John T. Strong was born on June 17, 1842 in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of George Furzer (1813-1885) and Mary (Pulsifier Shea, 1816-1893).
George left England and immigrated to the United States where he met and married Maine native Mary and settled in Massachusetts sometime before their oldest child Sarah was born in 1838. By 1850 John was attending school with his older sister Sarah and living with his family in Andover, Essex County, Massachusetts where his father worked as a book-binder. His family moved from Massachusetts sometime after 1850, settling in Lansing and the Delta Center area in about 1855.
By 1860 John was a grocery clerk living with his family in Lansing’s Second Ward, where his father and one “E. H.” Strong worked as book-binders. When the war broke out John became a member of the Lansing company called the “Williams’ Rifles,” whose members would serve as the nucleus of Company G.
John stood 5’8” with blue eyes, brown hair and a light complexion and was 19 years old and probably still living in Lansing when he enlisted with his parents’ consent in Company G on May 10, 1861. (He is not found in the 1905 Third Michigan Regimental history.)
Frank Siverd of Company G wrote on July 20, 1861, that following the July 18 action at Blackburn’s Ford (a prelude to Bull Run), John was “exhausted and sent to the rear” However, John was apparently on duty with the regiment three days later, during the battle of First Bull Run, on July 21, 1861. According to a story he related in 1883, he and several other soldiers had become separated from their regiments following the Union debacle at Manassas.
During the “masterly advance on Washington” (vide Artemus Ward), made by our boys are the reverse at the first Bull Run, five Union soldiers -- or perhaps “stragglers” would be the more appropriate term -- belonging to as many different regiments, might have been slowly wending their way toward the heights near Washington, which had been taken possession of by our troops. Skulking by day, and bunking by night in the shadow of a rail, set endwise on the ground, the upper end resting on any convenient object, affording ample hiding room for the poor shrinking forms made doubly small by fear of capture by the “Johnnies,” they discussed the chances of war which in so short a time had shorn them of the glory fondly anticipated in letters to dear ones left behind, and numberless communications to the loyal papers of their homes.
Probably by reason of its more secluded situation the route by way of Vienna was chose by this “forlorn hope” in bringing up the rear guard. In entering the outskirts of the village, in the edge of evening, their eyes were greeted by the sight of a barn containing hay -- a glorious vision, giving hopes of rest sweeter than had been realized in the two nights already spent in the toilsome journey, and a feeling of security on account of the near proximity of the Union picket line.
This feeling of safety was, however, rudely overthrown, shortly after they had laid down for a rest, by the sound of voices. On peering through an aperture in the side of the venerable structure, the guard (it will be observed that this point in military discipline was strictly adhered to) reported a squad of well-armed “Johnnies” approaching, evidently bent on their capture/ Here was a good-sized dilemma for our brave boys, after the toilsome dangers through which they had passed -- to be taken prisoners when almost in sight of their comrades. What was to be done must be done quickly, so under the hay they popped, and none too soon, for hardly had the last 7x9 army shoe disappeared when the army entered.
Nothing in the conversation of the new comers led the trembling forms recumbent underneath the hay to think that their presence was mistrusted. But judge of the consternation of our friends when they discovered that their visitors, after detailing a portion of their number to prepare the evening meal (oh, how good that coffee smelled to those poor involuntary prisoners) seated themselves on the fragrant mow of hay, directly above the aforesaid “five,” and deliberately proceeded to a game of euchre, each one, unnecessarily, it seemed to those below, enforcing each trick he captured by an emphatic half leap that would have done credit to a thoroughbred kangaroo.
Well, to cut this narrative short, the “five” understood stood, or more correctly speaking, “laid” it as long as they could, when, preferring captivity to a death by suffocation, one by one they emerged from beneath the astonished rebels (?) to find that they were members of a New Jersey regiment on picket duty. Imagine our, -- no, their feelings; well both. Congratulations in order, followed by their imparting the (to us) disgusting information that they had seen us enter the barn, which was their relief headquarters. and had counted on having some fun; in which they certainly succeeded. The gray uniform worn by the New Jersey regiment caused them to be mistaken for rebels, as were many other regiments during the first three months of the war. The Third Michigan uniformed in the same manner, and it proved quite an aid to the “boys” on their private foraging expeditions. . . .
John was discharged for tuberculosis on July 29, 1861.
John returned home to Lansing following his discharge from the Third Michigan. “Private Strong,” wrote the Lansing State Republican on August 7, “brings back the compliments of the rebels in the shape of a minie ball fired at him while he was in the woods in search of water. The ball struck a musket, upon which he was leaning at the time, and glanced, striking the ground just behind him.”
He reentered the service in Company G, Twelfth Michigan infantry as Corporal on December 19, 1861. He was discharged for disability at Detroit on August 2, 1863. He may have also served in the Veterans’ Reserve Corps sometime in 1864 was discharged on April 6, 1865. (The VRC was made up of men who while ambulatory were generally incapable of performing regular military tasks due to having suffered debilitating wounds and/or diseases and were assigned to garrison the many supply depots, draft rendezvous, camps, forts, prisons, etc. scattered throughout the northern cities, thus freeing able-bodied men for regular military duty.)
John soon returned to Lansing (if in fact he had not already done so) where he married Salona or Lona B. Ostrander (1845-1919) on August 7, 1863. They had at least four children: George S. (b. 1865) and Marion L (b. 1868), Olive A. (b. 1872), and William H. (b. 1874).
By 1880 John was working as a farmer and living with his wife and children in Delta, Eaton County. John was probably living in Lansing in December of 1883 when he became a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association, and served during that year as secretary of the Association. John was living in Lansing in 1884 when he attended the Sixth Annual Reunion of the Soldiers and Sailors, at Battle Creek, Calhoun County. In 1884 he was still living in Lansing and was probably a member of the Grand Army of the Republic Foster Post in Lansing. (One source referred to John by what was probably a nickname, “Jack Weak.”)
And in fact it was under that nickname that John wrote an article to the short-lived Soldier Mercury in May of 1884.
A little incident comes to mind, which, at present thinking, causes considerable amusement, though at the time it occurred it came very near causing – well – a big disturbance. It happened while the old 3d Michigan Infantry was rendezvousing at Grand Rapids, Mich., over the rations issued to the boys in the similitude of bean soup, when the – well we suppose the part of the nutritious element of the historical army bean that turns into a sprout would separate, and floating in the liquid consistency, assume the appearance of the larvae from a fly or some other bug. Well, all of us were boiling over (worse than the soup) with wrath, held an indignation meeting, and the writer hereof was appointed chairman on public safety, to bring the matter before the colonel [Dan McConnell], and insist on having fresh beans used for soup; as some of the committee remarked, they would go better baked, and do away with the necessity of putting in a chunk of S. B. alias pork. Well, of course, every one imagine the scene at headquarters when we presented our grievance and demanded redress. We knew beans after that interview if we did not before; but the memory of those days still clings to us, and we heave a sigh of rejoicing at the vast amount of knowledge acquired under difficulties.
In 1884 he applied for and received a pension (no. 331041).
John died on January 28, 1885, possibly in Lansing and was buried in Delta Center, Michigan.
In March of 1887 his widow applied for a pension (no. 351182). She apparently remarried to one Henry Woodworth in 1889 and was living in Lansing in 1890.