New book highlights area history

Published 8:58 am Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Robert Myers latest book contains more than 150 short stories about this area's history. (Daily Star photo/Provided)

Robert Myers latest book contains more than 150 short stories about this area's history. (Daily Star photo/Provided)

BERRIEN SPRINGS – The History Center at Courthouse Square has announced the release of its latest Berrien County history book.

“Historical Sketches of Berrien County,” by curator Robert C. Myers, contains over 150 short stories about area history, illustrated with dozens of photographs and drawings.  The book combines all four volumes of the previously-issued Historical Sketches books into a single volume.  The short stories in the book are based on Myers‚ popular program on WAUS Radio.

Chapters in the book include Berrien County’s colonial history, stories about the more colorful residents of the county, businesses like Clark Equipment Company and Truscott Boat, tales of railroads and ships, and many stories of the county’s participation in the Civil War and World War II.

The book’s chapter on Berrien County Towns includes the following story about the 12th Michigan Infantry:

The 12th Michigan Gets a Mouthful

The novice soldiers in the 12th Michigan Infantry fought valiantly in the Battle of Shiloh, but the regiment was badly mauled. The men believed that they had won a victory, but there were many casualties and their leadership had been anything but inspired. The regimental colonel, Francis Quinn, resigned under charges of cowardice, as did several other regimental officers. The regiment’s lieutenant colonel, William H. Graves of Adrian, was promoted to command of the regiment.

Graves had fought courageously at Shiloh, and he built the regiment back into an effective fighting unit. It demonstrated its renewed spirit and aggressiveness in a fierce little battle at Middleburg, Tenn., on Christmas Eve, 1862. A detachment of parts of four companies of the 12th, totaling 115 men, guarded a section of railroad line. Their area had been relatively quiet. Unbeknownst to Union commanders, Confederate General Earl Van Dorn had sent a force of three thousand cavalry on a raid to tear up railroad tracks, cut telegraph lines and create general mayhem.

The morning of Dec. 24 found the 12th Michigan detachment engaged in a spirited baseball game. As luck would have it, the 12th’s new lieutenant colonel, Dwight May, was on his way to attend a military commission when he nearly ran into the whole Confederate army. He made good his escape and raced back to spread the alarm. The Michigan men quickly put their camp in fighting order and prepared to meet the assault.
As Colonel Graves watched, a Confederate officer approached, waving aloft a flag of truce. Graves went out to meet him. Colonel Graves had joined in the baseball game that morning and presented a rather scruffy appearance, pants stuffed into his boots, and wearing a jacket with no insignia of rank. The rebel officer looked him over disdainfully and asked, “Who is in charge here?”

“I am,” Graves replied.

The enemy officer declared haughtily, “General Van Dorn demands a surrender of you and the whole damned thing immediately; we don’t want to bother with you.”
Graves later confessed that he had intended to ask if the rebels had any artillery with them, but he took umbrage at the other officer’s demeanor.

Instead he replied, “Give my compliments to the General and say to him I have no doubt he can whip us, but while he is getting a meal we will try and get a mouthful.”
The rebel officer whirled his horse around and headed back to his lines, while Graves sprinted for his own men. Although outnumbered by over 25 to one, the 12th Michigan soldiers held a strongly fortified position in and around a railroad depot.

The enemy attack hit almost immediately. The 115 Michigan troops fired continuously for nearly two and one-half hours, expending a total of over four thousand rounds. But as Colonel Graves had hoped, the rebels had no artillery and could not force the Union position. Van Dorn withdrew, leaving the 12th Michigan in possession of the vital railroad. Graves estimated the rebel casualties at over 100 men, while the 12th had one man killed, six wounded and 13 taken prisoner. The heroic fight against odds earned the regiment an official commendation from Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

The 275-page book includes a bibliography and index, as well as nearly one hundred illustrations.

“Historical Sketches of Berrien County” retails for $22.95. Copies are available at the History Center’s museum store in Berrien Springs.

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The book can also be purchased through mail order by calling the History Center at (269) 471-1202, or by sending a check to the History Center, PO Box 261, Berrien Springs, MI  49103. Shipping is $3 for the first copy and $1 for each additional copy. Michigan residents should add $1.38 sales tax.

For more information about this book or the History Center’s many other publications, contact The History Center at Courthouse Square at (269) 471-1202.