Friday, November 05, 2010

Elisha O. Stevens

Elisha O. Stevens was born on March 23, 1828, in Vermont, the son of Truman and Lucy (Bryant).

In 1840 Truman was living in Pawlet, Rutland County, Vermont, and by 1850 Lucy was recorded as living in Pittsford, Rutland County, Vermont (it is unclear what became of Truman). In 1850 there was a farmer by the name of Elisha Stevens, age 23, born in Vermont, living in Montgomery, Franklin County Vermont, and living with him were two small children, Sarah, 2 years old (and born in New Hampshire), and Alva, 5 months old.

Elisha was married to New York native Joanna L. (1825-1887), possibly in New York, but by 1855 he had settled in Grand Rapids, where he was employed as a carpenter. In 1859-60 he was working as a carpenter and living on the southwest corner of Fourth and Scribner Streets in Grand Rapids. By the spring of 1860 Elisha was working as a carpenter living with his wife in Grand Rapids’ Fourth Ward and had established his own sash-and-blind business. Next door lived the family of James D.Bennett who would also join the Third Michigan.

On the morning of May 3, 1860, Elisha was seriously injured in an accident in his shop. According to the Grand Rapids Enquirer, “A serious accident happened this morning to E. O. Stevens, proprietor of the sash and blind factory hitherto known as Harrington's, by which his left hand, thumb and two fingers were shockingly cut and mangled. When the casualty occurred Mr. S. was at work with a sticking machine, arranging stuff for the knives, his fingers slipped and his hand being caught by them was terribly cut to pieces. He was taken to the Bronson House and Drs. Saunders and Ellis called to dress the wounds. Several pieces of bone were taken out of the hand and one finger being deemed beyond surgical aid, was amputated.”

In addition to his work as a carpenter in Grand Rapids, Stevens also became actively involved with the growing militia movement in western Michigan during the mid-1850s. He joined the Grand Rapids (Light) Artillery on December 1, 1855, under the command of Captain Lucius Patterson and then Captain Baker Borden, and which would become the nucleus for Company B in the Third Michigan (Borden would also command Company B). Stevens was promoted from the ranks to Third Lieutenant on April 8, 1858, and then to Second Lieutenant on August 10, 1859. By late 1859 he was Adjutant of the Second Battalion, Sixteenth Brigade (which would become the Fifty-first Regiment and then, ultimately, the Third Michigan infantry) and a member of the State Military Board.

By 1860 Elisha was working as a carpenter and living with his wife in Grand Rapids’ Fourth Ward. He lived next door to James Bennett who would also join Company B in 1861.

Elisha was 33 years old when he enlisted as First Lieutenant in Company B on May 13, 1861. He was promoted to Adjutant on January 1, 1862, commissioned the same day. By the first of July he was suffering from intermittent fever, and reported among a group of sick and wounded soldiers who arrived at the hospital at Fortress Monroe on July 5 aboard the S. R. Spaulding. He was on leave for 20 days from July 9, 1862, but eventually rejoined the Regiment and during the battle of Second Bull Run on August 29-30, 1862, his “horse was struck by a shell and killed, and in the fall the Adjutant was somewhat injured inwardly.”

In November he was “promoted” to Company D (presumably promoted to “captain” of the company), but resigned shortly afterwards (probably in late November or early December). Although Colonel Stephen Champlin, who commanded the Third Michigan in 1862, approved Elisha’s resignation on December 4, it was subsequently disapproved (for reasons unknown) at General Birney’s headquarters. (Birney then commanded the division in which the Third served). In any event, the resignation was eventually approved (apparently) and Elisha was reported as officially resigned on December 31, 1862 on account of disability. In subsequent years he was always referred to as Major E. O. Stevens, presumably out of respect for his role as Adjutant.

By late January of 1863 Elisha was home in Grand Rapids when he was severely injured during a brawl involving several soldiers of the Seventh Michigan cavalry. According to one account, on January 24 three of the Seventh cavalrymen “ran the guard with their sabres, got somewhat tipsy, attempted to force their way into several houses where respectable ladies reside, and broke the doors and windows. The citizens gathered, and a fracas ensued, in which several men were cut and and bruised, one of the rowdy soldiers receiving a blow on his head which made him crazy. Three of them were finally lodged in jail. In the affray, a Mr. Brookser [?] was considerably injured by a sabre cut upon his arm, and Adjutant Stevens of the 3rd Michigan Infantry, who had recently returned, by a severe cut on the head.

After his resignation he returned to Grand Rapids, where he was working as a laborer and living at 41 Turner in 1867-68, and from 1868-69 was employed as a cabinet maker for Nelson, Comstock & Co. By 1870 he was living with his wife in Grand Rapids’ Fourth Ward and working as a cabinet-maker, and by 1880 he was still working as a cabinet-maker and living with his wife in the Seventh Ward. In fact he lived in Grand Rapids for many years, and was living at 79 Turner Street in July of 1887 when his wife Joanna died, and in 1890 when he gave an affidavit in the pension application of Capt. Baker Borden (formerly of Company B).

Elisha was a widower probably still living on Turner Street in 1888 when he married his second wife Massachusetts native Mary E. Kingsbury Rice (she too had been married once before) on September 25, 1888 in Sparta, Kent County.

He was residing in Grand Rapids Seventh Ward in 1894, at 79 Turner Street in 1898, and at 29 Turner Street around 1900. Apparently sometime before the end of the century, Elisha became an attorney -- or so it would appear. He was appointed lawyer by and for one William W. Bennett of Alpine, Township, in Kent County, in 1899, for Bennett’s application to increase his pension; Bennett had served in Company B, Third Michigan infantry.

There was some doubt, however, as to his competence of pension law, at least according to one observer. F. Sims, a Special Commissioner for Pensions, investigating the case of Capt. Baker Borden’s widow pension application, noted in his report on Mrs. Borden’s case that Elisha had gotten involved with a disbarred attorney in pension law, one J. O. Bellaire. Bellaire, who had

an office on West Bridge Street where he executes pensionaffidavits and vouchers. Elisha O. Stevens is a very nice old man; he was an officer in the late war and is well respected. He knows very little about pensions for I examined his own claims and found him densely ignorant of pension law. I have found him in Bellaire’s office so often that I suspected that Bellaire was using his namer and I questioend ─▒ellaire about it but he said he did not do it. This is the first case I have had where Stevens is the attorney, and all of the testimony is written by Bellaire. I have seen Bellaire today and told him that I would investigate this matter at an early date and in Nov. I will submit a report with a view to testing the right of Mr. Stevens to practice pension law.

Elisha appeared to have been somewhat of a theatrical character. The Democrat reported on May 14, 1876 that he portrayed George Washington at a centennial tea party given in Middleville, Barry County, the Eagle noted on July 5, 1881, that Stevens gave the Fourth of July oration in Tustin, Osceola County, and the Eagle remarked on May 26, 1883, that Stevens was named the Marshal for the Decoration Day procession.

He was a witness for Francis Barlow’s pension, a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association, and Grand Army of the Republic Custer post no. 5 in Grand Rapids. In 1890 he applied for and received a pension (no. 707418).

Elisha died a widower in Grand Rapids on June 3, 1904, of valvular heart disease, and was presumably buried in Kent County.

Curiously, however, there seems to be no record of his interment in the County cemetery system. Although his death certificate is on file in Kent County noting that he died at his home in Grand Rapids. Also of interest is that his first Joanna died at their home on Turner street in Grand Rapids and the funeral was reported as in the home and yet there is not record of her burial in Grand Rapids nor for Mary Stevens.

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