The Eighth was originally formed on August 12, 1861 and mustered into service on September 23, 1861. Colonel William M. Fenton was the 8th's first commander, when they made their famous charge at the battle of Sesessionville, South Carolina. Genesse County adopted the 8th Michigan and presented to it its first "One Country One Destiny" flag. This was adopted as the regiment's motto and was the battle cry for the next four years. The Ninth Corps. became the home for the 8th Michigan and because of its involvement in battles in over seven southern states, became known as the "Wandering Regiment". Our history over the next four years is intermixed with that of such well known regiments as the 79th New York "Highlanders" and the 100th Pennsylvannia. The 79th and the 8th became inseperable and were known to trade hats and pranks with each other all the way through the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia.
Don Harvey has written a brief history of the Eighth Michigan on his website "Michigan in the Civil War" that also contains a list of battle honors and a roster of the regiment as well as for all the other Michigan units.
Clck here to go to "Michigan in the Civil War".
"In 1862, the citizens of Genesee county, through a committee composed of Hon. J. B. Walker, George T. Clark, and Chas. P. Avery, forwarded from Flint, to the Eighth infantry, for its gallant services, especially at the "Battle of Coosaw," a regimental Flag, rich and beautiful; the material of heavy silk, tasselled with gold. Embroidered on it were stars on the field, and "Eighth Regiment Michigan Infantry, One Country, One Destiny;" and which was afterwards adopted as the motto of the regiment. The staff surmounted with a gilt ball, on which rested an eagle in gold, with extended wings, a silver plate on the staff, with the inscription, "Presented to the officers and soldiers of the Eighth Regiment Michigan Infantry, by their friends and neighbors of Genesee county;" The colors reached the regiment at Beaufort, South Carolina, and were presented by General Isaac I. Stevens, commanding, in a very complimentary address, to which Colonel Fenton appropriately replied. He also sent a letter of thanks through the committee at Flint, to the donors throughout the county of Genesee." This was taken from "The flags of Michigan." Compiled by Jno. Robertson, adjutant general. Michigan., 1877. This flag along with the 8th's second flag and flags of the other regiments were hung in the rotunda of the State Capitol for many years until being taken down and preserved in a special vault at the State Archives, where they are currently in the process of preserving them. The flags are displayed in rotation at the Michigan Historical Museum. A link is provided on our Links etc. page.
"The Red Book Of Michigan" published in 1871 has this to say about the Eighth:
THE EIGHTH INFANTRY.
The 8th infantry, recruited by Col. W. M. Fenton, of Flint, might well be designated as the wandering or itinerant regiment of Michigan, leaving the State on the 27th of September, 1861, commanded by that officer, for the field in Virginia. It embarked at Annapolis, Md., as part of the expedition to Hilton Head, under Gen. T. W. Sherman. Down to November 1, 1862, it had been engaged in nine battles, occurring in four different States, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Maryland, and afterwards served in the various campaigns of the 9th corps in Tennessee, Mississippi, and, down to the close of the war, in Virginia. This brave and patriotic regiment commenced its battles at Port Royal, S. C., November 7, 1861, and was engaged most creditably in several others from that time to April 16, 1862, when it became specially noted in the spirited engagement on the reconnaisance made from on board the steamer Honduras by Col. Fenton, at Wilmington Island, Ga., on that day, where, after landing from the boats, it encountered the 13th Georgia, about 800 strong, armed with Enfield rifles, and drove them from the field in confusion, with loss, and leaving their dead on the ground. The object of the reconnaisance having been effected, the regiment, about dark, re-embarked on board the steamer. Its loss, out of a force of 300 men, were 10 killed and 35 wounded. Here fell two gallant officers, Adjutant N. Minor Pratt, killed instantly, and Lieutenant Frederick MI. Badger, who died of his wounds at Beaufort, S.C., three days after the battle.
On June 16th following it was most signally distinguished in the assault made upon the enemy's works at Secessionville, on James Island, S. C., by a command of General Hunter's forces, under General Benham. The direct
attack was made by General Stevens with the brigade led by Col. Fenton, and composed of the 8th Michigan, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Graves, 7th Connecticut, and 28th Massachusetts, and the brigade of Col. Leisure, comprising the 79th New York Highlanders, 46th New York, 100th Pennsylvania, and four detached companies of artillery. At first break of day the entire command was in motion, with strict orders to maintain most perfect silence, and to rely exclusively on the bayonet-to resort to firing only in case of manifest necessity. The force pressed forward, surprising and capturing the enemy's pickets and advanced promptly in line of battle without firing a gun to within one hundred yards of the enemy's works, when it received his fire of grape and canister, in advancing over the narrow strip of dry land, not over two hundred yards wide, between the marshes, being the only route by which the works could be reached, and that obstructed by an almost insuperable abatis, while the works were protected by a ditch seven feet deep, and having a parapet nine feet high. The 8th Michigan being in the direct advance, immediately supported by the Highlanders, was completely swept by grape and canister at close range from six guns on the works, as well as by their musketry. Under this dreadful and destructive fire, and in defiance of these formidable defences, parties composed of officers and men from the 8th Michigan and 79th New York succeeded in gaining the parapet, but were shot down in the act; and, finally the assaulting force finding it impossible to carry the works had to withdraw. In Col. Fenton's report, covering the part taken by his brigade in the affair, is found the following: "The order not to fire, but use the bayonet, was obeyed, and the advance companies reached the parapet of the works at the angle on our right and front, engaging the enemy at the point of the bayonet. During our advance the enemy opened upon our lines an exceedingly destructive fire of grape, canister, and musketry, and yet the regiment pushed on as veterans, divided only to the right and left by a sweeping torrent from the enemy's main gun in front. The enemy's fire proved so galling and destructive that our men on the parapet were obliged to retire under its cover. The field was furrowed across with cotton ridges, and many of the men lay there loading and firing as deliberately as though on their hunting grounds at home."
This was one of the most dashing assaults of the war, but made at a distressing sacrifice of life, the 8th Michigan losing 185 in killed, wounded, and missing out of 534, including 12 out of 22 officers. Captains Simeon C. Gould and Benjamin B. Church here fell mortally wounded, while bravely doing their duty; officers possessing great courage and true patriotism. After the engagement at James Island, the 9th corps joined the Army of the Potomac in the Pope campaign, and the 8th was in the battles at Bull Run, August 29th and 30th, and at Chantilly on September 1st, losing heavily, including Lieut. W. A. Brown among the severely wounded, of the 1st, causing his death during that month. Immediately following these engagements the 8th, with its corps, entered upon the Maryland campaign, and was conspicuously a participant in thiese important affairs.
The regiment took a part in the campaigns of the 9th corps in Mississippi and East Tennessee in 1863, and participated in the advance of General Sherman on Jackson, Miss., becoming engaged at that place on the 10th and 16th of June, but without serious loss. From the 1st to the 14th of November, 1863, the 8th infantry was encamped at Lenoir Station, East Tennessee. The rebels, under General
Longstreet, having commenced their advance on Knoxville, the 8th, with other forces, were ordered on the 14th to Hougli's Ferry, on the Holston river, but during the night returned to Lenoir Station, and on the 16th commenced the retreat to Knoxville. Being rapidly followed by the enemy,
a stand was made at Campbell's Station. A brisk engagement ensued, in which the loss of the regiment was eleven in wounded. The pursuit of the rebels was here checked, but during the night the retreat was continued, the regiment arriving at Knoxville on the morning of the 17th. During
the retreat to Knoxville, and the siege of that place, which was immediately commenced by the rebel forces, the regiment endured many hardships and privations, suffering especially from want of sufficient food and proper clothing. The 8th, during the entire siege, occupied the front line of works.
On the 29th of November the regiment assisted to repel the assault of the rebels on Fort Sanders, the enemy being driven off with large loss. On the 5th of December the rebels withdrew from in front of Knoxville, and the 8th engaged in the pursuit as far as Rutledge, but on the 16th returned to Blain's Cross-roads, where it encamped.
On the 4th of May the regiment commenced the campaign with the Army of the Potomac in its advance on Richmond, crossing the Rapidan at Germania Ford on the 5th. The 8th was prominently engaged during the advance in the Wilderness, and lost many brave men. On the 6th its casualties were ninety-niine in killed, wounded, and missing, including its commander Colonel Frank Graves, a gallant young officer of much promise, who fell by wounds while commanding his regiment, and was brutally murdered by rebels because he would not submit to indignity and robbery at their hanids. On the 8th the regiment, then commanded by Colonel Ralph Ely, marched through ChanIcellorsville to Spottsylvania Court-house, and on the 12th participated in the heavy assault on the enemy's entrenchments at that point, losing forty-nine officers and men, among the killed being Lieutenant Edgar A. Nye. In the attack on the rebel lines at Bethesda Church, near Cold Harbor on June 3d, it was hotly engaged, and lost an aggregate of fifty-two, including among the killed Major W. E. Lewis. The
regiment took part in the attacks on the works before Petersburg on the 17th and 18th of June, losing forty-nine, Lieutenant Thomas Campbell being among the killed of the 17th. These three officers who lost their lives in the battles of their country were highly esteemed in their regiment for their many soldierly qualities and moral worth. On the 30th of July it was in the engagement following the explosion of the mine, losing thirteen in killed and wounded. On the 19th of August it participated in the repulse of the enemy's assault on our lines at the Weldon road, sustaining a loss of thirty killed, wounded, and missing. Here fell the gallant Major Belcher, a brave, honest, and patriotic soldier. On the 30th it crossed the
Weldon road, and took a part in the engagement of that date, near Poplar Grove Church, sustaining a loss of eight wounded.
The regiment, while in command of Major R. N. Doyle, also distinguished itself most conspicuously on the 2d of April, 1865, in front of Petersburg, when it engaged in the assault upon the eniemy's position at Port Mahon, where it took part in carrying the works at that point, and is claimed to have been one of the first regiments to place its colors on that rebel stronghold, and was among the first troops to enter Petersburg. In this affair it
lost Capt. Henry B. Burritt, who was killed during the assault.
The following is the report of Colonel Fenton of the operations of his regiment at Wilmnington Island, where it was specially engaged and lost heavily: and in reading it, as well as the various other official reports quoted in this volume, the people of Michigan cannot but be proud of
the record which was made by their troops upon the battle-fields of the Union:
THE EIGHTH INFANTRY.
HEADQUARTERS 8TH REGIMENT MICHlIGAN VOLS.,
(ON BOARD STEAMER HONDURAS,)
OFF WILMINGTON ISLAND, GA., 11 O'CLOCK P. M.,
April 16, 1862.
Lieut. W. L. M. BURGER,
Acting Assistant Adjutant General, Tybee Island, Ga.:
SIR:-I have the honor to report for the information of the general commanding That in compliance with special orders No. 41 I embarked with seven companies of the 8th Michigan regiment as an escort to Lieut. J. H. Wilson, Topographical Engineer, on a reconnoissance of Wilmington Island.
Two companies, under command of Captain Pratt, were landed at Scrivens' Plantation, with orders from Lieut. Wilson to skirt Turner's creek on the left. The other five companies were landed at Gibson's Plantation. Two of these companies were ordered to skirt Turner's creek, on the right; a third was to take the road to the right, towards the ferry at Caston's Bluff, to protect a boat party up Oatland creek, and the remainder to secure the landing. After one company of the five was landed Lieut. Wilson proceeded in a boat to Turner's creek. Owing to the small number of boats and the distance from the steamer, which was grounded, some delay occurred in the disembarcation. I directed Lieut. Col. Graves to follow with the second company and to skirt Turner's creek, but, being misdirected, he took the road to the right towards Carson's Bluff; and on landing with the remaining companies I received information that the enemy were in force at Fleetwood Plantation, and to the
left of the road. This rendered the reconnaissance of Oatland creek with boats useless, and I ordered the companies all in; and, stationing the remaining companies to guard against an attack at our landing, sent out
strong pickets on both roads.
I believe the advance of the company to the right instead of along Turner's creek saved my conmmand, as it sooner enabled me to post the men to advantage and take a position from which the enemy's approach could be observed. The enemy proved to be the Georgia 13th, about 800 strong,
armed with Enfield rifles. As they approached, about 4 o'clock P. M., with a strong body of skirmishers in the skirting of woods below the road, the companies I had stationed to the right and left of the road, in accordance
with my instructions, opened fire. I immediately sounded the charge for advance of companies in the rear of the first line. The first line, mistaking the signal, fell back to the next cover. A constant and effective fire was kept up on both sides from cover of trees and bushes for an hour or more. Lieut. Wilson, who had returned with the boat party, here proved of great service to me. He took a party, at my request, to the left, and I ordered a company to the right to flank the enemy. Both operations were successful;
and in a few moments the enemy retreated in confusion, leaving several dead on the field, followed by our men with loud cheers.
It being now about sunset I recalled our troops, and giving to Lieut. Wilson the command of pickets stationed to guard against surprise, formed the companies in line as originally posted, sent the dead and wounded in boats
to the ship, and gradually and very quietly, under cover of night, withdrawing the men, sent them on board as fast as our limited transportation would allow. At the last trip of the boats I embarked, accompanied by Lieut. Wilson, Lieut. Col. Graves, and the remainder of my command, (at about 10 o'clock P. M.,) and immediately brought on board the two companies left at Scrivens' Plantation. After the enemy retreated we were unmolested. It is due to the officers
and men of the command to say that generally they behaved with cool and intrepid courage. Adjutant Pratt fell dead near my side gallantly fighting, musket in hand, and cheering on the men. Our loss, I regret to say, was comparatively heavy; ten killed and thirty-five wounded out of a command of three hundred men. Among the wounded is acting Lieut. Badger, of company C, who was in charge of the advance picket, and exhibited undaunted courage. He with one of his men was made prisoner; both escaped and were brought in when the enemy retreated. The captain of the Honduras is deserving of great credit for his kind attention to the wounded; indeed he afforded us every facility for the comfort of officers and men in his power.
I respectfully refer to Lieut. Wilson's report, (which I have read,) and it contains some facts not embraced in this report; among others in relation to the inen detailed in charge of the field-piece on board ship, who were vigilant and attentive.
Herewith is transmitted a list of casualties.
WM. M. FENTON,
Colonel 8th Regimnent Michigan Volunteers.
In an order issued immediately following the engagement by General Stevens, he says: "You were ordered not to fire, but to push forward and use the bayonet. You obeyed the order. You formed in line under a terrible fire of grape,
canister, and musketry. You pushed to the ditch and abatis of the work from right to left. Parties from the leading regiments of your two brigades, the 8th Michigan and 79th Highlanders, mounted and were shot down on the parapet, officers and men. These two regiments covered themselves with glory, and their fearful casualties show the hot work in which you were engaged."
Mr. Greeley, in his "American Conflict," says:
"Stevens had these in position at 3.30 A. M. at our outer picket line within rifle range of the enemy and advanced at 4-the morning being dark and cloudy-so swiftly and noiselessly that he captured most of the rebel pickets and was within one hundred yards of the main defences not having fired a shot, when Lamiar opened on him with grape and canister, ploughing bloody lines through the storming party, and destroying its compactness, if not impairing the momentum of its charge. The 8th MIichigan-Col. Fenton's own-was in the direct advance, supported by the Highlanders, with the residue of both brigades ready and eager to do and dare all that men might; and if well directed valor could have carried the enemy's works by direct assault they would have done it."
The gallant conduct of Major Belcher (then a lieutenant) at the battle of South Mountain is noticed by General J. D. Cox, commanding the Kanawha division, in his report of the part taken by his division in that engagement, as follows:
"I cannot close this report without speaking of the meritorious conduct of First Lieut. H. Belcher, of the 8th Michigan, a regiment belonging to another division. His regiment having suffered severely on the right, and being partly thrown into confusion, he rallied about one hundred men and led them up to the front. Being separated from the brigade to which he belonged he reported to me for duty, and asked a position where he might be of use till his proper place could be ascertained. He was assigned a post on the left and subsequently in support of the advanced section of Simmons' battery, in both of which places he and his men performed their duty admirably, and after the repulse of the enemy in the evening he carried his command to their proper brigade."
Colonel William M. Fenton
Colonel Fenton was the first to lead the Eighth. He was active in recruiting efforts of many of the regiments prior to the 8th and after he resigned, due to health reasons, he returned to Michigan and continued to recruit and aid the war effort in any way he could.