Taft’s Michigan-Gettysburg Connection

In 1889 Taft designed several monuments for Gettysburg, and they have a direct connection to Michigan.  Below is the monument to the 5th Michigan Infantry, on Sickles Avenue.

Next is the monument to the 3rd Michigan Infantry (located in the Peach Orchard). Look at the low-relief detail Taft incorporated into this design.

Following is the 4th Michigan Infantry monument (on DeTrobriand Avenue). I believe this soldier is a likeness of Colonel Harrison Jeffords, who was killed by a bayonet while trying to save the regimental colors from falling to the ground as the troops were forced into retreat.  And here’s the interesting Michigan connection.

I recently discovered another Civil War monument designed by Taft and located on the Hillsdale College campus in Hillsdale, about 30 miles southwest of Jackson, Michigan.  It was sculpted in 1895 and commissioned by the Alpha Kappa Phi Literary Society to honor the 4th Michigan Infantry!

I’m assuming that the low-relief panel on the front depicts General Lee surrendering to General Grant.

Hillsdale was widely known as an abolitionist college, and its record of sending young men to fight in the Union army was truly remarkable. Over the course of the war, Hillsdale sent as many men into the ranks of the Union army as did the undergraduate programs at the much larger University of Michigan. Hillsdale can claim having sent more than 500 students into the Union armies; among this group were three generals, three colonels, five lieutenant colonels, and three Congressional Medal of Honor winners. In the 1880s, the college newspaper estimated that more than 200 of Hillsdale’s student soldiers died during the conflict.

One unit that contained an especially significant number of Hillsdale students was the 4th Michigan Volunteer Infantry – the same group Taft commemorated in his monument at Gettysburg!  Company E of that regiment was comprised solely of volunteers from Hillsdale, Michigan, many of them coming from the college. The 4th Michigan was in the 5th Corps of the Army of the Potomac, and saw action in many of the most devastating battles in the Eastern Theater. Of the many battles in which they participated, the men of the 4th Michigan saw perhaps their greatest test of courage on July 2, 1863, in the Wheatfield at Gettysburg – where they are commemorated by Taft’s other monument.

The Hillsdale dedication reads, “to the memory of our heroic dead who fell in defense of the Union.”  Also attached is a list of the hundreds of members of the AKP Literary Society who served in that bloody conflict.

I found much of my information from a speech given by Hans Zeiger in 2005, on “Hillsdale and the American Republic” (www.hillsdale.edu/images/userImages/bwilkens/Page_5427/zeiger05_1.pdf).  He points out that, “at Gettysburg, 174 out of the 300 soldiers of the Fourth Infantry were killed, wounded, or captured.”  He cites a June 1864 editorial in the Detroit Advertiser and Tribune that commended Hillsdale College for its courageous representation in the Union cause.  The young men of Hillsdale, it said, “have watered with their blood every battlefield of the Republic,” and their patriotic service earned them an honor high above any honor that a college can grant.  The American Republic was at stake, and Hillsdale College mustered its deepest reserves of valor to defend it.”

For more information about these brave soldiers, read Arlan K. Gilbert’s Hillsdale Honor: The Civil War Experience (Hillsdale, MI: Hillsdale College Press, 1994).