utter surprise of physician and nurses the soldier revived. An attempt was made to take him back to the ward in the hospital room whence he had been removed only a short time before, but their efforts met with stout resistance on his part and it required the combined efforts of four men to control him. The poor fellow died a week later.
Adolphe was eventually sent back to Michigan to recover and was discharged for chronic rheumatism on December 9, 1862, at Detroit Barracks. He subsequently returned home to Grand Rapids where he reentered the service as Corporal in Company L, First Michigan Engineers and Mechanics on January 6, 1863 and was mustered the same day at Detroit. Many years after the war he claimed that in July of 1863, while “overseeing the job of building a bridge over the [Elk River in Tennessee] he received what was thought to be a sunstroke.” He claimed that he “fell over on the ground in a dead faint and was carried back to camp and placed in Asst. Surgeon Van Ostrand’s tent and was taken care of there for about a month.” He was then sent “to the regimental hospital at Bridgeport, Ala. as nurse and remained on such duty until discharged.” He was reported sick at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in March of 1865 -- while the regiment was participating n the campaign through the Carolinas. The regiment marched to Washington via Richmond, Virginia, April 29-May 20, and was in the Grand Review on May 24. It was subsequently ordered to Louisville, Kentucky on June 6 and then to Nashville where it remained on duty from about July 1 to September 22.
Adolphe was mustered out with the regiment on September 22, 1865 at Nashville. The regiment was discharged at Jackson, Jackson County, Michigan on October 1.
After the war Adolphe returned to western Michigan and lived briefly in Muskegon, Marshall and Kalamazoo before settling in Big Rapids, Mecosta County where he was residing in 1879 and 1880, working for some years as a “general laborer” of a “light character”. By 1881 he was living in Grand Rapids’ Fifth Ward; but he was back in Big Rapids in 1885, in 1886 when he was working as a bank janitor, in 1887 and in 1891. By mid-1898 he was living at 826 S. Lafayette Street in Gra Rapids.
On September 11, 1902, Adolph was admitted to the Michigan Soldiers’ Home (no. 3890), where he lived the remainder of his life.
In 1908, when he was interviewed by M. S. Webster of the Grand Rapids Herald, Campau was living “in cozy quarters, made attractive by the occupants, in the north dormitory at the soldier's home, . . .” Upon
entering the room, the visitor is accorded a cheerful welcome, and becomes interested in the large collection of souvenirs of years ago, and pictures that adorn the walls of the little abode” and he had “a large store of souvenirs and relics, dating back as far as 1800. Among his souvenirs are: a copy of the Ulster County Gazette, published in Kingston, New York, January 4, 1800, containing the announcement by President John Adams of the death of Washington; a copy of the Grand River Times, G. W. Patterson, editor, published in Grand Rapids in April 1837; a letter bearing date December 28, 1836, written to his father [Toussaint?] by his uncle, Daniel J. Campau, Sr., of Detroit; Dr. Talley's old medicine scales, used in Talleyville, Va., during the war; has photos of the Confederate Generals S. D. Lee, [Simon Bolivar] Buckner and [Richard] Ewell bought in Alexandria, Va., and a hickory cane once owned by his uncle Louis Campau.
In 1903 Adolphe was appointed sexton of the chapel and morgue for the home and over the years he kept close records of the number of people he help to bury at the Home, a task which it seems, he took most seriously.
“According to Veteran Campau's records,” wrote Webster, “the number of graves decorated in the Home cemetery, May 30, 1903, the time at which he became sexton, were, men: 698, women: 28, total: 726. Since that date deaths have occurred as follows: year ending May 30, 1904 - 73 men, 11 women; year ending May 30, 1905 - 53 men, 8 women; year ending May 30, 1906 - 72 men, 3 women; year ending May 30, 1907 - 83 men, 9 women; year ending May 30, 1908 - 67 men, 4 women. The total number of graves in the home cemetery was 1,160.”
However, in Campau’s obituary, published the year following Webster’s interview, the Grand Rapids Press painted a picture of a man isolated from the world outside his room or outside of the Soldiers’ Home morgue, a world defined by morbidity, death and superstition.
“Before the war,” wrote the paper, “Adolphe Campau was considered one of the handsomest and most promising young men of Grand Rapids, but during the war he suffered a severe sunstroke and he never was the same after that. His health was seriously impaired and he never fully recovered it. In later years he was afflicted with a severe deafness and because of these afflictions he led a very retired and secluded life.”
“He regarded,” the Press wrote, his work as morgue sexton “as a special duty and would not accept the remuneration that the state provides for this, he preferring his work to be a service of love. Even at the beginning of his last illness when the body of a comrade was brought to the morgue Mr. Campau arose from his bed and performed the usual service to the dead, permitting no one else to do his work while he remained alive. This was his last service, as he was placed back in his bed from which he never arose.”
Mr. Campau [continued the paper] was in many ways a remarkable old man. He was a loyal patriot, a devout Catholic, and he was devoted to the memories of the past. The quaint little room in which he lived at the home was in a way an expression of the odd personality of its occupant. He had one end of the reception room just across the hall from the morgue, his personal apartment being separated by a white curtain. He also held the office of sacristan of the Catholic chapel and along the walls of his rooms were pictures of the stations of the cross, while at the end of the room was the altar that was used at the services, but carefully covered with white canvas when not in use. All about his rooms were ecclesiastical pictures hung among war relics and military badges. Everywhere in the chapel-like room the church and the nation were given a prominence which indicated the importance and influence they held in the life of this man. Everything in the room was in perfect order, showing the extreme care which Mr. Campau took of everything pertaining to him. Among his treasures was a silver 2-branch candlestick with a crucifix, which was used when he and his sister took their first communion, many years ago. The partly burned candles remained just as they were on that far-off day. The candlestick with other silver relics were kept in a little cabinet near the head of his bed. In another cabinet were a few china dishes and table silver carefully wrapped as any good housekeeper would have them, for he often brought his meals to his room and often he entertained the priest there when he conducted services at the home. Among these treasures was a tiny crucifix which belonged to his aunt, Sophie de M. C. and a cane which belonged to his uncle Louis C. A photograph of Louis and Sophie and a framed reproduction of the Campau crest hangs among the religious and military pictures and relics. The quaint little room is an expression of a lonely but not unhappy life.
Adolphe never married.
He was a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association as well as Grand Army of the Republic Champlin Post No. 29 in Grand Rapids, a Catholic and he received pension no. 483,087 dated January 1884; also no. 833,568.
He died of “senility” at the Home on May 7, 1909, at 12:10 p.m., although his obituary wrote that “Mr. Campau's last illness was caused when he was struck by a street car several weeks before his death; he apparently failed to hear its approach on account of his extreme deafness. Although not a serious injury, apparently it resulted in an abscess in the head which caused his death. Mr. Campau's sister, Mrs. Danforth, arrived from Detroit too late to see him before he died.”
The funeral services were held at St. Alphonsus church and he was buried on May 10 in St. Andrews cemetery: the Campau lot, old section, no. 1, lot no. 25 grave 6 (1-25-6).