17th Michigan Infantry

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History of the 17th Michigan Infantry

Text by Jeremy Bevard

The 17th Michigan was authorized to be raised in May 1862.  By June the men started to rendezvous at the Detroit Barracks. The Colonel was William Withington of Jackson who was a Captain in the 1st Michigan infantry, 3 months.  He had been captured at Bull Run and imprisoned in Richmond but was exchanged in January 1862.  On August 22nd Irwin Shepard of Company E wrote home that he had received his uniform and equipment.  He listed the following: 2 shirts, 1 pair of sky blue pants, 1 sky blue overcoat, 1 dark blue dress coat, 1 fatigue coat, 2 pairs of drawers, 2 pairs of socks, 1 pair of shoes, 1 fatigue cap, 1 dress hat with plume fastened on one side with the coat of arms, tassel and bugle, 1 pair of epaulettes, 1 pair of white gloves, knapsack, haversack, cartridge belt, canteen and an Austrian rifle.  The final company of the regiment was mustered into Federal service on August 26th, 1862.  The next they left Detroit and started for Washington by boat, rail and foot.  On September 10th they joined the Army of the Potomac in Maryland.  The Regiment was assigned to the First Brigade, First Division of the Ninth Corps.

The new Regiment received their first combat on September 14th of the same year at Fox’s Gap on South Mountain, Maryland.  Here they charged across a field and up the mountain towards an enemy behind a stonewall.  Colonel Withington yelled “Over the wall and at ‘em!” and the force of South Carolina troops behind the wall were forced to flee or surrender as the 17th Michigan stormed over and around it.  Their cost was 27 killed and 114 wounded.  They again saw some action near the end of the day at Antietam where another 18 were killed and 89 wounded.  Just a few shorts weeks in the field had cost them about 1/3 of their strength and earned them the name “The Stonewall Regiment”. 

The next several months passed in relative quiet as the Army moved to Falmouth, Virginia across the river from Fredericksburg.  The 17th Michigan was now in a fixed log camp by the end of November doing picket duty.  Here they stayed until December 11th when they were issued and ordered to have three days cooked rations.  They marched out and across the pontoon bridge to just outside Fredericksburg.  Here on the side of a hill with backs to the river they had a front row view of the fighting to take the heights above the town and received some shelling themselves.  While this was hard on the nerves, the Regiment suffered only one wounded on the record while most of the Army suffered terrible losses.  With the Army of the Potomac failing to take the heights it retreated back across the river.  On the morning of December 17th the Regiment moved back into their winter quarters they had built earlier.  Here they would spend Christmas and New Years.  After the holidays they would participate in the famed and ill-fated Burnside “Mud March”. 

In March 1863 the Regiment was part of the Divisions that was transferred west as part of what became the traveling Ninth Corps.  These travels took these Michigan men into Kentucky.  They marched all over Kentucky protecting various areas from raiders.  They then went further south into Mississippi.  There they were part of Grant’s siege on Jackson and Vicksburg.  After the fall of Vicksburg in July 1863 they saw some action in Tennessee around Knoxville.  On the 16th of November they were acting as rear guard retreating from Campbell Station to Fort Sanders.  Francis Brainard of Company A wrote in his diary that day “Fought the Rebs all day. The hardest days work I ever done.”

On March 22nd of 1864 the 17th Michigan received orders with the rest of the Ninth Corps to rejoin the Army of the Potomac. It didn’t take long before the Regiment was pitched into battle again at the Wilderness on May 6th. Just a few days later on the 12th the men fought again at Spotsylvania Courthouse where a large part of the Regiment was surrounded and captured.  They went into that fight with 250 men and left with about 50 in the ranks.  While about 100 of the men suffered in Andersonville what was left of the Regiment continued to see action at Cold Harbor, Petersburg and Appomattox.
What little was left of the Regiment by the spring of 1865 was used as Provost Guard around Richmond before heading to Washington to participate in the grand review on the 23rd of May.  After the review they received their discharge on June 3rd, 1865 and started for home arriving in Detroit on the 7th.  Their final formation was a march down Woodward Ave in Detroit.  The Regiment was distinguished with eight Medal of Honor recipients.  During those years 1,224 men served in the 17th Michigan Volunteer Infantry with 270 never reaching home and 249 being discharged for disability.

Organization on the 17th Michigan


Roster of Men of the 17th - Links to Photos of Men where known - Coming Soon


Field and Staff Company A Company B Company C
Company D Company E Company F Company G
Company H Company I Company K Unassigned Men


Links Related to the 17th Michigan

17th Michigan Flag Information The 17th has several flags representing them in the collection at Lansing. Besides the national and regimental flags, they also have flank markers. Flank markers are used to help align a regiment while marching in the field. 17th Michigan Flags
17th Michigan Historic Marker at Fox's Gap Placed to mark the first engagement of the regiment, this state historic marker has been erected on the battlefield. Battle of Fox's Gap

Books about the 17th Michigan

Supper in the Evening - By Al Barnes Published in 1967, this books promotes itself to be about "pioneer living in Michigan." Chapter 3 is a transcript of several letters and a large diary segment written by Sergeant Homer B. Potter of Company I, 17th Michigan. It is an excellent look into the life in the regiment.
Michigan at Antietam - By Brian James Egen and Jack Dempsey
America's single bloodiest day was at the Battle of Antietam, and Michigan played a prominent role. Discover the state's connections to the Lost Order, one of the Civil War's greatest mysteries. Explore George A. Custer's role as a staff officer in combat. Mourn the extraordinary losses Michiganders suffered, including one regiment losing nearly half its strength at the epicenter of the battle. The Wolverine State's contributions to secure the Union and enable the Emancipation Proclamation are vast and worthy of a monument on the battlefield.