Edwin Sheldon Pierce was born on December 1, 1833, in East Bloomfield, Ontario County, New York, the son of Silas (b. 1801) and Mary (Root, b. 1801?).
Silas was born in New York and Mary in Massachusetts and they were probably married sometime before 1826, possibly in New York. In any case they lived in New York for some years, and by 1850 Edwin was living with the family and working for his father in West Bloomfield where his father operated a woolen factory.
Edwin came to Grand Rapids and went to work for Carlos Burchard in January of 1853 as clerk. The following year Edwin and James Blair bought Burchard out, and together entered into the clothing business. The Eagle wrote on September 23, 1856, that “Blair & Pierce have the reputation of being the most fashionable establishment in the city. Their city retail trade is exceedingly large, and they also do a fair wholesale trade. These gentlemen are both young men, possessed of an excellent taste, and are certain of keeping at the top of the heap, so far as the city trade is concerned. Everything new, pleasing or fanciful, is always first found at their store, at the foot of Monroe-st.”
However, soon afterward Pierce dissolved the firm Blair & Pierce, and went into partnership with the Farr brothers. On January 29, 1857, the Eagle noted that “Messers. Blair & Peirce [sic] have dissolved partnership, and Messers. G. W. & W. B. Farr, with Mr. Peirce continue the clothing business in all its branches, at the old stand. Edward's pleasant countenance will, as usual, fall benignantly upon his old friends -- and he has a host of them -- while his polite endeavors to give them satisfaction as well as FITS, will, in no wise be relaxed -- though, should such be the case, the boys will only go a little Farther along and then they will be attended to. We wish the new firm of Farr & Peirce [sic] all the success that good looks, and active business habits must command.” This relationship, too, was very brief and that same year Pierce entered into a partnership with Lewis Porter. The two men continued in business as Porter & Pierce until 1861.
In 1859-60 Edwin was working as a clerk and boarding with his family on the north side of Washington between Lafayette and Jefferson Streets; his brother Byron was also living at home. In 1860 Edwin was on the census rolls of both his family and the National Hotel in Grand Rapids, First ward, and sometime during the year he became a member of the Valley City Guard, one of three local Grand Rapids militia companies and one in which his older brother Byron served as Captain. Edwin was 27 years old and still living in Grand Rapids when he enlisted along with Byron (who became captain of Company K), and was chosen (or possibly appointed) as Captain of Company E on May 3, 1861. (Edwin is mentioned in the introduction to the 1905 Third Michigan Regimental history, but there is no biographical sketch of him in the official history.)
When Pierce was placed in command of Company E there arose some controversy over what some charged as an attempt to “Grand Rapidize” the officers of those companies not from that city. Since many of the men in Company E were from the Lyons and Portland areas of Ionia County there was some debate over why a man from that area was not chosen to command the company. There was hostile press, especially in Ionia County over whether Captain Pierce was chosen by the men or for the men of Company E. On May 3 the Enquirer wrote that “The Lyons (Ionia) company have chosen Ed. Pierce, of this city, as their captain. Ed is a fine fellow, very popular, thoroughly posted in military matters, and will make a good officer. His company, if called to the field, will make their mark.”
Edwin married Mary Parkhurst Chamberlain (1840-1913) on June 10, 1861, in Grand Rapids, the day the Regiment was mustered into United States service, and they had at least five children: Byron R., Henry V. V. (b. 1869), Martha (b. 1871), Amelia C. (b. 1872), and Anna L. (b. 1877). Mary Chamberlain was the sister of both Charles and William Chamberlain who would also serve in the Third Michigan.
They left for their honeymoon on the evening of June 10. However, marching orders arrived for the Regiment on Tuesday, June 11, and Edwin was summoned back from Detroit.
He arrived the evening of June 12 and rejoined his company in time to leave with the Regiment on the morning of June 13. “At the depot,” wrote the Eagle, “just as the soldiers were about taking their departure Capt. Ed. Pierce was presented with an elegant sword by the ‘Old Guard’ of the National Hotel. This compliment to the gallant captain, coming at such a time, and entirely unexpected, completely overcame him, and he could only thank the generous donors. . . .”
According to the Detroit Tribune, “On reaching the depot, the men were formed into line, and a magnificent sword was presented to Capt. Edwin S. Pierce, of Company E, by Mr. E. Smith, on behalf of the “Old Guard at the National Hotel.” Capt. Pierce responded fervently to Mr. Smith’s eloquent remarks. The sword is a first-class Company sword of regulation pattern.” And that night as the Regiment passed through Detroit, en route for Washington a “vast multitude of 15,000 people assembled to bid them farewell. A sword has been presented to Captain Edward [sic] S. Pierce by Eben Smith, and various other presentations were made.” His wife soon afterwards joined her husband in Washington.
Edwin and Mary returned to Michigan from Washington, DC on August 6, 1861, for a brief furlough and “was waited on by a large delegation of citizens who gave him an enthusiastic reception.” Rebecca Richmond, teenage daughter of William Richmond, one of the leading citizens of Grand Rapids, wrote in her diary on August 6 that Pierce and his wife arrived that day in Grand Rapids from Washington. “The Grand Rapids Grays and a large number of citizens went to the Chamberlains this evening to welcome their favorite captain. He is to return to his post of duty on Friday.”
Edwin soon rejoined his command and was reported absent on leave from June 24, 1862; in fact had returned to Grand Rapids to regain his health. On June 13, Rebecca Richmond wrote in her diary that Pierce “has returned, in feeble health and on a furlough, to his home in this city.” Pierce was still at home on July 26 when Rebecca wrote “I spent the evening at Mrs. Ed. Pierce's. Mary [Rebecca’s sister] was invited but was not able to go out. The company numbered about 30, and consisted of young married and unmarried people. Surgeon Z. Bliss, Captain Ed. Pierce and Willie Chamberlain of the Third Regiment gave military dignity to the assembly.”
He remained in Grand Rapids through the end of July but eventually returned to the Regiment, and was reported detached as acting field officer in December through January of 1863. Edwin was mentioned in the official report of the Regiment’s action during the battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862.
By the end of December Edwin’s wife was taken quite sick in Washington, and on December 23, Michigan Congressman Francis Kellogg wrote to Lieutenant Colonel Byron Pierce informing him that “The wife of Capt. Pierce, an officer in your regiment is in this city and very sick[.] Capt. Pierce led his Reg't in the late battle is a brave officer and has faithfully discharged his duties. The Sec'y of war told me today he could no doubt [have] leave of absence for a few days to visit this city and I write to ask you to grant him a week's leave of absence. . . . If it can be granted I shall esteem it as a personal favor which I will certainly reciprocate.” It is assumed that Edwin was granted the leave of absence.
On January 4, 1863, his brother Byron, acting Colonel of the Regiment, wrote to the former colonel, now Brigadier General Stephen Champlin saying that “Something must be done in regard to” his brother Captain Edwin Pierce. Byron wrote that the Brigade commander General Hiram Berry “in speaking of the fight [at Fredericksburg] does not mention Major [Moses] Houghton’s name. He only speaks of relying on Capt. Pierce and Captain [Israel] Smith. The officers here all speak of him [Houghton] with contempt but what they will do about it is more than I can tell.”
On January 8, a large group of officers from the Regiment sent a petition to Colonel Byron Pierce asking that Pierce recommend his brother for the vacancy in Lieutenant Colonel of the Regiment. In fact, on January 3, Champlin had already written to Michigan Governor Austin Blair. Champlin heartily recommended Edwin for promotion. “The promotion of Colonel [Byron] Pierce.” he wrote, “will leave a vacancy in the office of Lieutenant Colonel. Enclosed I send a letter received from General Berry recommending Captain Edward S. Pierce to fill the vacancy. The letter was written by General Berry without the solicitation of any one after the Battle of Fredericksburg and is based on a judgment formed on the battle field of the relative merit of officers. I can bear testimony that Captain Pierce is every way qualified to fill the office and can most cordially recommend him.”
Edwin was in fact promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on January 8, 1863, commissioned January 1, replacing his brother Lieutenant Colonel Byron Pierce, who had been promoted to Colonel of the Regiment. Commenting on the recent promotions in the Third Michigan the Eagle reported in early April that the Pierce brothers, “both able and efficient officers in the glorious 3rd Infantry from its organization to the present time, have just been promoted; [Byron] to Colonel and [Edwin] to Lieutenant Colonel of the Regiment.”
Edwin was on leave from February 26, 1863, and on March 11, Rebecca Richmond wrote in her diary that Pierce was presently at home on furlough and “has recently been promoted to the Lieutenant Colonecy of the Third Mich. Inft. Mr. Byron Pierce is Colonel of the same Regiment.” Edwin had apparently rejoined his Regiment by spring, and participated in the battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia,on May 2-3, 1863. In his official report, Colonel Byron Pierce wrote that
About an hour after daylight on the morning of the 3d, I received orders from Captain Fassitt, of General Birney's staff, to move my Regiment to the point we started from the evening before. I at once ordered Lieutenant-Colonel [E.S.] Pierce to have the pickets which I had posted on my right flank to follow up the movement of the Regiment, acting as skirmishers, as the enemy at this time were advancing and firing briskly upon us. I reached the point designated, without loss, in time to move with the Brigade to a position near the brick house. From this position we were marched to the left of the white house, in advance, and placed in line, in rear and supporting [a] battery, under a severe fire.
While forming the line at this point, I received a slight wound in the left hand and right arm, which disabled me for a short time, leaving the Regiment in charge of Lieutenant Colonel E. S. Pierce. While under his command, the Regiment made the charge, led by General Birney, toward the white house; swung around to the left and across the ravine, capturing about 20 prisoners. The Regiment was then moved to the rear and right of the brick house; reformed, and awaited orders. Hearing that the division flag was a little to the rear, the Regiment was moved there. After remaining a short time, we moved, with the Brigade, to the position we left just before the retreat across the Rappahannock.
On July 2, 1863, the Third Michigan was hotly engaged in the “Peach Orchard” on the second day of battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. When Colonel Byron. Pierce was wounded his brother Edwin took temporary command of the Regiment. In his official report on the actions taken by the Regiment while he was in temporary command on July 2-3, 1863, Edwin Pierce wrote that the Regiment
left Emmitsburg at 3 a.m. on the 2d, and arrived at Gettysburg about 12 m. On our nearing Gettysburg, the enemy appeared in our rear and left flank. We were then marched near and to the left of the Taneytown road, where the Brigade was formed in column of Regiments, we occupying the right, where we halted for a short time. Then we were moved forward about 1 mile, when the enemy made his appearance in force, and was driving in our pickets. The colonel was then ordered to deploy his Regiment as skirmishers. He moved his Regiment by the right flank to the left of the peach orchard, of which the enemy held a portion, where he deployed Companies I, F, and K, deploying forward on the right of Company F. We drove the enemy's skirmishers back to and beyond the stone house and barn on the left of the Emmitsburg road, our right resting in front of the orchard, near the road.
Upon gaining this position, we discovered that the enemy was massing his forces on our left. I reported the same to General Sickles, and kept him informed of the enemy's movements. During the engagement, the enemy made several attempts to retake the house and barn, but were repulsed with heavy loss, our men fighting with a desperation never before witnessed, and at times at a range of not over 50 yards.
Company A was detached to support a portion of General Graham's line on our right. They advanced to the brick house on the right of the Emmitsburg road, holding their position until overpowered by a superior force. The most of General Graham's force having retired, we held our position until about 7 p.m., when the left had retired so far that we were in danger of being flanked. We retired in good order, and assisted in bringing off a portion of two batteries.
It was at this time that the colonel was wounded, and I assumed command, he having remained mounted during the entire engagement, and constantly on the skirmish line cheering the men on. We rejoined the Brigade where it was formed at the commencement, when we were marched across the Taneytown road, and bivouacked for the night.
On the morning of the 3d, we moved forward to the first position occupied on the 2d, and were formed the same, where we remained till about 3 p.m. Thence we were moved off by the right flank at double-quick to where the enemy was trying to pierce our center. The Regiment was here detached, and sent to the support of the 2nd division, 2nd corps, where we assisted in repulsing the enemy, who had succeeded in breaking through a portion of their line.
The Regiment occupied the front line till the morning of the 5th, when we rejoined our Brigade. No casualties occurred to the Regiment during this day's action.
The Regiment was detached in September to Troy , New York, to serve as security for the upcoming draft. While in Troy, Colonel B. R. Pierce was assigned to command the detachment of several Regiments in garrison at Troy, and Edwin was commanding the Third Michigan. By late September the Regiment had returned to Virginia and the Army of the Potomac. On January 29, 1864, Edwin resigned due to ill health and was replaced by Major Moses Houghton.
After his discharge from the army Edwin returned to Grand Rapids and resumed work as a clothier. He was employed in the clothing business in downtown Grand Rapids until 1894. In 1865-66 he was working with or for his prewar partner Lewis Porter at 60 Canal Street and living at 168 South Division; his brothers Byron and Silas, both of whom survived their participation in the war, also lived at the same address.
On May 8, 1865, Edwin's 6-month-old son, Byron R. died, and the funeral was held at the residence of his brother Silas on Division Street.
In 1867-68 he was employed as a “salesman” for Lewis Porter, and living at 21 Jefferson Street, and in 1868-69 he was a clothier at 15 Canal Street, living on the east side of Division near Fulton Street; his younger brother Silas was working for him as a salesman and probably boarding with him at 168 South Division, and for many years he resided at 58 (old) Sheldon Avenue.
By 1870 he was working as a clothing merchant (he was worth $14,000 in real estate and another $10,000 in personal property) and living with his wife and family in Grand Rapids’ Third Ward. Also living with him was his mother-in-law Martha Chamberlain (who owned some $8500 in real estate and another $28,000 in personal property).
Sometime in the late 1860s Edwin went into the clothing business for himself, and by the early 1870s he opened up a clothing store styled as the “Great Wardrobe” which was located in the downtown area for more than a quarter of a century. In 1875 he built a new, larger structure, the “Tower Block,” at the foot of Monroe (and Canal) Street, and it was opened for business in March of 1876. By 1881 he had a branch store in Muskegon, Muskegon County and was planning to open a third in Manistee, Manistee County. In mid-March of 1881 the Eagle sent a reporter to interview Pierce, “to learn about the condition of trade, and as to his own business especially.”
The Colonel and his assistants, [wrote the paper] all genial gentlemen, answered questions freely and their replies are suggestive, indicate that reputable dealers here have entered on a season of greater business and prosperity than they have ever enjoyed before. The gross business of the Great Wardrobe in 1880 was about 20% larger than ever before, and thus far this year there there has been a considerable increase of sales over last year. Col. Pierce, and his Superintendent Gen. Pierce, are of the opinion that in the main the same conditions prevail with our merchants, generally, and that the outlook for business in 1881 is exceedingly satisfactory, cheerful. In other words, we are to have prosperity and plenty of it, as a community and throughout the land.
But right here it may be well to state that there are special reasons why Col. Pierce has built up so fine a trade, why he holds it and why it is growing. He was "brought up,” thoroughly educated as a lad and young man in the manufacture of woolen cloths, and thoroughly understands that business, as he had unusual facilities for perfecting himself in the business. hence he is now one of the most expert buyers of cloths and ready made goods in the West, both in regard to qualities and values of goods. This is a great advantage, both in the matter of prices he has to pay and in the fact that when he recommends a piece of cloth to a customer he may confidently rely on its wearing as he says it will, is certain not to be disappointed. Again, he has always made it a fixed principle to give value for his customer's cash, both in quality of goods, in their trimmings, and in the making of them. These advantages have enabled him to build up a mammoth business here, at Muskegon and Manistee, and to do a fine jobbing trade. So of course he makes very large purchases and gets goods at the very lowest rates, another advantage which he shares with his customers and so again increases his trade.
He has now a larger stock of cloths, suitings, for the coming spring and early summer trade, than he ever had before. And his stock of ready made goods is also larger and finer. In men's youths' and children's clothing and furnishings he says he is willing to compare stock with any house in the Northwest in the quality and variety from which selections may be made, and a hasty examination of the stock in the beautiful store under the Tower clock, led to the opinion that he was only stating facts, modestly. By the way the store has recently been kalsomined, tinted and greatly improved, and is indeed a beautiful Wardrobe.
Colonel Pierce is a manufacturer of clothing on a large scale already, . . . He probably pays out for labor in the neighborhood of $75,000 a year to residents of this city. His custom department now furnishes goods for the people of all the surrounding towns and hamlets even as far north as Petoskey and Harbor Springs and part of the time he keeps two salesmen traveling, showing samples, taking measures and orders and once he secures a patron he doesn't lose him. In this way he sends suits regularly to friends in all the Western states even to the Pacific coast; and or infrequently their suits advertise him as to get customers who were never in the state and never see the man or the establishment which supplied them. That he does so retain patrons tells volumes as to his methods of dealing with them, the worth of what he sells. Another fact illustrates his character and stability as a man. He retains his employees for years, and customers going into the Great Wardrobe are greeted by old friends.
The lessons suggested by these facts are suggestive to other dealers -- have been heeded by many merchants and manufacturers here for years, and thus may be explained the large trade, the great prosperity and the enviable reputation of the business men of our city and their wares. May they all live long to enjoy greater prosperity and triumphs in the future.
By 1880 Edwin was working as a merchant and tailor and living with his wife and children, along with his father Silas, in Grand Rapids’ Third Ward.
On June 11, 1886, Edwin and Mary celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. The Democrat that there was “a very brilliant and pleasant reception at their home. . . . Over 200 guests were present, nearly all from town, the principal ones from abroad being Mr. Pierce’s sister [and] daughter, of New York. Refreshments by Swetland, the caterer, were several during the evening, and Prof. F. M. Lawson furnished excellent music. The remembrance in the way of presents was very generous, the gifts being costly and well chosen.”
The following summer Edwin sold the “Great Wardrobe” to J. L. Hudson, and was officially out of business on July 30, 1887. He then formed a partnership with his brother Silas and E. Shattuck, and commenced an extensive merchant tailoring business on Monroe Street.
He retired from business in 1891, and for a short time was a director in the Grand Rapids Savings Bank.
In 1895 he applied for and received a pension (no. 923695).
Edwin moved to Washington, DC in 1898, when he was appointed as the Sergeant-at-Arms for the United States House of Representatives, and in 1911 he was living at 1412 Chopin Street, NW in Washington.
He was a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association and of Grand Army of the Republic Custer post no. 5 in Grand Rapids and he was a charter member of the Peninsular Club in Grand Rapids.
Edwin died on September 1, 1912, in Washington and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery: section 3, grave 2511.
A week after Edwin died his widow applied for and received a pension (no. 750145).