Indians at Brompton


From Eric Mink:

No single site in the Fredericksburg area received more attention from Civil War photographers than “Brompton,” the John L. Marye plantation. Between May 19 and 20, 1864, no fewer than three photographers took nearly a dozen photographs at Brompton. What attracted the photographers were the scenes in the yard, where Union casualties lay waiting for medical attention. Brompton served at that time as a military hospital caring for the wounded and sick of the Union’s 9th Army Corps.

Personally, of all the photographs from this Brompton series, the image that has always intrigued me is one that depicts a small group of wounded soldiers lying beneath a small tree. A member of photographer Matthew Brady’s firm took the photo and it bears the original caption of “Wounded Indians.”

“Wounded Indians”

When the opposing armies clashed in the Wilderness of Spotsylvania County, both sides had Native Americans on the firing line. In the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, the 12th South Carolina boasted a handful of men from the Catawba Nation. In the Union army, Chippewa fought with the 7th Wisconsin, Senacas could be found in Pennsylvania and New York regiments, while a Tuscarora and a Pequot served with the 30th United States Colored Troops. The largest contingent of Native Americans in either army engaged in Spotsylvania County comprised the backbone of Company K, 1st Michigan Sharpshooters. It is these men who are most likely featured in the Brompton photo.

Native Americans, like African Americans, encountered resistance when attempting to enlist early in the war. By 1863 and 1864, however, increasing need for manpower relaxed prejudices and laws barring native participation in the armies. Among those that responded to recruiting efforts in Michigan were the Ottawa and Chippewa in the northern part of the state. The Indians received the same bounties and pay as white enlistees. They came from reservations and settlements around Little Traverse Bay, as well as the Mackinac and Saginaw regions.

Nearly 80 natives enlisted and mustered into Company K of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters. Among those who joined this company were Garret A. Graveraet and his father Henry G. Graveraet, Jr. At 55-years old, Henry, one quarter Chippewa, became the company’s 1st Sergeant, while his son Garret received a commission as its Second Lieutenant.

The 1st Michigan Sharpshooters received its assignment to the 9th Army Corps and embarked on the 1864 Overland Campaign. On May 6, 1864, the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters tangled with Confederates for the first time. One southerner remembered his encounter with the Indians of Company K:

“As we drove them back one Indian took refuge behind a tree. We saw him and supposed he would surrender. As we moved on he shot our color bearer.

T.J. Watkins picked up a satchel with beautiful figured work thereon, made with various colored beads.” – W.A. Smith, The Anson Guards – Company C, Fourteenth Regiment North Carolina Volunteers 1861-1865 (Charlotte, N.C. 1914) p. 235

Another Confederate noted that in the wake of the 1st Michigan’s withdrawal, copies of the Bible in the Ojibwe language were found among the items left behind.

The Indians of Company K found themselves engaged with the enemy once again on May 12. As part of the overall Union attack on the Confederate “Muleshoe” defenses north of Spotsylvania Court House, The Union 9th Corps struck the eastern shoulder of the Confederate salient and faced off with Confederate General James Lane’s brigade of North Carolinians. One northern soldier described the Chippewa soldiers conduct under fire:

“…as brave a band of warriors as ever struck the war-path; they suffered dreadfully, but never faltered nor moved, sounding the war-whoop with every volley, and their unerring aim quickly taught the rebels they were standing on dangerous ground.” – Adjutant General, Michigan in the War – Compiled by Jno. Robertson, Adjutant General. Revised Edition (Lansing, Mich., 1882) p. 545

In all, the Indians of Company K lost about seventeen men in the fight on May 12. The dead were left on the field. The wounded were evacuated to the hospitals in Fredericksburg.

Each division of the 9th Corps established its own hospitals in Fredericksburg. The Methodist and Presbyterian churches served as hospitals, as did the Planters Hotel. The hospital that caught the attention of the photographers, however was the one established at Brompton.

William H, Reed, a member of the United States Sanitary Commission, visited the wounded at Brompton around the 20th of May. He described the suffering he encountered as he walked through the house, packed with wounded and dying soldiers. Near one of the entrances to the house, he found a group from the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters.

“In a group of four Indian sharpshooters, each with the loss of a limb, of an arm at the shoulder, of a leg at the knee, or with an amputation of the thigh, never was patience more finely illustrated. They neither spoke nor moaned, but suffered and died, making a mute appeal to our sympathy, and expressing both in look and manner their gratitude for our care.” William H. Reed, Hospital Life in the Army of the Potomac (Boston, Mass., 1866) p. 27

Another photo of Union wounded at Brompton – the facial features and complexion of the soldier seated at center, with the bandage around his head, suggest he may be of Native American descent and thus a member of Company K, 1st Michigan Sharpshooters

According to a published history of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters, the following members of Company K were wounded during the Battle of Spotsylvania:

Sergeant Louis Genereau – gunshot, left leg

David L. George – head

Thomas Ke-chi-ti-go – shell, left foream, fracture

Simon Keji-kowe – gunshot, left side, severe

Edward Misisaius – right hand

George W. Mogage – left hand, amputated third finger

Daniel Mwa-ke-wenah – right arm, face, and left hand

Mark Pe-she-kee – gunshot, shoulder

Joseph Shaw-au-ase – left hand, index finger

Joseph Shaw-au-os-sang – gunshot, left leg

More than likely, the men in the photo taken by Mathew Brady’s photographer on either May 19 or 20 are among the list above.

Close-up of the “Wounded Indians” photo revealing two soldiers who are most likely members of Company K, 1st Michigan Sharpshooters

The Indians of Company K lost their fair share of men on the battlefield. At the Wilderness, they had one man killed. At Spotsylvania, eight never returned. One of those eight was 1st Sergeant Henry G. Graveraet, Jr. He fell killed in action on May 12. His son, 2nd Lieutenant Garret A. Graveraet, was unable to remove his father’s body from the battlefield. Henry’s remains were eventually buried on the Beverly Farm and after the war moved into the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. Garret lived but a few weeks longer, falling wounded on June 17 outside Petersburg, Va. The wound necessitated the amputation of his left arm and ultimately led to his death on June 30.

Grave of 1st Sergeant Henry G. Graveraet, Jr in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.

The 1st Michigan Sharpshooters served through the remainder of the war. Spotsylvania, however, saw their highest casualties on a battlefield. One source places Company K’s total wartime enrollment at 122. Its loss in killed and died of disease during service was 39, the highest of any company in the regiment. Nearly one of every three of the Indians in Company K did not survive his service in the army.

Eric J. Mink

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5 thoughts on “Indians at Brompton

  1. William Cleland was also in Company K and was injured at Spotsylvania. He was not Native American. He was Irish. Also the Native American troops were also from the South west area of the state not just north and Central Michigan.

  2. Capt. Edwin Vanshoultz Andress of Co. K was also wounded at Spotsylvania, in his right foot. Other photos of him exist, and match the man sitting at the base of the tree, with his right foot bandaged. The captain was discharged from service a few weeks later as an invalid. Sgt Tom Ke-Chi-Ti-Go was also wounded then, in his left forearm, but his wounds healed and he went back into the line. Tom was 6′ tall, unusual for that period. I believe the man dressed in white with his left arm falling out of a sling is Tom. Those are the two most certain identifications of the men in this photo. The military pension files of the men of Co. K probably have more corroborating evidence but have not been released to the public online, although anyone who wishes can travel to the National Archives and view them for free. More on Tom from this article online: http://www.ourmidland.com/news/native-american-sharpshooter-s-story-told-at-senior-services-event/article_8fde346c-f7be-11e3-8b90-0019bb2963f4.html

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