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“I must say that war is an art that I don’t understand and I don’t know that I want to.”
-Alphonso Crane, November 21, 1862
In my job, I read Civil War stories daily. Sometimes, I stumble across a truly moving collection. The Crane family letters, for example, hit a chord with me. Through the Cranes, readers can truly empathize with life’s trails of love, sorrow and death. Because of this, I decided to share Alphonso Crane’s story in this week’s blog article.
“…To Serve Until Peace is Established…”
When Alphonso enlisted in May of 1861, his father, a Methodist minister and peace activist, wrote in his memoir that his “sorrow was increased almost beyond endurance”. At first, Alphonso enlisted in the 2nd Michigan Infantry for the standard three months, but soon after changed his duration to the end of the war. In the letter informing his father, he stated: “I am bound by my word of honor to serve until peace is established…I enjoy camp life very much indeed and think that I can stand all the hardships inevident [sic] thereto. My health remains good and my patriotism is fast getting up to the boiling point.”
Between 1861 and 1863, Alphonso’s regiment saw action at Blackburn’s Ford, the first and second battles of Bull Run, Yorktown, Fredericksburg, and Vicksburg. Throughout the war, Alphonso encouraged his father to hope for his survival, but was realistic about the dangers. On November 23, 1861, he wrote:
I am laboring for my country and if I die, who will care to whisper in the ear of the next generation that I suffered that they might enjoy the blessings of a noble country? If I live till these years have passed and return a broken down man, who of my Father’s family will say I will give you a corner of my hearthstone to rest upon? This war will doubtless be a long one and few that are now fighting will live to see the end…A few will do the work and sacrifice their lives while the mass will enjoy blessings for which they have bartered the lives of their friends by leaving them to fight the battle alone.
In November, Alphonso’s brother, John Emory Crane, enlisted in the 1st Michigan Infantry. Alphonso wrote his sister: “I heard from Emory at Fort Wayne. I am sorry that he has enlisted for I don’t think he will endure the hardships and the Crane race will run out.” Sadly, Alphonso’s predictions proved true. Emory died of disease on July 4, 1862. He had been sick for a few weeks prior, so his wife, Hattie Crane, was able to travel to Virginia and be with him when he died. When Alphonso read the news, he wrote to console his father:
The sad news of Emory’s death reached me…I did not expect it for I had allowed myself to cherish a hope that the presence of his wife would comfort the poor boy. I hardly know how to write to you my dear father, at this sorrowful period. I wish to try and speak a word of comfort. I wish to ask you not to allow this great affliction to harm your bodily health entirely but how poorly am I educated to speak words of comfort to you, a true Christian….
Dearest father, you have me yet and I will try and please you in everything and do all in my power to smooth your path of life and make it pleasant…Oh! Let me grasp your hand once more when was has passed and peace visits our land. Let me lift all care from your shoulders and feel that I am making your life happy that has so long been mingled with suffering.
Death and Legacy
Alphonso’s foreboding premonition that the Crane line would end also proved true; Alphonso died in battle July 7, 1863. The letter written home to his family explains that “he was the first man to mount the hill and charge the other boys, but a ball struck him in the head and he fell without a single murmur”. He was buried where he fell near Vicksburg, Mississippi. He was twenty-three years old and left a grieving family, including his fiance’, Emma.
Alphonso and Emory have markers in Leoni Cemetery, Jackson County, Michigan on the family plot. Grace Dunham – a descendant of John and Emory’s sister, Lura Crane – donated the Crane letters to the Archives of Michigan in 1969 (Click Grace Dunham Collection to read the online catalog record.). I am thankful for the family’s willingness to share their history and hope that others will consider donating their family papers to archives.
View the Crane Letters here: Crane Letters on Seeking Michigan