Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Alexander and George French, Jr.

Alexander French was born 1843 in St. Lawrence County, New York, the son of George Sr. (1803-1853) and Sally (Freeman, 1805-1860).

New York native George Sr. married Vermonter Sally Freeman around 1825 and they soon settled in Essex County, New York. Between 1836 and 1840 they settled in St. Lawrence County, New York. Between 1846 and 1850 the family moved westward and by 1850 had settled on a farm in Cannon, Kent County, Michigan where Alexander attended school with his siblings and his older brother George Jr., who would also join the Old Third, worked as a laborer. George Sr. died in Algoma in 1853. In the fall of 1854 Sally remarried one Silas Moore in Big Rapids, Mecosta County. By 1860 Alexander was a day laborer living with his older brother George and their younger sister Margaret, and living with their mother in Big Rapids. That same year Sally died in Big Rapids.

Alexander stood 6’3” with blue eyes, dark hair and a dark complexion, and was 18 years old and living in Mecosta County when he enlisted with the consent of the Justice of the Peace in Company K on May 13, 1861, along with his older brother George. On September 15, from Washington, Alex wrote to his brother (probably Zerah) back in Mecosta County,

The object of this letter is to inform you that one of boys here wants to buy land of [from] you on my recommendation. I drew him a map of your village as near as I could from memory and he says that if he could get a lot right north of mine that he would pay the gold all within this payment and the next [referring to his army pay?]

Now what I want of you is to write and tell me if any of those along north of mine is vacant and if they are tell the lowest figure that you will take for them. He is a boy about my age and he says that he tries to keep his money here that he will spend it sure and if he sends it home there will be nothing sure about finding it when he gets there now. I would like to have you be as easy as you can be with him for he is a poor boy like myself.

If those lots are not vacant tell in your next the nearest to mine that is vacant; tell me something more than just the number of the lot and block you know you can tell me where they lay so that I can tell him.

His name is Walter Wait; he is six feet two inches and a half tall. You can depend upon him and most of your money is ready now.

Write as soon as you receive this and let me know all about it. You will probably get thirty dollars ($30,00) from me at the same time you get this or the mail before for I have sent it already.

There is nothing more to write at present that I can think of so I will close by telling you that I intend to have you clear off my lots as fast as I get more [?] from the United States.

Alexander was present for duty with the regiment when it began the spring campaign, up the Virginia “Peninsula.” On May 3, 1862, from a camp near Yorktown, Virginia, he wrote home to his brother Zerah in Mecosta County,

As I feel in writing this morning I will endeavor to write a few lines to let you know that we [Alex and his other brother George] are all well and I also have some other good news to write. Last night an [sic] balloon went up and reported the rebels evacuating the works in the front of our camp and of course something was done right off and the result is the 40th New York, 37th New York and the 5th Michigan are in possession of the enemy fortifications. . . . The 37th and 5th both belong to our brigade and they are going and coming from the first they have taken possession of all the time. This morning was the first real hearty cheering that I had heard for some time and now the bands are playing the national airs for the first time since we have been here. They were not allowed to play any doe fear they would discover our camps in the swamps and shell us out.

More good news still; the order has just come to have two days rations on hand in the shortest possible time. This you will see means up and after them. “GOOD.”

You have of course heard of the capture of New Orleans by Farragut & Porter. If you have not I can tell you that the Crescent City is ours. But there is too much excitement here at present for me to speak of other places & we are looking for the order to march every minute. There was three of our regiment wounded on picket day before yesterday, slightly. Probably the next time you hear from me will not be dated at this place but you must direct the same as usual.

There is too much excitement to write; drums are beating, bugles are blowing and the boys are cheering. VMJ [?] is cooking as hard as he can getting ready for a start. Our Big Rapids [boys] are all touch as bucks. . . .

Give my love to all your family. I will write again as soon as circumstances will permit. . . .

It seems as though everything is going in favor of the North lately and it seems as though it is impossible to get defeated in any place. They evacuated New Orleans, Beauregard is evacuating Corinth & Magruder is evacuating Yorktown. Banks & McDowell is coming up in his [Magruder's?] rear and two divisions left this army five [?] days ago and crossed the York River and marched up the James [?] on the other side & on the whole I think if they don’t get bothered some in their retreat I am mistaken. Porter’s division is in line and ready to start after them. Professor Lowe and his balloon is already high above their fortifications watching their movements & McClellan is bound to skin them. I believe we can trust him.

According to Wallace W. Dickinson, also of Company K, during the battle of Fair Oaks, on May 31, 1862, Alexander “was among the sharpshooters, and came out without a scratch.”

Alexander was wounded in the right hand on August 29, 1862, at Second Bull Run, and by the second week of September he was in Wolf Street hospital in Alexandria, Virginia. He was still in the hospital when his brother George wrote to another brother back in Mecosta County that during the battle at Second Bull Run “Alexander was hit on the right hand and lost his third finger. He is in the hospital at Alexandria, and is doing first rate.”

Alexander eventually rejoined the Regiment but sometime, probably in early spring of 1863, he was taken ill and was eventually hospitalized, probably in Washington. He was given furlough, probably in late March or early April and quite possibly returned home to Michigan to recover his health. According to a lady friend in Washington, writing on April 20, 1863,

I should have written to you before this, but as I did not know exactly how to direct. I thought if you should improve sufficiently you [might?] return before it reached you, but as your furlough has expired and you have not come I fear your health has not improved much -- we feel very anxious about you -- as your brother says that he has not heard from you but once since you left.

We have had a few spring days which I hope will produce a good effect on invalids. My oldest brother is quite sick with erysipolas [?]. The other one comes home every two or three weeks. Capt. Benedict is still with us as he has been very sick since you saw him.

Annie received a letter from your brother on Saturday. He says his health has much improved and that they were off to drive in pursuit of the rebels. How much I wish this war was over, I have nothing of interest to write you. Annie sends her respects to you. You must get real strong before you return -- for although we would like very much to see you, we are not willing to see you return to the Reg without being strong enough to stand what is before.

Although he might have been wounded again, slightly, in May of 1863, and although he was listed among those recipients awarded the Kearny Cross for participation in the battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, on May 3, 1863, in fact it seems he did not return to the regiment until on May 4. In any case he was listed as hospitalized in September.

Sometime in the fall he returned to duty and was wounded a third time, on November 27, 1863, at Mine Run, Virginia.

Alexander died from his wounds on December 5, 1863, at Alexandria, Virginia, and was buried the same day in the Military Cemetery (now National Cemetery) in Alexandria: grave no. 1091, later reconfigured as section A, grave no. 1091,

There seems to be no pension available.

George French Jr. was born December 13, 1833, in Essex, Essex County, New York the son of George Sr. (1803-1853) and Sally (Freeman, 1805-1860).

New York native George Sr. married Vermonter Sally Freeman around 1825 and they soon settled in Essex County, New York. Between 1836 and 1840 they settled in St. Lawrence County, New York. Between 1846 and 1850 the family moved westward and by 1850 had settled on a farm in Cannon, Kent County, Michigan where George Jr. worked as a laborer and his younger brother Alexander, who would also join the Old Third, attended school with his siblings.

George Sr. died in Algoma in 1853. In the fall of 1854 and Sally remarried one Silas Moore in Big Rapids, Mecosta County. By 1860 Alexander was a day laborer living with his older brother George was a day laborer living with his younger brother Alexander and and their younger sister Margaret, and ltheir mother in Big Rapids. That same year Sally died in Big Rapids.

George Jr. was 28 years old, stood 6’2” tall with blue eyes, brown hair and a light complexion and living in Mecosta County when he enlisted on April 20, 1861, as Fifth Corporal in Company K on May 13, 1861, probably along with his younger brother Alexander. By mid-September George was in the hospital.

George eventually recovered from his illness and rejoined the regiment. On September 25, 1862, the Mecosta County Pioneer reprinted several extracts from a letter by George to another brother (probably Zerah) back home in Mecosta County. He described the recent engagement at Second Bull Run, on August 29, 1862.

We left Harrison’s Bar the 15th of August, landed at Alexandria on the 22nd, took the cars for Manassas on the 23d where we arrived in the afternoon. We were on the march night and day until the 29th, when we met the enemy in force near the old battleground on Bull Run. We fought him two days, got flogged, and fell back to Centreville, rested one day, and had another fight two miles from Centreville [Chantilly?]; but this time the rebels got the worst of it, for we drove them off the field killing a good many and capturing some prisoners. Our loss was 700 killed including Gen. Kearny and a Brigadier General belonging to Burnsides’ army. Our division, having lost its general and some other officers, and most of its privates, moved into camp near our old ground at Fort Lyon, within two miles of Alexandria.

The Third Regiment went into the fight with 233 men and out of that number there was 139 killed, and badly wounded. Alexander [French] was hit on the right hand and lost his third finger. He is in the hospital at Alexandria, and is doing first rate. Bob Misner got a charge of buckshot in the hand, but it did not hurt him much. The rest of the Big Rapids boys came off Scott free, unless we count George Cochrane, who is among the killed. We were all in the fight, and what any of us God only knows, for it was a horrid place. There was rebels on the left and front of us, and on the right was a battery throwing an enfilading fire of grape, canister and shell, while a fancy Pennsylvania Regiment was firing on us from behind. Poor old Third! she caught [hell] then. Our United States flag was shot to bits, until there was not a piece as big as your hand left; and finally the standard was shattered and left on the field covered with the blood of the men who had so proudly borne it through all the battles of the Peninsula. Our State colors fared but little better, but we brought it off with us.

George was reported sick in a hospital in Washington, DC from September 16, 1863, through May of 1864, and at one time he may have been charged with desertion, but that charge was later removed. He was mustered out as a Sergeant on June 20, 1864.

After his discharge from the army, George returned to Big Rapids where he married Michigan native Phebe or Phoebe A. Bigelow (1843-1899) on March 1, 1865. (She was half-sister of Stephen Bigalow, who had been a musician in Company H, Old Third Michigan. And in fact, George and Stephen worked together off and on in the Big Rapids area for a number of years.) According to one source, the couple were married “At the residence of Dr. D. F. Woolley on Wednesday evening the 1st by Rev. H. Lucas. . . . we must congratulate our friend George on this happy event in his life, and hope he will find the new campaign in which he was enlisted more delightful than his three years with the army of the Potomac.”

By 1870 George was working as a carpenter and living with his wife in Big Rapids’ Fourth Ward. He lived in Big Rapids until about 1874 when he moved to Cheboygan, Cheboygan County. He may have returned to Big Rapids in 1879. In any case he was reportedly working as a laborer and listed as divorced and living with the Barney Jehnzen family in Big Rapids in 1880 he was reportedly in Big Rapids in 1882; for many years he worked as a lumberman.

He was residing in Cheboygan in 1883 and 1885 when he testified in the pension application of John Shaw, formerly of Company K. By 1890 he had moved to Saugatuck, Allegan County but in 1907 was residing in Walker’s Point, Mackinaw County and may have returned to Cheboygan by 1908. In fact according to one source he settled in Cheboygan about 1890 and bought a saloon there, running that business along with his lumbering interests. He may also have lived in Detroit for a time. He was also engaged for some years in lumbering interests on Bois blanc island and in the summer of 1909 moved to Pattersonville (presumably in the vicinity of Cheboygan; this place no longer exists), to live with his widowed sister, Mrs. Cook, at a house on North st where he was residing by 1910.

George and his wife separated sometime around 1875. In fact there was a bill of complaint for divorce filed in Big Rapids in 1878 and the divorce was granted in February of the following year. In 1879 Phebe (who apparently remarried to someone named Alley or Allye) was graduated from the University of Michigan’s homeopathic department with a degree in medicine and returned to Big Rapids. According to the local newspaper, “By close application and persistent effort she succeeded standing at the head of her class, which is gratifying to her many friends in this city.” She practiced in Big Rapids for seven years before moving permanently to Grand Rapids.

George was living in Big Rapids in December of 1868 when he was elected an officer in Big Rapids chapter no. 52, R.A.M. and in Lodge no. 171, F.A.M. and he was still living in Big Rapids in 1875. He was also a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association, and he was a member and served as the Chaplain of the Ruddock GAR post in Cheboygan (?).
In 1890 he applied for and received a received pension (no. 648,307), drawing $15.00 per month by 1907 and $20.00 per month by 1910.

George died of pneumonia at his home on North Street in Pattersonville, on March 8, 1910, and the funeral was held on March 11, under the auspices of the Masonic lodge in Cheboygan and the GAR. He was presumably buried in Cheboygan.

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