The 15th Michigan Volunteer Infantry was organized in Monroe, MI, under the command of Colonel John M. Oliver. Oliver, who was from Monroe, was 33 years old. His Lt. Colonel was 30 year old John McDermott, from Detroit, MI. The Captain of Company B was 25 year old Richard Loranger of Detroit, MI. The 15th mustered into the service of the United States on March 20, 1862 with an enrollment of 869 officers and men.
On March 27, 1862, the 15th left the state to join the Army of the Tennessee under the command of Major General Ulysses S. Grant. They arrived at Pittsburg Landing, TN on April 5, 1862. At that time, Grant was in Savannah, TN, and had been using the Tennessee River as a thoroughfare leading deeper and deeper into the Southern Confederacy. Grant and many of his generals deemed the Confederate Army of General Albert Sidney Johnston whipped, and that one more Union victory could possibly doom the Confederacy and end the war.
The 15th was assigned a position beside the 18th Wisconsin under the command of General Benjamin Prentiss; however due to the lateness of the hour, and the fact that Prentiss was camped a long way away, they bivouacked near the Landing for the night. The 15th was rudely awakened the morning of April 6th by a surprise attack by Johnston's Army of the Mississippi, thus beginning the Battle of Shiloh. Thousands of screaming Confederates slammed into the Union pickets, sending them running away from the fight. The gray-clad wave continued until it began to envelop the now exposed camps of the Union soldiers.
Soldiers of the 15th Michigan had heard the scattered gunfire during the morning hours. Some of them inquired about the shooting, only to be told that the pickets must be "shooting squirrels." Not far from their bivouac, soldiers of the 15th came upon a wounded man being helped to the rear. When asked about the pickets "shooting squirrels," the soldier displayed a bloody hand, and stated that they were the "funniest squirrels" he had ever seen.
The men from Michigan quickly realized a fight was brewing. They were ordered to advance in the direction of Prentiss's camp. Colonel Oliver, knowing that his men had not yet been issued ammunition, marched to the front hoping that he could pick up some cartridges en route. Reaching their destination, the 15th fell in next to the 18th Wisconsin, forming the extreme left flank of that brigade, in the area that was to become known as the Hornet's Nest. As the Michigan boys dressed their lines, they could see a line of Confederate soldiers forming on the opposite ridge. Unable to secure any cartridges on the march, Oliver ordered his men to fix bayonets. As these Confederate soldiers approached the 15th, they leveled their guns, and fired into the ranks of the Michigan soldiers. Soldiers of the 15th began to fall in their ranks, and because they had no ammunition, they could not return fire. One private of the 15th stated "We stood at order arms and looked at them as they shot." After taking several volleys from the Confederate troops, the soldiers of the 15th were told to about face and they were marched back to the Landing.
When the left of the Hornet's Nest began to give way, the whole position of the Hornet's Nest was at risk of collapse. George W. McBride, a youth with the 15th Michigan, remembered the terrible fear of being trapped: "Someone calls out, 'Everybody for himself!' The line breaks, I go with the others with the howling, rushing mass of the enemy pressing in close pursuit. The artillery seemed to have a crossfire and a short range was sweeping the ground with canister. The musketry fire was awful; the striking of the balls on the Sibley tents gave out a short cutting sound that terrified me." Men were falling all around McBride, and he was driven mad by the thought: "I felt sure that a cannon ball was close behind me, giving chase as I started for the river. I was never so frightened before, never ran so fast, was never in such a storm of bullets. Out of that fire I came alive and unharmed, but it was a marvel."
In the confusion of the battle, Father Thomas Brady of Detroit, Michigan, Chaplain of the 15th Michigan, rode around looking for his regiment. He saw a body of men close by and asked them if they could tell him where the 15th Michigan was located. Unfortunately the men in question happened to be Irish Confederates. Recognizing Brady as a priest, the Confederates politely told him they did not know where his regiment was, and they let him turn his horse around and ride safely toward the Landing and friendly troops.
On April 7, the 15th Michigan served temporarily with Brigadier General Alexander McCook's division and advanced against the Confederate lines. With ammunition handy, the 15th fought gallantly as the Confederate Army of the Mississippi was forced to retreat from the battlefield of Shiloh. The 15th received special mention in McCook's official report of the battle. Citing their bravery, McCook wrote "I take great pleasure in calling your attention to the conduct of Colonel Oliver and a portion of his regiment, the 15th Michigan. When my division was marching on the field, Colonel Oliver, at that time unknown to me, requested the privilege to place himself under my command. His regiment was attached to General Rousseau's brigade, and during the day was under the hottest fire, when he and his officers and men acted with conspicuous gallantry."
The Battle of Shiloh was a severe initiating experience for 15th Michigan. However they fought with the steadiness of veterans and received a complimentary notice for conspicuous gallantry from their brigade commander. At Shiloh, the 15th suffered: 31 killed, 64 wounded and 7 missing.
After the Union Army's victory at Shiloh, the 15th Michigan was sent to, and participated in the Siege of Corinth and the Battle of Iuka, in Mississippi. On October 3, 1862, when the rebels attacked Corinth, the 15th Michigan, under the command of Colonel Oliver, formed the outposts of the Union army. Its pickets and skirmishers were the first engaged and on October 4th they supported 2 pieces of artillery under hot enemy fire. After the battle, the 15th joined in the pursuit of the enemy, taking many prisoners and sustaining casualties of 13 killed, 32 wounded and 5 missing.
The Corinth report, written by Lieutenant Colonel McDermott, states:
"We were stationed at Chewalla, a small post some nine miles from Corinth, on the Memphis and Charleston railroad. Attached to us was a company of cavalry which was kept on duty night and day. We were always on the alert for any surprise. Our men were engaged night and day on picket duty and building breastworks. On Tuesday, 1st instant, from information received, I was informed that a large body of the enemy was advancing some eight miles from Pocahontas. I immediately reported the same to headquarters and advanced our pickets, and sent forward our cavalry scouts to ascertain, if possible, their force and report. They reported a large body advancing, of cavalry and infantry. I immediately reported to headquarters, packed up all baggage and property belonging to the U. S., and sent our trains forward on the Corinth road. On Wednesday morning, 2nd instant, our scouts were driven in, wounding one man and two horses."
Lieutenant Colonel McDermott's report continues: "I then reported the facts to Headquarters and asked for reinforcements, which were promptly furnished, consisting of two regiments and two pieces of artillery under command of Colonel J. M. Oliver, commanding the 2nd brigade. He arrived about sundown and assumed command. During the whole afternoon our scouts and pickets were engaged in skirmishing, falling back slowly and contesting every foot of the way. About 10pm, we were ordered to fall back to an elevated spot about one mile from Chewalla, when we formed in line of battle, still keeping our pickets and line of skirmishers there. We rested on our arms all night. About 5 o'clock in the morning of the 3rd, our advance pickets and those of the enemy came in collision at the Tuscumbia, they driving our pickets back to Chewalla, wounding two men and two horses. We had four companies out as skirmishers. We were then ordered to fall back to the junction on the road known as 'Old Smith Road.' There we learned that a large force of the enemy was approaching fast. We were then ordered to fall back to the road known as the 'Alexander Road,' where we arrived about 5pm, our skirmishers still contesting every foot of the way. We formed line, were ordered to support one piece of artillery, sent out two companies as skirmishers for the night, and rested on our arms. About 5 o'clock next morning the firing was resumed between our pickets and those of the enemy. Our piece of artillery, after firing about seventeen rounds, was ordered to fall back, which it did. About ten minutes afterward we were ordered to fall back, which we did in good order, taking a position on an elevated spot near the Memphis and Charleston railroad, arriving there about 8:15am. We were then ordered into line to support two pieces of artillery (the 1st Minnesota). Twice during the forenoon the enemy ascended the hill on double-quick and both times were gallantly repulsed. We stood there under a hot fire until about 4pm, which the gun on our right gave way for want of ammunition, causing the regiment on the right as well as on the left to fall back. After retiring some two hundred paces, we rallied, and by the aid of Captain Clark, A. A. General to General Rosecrans, I succeeded in forming line with the 15th Michigan and a portion of the 14th Wisconsin. It was here that the following expression was used by the general commanding: 'Well may Michigan be proud of the gallant 15th.' And after a spirited contest was forced to fall back to the camp of the 17th Wisconsin, when we again rallied; a contest ensued, wherein the enemy was nobly repulsed. We were then ordered to fall back to the Seminary to support a battery at that point, which we did, where we rested on our arms for the night. About 4am next morning (5th) the enemy opened on us a hot fire of shot and shell. About 8am we were ordered to the Seminary, where we remained the balance of the day. About 7pm we were ordered to be ready to march next morning at 3 o'clock, with three days' rations in pursuit of the enemy. We did so, following them in close pursuit by way of Chewalla, Tuscumbia, Hatchee, and Ripley (taking many prisoners together with arms and equipage), where we arrived on the 10th, and were ordered back to Corinth arriving there on the night of the 12th. Owing to the inclemency of the weather, and after marching a distance of sixty miles since the morning of the 10th through a drenching rain, our men were much exhausted, but in the glorious victory achieved, they lost sight of everything but the Union. We arrived at Corinth in good order. Our loss in this affair was 13 killed, 32 wounded, and 5 missing."
On November 2, 1862, the 15th Michigan was ordered to move from Corinth Mississippi, where it had been stationed, to Wolf Creek. On November 19th the regiment proceeded to Grand Junction, to serve as a garrison and provost guard. It was also employed, while at Grand Junction, in guarding the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, and in scouting the countryside for enemy guerrillas.
The regiment remained at Grand Junction until June 5, 1863, when in command of Colonel Oliver, it was ordered to Vicksburg, Mississippi. Arriving at the mouth of the Yazoo River on June 11th, the 15th proceeded up the river and disembarked at Hayne's Bluff. Having been attached temporarily to the 9th Corps, it participated with it in the advance on Jackson, Mississippi on the 4th of July. On July 6th, with the 15th Michigan in the lead, the corps was ordered to cross the Big Black River. Some men were able to use a limited number of rafts that were available for the crossing, while others were forced to swim across. Until the arrival of additional forces, the regiment was there engaged in skirmishing with the rebels. It participated in the movements of the 9th Corps until the enemy was driven back across the Pearl River on the 17th of July. On July 23rd it began its march back to the Big Black. There it was attached to the 15th Army Corps and ordered to reinforce the Army of the Cumberland. The regiment arrived in Memphis, Tennessee on October 8th and was back at Corinth, Mississippi on the 17th. On the following day it proceeded to Iuka, where it remained until October 25th. Soon after, it left Iuka, and on November 1st it arrived at Florence, Alabama.
On November 2, 1863, the 15th Michigan left Florence and proceeded via Fayetteville and Winchester, Tennessee, to Bridgeport, Alabama. On November 16th it marched to Stevenson and on the 17th to Scottsboro, Alabama. During the months of January and February, 1864, the regiment remained quietly in camp in Scottsboro.
At Scottsboro, 186 members of the unit re-enlisted. On March, 17, 1864, the 15th Michigan left Scottsboro and arrived in Monroe, Michigan on the 22nd of March, where the men were given a veteran furlough of thirty days. After the furlough, they proceeded to Chattanooga, Tennessee, arriving there on May 4, 1864. They set up camp near Rossville, Georgia. Shortly thereafter, they moved further south to participate in the Georgia Campaign, taking part in the engagements that occurred during the movement on Resaca, Georgia. On the 17th of May the command marched to Dallas, Georgia via Adairsville. Entrenching, it remained in its works, with occasional skirmishing, until the 1st of June, when it then moved to the vicinity of New Hope Church. On June 10th the regiment marched to Big Shanty and on the 15th of June they moved to the right of the line where with its brigade supported by other units, attacked and drove the enemy from their works. Marching on the 19th of June, the command moved to the right of the railroad facing Kennesaw Mountain, where it remained until June 25th. On the 3rd of July, the 15th left for Marietta, Georgia arriving there on the 4th, and on the 8th of July they arrived at Nickajack Creek, where they entrenched in view of the enemy's works.
Marching via Marietta, the regiment crossed to the south side of the Chattahoochee River on July 14th where they went into entrenchments during the Siege of Atlanta. On July 17th it moved to Cross Keys, and on the 18th marched towards Decatur, going into line of battle, though not becoming engaged. On July 20th it moved forward, several miles via Decatur and on that day, and the following day engaged in skirmishing with the enemy. About noon of the 22nd of July, the 15th Michigan had a desperate engagement with General Hood's army, but fought with such gallantry that it repulsed a very determined attack by the enemy and captured 2 rebel battle-flags and 176 prisoners; its loss being 4 killed and 6 wounded. During the Siege of Atlanta, the 15th was constantly under fire and when General Sherman moved his army to the south of Atlanta, the 15th repulsed a heavy assault at Jonesboro, the battle that ultimately caused General Hood to evacuate Atlanta.
Lieutenant Colonel Hutchinson, who was in command of the regiment at the time, wrote: "The rebel army under General Hood attacked our corps while we were on the extreme left, early in the morning in flank and in rear, driving us back and inflicting severe loss. At about 1 o'clock, the 15th was ordered to fill a gap upon the extreme left of the corps, about one mile distant from the position it then occupied. The regiment moved on double-quick, and upon coming into line near the position indicated found it in possession of the enemy. It moved forward in line and struck the enemy upon the flank, capturing 17 officers, 167 men, and the colors of the 5th Confederate Infantry, and the 17th and 18th Texas Infantry (consolidated). This was the advance of two divisions who were massed in the wood but a short distance in the rear. The promptitude with which the movement was executed deterred the remainder of the force from making a forward movement, which, had it taken place, must inevitably have broken our lines, thus bringing great disaster upon our army. The flag of the 5th Confederate Infantry was forwarded to Michigan. The 17th and 18th Texas' flags were presented by the regiment to Lieutenant Colonel William T. Clark, Assistant Adjutant General, Army of the Tennessee."
Charles F. Sancraite, a private in Company B of the 15th Michigan received the Medal of Honor for his service during the July 22, 1864 action at Atlanta. The citation reads that Sancraite: Voluntarily scaled the enemy's breastworks and signaled to his commanding officer in charge; also in single combat captured the colors of the 5th Texas Regiment (C.S.A.). Sancraite was awarded the Medal of Honor on July 25, 1892. Note: The citation referencing the capture of the colors of the 5th Texas Regiment seems to be in error. The 5th Texas was not engaged in this battle. However, the 5th Confederate Infantry was engaged so the captured colors may have belonged to them.
On July 27, 1864 the 15th proceeded to the extreme right of the army. While advancing in line on the 28th the enemy attacked, and 15th Michigan drove them off causing the Confederates to sustain heavy losses. In their haste to vacate the battlefield, the Confederates left their dead and wounded behind on the field. The casualties in the 15th Michigan during this action were 33 wounded. During the remainder of the month and until the 26th of August, 1864, the regiment was engaged in the trenches before Atlanta, skirmishing almost daily with the rebel troops. On the 28th of August it moved on the Atlanta & Montgomery railroad which, on the following day it assisted in destroying. On the 30th of August, the regiment marched to the east side of the Flint River in Jonesboro, and entrenched. An assault made by the enemy on August 31, 1864, was repelled with heavy losses. On the 1st of September, skirmishers from the 15th, advanced and captured a number of prisoners at Jonesboro. Moving forward to Lovejoy's Station on September 2nd, the regiment entrenched and continued skirmishing with the enemy until September 5th.
On September 6, 1864, the 15th Michigan withdrew back to Jonesboro. On the 8th of September, it proceeded to East Point, Georgia, where it remained for a much needed rest during the remainder of the month. When General Hood started north with his army, the 15th Michigan joined in the pursuit. On October 4, 1864 the regiment marched via Marietta, Altoona, Kingston, Rome, Calhoun, Resaca, Snake Creek Gap, Lafayette, Summersville, and Galesville, in Georgia, and Little River, King's Hill, Cedar Bluff, and Carr Springs, in Alabama, and participated in the skirmishes and engagements that occurred during the pursuit of Hood in Northern Georgia and Alabama. The regiment marched over 200 miles while in pursuit of Hood's army.
After following Confederate General Hood's army for awhile the 15th Michigan was ordered to let him pursue his march north to Nashville where Union General George Thomas awaited to receive him. The 15th was ordered to return to Atlanta, arriving there on the 12th of October. It remained there until the 14th, when it commenced the march from Atlanta to the sea with the army of General Sherman. On October 20th in Clinton Georgia, the 15th had a slight skirmish with the enemy where 3 men were wounded. On the 21st of October, the march was resumed. They arrived at the Ogeechee River on December 10th and remained near Fort McAllister until the 27th of December. They then embarked on transports for Beaufort, South Carolina, arriving there and setting up camp on the 15th of January. Camping there until January 27, 1865, they then marched to Garden's Cross Roads, and on the 30th they commenced the march through the Carolinas, via Orangeburg, Columbia, Cheraw, Fayetteville, reaching Goldsboro, North Carolina on March 14th. On the 19th of March, they arrived at, and saw limited action in Bentonville, North Carolina. The regiment was detailed on the 21st of March to guard a supply train to Kingston, arriving there on March 24th. They returned to Goldsboro on March 28th.
Breaking camp on the 10th of April, the regiment, in command of Colonel Frederick Hutchinson, (who had been promoted to the rank of colonel on January 14th, 1865 when Colonel Oliver was appointed a brigadier general), marched towards Raleigh, North Carolina arriving there on April 14th. It left Raleigh on April 28th arriving in Richmond, Virginia, on the 6th of May. They left Richmond on May 8th and arrived in Washington DC on the 21st of May. The 15th Michigan participated in the grand review of General Sherman's army on the 24th of May, 1865. The regiment was encamped near Washington until June 1st, when it started for Louisville, Kentucky, via the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, arriving on the 7th; on the 28th they embarked on transports for Little Rock, Arkansas, reaching there on July 7th. They were stationed in Little Rock until August 21st, when they took transports for Cairo, and then proceeded by rail to Michigan, arriving in Detroit on September 1, 1865. It was on this date that they were paid off and discharged.
Throughout the war, the total membership of the 15th Michigan was 2,371. The total number of men in the unit who died during the conflict was 337 (50 killed in action, 19 who died of wounds, and 268 who died of disease) calculating out to just over a 14% death rate.