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Solomon Kroll, a Civil War soldier of the Eighth Michigan Infantry, was very proud of his unit. “[General] Stevens calls us ‘Michigan tigers,’” he wrote, “He said he believes we would whip any 4 regiments in the servis [sic].”
The Eighth Michigan Infantry had at least one other nickname. It was known as “the Wandering Regiment,” as it had endured hard marches and long battles in seven different states.
The Eighth Michigan was formed with recruits from Grand Rapids, Flint, St. Johns, Lansing, Owosso and Jackson. It left Fort Wayne, Detroit in September 1861 and arrived in Washington, D.C. three days later. It was then sent south, and the men saw combat in South Carolina and Georgia. In July 1862, it left South Carolina for Virginia and Maryland. It saw action at the Second Battle of Bull Run, South Mountain and Antietam.
The Wandering Regiment would have more wandering to do. It traveled to Louisville, Kentucky in March 1863 and then to Mississippi, where it participated in the Vicksburg campaign. From there, it traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee and encountered the forces of Confederate General James Longstreet. After battling and then pursuing Longstreet’s troops, the Eighth Michigan marched two hundred miles across the Cumberland Mountains to Nicholasville, Kentucky.
By May 1864, the regiment was back in Virginia. It saw action at the Battle of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. It participated in the long siege of Petersburg and became one of the first Union regiments to enter that city.
Robert E. Lee surrendered in April 1865, and the Eighth Michigan traveled to Washington, D.C. and then back to Michigan. It was formally disbanded in Detroit on August 3, 1865.
Fort Wayne – September 1861
Solomon Kroll, who expressed such pride in the “Michigan tigers,” hailed from Isabella County and enlisted in the Eighth Michigan Infantry on September 11, 1861. He was twenty-four years old at the time.
In a letter from September 23, 1861, Kroll describes activities at Fort Wayne, where he and his fellow soldiers awaited transport to Washington, D.C. He referred to the fort as “a very pleasant place… here on the Detroit River.” He noted, however, that the newly-enlisted soldiers were feeling restless. “Some is dansing [sic], some a singing and some praying,” he writes, “some swaring [sic], every thing going on.” He mentions soldiers who refused to take the induction oath and/or deserted across the river to Canada, and a frequently-intoxicated man who cut his own throat (According to Kroll, a doctor sewed the cut, and the man lived.).
To read the letter quoted above in full, click Solomon Kroll letter of September 23, 1861.
Combat – April 1862
Kroll also wrote about combat against Confederate soldiers. In his letter of April 19, 1862, he references the Battle of Fort Pulaski, in Georgia. He notes that he missed the battle himself, as he was ill, but relates what he knows of it: “It was a hard battle,” he writes, “Our boys drove them three miles.” The victory took a toll: “Our loss was 10 killed, 30 wounded,” he states, “9 of the wounded has [sic] since died.”
Kroll is aware that more sacrifices lie ahead: “We got dam [sic] hard fighting yet to do,” he writes, “i have almost give up all hopes that i will git [sic] home, but i shall due [sic] my duty while i stand, and when i fall, there is more that shall take my place. My courage is good yet to fight when i am called on.”
Sadly, Kroll’s prediction about not making it home proved true. He was killed in action two months later at James Island, in South Carolina.
To read the letter quoted above in full, click Solomon Kroll’s letter of April 19, 1862.
The Michigan Historical Center’s new mini-exhibit, running through June 30, 2014, spotlights the Eighth Michigan Infantry battle flag. Displayed by the flag are documents and artifacts of Eighth Michigan soldiers such as Solomon Kroll. Kroll wrote letters that have been preserved within the Archives of Michigan, and Museum visitors will find two on display in the mini-exhibit.