William Henry Wheeler
Company I of the 26th Michigan Infantry
William Henry Wheeler was born June 3, 1825 in Wheeler Twn, Steubin Co, NY. In the early 1840’s, he moved to Michigan with his father, Asa, and his family. In February 1851 he married Sarah Ann Dewey and late in the year they had a daughter, Alice, followed by two more daughters, Flora and Ursula before 1860. A son was born in 1862 but survived less than a year. William was a farmer in both Steubin Co, New York and Barry Co, Michigan.
On August 12, 1862, he joined Company I of the 26th Michigan Infantry under the command of Judson Farrar. The Regiment eventually was merged with other regiments into the 1st Brigade under the leadership of Colonel Nelson A Miles, which became part of the 1st Division under the leadership of BG Francis C Barlow, which became part of the 2nd Army Corps led by MG Winfield S Hancock.
In his letters home, William does not detail the events of the Wilderness. He writes in June that “since the fourth of May, we have been engaged in battle with the enemy every day. We have gained many battles, taken many prisoners, and lost many good men.” He mentions the action being severe enough that a ten foot tree could be toppled, and such an event did occur at the Mule Shoe during the Spotsylvania Battle. He does note the number of men lost and prisoners taken but give no anecdotes of his experience.
Robert Garth Scott wrote in his “Into the Wilderness with the Army of the Potomac” mentions the placement of William’s Brigade under the command of Nelson Miles:
“After returning to his command from the late-night conference of corps commanders, General Hancock set about making some changes in the formation of his troops. After being informed of the possibility of an attack by Longstreet on the left of his command, Hancock placed General Gibbon on the left wing of the 2nd Corps, which at that time consisted of Barlow’s division, supported by the 42 guns of the corps artillery. Miles’ Brigade was put into position on the left of Gibbon’s force, deployed across Brock road, facing south, in order to meet an attack from that direction. To the right of Miles, facing west, were the brigades of Frank, Brooke, and Smythe, in that order. The corps artillery was placed on the crest of a plateau to the rear of those troops, ready to swing into action and meet an attack from any direction.”
William’s regiment was involved in many other battles. On April 7, 1865, after the fall of Petersburg, VA, they were on the pursuit of Lee. They approached Cumberland Church from High Bridge, north of Farmville, VA. The group was on the line, when they were ordered to the right flank to “feel”a Confederate position and ascertain its strength. It turned out to be an entrenched battle line – perhaps the last of the war – and was soundly repulsed. Sadly William was one of many who lost lives that day. In 1875, 75 of the 80 men killed that day were reinterred in Poplar Grove, one of Petersburg’s national cemeteries.*
*From Petersburg to Appomottax: April 2-19. 1865; a tour guide to Lee’s withdrawal and Grant’s pursuit; Chris Calkins; Reprint 1990, Farmville Herald