Homer L. Thayer was born in 1838 in Green Oak, Livingston County, Michigan, possibly the son of Lucy.
In 1840 one Lucy Thayer and a male child less than 2 years old were living in Green Oak, Livingston County.
Homer eventually settled in Lansing, Ingham County, and was married to New yok native Julia P. Greene (1837-1905; she was noted for her fine singing voice.) By 1860 he was working as a merchant living with his wife who was a music teacher in Lansing’s First Ward. Also living in the First Ward, at Horace Angel’s hotel, in 1860 was a wealthy lumber merchant by the name of Charles Thayer (b. 1805 in Pennsylvania).
He was 23 years old and probably still living in Lansing when he enlisted as Second Sergeant in Company G on May 10, 1861. (Company G, formerly the “Williams’ Rifles,” was made up predominantly of men from the Lansing area.)
Early on the morning of July 18, 1861, as the Regiment moved westward from Fairfax, Virginia towards Centreville, “a small village in Fairfax County, and about eight miles west of Fairfax Court House,” wrote Frank Siverd of Company G, it was discovered that “a large body of rebels had just left their entrenchments. We made a halt for dinner in a beautiful grove. In the meantime scouts were scouring the whole country, some for rebels and others for dinner. One of the latter expeditions under command of Sergeant Thayer, took in charge a very intelligent young man, who represented himself a strong Union man. He has a good knowledge of the country and of the position of the enemy. He was considered of some importance to the army by the General, and placed under charge of Thayer for future use; from the young man we learned the position of a large body of troops strongly entrenched at a point called Bull's Run.” Siverd added in his note to the Lansing Republican on July 24 that Thayer was one of the men in the company ready for action on Sunday, July 21 at Bull Run, Virginia.
Shortly after the federal retreat from Bull Run, Lieutenant James B. Ten Eyck of Company G resigned his commission and returned to his home in Lansing where he reported to the Republican that in the recent engagement at Bull Run, he “gives the boys great praise for their bravery, and especially commends the conduct of Sergeant Homer L. Thayer, . . .”
By the first of December, 1861, Homer had been detached from the company and sent back to Michigan to recruit for the Regiment. Charles Church of Company G, wrote home to his parents in Williamston, Ingham County, on January 1, 1862, that Thayer will probably “be at Williamston and there father can see him and he can tell him all about us, etc.” Homer remained absent on recruiting service until March of 1862, and by the end of April was back in Virginia but on the staff of either General Hiram Berry or General Samuel Heintzelman. Frank Siverd wrote May 2 that Thayer had recently arrived back in camp from Michigan, and added that he “has received a position in the office of the Assistant Adjutant General of the Brigade thus placing him on Berry’s staff).”
Following Frank Siverd's death at Fair Oaks, Virginia, on May 31, 1862, the editor of the Lansing Republican announced on June 18 that “In pursuance of Mr. Siverd's request before the battle, Homer L. Thayer will continue the correspondence with this paper.”
At midnight, Saturday, May 31, Homer Thayer wrote his wife from the “Hospital Building, 100 rods to the left of our redoubt, near battlefield.”
We advanced about 3 miles this forenoon towards Richmond, and by 2 p.m., heard musketry 2 miles ahead of us, which gradually drew nearer.
Finally, Gen. Berry and Capt. Smith rode out to the rifle pits, and soon ordered the brigade under arms, and moved the 3d, 5th, and 37th across the field 3/4ths of a mile into the woods directly towards the engagement which was going on between Generals Couch and Casey’s men, and in a short time the [regiment] which was in front of us, broke and ran, thus leaving us suddenly exposed, and our regiments then commenced firing and advancing as the ground was cleared of those engaged before us.
In a short time every one was looking out for his man, and when volleys were fired by the enemy our men laid down. At last they were so near (in some places not 3 rods) both sides laid down and continued firing -- this nearly all in the woods, and in some places swampy.
Our 3d fought like tigers, and many noble men fell. I give the names as far as I am certain, and many more are missing.
E. F. Siverd, Chas. T. Foster (color sergeant), Samuel Dowell, N. T. Atkinson and Case B. Wickham, Co. G, are dead.
The following, of Co. G, are wounded, and brought into this hospital:
Lieut. Mason, in the groin; John Broad, in the face and arm; A. Billings, L. Croy, Wm. Clark, Jackson, Ingersoll, Benson, Trimmer and N. Johnson.
Our Adjt. General, Capt. E. M. Smith, is dead. I have just returned from taking his body to the station, about 2 miles from here. He said to me today noon, “Homer, I am going to be shot in this engagement,” but I told him I thought it was only his imagination. Poor fellow, he was too bold.
Capt. Quackenbush has just been brought in dead. You recollect he and his wife were with us at Pontiac last winter.
Our dear Colonel was wounded, but we hope not mortally.
Our regiment, what there are who have come in and able to bear arms, are bivouacked at the rifle pits above referred to, and number not far from 250.
Some more will come in, we hope, to be able to go on to the field in the morning and take care of our dead.
Large reinforcements have come to his point since dark, and we shall hold our position without doubt. We learn, tonight, that McClellan has pushed forward troops on our extreme right, nearly in Richmond, and that this engagement was brought on by their trying to outflank us on our left.
Gen. Berry said to me tonight: “Your Mich. 3d regiment was worth oceans of money, if money could be of any use in describing their value in holding our positions.”
The Mich. 2d was on picket since the morning of the 29th, and did not get on to the field in time to participate much in the engagement.
I can form no idea of our loss, but know it to be large. We are making all preparations to resist or attack tomorrow, as soon as it is light.
I am writing on the floor of a room where there are perhaps 15 wounded men lying, waiting for their turns from the surgeon. I have been assisting here now since 4 o’clock, except one hour that I was gone to the station. Poor fellows! they stand it better than anyone would expect, but many are suffering for want of prompt attendance from the surgeon. There are three here, Drs. Gunn, Bliss and ______, and there ought to be fifty, besides as many attendants to give the patients water and assist in putting on splints and bandages.
This has been a terrible battle, and we are not yet through, but our brigade will be relieved before morning, to give us time to organize anew where officers are dead or wounded.
This is the third time that I have assisted to care for the unfortunate wounded and dead.
Sunday morning, June 1st
I am at Gen. Heintzelman’s headquarters, and find that the cars are soon to leave with a load of wounded men, and by one of them I will send this.
It has been a sorry night indeed. This morning it is raining. What may be done in the way of engaging the enemy today is uncertain. I shall, as soon as is possible, get to the field where we left so many of our best men, and, when it is possible, assist in their burial.
Siverd often asked me if I would continue “Stray Leaves” if he should be killed, and I promised him I would, though I fell unable to attempt the task.
I forgot to mention of the officers wounded, Capt. Loring [Lowing] , and Lieutenants Dodge, Pelton and Judd.
Siverd was hit three times, and after he was hit the second time he cheered the boys on nobly.
Foster was a good boy, and beloved by all.
It looks lonesome enough this morning, to go along by the 3d and see the decimated ranks.
Write to me often. This, we nearly all believe will settle the business for the secesh when we have finished. Our boys will not flinch but will stand up to the enemy’s fire as long as their ammunition holds out, and then, if they are in an open field, charge bayonet.
We have a large number of prisoners, some of them sulky, and some rather seem to be glad that they are released.
No remains can be sent home until all the wounded are sent off, according to order from the War Department last night.
Gen. Berry, as well as our entire brigade, are feeling deeply the loss of Capt. Smith. The General is liked by all, and while he will try to do his whole duty, he will avoid taking his men into unnecessary danger.
Your affectionate husband, H. L. Thayer.
From Brigade headquatrers near the Fair Oaks battlefield, Homer wrote to George Parsons of the Republican, on June 3, his first letter to the Lansing paper. “I will try to keep your readers informed,” he declared, “of our whereabouts and doings, but I am well aware that they will miss ‘Stray Leaves from Camp’ [Siverd’s byline], and with us, mourn the loss of their author.” In fact he did continue to provide frequent reports to the paper on the movements of the Regiment and the status of the Lansing boys, although his letters lacked the breadth and depth of Siverd’s analyses.
Dear Sir: -- I wrote on the evening of the battle to my wife, giving a hasty description of the part which our Brigade took in the act of that day; also, a particular list of the killed and wounded of our company.
The reports were not completed until late last night, and I now enclose an abstract from them of the loss of the three Michigan Regiments of our Brigade:
Michigan 2d Killed Wounded Missing
Officers none 2 none
Enlisted men 10 40 2
Officers 1 8 none
Men 25 104 27
Officers 1 4 none
Men 57 115 14
Making an aggregate of 378 -- some of the missing will undoubtedly be found.
The loss of our Lansing company is severe, and comprises some of the best men of the company.
Sergt. Chas. T. Foster, the Color Sergt. of the Regiment was the first to fall. He was bravely holding the colors, and by his coolness and courage, doing much to encourage the boys to press on. Orderly E. F. Siverd was soon after wounded, but still did his duty and urged his comrades on. Soon after this Corporals Case B. Wickam, John Blanchard and Nathaniel T. Atkinson, and privates Samuel Dowell and Charles T. Gaskill received fatal shots. Atkinson and Dowell were brought from the field before they died. All have been buried, and their resting places marked with aboard giving the name, company and regiment.
Jackson, Clays, Benson, Trimmer and Crane are in camp, and the balance of the wounded have been sent on the cars to White House Landing to be forwarded to their homes, and where they are not able to stand the journey will be taken to hospitals at Fortress Monroe, Washington, and Baltimore, but I think it is the intention top send them home when they are able to go, and can be better cared for. There is an order from the War Department commuting the rations of the sick and wounded soldiers at 25 cents per day while away from the charge of the Department. Gen. Berry's Assistant Adjutant General Capt. E. M. Smith was killed during the engagement. he was a most gallant and brave officer, and beloved by all who knew him. He distinguished himself at the battle of Williamsburg for his bravery, as will be seen by the official report of both Generals kearney and Berry. Four of my comrades, with myself, carried him back to the station and buried him in a pleasant orchard where many more have been buried since.
Capt. Judd, of Co. "A,” 3d Regiment, was killed while in charge of the Sharpshooters in the advance of our Brigade.
Captain Quackenbush, of the 5th, as also killed.
Col. Champlin was wounded severely though it is not considered dangerous. He walked some distance after he was wounded, and by his presence and energy did much to encourage his men.
I would gladly speak of the merits of each of our company who are dead, had I the ability of doing so as they deserve; they were beloved by all, and their many mourning friends may be assured they have the heartfelt sympathy of every one of us.
Our knapsacks are all back with the wagon train across the river and may not soon be up. . . .
Our Division moved last evening farther to the front and across the railroad, to the right, and in the rear of Generals Sedgwick and Richardson's Divisions.
Gen. Richardson's division was engaged last Sunday and he lost about 900 men. He came to our camp today, and was immediately surrounded by the Brigade who greeted him with the wildest enthusiasm.
The weather is very warm, with frequent showers, which keeps the roads in a horrible condition.
Our boys are feeling quite tired out, but stand it as a general thing well. Corporal Shattuck and private W. F. Hogan, arrived in camp yesterday from the Hospital at Yorktown; they report Sergt. J. B. Ten Eyck as getting better, but not yet able to return to duty.
The rebels are holding their position here better than at any other place in Virginia, still we have no doubt of our final success.
The official reports of the engagement of the 31st of May,I suppose, will soon be published, so that you can have a better idea of the part our regiment performed. They were in the advance of the balance of the Brigade, and fought with a determination seldom equaled. General's Kearney and Berry both gave us great praise.
The loss of the 37th N.Y. Regiment was 81 killed, wounded and missing.
I earnestly hope it may not be my duty to again report losses such as these to our brigade. Our numbers are small, but each feel that we still have a duty to perform, and while there is a man left to do duty, I trust you will hear of it being done well.
I will try to keep your readers informed of our whereabouts and doings, but I am well aware that they will miss "Stray Leaves from Camp,” and with us, mourn the loss of their author.
Capt. Jefferds has been obliged to forward his resignation on account of continuing ill health, and will probably soon be at home so that our many friends can hear more particularly from each.
Homer was promoted to Second Lieutenant on June 9 at Camp Lincoln, Virginia.
On June 20-27, from the Third Michigan camp near Richmond, Homer wrote to Lansing describing the recent developments in the Regiment.
Since writing my last, giving you the loss of our company, etc., we have again moved to the front. Our position is well to the left, while the main force of the rebels is supposed to be further to the right, though we have sufficient indication of their presence near us, to keep all well on the look out.
The preparations which are being made for future operations I have no right to describe, but of this much you may be certain, we feel certain of success, Richmond is doomed. It is only a question of a few days time.
Lieut. Baker, of the Sharpshooters, came in to see us today, his company having just come from Mechanicsville to this part of the lines, and attached to Gen. Franklin's division.
The following is an abstract from this morning's report of our company, present and absent:
Present for duty -- 1 Captain, 1 2d Lieut., 10 non-commissioned officers, and 33 privates.
On daily duty -- 6
Present sick -- 6
Total present -- 2 officers and 55 men
Absent on detached service -- 1 1st Lieut. and 1 private
Sick -- 16
Total absent -- 1 officer and 17 men
Aggregate in company -- 74
The following are the names of the officers of Co. G:
Captain -- Abraham J. Whitney
1st Lieut. -- Joseph Mason
2nd Lieut. -- Homer L. Thayer
Orderly Sergeant -- George Ellis
Sergeants -- Jerome B. Ten Eyck, Joseph Stevens, Artemus G. Newman, and George M. Cook
Corporals -- Chas. H. Church, Chas. A. Price, Allen Shattuck, William F. Hogan, Benajamin Hammond, John Bissell, Joshua Bensen and Peter Clays
Lieut. Mason is now in Michigan on the recruiting service.
Sergt. Ten Eyck, Corporal Church and private Samuel Smith were last heard from (some 2 days ago) in the hospital at Yorktown.
John Broad is in hospital on Davis Island, East River,New York. Peter Canally, Okemos, Mich. Wm. Clark, DeWitt, Mich. Lawrence Croy, State Hospital, New Haven, Conn.
O. C. Ingersoll, Norman L. Johnson and John Trimmer, General Hospital, Judiciary Square, Washington, D. C.; Francis Lackey and John Sayles, Annapolis, Md. Alex. Ross, Portsmouth, Va. Chas. H. Rose, Watertown, Mich.
John Shaft left at hospital near the Chickahominy. William R. Stall and Chas. H. Adams have just gone to regimental hospital. Arthur Watkins has returned from the hospital at Washington, recovered from the wound received on the 31st [of May], which proved not so bad as was first supposed. Charles H. Adams has just returned from the hospital at Annapolis, where he has been since sometime last January.
By notice received from Douglas Hospital at Washington, we learn that Augustus Billings died on the 17th from the effect of his wounds.
Several of the regimental officers are away, either wounded or on sick leave. We have only 4 captains and 8 lieutenants in the regiment.
Saturday, June 21st
Last evening our regiment was ordered to prepare for 48 hours picket duty, to be ready at 3 o'clock this morning, and we are posted in the woods on a line running from the rifle pits in front of the camp towards the James river, the farthest post -- probably 1 1/2 miles from the camp. Videttes are placed 100 yards in front of each post, and in position to signal from one to another and back to the main post in case of danger.
There are generally 4 men a non-commissioned officer at each post, each man standing in front of the vidette for two hours at a time, and with instructions to fire on any thing coming from outside the line, unless it is plain that they are scouts or persons desirous to give themselves up as prisoners, but woe be to the unlucky rebel who attempts to come up with arms for any purpose.
Yesterday, some 40 or 50 shot and shell were thrown towards our camps from over in `Dixie', but without doing any harm. Our guns make no reply by which they could learn our position, and today the same pranks here have been repeated with no better success.
The cook has just brought down to us two kettles of bean soup and our mail for today, all of which is very acceptable.
Word has just been sent down the lines to look well to the front, as large numbers of rebel troops have been seen moving to the front of us, but no one seems in th least scared. The men take such things cool, and will hold the picket line against a pretty good number of the enemy, and in case of being overpowered will fall back gradually towards the grand guard and reserves, giving the grey coats first a sample of Michigan sharp shooting practice, which they so much dread.
Our Michigan troops are beginning to get some of the credit which they deserve. Our brigade has twice taken the brunt of the fire when the division was ordered into battle, and by doing their duty each time, saved the day to our forces. Very few regiments were in better places, nor was there any part of the battle fields here where so many of the enemy's dead could be counted the next day, as where Berry's brigade had been engaged.
The New York 1st regiment, numbering nearly 1,000 men for duty, has been added to our brigade.
Today has been unusually quiet along the lines. Last night, about 9 o'clock, a volley of 90 or 100 guns was fired a few hundred yards from our lines, when commands to cease firing were plainly heard, which indicated some mistake among the rebels, as their shots certainly did not affect any of us.
Still quiet to the right, which is unaccountable, as hardly a 6 hours has passed since the battle, that there has not been cannonading at some point. But here comes the . . . welcome "next relief,” and we are hastily preparing to return to camp, where we shall be farther away from the rebel guns and Virginia snakes and musquitos, the last of which are too plenty here in the woods for pleasure.
Today all were startled by a sudden and unaccountable succession of volleys of musketry, in our rear, and for a time all was excitement as we were partly prepared to expect danger from that way by the recent raid of Stewart's [IS] cavalry near the White House landing, but an orderly from headquarters soon came with word that Couch's division had permission to fire their pieces, which had been loaded for some time.
This afternoon, Mr. Phelps, of Detroit, the Allotment Commissioner, came to see us to get the names of those who wished to send their pay home, and within half an hour 38 of Co. G signed the roll, sending an average of $11 per month for the enlisted men, and with $250, officer's pay, making the snug little sum of $1,075 to send to Michigan next pay day.
If all of Michigan men now in the army would do the same, $200,000 could be sent to Michigan every two months. I think, however, few companies will make up so large an amount from the same number of men.
This afternoon the enemy in considerable force attempted to drive in the pickets which were stationed in front of Gen. Hooker's command, next on our right, but one of our field pieces was soon got in position to reach them and reinforcements going quickly to their support, the enemy made retreat a military necessity, and all was soon quiet.
This morning orders were received to fall in under arms at 1/2 past 7. The nature of the duties expected we could only surmise, but from the frequent heavy guns in the direction of Gen. Porter's division we surmised that it might mean work.
We were told that we were only to go into the rifle pits, but we had hardly got there before we were ordered out to the front on the picket lines. We had hardly reached there before heavy firing at our right showed that our troops were engaging. Gen. Hooker's pickets had been posted in an irregular line, which gave the rebels more ground than was thought proper . . . .
The 5th Mich. were posted next to our right, and the 37th N. Y. at our left, and we advanced through the thick underbrush so as to keep our line perfect until the required ground was in our possession, without coming in collision with the enemy.
But Gen. Robinson's brigade, (formerly Jameson's,) in our division, was less fortunate. They came upon the enemy and had a severe encounter, the results of which we have not yet learned. The rebels we could plainly hear as they came up to the field, giving orders to "close up,” "now give it to them,” etc., and finally, to our surprise, a "charge" was ordered, and then a sort of yell; but as our boys said, it sounded as though they had only eaten half rations. Soon a terrible volley was poured in, which made them go back in quicker time and making more noise by considerable than when they came up. This was repeated 3 times, but our men each time met them with such showers of lead that they gladly gave up the business.
There was but little attempt made after this to get back the ground which they had lost, and night coming on, we all stayed where we were, ready to hold our position if there was any further demonstration the next morning. We could hear the officers and men swearing as they retreated, and after dark the cries of their wounded could be plainly heard by our pickets. The bells in Richmond could be heard in the evening, and also their drums in some of the camps. Possibly they call it a victory, but we could not see it in that light.
Early this morning we heard a few volleys fired, and as a prisoner taken yesterday said, they were prepared to have made an attack if we had not, it was thought best to watch them closely.
Our regiment stayed on reserve until night, and then went to the front and were stationed as pickets, with reserves from our other regiments. Towards night terrific cannonading commenced some 8 or 10 miles to our right, and continued until about 10 o'clock, when we could hear coming along the lines cheers, which were taken up by regiment after regiment, gradually coming nearer, until it reached our camp; and such expressions of joy I think were hardly ever heard on this peninsula before. Soon the bands of commenced playing, and as all had been kept quiet in our camps ever since we have been here, we were satisfied that there must be a victory to our side, if, indeed, the right was not in Richmond.
The cannonading commenced again this morning, and kept up until afternoon. We have heard any number of reports regarding it, as to who were the parties engaged and the results, hardly any two corresponding, but it is generally understood that the enemy, under Gen. Lee, crossed the Chickahominy and engaged our troops attempting to turn our right, and that they have been driven back by the division of Gens. McCall and Morrill.
We came in from picket this forenoon, and since we came away the lines were nearly broken by the rebels appearing in force and one of the regiments giving way. But Gen. Kearney quickly got it back by sending out 3 guns and a small number of reliable Michigan men. There was 10 from each company of the 3d, and I think the same number from the 2d and 3d [5th?].
When they were coming back, Gen. Kearney rode up to our 3d boys, and said in response to the three cheers given him, "I have always found you in a fight. Ours' is the fighting division of the army. One more fight and we will be in Richmond," and with some remarks not very flattering to the credit of some of the Eastern troops who had cause the trouble today, he rode on.
We have, this afternoon, instructions to put two days' rations in our haversacks and keep our canteens filled, ready for a march.
Before this reaches you the telegraph may announce we are in Richmond.
From the Regiment’s camp near Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, Homer wrote to the editor of the Republican on July 3,
When I closed my last we were preparing for an attack, as it was evident that the attack on our right was not terminating in our favor. We prepared Saturday for the field in earnest, by giving each man 90 additional rounds of ammunition, and filling canteens and haversacks, ready for quick work, whatever it might be.
At dark the men were ordered to put up their best clothes and more valuable articles in their knapsacks, . . . and prepare to abandon the rest if necessary. This looked like retreat, but at the same time men were kept at work strengthening our rifle pits.
After dark the officers packed the most important company books and papers in two desks, and their own most valuable clothing in a small satchel, each limiting himself to as little as possible, and about 12 the two regimental wagons had taken the desks, some provisions and the best tents, while the sutler's wagon, under charge of Mr. Nelson, took the officers baggage, and started to join the train which was forming back in the woods.
We then laid down, waiting patiently for orders to move, but none came until after daylight, when the balance of the tents, desks and extra clothing were burned or thrown into the wells, and we fell in, looking, as a general thing, rather blue.
When the brigade was ready to move, the pickets were drawn in, and we moved back to the rifle pits from which we moved into the engagement at Fair Oaks, and then rested until afternoon. We could hear firing on our right which showed that the enemy were aware of the move.
The morning was foggy, which probably somewhat assisted our preparations. We crossed the ford at the swamp about 5 p.m., and camped for the night about 2 miles further on. Just before crossing the ford, our pickets were attacked by a large force and probably some of the stragglers were taken prisoners.
Monday morning we were up and under arms before sunrise, and went back a short distance and waited in the rear until afternoon, when the enemy came on in force and made an attack which they certainly found us ready to receive and repel, doing them great damage.
While the engagement was going on toward night, Gen. Berry rode up to our brigade and called out the 2d and 5th Mich., and next the 1st and 37th N.Y. to drive back the enemy, who were attempting to take a battery placed in the field near us. They went in with a shout of exultation which must have sounded unpleasant to the enemy, and I believe their rifles were dreaded still more.
The 3d expected to go next, but at this moment a regiment was directed to be sent to the right to support Gen. Birney, and we filed off through the woods until we came up to the 4th Maine regiment, lying behind the 20th Indiana, who were doing their duty nobly, while the enemy kept their position and returned the fire with a vengeance.
All laid flat on the ground to avoid the bullets and shell which came through the woods striking all around us. The Indianans held the ground, doing all the fighting until dark, when we marched off by the right flank through the woods, forming in a long line as a picket reserve to keep the enemy from pushing through.
In the night we threw out two pickets from each company along the whole line some 50 paces to give notice of any appearance of the rebels, and then laid down for some rest, which we very much needed.
Between 2 or 3 o'clock all were awakened and quietly ordered to fall in and follow the front of the column without orders, and to leave the pickets (who were strengthened to six on a post) without notifying them, and they would be brought in by the officers in the rear of the column.
All walked quietly as it was well understood that the safety of all depended on our success in reaching the balance of the troops on the Charles City road before the enemy knew that we were moving.
We reached there about daylight,and soon our pickets began to appear. They had, through some mistake, received no notice, and as soon as they found they were alone,made a move to find us, and I think at this time all have got in.
When we reached the road it was crowded, but there was generally good order observed. Many gave out and sat down when they could go no farther, and probably many such are prisoners, as the wagons and ambulances were mostly ahead, and many regiments were away from their brigades on picket, and marched directly from their posts to the road.
It was generally supposed by the men at this time, that we were to cross the river as soon as it was reached, but after marching a few miles we reached the open fields near the river, and found our troops forming as fast as they came in, and batteries placed to shell the woods as soon as our men were all in.
Kearney's division was rapidly formed and marched around to the right, taking a position facing the enemy. No sooner were we in position than firing commenced directly in front of us in the woods.
Our batteries commenced work near us, which soon brought a response in the shape of shell and solid shot that struck all around us, killing and wounding several in our brigade. These, with the hot sun pouring down as we lay in the wheat stubble, made it unpleasant, but some one must be there and we happened to be the unlucky ones, though when we witnessed the terrible slaughter which followed we thought that we had but little to complain of.
The musketry continued in terrible volleys from both sides, which indicated that the enemy were both in large force and in earnest. Towards night we were ordered to the front with the N.Y. 37th and crossed the field, taking a position to give the enemy a raking fire if they should drive our men back so as to come into the field. Soon a couple of batteries came up and commenced immediately throwing shell and grape among the enemy, which with the infantry that was pouring down towards them on the left and two or three batteries in another position, soon drove back the grey jackets, and as soon as they had begun to retreat the infantry withdrew, and all the batteries which were in position together with one or two of the gunboats, finished the job by filling the woods with the contents of their heavy caissons.
After dark the scene was the grandest imaginable. There was probably 50 cannon at a time throwing shot as fast as they could load and fire. Especially,the shell from the gunboats, looking like large comits [sic], was rather the most extensive exhibition of fireworks that I ever saw.
About this time a Minnie [sic] ball, (of which there we many still dropping around us although we could not hear a gun) struck one of our company, Charles W. LeRoy, who was lying near me at the right of our company, and inflicted a painful wound in his foot.
Another struck one Corporal Clapper of Co. I, killing him almost instantly. One or two others have been wounded slightly in our regiment, but I have not the names. Several in the brigade were killed and wounded during the day, but it is impossible yet to give a correct list.
. . . . The roads were bad, and the large number of troops, together with the long trains, made it slow work.
Large amounts of property were destroyed, many of the wagons getting fast and having to throw away their loads in order to move to let others get along, and as fast as the men began to give out they would throw away clothing, guns, provisions or anything to get along.
These military strategies are somewhat played out with all of us when we come to hard marching in retreat, and having to throw away so much that must be paid for and more got to replace it. And this is not the worst feature. Many of our friends were left to fall into the hands of the enemy, and especially does it seem hard in the case of the wounded.
But if this rebellion can be crushed out by this terrible loss of life and property, and men are still plenty who are willing to take the risks and lose their lives in any way that may seem necessary to carry out the purposes of the government, and we can have Statesmen and Generals who will conduct it that way which shall soon bring it to a certain close, we who are in the field will not complain.
Our division is now encamped in a pleasant place near the river, where we understand we are to stay for a time to recruit up and prepare for future operations.
Capt. Whitney is sick and at the hospital at Fortress Monroe, but writes me that he will soon be back to join his company.
No mails have been received since we started from the rifle pits until last night, when they commenced coming in by the bag full, until nearly all are supplied; that is, for a day or two, but we shall look as anxiously as ever tomorrow for something more from home.
Yesterday salutes were fired, bands played, and we had quite a celebration, though it lacked a good 4th of July celebration and dinner -- but we hope to be with you on the next.
On August 9, while still at Harrison’s Landing, Homer wrote to Mr. Parsons in Lansing,
We are now looking quite as anxiously for news from the North as you are from us, and the readiness with which the President's call for more troops is being obeyed, infuses new life into the army here.
There has been no demonstrations on the part of the rebels here since that of two of their batteries on the opposite side of the river a few nights ago, and we have plenty of troops now over there to prevent a repetition of that performance. I was at the Landing when some of the infantry went across the next day and destroyed the house and outbuildings which was used as a cover for the enemy the night before, and when I learned that it was the property of the man who fired the first gun at Fort Sumpter [sic; Edmund Ruffin?], I said, with hundreds of others who witnessed the conflagration, that it was but just. Houses, barns and trees were leveled, everything that would afford a shelter for the enemy's guns was laid low. There is great activity in all departments as to what move will be made next.
Gen. Berry has gone home to Maine, on a short leave of absence, recruit his health, and the Brigade is temporarily under command of Col. Dyckman, of the 1st N. Y. Within a few days past we have received reinforcements to this Brigade from Richmond (part of our men who were taken prisoners, having been exchanged), 94 in all, and there are several more yet to come. They complain of pretty severe treatment while in Richmond.
In compliance with a recent act of Congress, our regimental bands are to be immediately mustered out of service; this is regretted exceedingly, though it is partly made up by the allowance of brigade bands.
Two officers for each regiment and one man from each company are to be sent North immediately for recruits for their respective regiments. Sergt. Stevens from company G, will soon be n Lansing and give any who want it an opportunity to enlist in the 3d. He was selected for this duty as a recognition of his uniform good conduct and bravery, and we would all be pleased to hear of his appointment to a position of higher rank in one of the new regiments. And there are others in the company and many in the regiment who would do good service for our country in command of companies. Men who have had experience, if only as privates, in nine cases out of ten make better officers than can be found among the many aspirants for office who have seen no service.
Samuel Alexander has received the appointment of assistant engineer of this division. Ketchum is at the hospital at the Landing, though not dangerously sick. James Davis, Gardner and Stephenson have been recommended for a discharge. Large numbers of the sick have recently been sent North and there are many more yet sick at the hospitals here, though the general health of the troops is improving. This is, no doubt, partly due to the change of diet, consisting of onions, cabbage and turnips in place of whiskey and some other articles not needed.
Send us men to fill up the regiments in the field and the good work shall go on to a speedy termination. Yours, H.
Homer was on detached service as Brigade provost marshal in August of 1862 through October. On September 2 from Alexandria he wrote to Lansing,
The 3d Regiment has again been engaged with the enemy, and suffered severely. The lists of killed and wounded are not yet completed, but as near as I can learn the following is the loss of Co. G:
Corporal William F. Hogan and private Albert Lewis, killed.
Orderly Sergeant George Ellis, wounded in hip, probably mortal.
Sergeant A.G. Newman, wounded in right arm, amputated.
Corporal Peter Clays and private A. Miller, wounded and missing.
Corporals B. F. Hammond and Allen Shattuck, and privates Wm. Bryce, I. M. D. Crane, A. J. Hath, O. Richards, Alex. Ross, Alva Weller, and John A. Stanton, wounded, most of them slightly.
The entire loss of the regiment is about 130 in killed and wounded. The engagement was on last Sunday, near the battle field of the 21st July, 1861.
Last night Gen. Kearney was killed while venturing too close to the enemy's lines. His remains passed through the city today on the way home to New Jersey. Our division is in mourning for those who have fallen, and especially for our brave commander.
I hear this evening that the division is ordered back to our old camp ground of last year, near Fort Lyon.
I have been on duty in this city with the provost guard of our brigade since we came form the Peninsula, but shall probably join the brigade tomorrow.
The city is full of rumors of victories and defeats, and it is a hard matter to find out the positions of the two armies, but our troops are in good spirits and pushing on with a determination to conquer.
By early September his wife had joined him in Virginia.
In late October Homer wrote to Mr. Parsons from a camp near Edward’s Ferry, Maryland.
Our Brigade moved from Upton's Hill, Va., to this place, twelve days ago expecting to be in time to engage the enemy before their return to Virginia, but found ourselves a little too late, and are now doing picket for eight miles along the [C & O?] canal. Our Division is under Gen. Stoneman, and by a recent order, we belong to the Ninth Corps de Armee, commanded by General Burnside.
The weather has been pretty fine this fall, but the nights are beginning to be pretty cold, and if we are to make many more moves it is hoped they may be ordered soon. The health of the regiment is generally good. The boys of the 3d, as usual, are in good spirits, and Co. "G" especially, were much pleased yesterday by the return of Lieut. Mason, and also by a visit from Mr. Warner, of Lansing. It is a great pleasure to meet any one here that we have known at home.
I visited the 20th Mich. Regiment a few days since, and found them scattered along the canal on picket, 15 miles above here. They are beginning to appreciate some of the pleasures of a soldier's life; and while some admitted that their board and lodging was rather inferior to that furnished at the "Benton" and "Eagle,” they generally agreed that it would do for soldiers. Col. Williams was feeling well, and spending his time (as he always has done) for the benefit of his men.
There are rumors of the enemy making attempts to cross again into Maryland, but nothing to be relied upon. It may be that they will repeat this last act, for they certainly do some curious things, but we very much doubt their ability to get back with so little loss again.
I may possibly soon have something of importance to communicate, but the indications now are that we are about settling down for Winter quarters.
On November 1 from a camp near Leesburg, Virginia, Homer wrote to the Lansing Republican,
We have again invaded the sacred soil of Virginia, and encamped last night at this place, on the road between Leesburg and Winchester.
Orders came the 27th inst., to cross the Potomac. On the following day one division came over at White's Ford. It had rained for twelve hours previous to our crossing, but the river spreads out to 50 rods in width, and is only 2 1/2 or 3 feet deep at the deepest places, and all passed with but few accidents.
The inhabitants of this county (Loudon), war nearly all the strongest kind of secessionists, and most of the male population both black and white -- are in the rebel service. This is the richest portion of Virginia, but so poorly cultivated for the past twenty months that the appearance is quite desolate. The buildings are large and substantial, and built usually of stone.
Yesterday half a company of our cavalry were taken prisoners some miles out, and today, brisk cannonading can be heard in the same direction, so that we are making our calculations to see active service before going into winter quarters, but what the intentions of our Generals may be, can only be guessed at by us. Although it is unpleasant to be on the move during the fall rains, if we can assist in that way to bring the war to a speedy termination our efforts will not be regretted. So far this fall, the weather has been beautiful, and the roads are yet good.
There are very few sick, and all are in good spirits, and many are preparing to change to the Regular service, as they are allowed to do by a recent order from the War Department.
As fast as anything of interest occurs you will hear from us.
On December 17, from near Falmouth, Virginia, Homer wrote to Lansing,
As your readers are always anxious to know how the Michigan boys come out of battle, I will try to tell them something of the doings of the 3d at the taking of Fredericksburg. We moved from our camp on the morning of the 11th just as the cannonading commenced, but did not cross the river until about 10 a.m. on the 13th, when we were marched to a position ten miles below Fredericksburg and to the front, to support a battery which was about being charged upon by two regiments of the enemy. The 3rd and 5th Michigan, 37th N. Y. and 17th Maine are soon in line, and all but the 3rd commenced firing, which soon checked the enemies [sic] advance. It was pretty warm work for a time, as the rebel batteries were shelling us from the edge of the woods about 1000 yards away, but the field was soon clear of the enemies [sic] infantry, and comparative quiet restored until towards dark. Gen. Reynolds with some of his staff rode up in front of us, and directed a shot to be fired on some of the enemy in the edge of the woods, which was immediately answered by at least two batteries, which concentrated their fire on that point, causing the General to make a speedy exit, and every body else to lay low. Our brigade lost during the day about 150 in killed and wounded, including Lt. Col. Gillufy, of the 5th, who was killed while leading his regiment. There are five men of the 3rd wounded, but none seriously. At dark the 3rd was placed on picket along a ditch in the field in front of the position held during the day. It was a cold night and the ground wet and muddy, but each man felt that he was doing his duty, and it certainly was done well and without murmuring. The Pennsylvania reserves had fought off this ground just as our brigade came up, and their wounded still lay in the field beyond our picket line, and could be heard asking piteously for water, and to be brought in off the field, but it was not in our power to assist them. Our company brought in one poor fellow during the night, and did what they could for him, but he was mortally wounded, and died soon after. We were kept on picket during the day (Sunday) and frequently exchanged shots with the Grey Backs who were in another ditch about 40 rods from us, but with little damage to either side, unless we shot closer than they did. During the day a flag of truce was sent out to get permission to bring away the wounded and dead, and while the officers on each side were consulting, some of the pickets [crossed] the field each half way, shake hands, talk a few minutes, and then return. It was altogether a novel proceeding, and of course entirely wrong. In a short time the bearers of the white flags were seen separating, and each side took their old places, and firing soon commenced quite brisk. It was now dark and the relief shortly after made its appearance when we quietly moved back to our old place behind the cannon and tried to sleep, which you will judge was not a sound one, laying down as we did without a fire and only a cold supper.
Monday we had some artillery firing, and in the afternoon another flag of truce was sent over and arrangements made by which we had one hour to bring away our wounded and dead . when the time was up we had brought across the line 23 wounded and 75 dead of the dead, and the latter stripped of every thing valuable, and nearly all shoeless. Two officers had nothing left but their vests and underclothes. I hope I may never hear of our soldiers practicing such barbarity.
In the evening it became apparent that some grand move was to be made, and it was generally supposed that a night attack had been planned, and so there had as it turned out, but it was for the other side of the river, VIA the Pontoons instead of harm to the enemy, and we were soon marching in quick time on our back track, and when across in the woods were ordered to make ourselves comfortable for the balance of the night; and some did, if we except the dampening effects of a heavy shower, but the sun came out pleasant in the morning. and after breakfast we marched back and occupied our old camp where the boys had commenced log pens, and they are now completing them as though nothing had happened more than an ordinary drill or review. It has been one of the hardest undertakings on account of the weather, and what effect it may have to close the war, is the question; but as there are plenty with nothing else to do but discuss this point,I will leave it for them. Yours, H. L. Thayer
Homer was acting Regimental Quartermaster in January of 1863, effectively placing him outside of the mainstream of events occurring in Company G. It is possible that he returned home to Michigan briefly sometime in early 1863.
Apparently sometime in the middle of February, 1863, Thayer was court-martialed. According to a letter written on February 16 from an assistant Adjutant General to General David Birney who was commanding the First Division of the Third Corps,
The proceedings of the Board of Inquiry convened by Special Orders No. 7 for the Headquarters 1st Division, 3rd Corps, are approved. The conduct of Lieutenant Homer L. Thayer, 3rd Michigan Volunteers in remaining absent from his command after an extension of his leave was refused, was a gross breach of military discipline, unjustifiable under any circumstances, and consequently is deserving of severe censure. -- But in view of the recommendation of the Board, the Secretary of War, in this instance, directs that the bar to his receiving pay be removed and that he be continued in the service.
From camp near Falmouth, Virginia, Homer wrote to Lansing on March 27, 1863,
Since the battle of Fredericksburg, nothing of particular interest has occurred in our regiment. The time has been taken up in drilling, target practice, picket duty and reviews. Gen. Hooker has busied himself since he was placed in command, in becoming acquainted with the condition of his troops, and by his untiring exertions this army has been placed in better trim for service than it ever was before. Strict discipline is being enforced; incompetent officers have been disposed of without partiality; men unfit for service are being discharged and all the preparations are going on for an early campaign and active service.
Yesterday our division was reviewed by Gen. Sickles (the Corps commander,) accompanied by Gov. Curtin; and every day the troops are paraded for inspection, either by the Brigade or Regiment, and everything lacking in clothing or equipments is noted down and sent for immediately, so that when the order comes to march nothing will be lacking.
Transportation is cut down to the least possible amount, being from three to six wagons to a regiment, (according to the number of men,) and two pack mules to carry the officers shelter tents and extra rations, the wagons to carry the rations for the men, and an average of twenty-five pounds for each officer; so you see our summer outfits will not be cumbersome.
St. Patrick's day was duly celebrated on the grounds by the Irish Brigade, by hurdle racing, steeple chasing, etc., and today this Division has been engaged in the show business. A purse of $500 was distributed between the owners of the fastest horses, and the men who performed the greatest feats are running, jumping, climbing, or in any other way making the most fun. Gen. Hooker attends all the shows, and we suspect he is preparing one for us which will not be quite so funny.
This Regiment is commanded by Col. B. R. Pierce, and numbers about 350 men [ROUGHLY 1/3 OF THE ORIGINAL NUMBER] present for duty. Sergt. Cook, Corporal Clays, privates A. Miller and J. Ellsworth, have recently been discharged from Co. G, and Orderly Sergt. T. B. Ten Eyck has been appointed a 2d Lieutenant.
Our principal anxiety just now, is to see the Paymaster, as our last payments were for October . These delays come hard on those who need their wages for their families, and it is hoped that the evil may soon be corrected. Disappointments of this kind, mixed with the fault-finding and discouraging letters and papers which some at the North send to the army, have occasionally caused murmurings, but the soldiers are beginning to take a deeper interest in the work before them, since the people of the North are showing themselves in earnest, and the curses are loud and deep for that class of men to which our neighbor belongs who designates the patriots and liberty-loving army as "hellhounds,” and he may thank his state that he is at a safe distance from them, for he might find it expedient either to modify his strong language or else seek a home among his 'brethren.”
Put a stop to these drawbacks at home and the army is large enough.
We cannot move far without encountering the enemy, so you may soon expect exciting news from the Rappahannock.
From Camp Sickles, Virginia, Homer wrote on May 7, 1863,
As you will learn by other sources of the general doings of this army for the for the past eight days, I will only speak of this Brigade and Regiment.
The fighting was desperate and our losses large, but it is impossible yet to make accurate statements, as some of the missing will, no doubt, be found. This Brigade lost in killed, wounded and missing, about 550, of which 76 are from the 3d Regiment; of this number 5 were killed, 50 wounded and 21 missing.
Capt. Joseph Mason, of Co. G, was killed on Sunday, by a piece of shell while the Regiment were in line supporting a Battery. He was one of the best officers in the Regiment and his loss is felt deeply, especially by our Company to which he has belonged since its organization.
O. C. Ingersoll was wounded in [the] leg; J. M. D. Crane and Arthur Watkins, each in the shoulder; Oliver Richards slightly in the foot, and Wilson Shattuck lost a finger. Corporal Phil H. Wiers and private Abram Ketchum were lost in the attack made by our Division on Saturday night and are reported as missing. Col. Pierce was wounded slightly in the hand. Lieut. Smith of Co. D, lost a foot, and Lieut. Tate of Co. I received a slight wound in the face.
There are rumors this morning that the enemy are crossing the river to attack us on this side. If this be so, they will find us ready for them, as we had much rather select our ground than to have them do it for us.
As usual, after an engagement like this, all is excitement and confusion; and officers are praised or blamed by others, according to their own ideas of merit; but when the facts are all mad known through the proper channels, the public will see why were defeated.
His court martial notwithstanding, in May of 1863 he was transferred from Company G to Company I, and commissioned First Lieutenant as of March 25, 1863, replacing Lieutenants Thomas Waters and Lieutenant Thomas Tate, although in fact he remained acting Regimental Quartermaster from June 13, 1863. He was present in August and September, and was aide-de-camp on the Brigade staff in October and November.
In December he was on detached service at headquarters Third Corps through April of 1864. Charles Church wrote a rather curious note home on February 15, 1864, regarding, it seems, the recent crediting for the reenlistments of some of the men from the Third Michigan. “Lieutenant Thayer,” wrote Church, “was the cause of having company G credited to Lansing. Probably he made something out of the sell. I should like to know. But now we shall have to make the best of it.”
Homer was promoted Captain and Commissary Subsistence United States Volunteers, on May 2, 1864 at the Wilderness, Virginia, and promoted Captain as of April 30, 1864. “We see by the Washington Chronicle,” wrote the Republican on April 20, “that H. L. Thayer, of the 3rd Michigan infantry, has been appointed by the President, and confirmed by the Senate, as assistant Quartermaster with the rank of captain. Capt. Thayer is a resident of this city, and went out as a Sergeant in Co. G, 3rd Regiment, just 3 years since.”
In 1865 he applied for and received a pension (no. 755539).
Homer was promoted to brevet Major, United States Volunteers, on May 13, 1865, and he wrote the Republican from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, that “‘The Michigan Brigade of cavalry [consisting of the First, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Regiments] have arrived here en route for the plains towards Denver City, to look after the Indians. Most of the men are sadly disappointed, as they expected to be mustered out and allowed to go home, when their services were no longer required in fighting the rebels.’”
On February 1, 1866, he wrote the paper from Fort Lyon, Colorado Territory,
During the past month I made the trip from Michigan to this place with J. M. Case, of your city, coming the usual route by rail to the Missouri River, and thence by the Santa Fe stage, a distance of 525 miles, over the grand prairies of the great west. The weather was intensely cold, and we met several trains with half the men frozen, some very badly; and all told us the Indians would certainly interfere with out traveling, and when we reached Fort Dodge, about 300 miles out, found that there was some truth in the rumors of red skins, and saw some soldiers under command of Maj. Mills, of the 18th infantry, who had encountered several hundred the day before, who were on the War Path, with Paint and Feathers, but who declined to fight U.S. troops in large numbers, and declared they were only hunting buffalo; but as the stage could get no escort conveniently, we traveled on and had no serious trouble, except in trying to keep warm enough to take a few minutes sleep while changing mules at the stations.; and then at some of the creeks which were not frozen hard enough to hold the coach, we had to clamber out and lend a helping hand, lifting on the wheels, or unloading the baggage. Four nights out, we spread our Buffalo Robes and Blankets on the snow, and slept a little, but the Prarie [sic] wolves were too musical for ears; and especially one night when they awakened us, tugging away at one corner of our Blankets, we thought of more agreeable places to spend a winter's night, further down East.
There were herds of Buffalo continually in sight for three or four days, and plenty of antelope and chietas [sic] or prairie wolves, and though we were well armed there was little fun in getting out in the cold to kill game which we could not carry with us. Our troubles finally ended on the 13th day from Leavenworth, and we are now busying ourselves in receiving the transfer of the Qr. Master's duties and will tell your readers more of the plains, hereafter.
Homer and his wife Julia were living Fort Lyon in June of 1866 where Homer was Captain of the Commissary. At some point that summer he suffered a hernia which would continue to plague him for years to come.
He was mustered out of service on February 26, 1867, and remained out west working with a topographical survey where he also pursued an interest in mining. In 1870 he was listed as living in Denver, Arapahoe County, Colorado. In 1880 he was working as a map maker and living with his wife in Leadville’s Fourth Ward, Lake County, Colorado in and in 1882 was probably working as a map publisher at 104 Oak Street in Leadville and living at the rear of 100 S. Toledo Avenue.
Homer eventually returned to Michigan and was employed for several years by Secretary Baker of the state board of health. At one time he served as clerk of the commission in charge of Mackinac Island state park.
By 1888 he was living in Lansing’s Third Ward, and in the Fourth Ward in December of 1890 when he became a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association.
In March of 1900 he joined the Grand Army of the Republic Charles T. Foster Post No. 42 in Lansing. He probably lived the remainder of his life in Lansing, and from about 1899 until his death in 1904 he took care of his wife who was an invalid.
Homer was residing at 812 W. Lapeer Street when he died of dropsy in the Lansing city hospital at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, October 22, 1904, and funeral services were held at the home of Daniel Mevis, 515 Lapeer, at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday. He was buried on October 23 in Mt. Hope cemetery, Lansing: section 5 lot 49-R.
In 1914 (?) Julia applied for and received a pension (no. 586243). At some point after Homer’s death Julia became a resident of the Soldiers’ Home in Grand Rapids.