Category Archives: 7th Michigan Infantry

1861: Elijah C. Eldred to his Brother

An image of George Hodges on the 7th Michigan Infantry. (Charles Joyce Collection; now in Dale Niesen Collection)

The identity of the soldier from Co. H, 7th Michigan Infantry who wrote this letter cannot be confirmed but my hunch is that it was penned by Elijah C. Eldred (1835-1921) of Oakland county, Michigan. More research would be required to confirm this.

The 7th Michigan Infantry was organized at Monroe, Michigan, in August 1861 and were sent to the Army of the Potomac in September where they were attached to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 2nd Corps for the duration of the war. The following letter was written in Maryland when the regiment was posted along the upper Potomac.

The 7th was one of the first regiments to cross the Rappahannock River on Dec. 11th, 1862 while under fire from Confederate sharpshooters hidden in the buildings of Fredericksburg.


Headquarters Camp Benton
7th Regt. Michigan, Co. H
October 18th 1861

Dear Brother,

I received your kind letter a short time since and one from Mother and Melvin Tuesday night and am glad to find that your health continues good. My health is good as usual at present. I never had any better health in my life than since I came into the state of Maryland. Our fare was not very good when we first arrived here. Old [James M.] Tilghman was chief cook and he slushed our victuals up any way to make it easy for himself. But about two weeks ago, we made a little mess (just for fun) and put another man in as chief cook. Since then we have good fare and plenty of it.

Instead of having mud coffee, bull beef, and hard bread for breakfast and the same warmed up for dinner and supper, we have a change of good soft bread, tea, or coffee, and some of as just as good fresh beef as you ever drove your face into. There is two tons of fresh beef due this regiment.

We are at the same encampment we have been with no prospect of any fighting yet awhile. I see by the the papers that our Brigadier General (Lander) has been assigned the post of guarding the Baltimore and Wheeling Railroad. The paper did not say whether his men were going with him or not. He is at Washington now. Some of the officers think we will go and some think not. I hope we may go but I have my doubts about it. The report is that the rebels are moving back all along the line of the Potomac but there are so many false stories told in camp that anyone don’t know when to believe what he hears. One thing is certain, they had better be moving before long. Things are shaping just right. When we start to cross the river, we will go with a perfect rush to it.

October 19th. I have just come from washing my clothes. Every Saturday forenoon we do our washing for the week, We go about half or three quarters of a mile down to a small stream to do our washing. I have got so that I can wash as well as half of the women.

Eugene [Clark] talks of going home. He has applied for his discharge. I don’t know whether he will get it or not. He has not done anything since he left Monroe. He did not drill only one day and a half while there. He don’t say much but keeps up a devil of a thinking.

There is quite a number of our boys that lay in their tents and do nothing but sleep and eat. They eat double rations and say they are sick when if they would only drill a little every day, the would be all sound. One thing is certain, I should be sick in two days to lay around the way they do. They can’t get outside to get any exercise and it is enough to kill anyone.We don’t average over two hours drill in a day, take it from one week’s end to another. That is just enough to keep anyone’s blood in circulation.

I will try to finish this at some other time. [unsigned]

1861: Cyril H. Tyler to Mary (Foote) Tyler

I could not find an image of Cyril but here is one of Russell Townsley who served in Co. C, 7th Michigan Infantry (

The following letter was written by Cyril H. Tyler (1841-1913) of Co. I, 7th Michigan Infantry. Cyril was the son of Rufus Tyler (1816-1894) and Amy Farnum (1818-18xx) of Waukesha, Michigan. Just days before enlisting, he married Mary Eliza Foote (1839-1924). The location and date of this letter is missing and my hunch is this was the second sheet of a two-sheet letter which may have been sent to his wife. Cyril mentions that a fort was being constructed at the Chain Bridge which I presume was either Fort Marcy or Fort Ethan Allen. Construction on these forts began in late September 1861 so I would date this letter in October 1861 when they were attached to Lander’s Brigade and bivouacked somewhere near or on Meridian Hill outside Washington D. C. Cyril entered the war as a private and was discharged on 22 August 1864 at Petersburg, Virginia, as a sergeant.

The 7th Michigan Infantry left the state in late August and arrived in Washington D. C. on 5 September 1861. They were assigned guard duty along near Edward’s Ferry in October and moved to Muddy Branch on 4 December where they remained until March 1862. They later participated in the Peninsula Campaign, the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Fredericksburg (being the first regiment to cross the Rappahannock river in pontoon boats under the fire of Confederate sharpshooters), the Battle of Gettysburg (repulsing Pickett’s charge), the Mine Run Campaign, the Overland Campaign, the Siege of Petersburg and Appomattox Campaign.


[Camp near Meridian Hill, October 1861]

The ground around here is not much of it tilled. It is all overrun by the soldiers. Lots of farms here was owned by disunion men and their property was confiscated. The District of Columbia is half covered with camps. The rebel pickets are within 8 or 9 miles from here. Our men are making a large fort at Chain Bridge. A number of picket guards is killed most every day near Chain Bridge. There is a telegraph line that extends from Washington as far as our lines go—that is about 8 miles around Washington.

Winslow Homer’s painting of Zouaves

There is two or three regiments of Zouaves camped near us. I have been to see them. They are the worst looking persons I ever saw. They are as black as can be, red cap with a long tassel, red pants with a yellow stripe, red vest all striped off with yellow. The crotch of the pants hangs down halfway from their knees to their ankles, large and loose. Blue sash 12 feet long, 16 inches wide to wind around their body. 1

We have not got our guns yet. One of the Wisconsin captains was out from camp and was attacked by three rebel pickets and killed them and got wounded in the face. That was done Monday. The regiment of the Michigan men are camped some in Baltimore and some in Washington. They are a going to put all the Michigan men together and under one general.

I must stop writing. I don’t know as you can read this. I am in a hurry. I would tell you where to write but we shan’t stay here long. I will let you know where to write as soon as I get where I shall stay any length of time.

Goodbye, — Cyril H. Tyler

1 I cannot identify the Zouave unit based upon Henry’s description alone. My assumption is that the “blue sash” he is referring to was the scarf commonly tied around the midsection of the uniform. A Zouave regiment known to be in the vicinity of Meridian Hill at the time was the Anderson Zouaves which was the 62nd New York Infantry. Their uniform was described as baggy red breeches, leggings, gaiters, blue scarf worn around the waist, wiastcoat, short jacket, and red fez with blue silk tassel.

1861: Jehiel Rayner to William Henry Rayner

I could not find an image of either Jeheiel or Frederick but here is a tintype of Russell Towsley who served in Co. C, 7th Michigan Infantry wearing his early war uniform (

The following letter was written in part by Aaron “Jehiel” Rayner (1841-1919) of Co. B, 7th Michigan Infantry. The other part was written by Frederick R. Searl (1843-1874) of the same company.

Jehiel was the son of John Raynor (1804-1879) and Emily Meech (1817-1873) of Mason, Ingham county, Michigan. He enlisted in the 7th Michigan on 22 August 1861 and was discharged at Petersburg, Virginia, on 22 August 1864 after three years service. His 1919 obituary states that Jehiel saw “much active service, being engaged in a number of important battles such as Fair Oaks, Antietam, Gettysburg, and numerous smaller engagements. While in the service he had many close calls, but was never seriously wounded, although his horse was killed under him at Spotsylvania.” [Not sure why an infantryman would have been riding a horse unless he was on a special detail.]

Frederick R. Searl was the son of Elisha Randal Searl (1809-1879) and Martha Hurd (1815-1862) of Mason, Ingham county, Michigan. He enlisted with Jehiel in August 1862 in Co. B, 7th Michigan and was wounded on 31 May 1862 in the Battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia. The would was so severe that his right arm had to be amputated, necessitating his discharge for disability on 18 July 1862. He died twelve years later.

The letter was addressed to Jehiel’s older brother, William Henry Rayner (1836-1905) of Mason, Ingham county, Michigan.

This letter was written from Camp Benton on the Maryland side of the Upper Potomac. The 7th Michigan was brigaded with several Massachusetts regiments known as Lander’s Brigade. It was penned just two weeks prior to the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. Fortuitously, the 7th Michigan did not participate in this federal disaster because it was deemed “unfair to put them into battle with the poor arms they had.” These “poor arms” were converted Belgian flintlocks that were very unreliable and inaccurate. Before the end of the year they were provided with Springfield rifled muskets.

To read another letter written from Camp Benton by Roger Noble of the 7th Michigan Infantry written on 28 October 1861, see Roger Noble Letter-October 28, 1861. MSU Libraries.


Camp Benton
October 7, 1861

Dear Brother,

I have been quite unwell but I am getting a little better. I think I have seen a great curiosity in my journey. I have seen almost everything. I cannot tell you much about what is a going on here but I will tell a little about it. Last week there was twelve cannons all firing at once down by the river. That was a great sight for me. We expect to be called out every minute.

The guards shot twice the other night. The [ ] wouldn’t give the countersign so they shot but [did not get] him. There is more sick in our company than in the rest of the regiment.

Dear brother, I would like to come home and see you all but as it is, I can’t come.

Our water [is] just like crick water. That is one thing why there is so many sick here.

Mother, I wish you would send me a few newspapers. Give my best respects to all of my friends, — Jehiel Rayner

Friend William

I have an opportunity to write to you. There is no news here only that we expect to join the Michigan Brigade at Munson’s Hill. The rebels throw shells over this. The nearest they came to [us] is a half mile. I am glad that you are Orderly Sergeant for I think that you will like it. The rest of our boys are out on Battalion Drill. Our battery shelled a rebel mill across the river. The officers correspond from here to Washington with sky rockets. They have the same countersign in every brigade and when a guard deserts his post, there is three sky rockets thrown up and the countersign is changed.

I expect that you have got through seeding but the farmers haven’t begun out here yet. It is very warm here. There hasn’t been but little rain out here. The railroad is guarded all the way from the Maryland line to Washington. The night that we stayed in Washington there was fourteen hundred stayed in one room.

Write to me and let me know how all the folks get along. Give my respects to all enquiring friends. — F. R. Searl

The Corps Badge of the 7th Michigan Infantry from later in the war.