Did you know that it was men from Northern Kent County that received the Confederate flag of surrender from General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox? That story is little known in Michigan, according to Cedar Springs native and author Bobbie Robertson Rosencrans, author of The Comrades, 6th Michigan Cavalry, Co. F.
This unit, comprised mostly of men from Northern Kent County, was critical in bringing the war to a close, she said. Even more amazing is that earlier they had been crucial to keeping the Union from possibly losing the war at the Battle of Gettysburg. Why is this amazing bit of American history not well known here in the very place where so many of these heroes returned after the war?
“The reason is that like so many of our veterans today, it was painful to remember and too horrific to tell without causing new emotional pain and grief,” said Rosencrans. “They had won, true enough, but they’d also lost a great deal.”
April 9, 2015 is the 150th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox Court House, and Rosencrans will tell the story of the 6th Michigan Calvary, Co F, at a special presentation at the Cedar Springs Museum at 1 p.m. April 4. Find out why their story is a classic “Hero’s Journey,” similar to mythological hero stories from around the world.
The company was raised mainly in northern Kent and rural Washtenaw Counties during the summer of 1862. They arrived for training on rafts hauling cedar shingles down the Grand River and up the river on steamers from Spring Lake and Grand Haven. They came on foot from Sparta and Laphamville (Rockford) and the rural townships. Those from eastern communities often came by train or stagecoach.
Basic training camp was on Heritage Hill in Grand Rapids. These were committed men raised on tales of the American Revolution, and knew their family’s rebellious history. One man’s grandfather had served on George Washington’s staff; others were descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. They eventually numbered to 1000 members. At Gettysburg, these green troopers served under General George Custer, and helped hold off a mass Confederate cavalry attack on the rear of the Union line, in the largest battle ever in North American history. That was followed by continual battles for two years, until finally, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, they ferociously attacked the rear of Lee’s army and blocked any further progress.
General Robert E. Lee sent the flag of surrender to Custer and all of his Michigan command. And so it was that men from places like Solon Center, Ionia, and Cedar Springs witnessed the end of the Civil War.
Rosencrans’ book, The Comrades, contains the stories of 150 men who served in Company F, and mentions some from other companies as well. One of them is Count Phelps, great-great-grandfather to Sharon Jett, of the Cedar Springs Historical Society. He served in Company A. He came to Cedar Springs in 1850 as a young lumberman and lived his entire life here.
Rosencrans donated her files on these men to the Cedar Springs Historical Society, along with her Civil war books. She compiled the information through many trips to the National Archives and ten years of research.
Come to the Cedar Springs Museum on Saturday, April 4, at 1 p.m., and hear more of the tale of the 6th Michigan Cavalry, Company F. Her book is available at the museum.