The Civil War and William B. Lapham

William B. Lapham in Uniform

Although the American Civil War ended by declaration on May 9, 1865, the last shot fired took place this month 147 years ago on June 22, 1865. Many Americans still today honor the memories of their ancestors and relatives that fought in this bloody war. One of mine was William B. Lapham (1838-1925), my 3rd great grandfather.

William was born in 1838 in Greenfield Village, Wayne County, Michigan, the son of Benjamin Lapham (1807-1860), a Wayne Co., Michigan pioneer, and Cemantha Broadway (1813-c1846). His childhood was spent working on his father’s farm or that of neighbors. By 1860, at the age of about 22, he was on his own living in a boarding house and working for the Pioneer Iron Company in Marquette County, Michigan.

Monument to the 4th Michigan Infantry, at Gettysburg Battlefield

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, William heard the call to enlist; and on May 16, 1861 he, along with his younger brother George, joined the Michigan State Voluntary Service. On June 20, 1861, he was mustered into one of the first Michigan regiments to answer President Lincoln’s call for troops, the 4th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment, serving in Company I. Four days later, the 4th Michigan Infantry left their camp of instruction and began their journey towards Washington D.C. and the war front.

Although I am not certain just what battles or campaigns William was involved in during the Civil War, the 4th Michigan Infantry was in a number of them. One battle that I am aware of is the Battle of New Bridge, Virginia, which took place on May 24, 1862, 150 years ago this year. This battle is notable for William as serving also in this battle was a young Captain named George A. Custer, later famed General that died during the Battle of Little Bighorn.

4th Michigan Infantry

Throughout the Civil War, the 4th Michigan Infantry often served in Virginia, going on many “mud marches” through the swamps. This no doubt contributed to the fact that nearly as many men serving in the 4th Michigan Infantry died from illness as did from injuries sustained in battle. Although he did not die from illness during the Civil War, he was discharged on February 19, 1863 by General Sykes as a result of it and had chronic illness for the rest of his life. His pension records are filled with affidavits from doctors attesting to his condition, having various symptoms that one might expect from exposure to swamps and swamp insects.

Union House

William’s life after the Civil War and before his death in 1925, saw four marriages, the first of which (to Emoline Reynolds in 1865) resulted in seven children, frequent moves, and numerous jobs. One job he held was that of proprietor of Union House, a hotel and dance hall in Bloomingdale, Michigan, which appears to have served troops and veterans.

William died after a long life of illness in 1925 in Detroit, Wayne Co., Michigan at the age of 87. He was buried in Woodmere Cemetery.

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