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The following is an excerpt from the May.June 2011 issue of Family Chronicle...

The Short Life of a Civil War Era Soldier

Leland K. Meitzler documents his quest to learn more about William Henry Canfield

Editor's Note: Mr. Meitzler's original text as it appears in the print edition of Family Chronicle contains footnotes which we have excluded for the purposes of this preview. To see the full text including footnotes and references, we encourage you to subscribe, or order a PDF back issue by calling our toll-free number at 1-888-326-2476.

My great-grandfather, William Henry Canfield, was born 4 October 1831 in New York City. He was the second son of William and Maria (Anthony) Canfield3. His father was 34 and Maria 23 at the time of his birth. He went by his middle name his entire life, being found as Henry Canfield in the records.

In 1844, the family moved to Washtenaw County, Michigan. The family grew to include eight children, George, Henry, Charles, John, Horace, Wesley, James and Jennett.

According to the family story, Maria Canfield wasn’t well and needed someone to help her with the housework. A neighbor girl, Abigail Titus, would often come in and help. Abigail rather liked the Canfield boys, and had her eye on Henry especially. It wasn’t long until Henry and Abigail fell in love and planned to marry. However, Henry had no money and wanted to be financially secure before marriage. He went to work farming, but the wages were low and the hours long. This went on for several years. It’s said that he worked so hard that his health began to break. At last, he told Abigail that they would have to just go ahead and get married “then or never”. They were wed on 26 April 1855 in Sharon, Michigan by Rev. E. Steele.

Henry went to work in Chelsea, Michigan as a baggage master for the railroad. They did well for some time, and had four children, Minnie E. (born 13 Feb 1856), Birdsie L. (born 16 Feb 1858), Henry E. (born 18 June 1861), and my grandmother, Nellie (born 24 Aug 1863). Henry seems to have been involved in civic affairs, as he was one of the organizers of the Oak Grove Cemetery, in Chelsea in September of 1860. Little did he know that two of his children would be resting there within a short year and a half.

Tragedy struck at Christmastime in 1861. On Christmas eve, Henry and Abigail put up the tree. They planned for the children to see it on Christmas morning. The fires burned low in the house that night and it became very chilly. The children awoke and, with thoughts of Christmas in their heads, crept out of their covers to see the beautiful Christmas tree. Minnie and Birdsie both took cold and came down with diphtheria. Minnie died on New Year’s Eve, and Birdsie lingered on until his death on the 11th of February.

By the time of Minnie’s and Birdsie’s deaths, the Civil War was in full swing. Many Michigan men were volunteering to go and fight. The Seventh Michigan Cavalry was organized at Grand Rapids during the summer and fall of 1862. Henry’s daughter, Nellie, said her father joined the cavalry “because he could have a horse as he was no good at walking”. He enlisted 5 November 1862, for a period of three years, in the Seventh Michigan Cavalry at Chelsea, Michigan. He was recruited by W. Wilbits, recruiting officer, examined by A. Sherman, examining surgeon, and sworn in by G. W. Turnbull, Justice of Peace. At the time of his enlistment, he was five foot 7 ½ inches tall, had grey eyes, brown hair and a light complexion.

Henry is first noted on the muster rolls of Co. E., Seventh Michigan Cavalry 31 December 1862. He was mustered in as a sergeant 23 January 1863 at Grand Rapids and given a $25 bounty.11 It seems that Henry started immediately at the job of recruiting for the service. On 15 December 1862, his brother-in-law, Allen O. Titus, was sworn in, having been recruited by Henry Canfield. This recruitment backfired, for later, Allen seemed to tire of warfare and deserted. He was caught and jailed, only getting off the hook when it was discovered that Henry had recruited Allen, under age, and without his father’s permission. It’s only fair to note at this point that Allen later reenlisted and served honorably...

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