Merritt Wilson was born in 1838 in Monroe, Orange County, New York, the son of Joseph (1812-1864) and Martha (b. 1820).
New York natives, his parents moved from New York to Michigan before 1853, and by 1860 Merritt was a butcher working for Daniel Savery and living with his family in Lowell, Kent County where his father worked as a constable.
He stood 5’7” with gray eyes, dark hair and a light complexion and was 23 years old and probably still living in Lowell when he enlisted in Company D on May 13, 1861. (Company D was composed in large part of men who came from western Ionia County and Eaton County.) He was discharged for consumption on July 29, 1861, at Hunter’s Farm, Virginia.
Merritt probably returned home to Lowell where he reentered the service in Company F, Second Michigan cavalry on September 19, 1861, for 3 years, and was mustered on October 2 at Grand Rapids. The regiment left Michigan for St. Louis, Missouri, on November 14, 1861 and was on duty at Benton Barracks in St. Louis through February of 1862. Merritt was reported absent sick from May 6, 1862, and indeed he probably returned to Michigan to recover. In any case, he was reportedly discharged for disability on July 5, 1862, at Detroit.
It is unclear, however, whether he was in fact discharged from the army.
On February 17, 1863, the Eagle reprinted a letter from Merritt Wilson (mistakenly listed as serving in the Twenty-sixth Michigan), written on February 10 from Alexandria, Virginia. Under the heading “From the 26th Infantry.”
To-night [Wilson wrote] our boys are having what the Virginians term, ‘a right smart time.’ They are around town closing up dens where they sell an article to soldiers called whisky, but which more resembles rain water and strychnine; and the boys say it will ‘eat a hole through a cent’. Our Regiment is having all they can do at present, as the town is filled with soldiers. Three Regiments of the Pennsylvania Reserve came in yesterday, from the front, where they have been six months. They have been through all the fights, and suffered severely, yet those that are left look healthy and robust; and, instead of being discouraged or demoralized, as some of the Northern papers say, they are anxious to recruit up, and get back into the field and see it through. I think those Southern sympathizers at the North, who are trying so hard to discourage our army, by preaching up that we never will subdue the South, should be here, and obliged to stand an equal chance with their brother rebels. Our Regiment is very healthy at present, with the exception of a few cases of small pox. Only one case has proved fatal, and that was Lt. [Charles] Bush, of Co. B [Second Michigan cavalry], who was buried yesterday. He was a fine young man, and very highly esteemed by all who knew him. We are expecting to move to the front as soon as the roads get settled; and perhaps you may then hear of the 26th doing something in the way of fighting, if they have a chance.
However, there is no record of a “Merritt Wilson” having enlisted or served in the Twenty-sixth Michigan infantry.
In any case, he was on detached service with the Brigade Quartermaster by the end of 1864. On December 27, 1864, Wilson, then working in the office of the Quartermaster for the First Brigade, First cavalry Division, wrote to the Eagle from Pulaski, Tennessee.
We arrived here yesterday evening [he wrote] with our train, consisting of 80 wagons, after a tedious marching of 8 days from Nashville, and it rained nearly the whole time, making the roads almost impassable. Yet the old Brigade was ahead, driving the Johnnies, and we knew it was in need of rations and ammunition, with which we were loaded; so we pushed on, regardless of the rain, swollen creeks and burned bridges. At Franklin we built a temporary bridge across Rutherford's creek, and passed over very well; but when we reached Duck River were were compelled to lay the pontoons, which delayed us some time; but our Brigade got across directly after the rebs, and met Gen. Forrest on the pike, a short distance from Columbia, where they had a sharp skirmish, taking some prisoners and driving him on through the place. The citizens along the roads say Hood's army is perfectly demoralized, on the retreat, and in a perfectly wretched condition, many of the soldiers being completely bare footed. -- In fact I saw many prisoners coming back who were bare footed and nearly naked. -- Franklin, Columbia and nearly every house on the roads is filled with their wounded, and prisoners are constantly coming in. I think by the time Corp. [sic?] Hood reaches the Tenn. River, he will regret the day he started to take Nashville. Our Brigade consists of the 2nd Mich., 1st East Tenn., 4th Kentucky Mounted Infantry, and 8th Iowa, commanded by Brig. Gen. John T. Craxton. We shall remain here until the roads are better, and furnish the Brigade with supplies and ammunition in pack mules.
The Second Michigan cavalry was mustered out of service on August 17, 1865, possibly at Macon, Georgia.
There is no pension available for Merritt’s service in the Third Michigan infantry or in the Second Michigan cavalry.
According to one source Merritt was buried in Baldwin, Georgia.
It appears that his father enlisted as First Lieutenant in Company I, Twentieth Michigan infantry, on September 26, 1862, and was discharged for disability on December 23, 1863, in New York city. He apparently returned to his home in Lowell where he died in July of 1864. His father is buried in Oakwood cemetery, in Lowell.
His mother applied for and received a dependent widow’s pension (no. 39470) in September of 1864.