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Michigan History Comes to Life:
The Letters of Daniel Alonzo Nash

On this page are two letters written by Daniel Lorenzo Nash in 1933, when he was 90 years old. They were submitted by Lory Merriman whose husband is a distant cousin of Daniel Nash.  She received these letters (copies) from his grandmother, Amelia Jane Bechtold.  Daniel Nash was descended from both Frances Cooke, signer of the Mayflower Compact and Jacob Nash, Minute Man of the Revolutionary War.

The first letter describes Daniel's family moving to Michigan and what it was like to settle here.  It then tells of his life as an adult.

The second letter describes his time in the service of the Union Army.

Elburn, Ill.
August 1933

I was born at Troy, Geauga County, Ohio, November 30, 1843, the son of Alden J. Nash and Olive Poole Nash.  My parents lived in the Hotel which my father had built some years before.  He was proprietor of the Hotel and Post Master as well.  In those days envelopes were unknown and letters were written and brought to the office.  The Post Master would fold the letter into compact form and seal it with sealing wax.

In 1852, my father sold his property and removed his family to the wilderness of Michigan, with an old-time covered wagon, and a one-horse buggy for my mother and Aunt Clarissa Waterman.  We crossed Lake Erie from Cleveland to Detroit and soon were on the way to our new Wonderland, a new part of an unknown new world, a new life.

On we went, over logs, mud, rough roads, day after day, with my precious loving sisters huddled close to my sides for fear of being bounced over the sides of the wagon-nowhere else to sleep, only in my arms.  [These would have been his sisters Eleanor Louisa b. 1847 and Mary Elisabeth b.1849].  The days were long and each day longer, it seemed; but wishing and knowing each day brought us one day nearer the haven of rest and a home built in the vast forest without an end, we pushed on.

The end came at last on November 2, and my long, vigilant care and my tired arms found relief.  We were all happy and full of joy that the end had been reached.  But what a contrast it was - from the old Ohio homeland to a log house in the deep woods of Michigan! It was like waking from a dream.

My father had had a previous chance to purchase a 160 acres of heavy timbered farm with a double house and some four or five acres cleared; and turned the horses, wagon, and buggy in for payment.  The man was to haul the household goods, shipped by rail to Battle Creek, 60 miles away.

Our chosen future home was located at Bowne, Kent County, Michigan where kindred and friends had come a year or so before.  Every house was built of logs, but homes of happiness and love.  The new town was established four years before our arrival and the township was divided into three school districts, two miles by six.  The first frame school house was built in my father's district, a mile and a half away.

It was a footpath to a certain extent, through woods, ever after to all my brothers and sisters in those pioneer days.  It was before shoes, cloaks, and overcoats came into use.  Cowhide shoes and boots were the only kind to be had, and shawls and home-made clothing that mother made. 

The winter meant hard work, to chop ten or fifteen acres of heavy timber ready to burn - log and fence during during the summer and fall season.  Time rolled along and hard labor kept apace.  But what was the difference as long as we were happy and full of contentment - plenty of wild duck in the forest, deer , turkey, and smaller game in plenty.

But when the clash of war came,  what a change over our Country! The call for soldiers was heard by the young.  "Believe it or not," school scholars from the ages of ten to eighteen left school in the North.  About a million left home and school, up to my age, near eighteen.  Government rolls tell the story.  It was hard to bid school mates, friends, and home folks good bye.

With other school mates I enlisted in September 1861, in the Second Michigan Cavalry, placed in the hospital at Shiloh, then carried aboard a Hospital vessel, and then to Cincinnati, Ohio.  The sick and wounded were placed in Hospitals and those who were able to be sent home were soon on their way.

In time I arrived at the old log cabin to get the loving care of loved ones, and it was a change much needed.  When cold weather came I regained my health.  Through the winter I assisted with the chores until March, when I was taken with pneumonia.  I was confined to bed.  I lost much flesh and my people and friends believed that I had tuberculosis.  I could see they were convinced that my life was short.

However I kept a brave courage and told them all that I must live to see the cruel war brought to an end.  With a poor, fleshless body I clung to life and my cough and lung trouble lessened slowly and surely.  I began to gain strength, and to the amazement of all, including the Physician, I rallied.  I did a good winter's work.

In March, 1864, with two of my former school mates, I enlisted the second time and with seven hundred other recruits, was sent to the Army of the Potomac.  We arrived just at the closing of the Battle of the Wilderness and were soon active service to the end of the War.

When the Armies had the Grand Review at the Capital, Washington D.C. we were assigned to do duty at once, in all parts of Washington and the District of Columbia.  All war material had to be sold at auction.  We had to be ready to repulse any attempt of the rescue of President Lincoln's assassin.  We were kept on duty until August when we were in for our final discharge and muster out at Detroit.

We were free once again and the old log house and friends again had a blessed Reunion of happy hearts.  But there was sadness as well as joy for many homes had lost a dear one.  Tears and sighs were in many, many homes.

In June 1868, I married Mary E. Johnson, a sister-in-law of my two oldest sisters, a triple - mixture of fifteen children born thereafter.

I was advised by my Physician to change from hard farm labor and take life with more ease.  I moved to Ionia, Michigan, and rented a hotel. Four years of that was enough.  My wife's health was failing and I sought a quiet life for her.  I accepted a position as Deputy Sheriff in a prison a mile from the city.  Mine was a busy, active criminal duty from the start, day and night.

In 1883, my wife passed away, leaving a daughter of fifteen and a son of nine. [Hattie Elda b. 1868 and Robert Clyde b. 1873] My good mother, now a widow, came and kept the home fires burning. 

I was offered a position as keeper of the prison on the hill, as it was called. Of the forty-two new officers chosen by the warden, I am the last one living now. [This was written when the author was ninety years old]. The duties were much harder outside of the prison duty.  Bad convicts were plotting and scheming to make a get-away.  Quite often they succeeded and officers had a hunt for days and nights.

My life was threatened for my vigilence and close watching, which came easy for I had learned criminal tactics to a finish before.  I was threatened with assassination when a gang of fifteen plotted to get away.  The attempt was made in my shop.  Being a good swordsman, I met the attack of a heavy club of one of my convicts, one of the leaders of the fifteen.

Though seriously hurt, I fought a good fight and won with the help of some of my convicts.  By the time the alarm was sounded and officers were rushing to my aid, the mutiny was quelled. The convict was placed in solitary confinement for twenty-seven days, and when his time was ended, I had him arrested and sent to [another] prison.  When he was released from there he returned with threats of my life.  The State took a hand and gave him Three Hundred Dollars to get out of the State.

In the mean time, one of the gang had served his time and came to Illinois and was soon behind bars in Joliet.  My bad man came to Joliet to lend his aid for a get-away, and he too was soon behind bars.  When he was released from Joliet, he comitted his second murder and is now serving a life sentence.  So I think I am safe.

The Flu flew into the prison, and convicts and officers were served alike.  I, too, went to bed.  Our keeper passed away with it, and I had to take a three month's vacation to recover my health; but it failed me and I resigned and retired.

I soon came to Illinois where my sister lived, and my daughter came to set herself in a dress shop.  So my son and I had to follow to be together again.  I am still taking life easy and with the smile of contentment and a love that encircles my loved ones far and near.

Without malice and with a spirit of loving kindness, I have let wordly cares pass out.  In my old age my Book of Memories is full of great events too numerous to tell.  I am taking life as happily as a weary one can. 

Daniel Lorenzo Nash.


The War Record of Daniel Lorenzo Nash

"I enlisted September 16, 1861 in Company D. Second Michigan Cavalry, at Grand Rapids, Michigan.  After horses had been bought for the twelve companies, the Regiment entrained for Benton Barracks, St. Louis, Missouri.  Here we went into training under Col. Gordon Granger, a Captain of the regular Army.

In February, 1862, we left for the seat of War under General Pope an army of some 40,000, and soon confronted the Confederates at New Madrid, Missouri, which was taken, and Island No. 10 with some 7000 prisoners.

From there we were ordered to Fort Pillow, but could not land on account of high water.  We turned back to reinforce General Grant at Shilo, Tenn., but arrived too late to take part in the battle.  Just at its close Col. Granger was promoted to Brigade Commander.

Capt. Philip H. Sheridan, a Captain of the Regular Army, was chosen by the Michigan War Governor, who had come to pay a visit to the several Michigan Regiments.  The second had gained one of the best Colonels who ever commanded a regiment, one who always said, "Follow me".

Sheridan had no horse at the time and asked the loan of a horse to ride until he could get one sent from the North.  Capt. Campbell of Port Huron said, "I have a horse that I am too timid to ride, too high strung for a person of my age, past sixty".  The horse and Sheridan just suited each other.  I knew of the horse in Michigan.  It was owned by a man
that lived near my home.

When the Regiment was at Rienzi, Mississippi, Capt. Campbell presented the horse as a gift.  The horse was given the name of Rienzi after the town, where the presentation took place.  He became a noted and famous horse.  Rienzi is mounted and in New York at the present time.

At Shilo I was placed in the Hospital, then carried to a Hospital Boat and with wounded and sick taken to Cincinnati, Ohio.  From there I was sent home.  As I was unable to get any strength, the Government discharged me.  The next winter I was taken with pneumonia and drifted into tuberculosis trouble as my people and the Doctor thought.

I told them I wanted to see the War come to an end, and this strong determination was for my good.  I was reduced to a skeleton and in bed all summer.  To all appearances my people had given me up.  When fall and cool weather came, I surprised my friends as well as myself and rapidly regained flesh and health.

In March 1864, I re-enlisted with schoolmates and was sent to the Eastern Army and joined the Army just as the battle of the Wilderness closed.  I was in time for the great battles that were fought that summer.  We went on to Richmond and Petersburg.

As history tells us, the Army of the Potomac lost, between May fifth and October first, 80,000 men.  This was evidenced by the hard summer's battles in Virginia and a long trail of graves along the way.

At North Anna one of my school mates was sent to the Hospital; the other pal kept with me, side by side, until the third of July, when he received a mortal wound and lived only some thirty hours.  I was left alone.  I had a deep affection for them during school days as well as in the Army.  With the constant firing night and day, it seemed that I would soon follow them.

The battles were frequent.  On August 19th our Army corps was sent to the left to capture the Waldon Railroad.  It was the third attempt.  I received my hit which put me in the Hospital for the rest of the year.  I returned to my Regiment in front of Petersburg.

On March 20th, General Lee planned and fought his last attack at Fort Steadman to make his escape through  our lines.  He captured the Fort and a half mile of our trenches early in the dark hours of the morning.  From four o'clock in the morning it was hard to hand.  We lost one of our Brigade regiments and the tents and ten of my Company.

At ten o'clock the line and Fort were retaken.  The loss in our Regiment was about fifty.  All the battle was in plain view from day light until the end at ten o'clock.  In closing the battle our Lieutenant with fifteen of us fixed bayonets and charged down the trench full of them, killed two and captured 371 prisoners.

While we were fighting before light, I was standing beside my Colonel on the trench.  The rebels came down the trench, saying not to shoot as they were Union men.  It was so dark in the trench that we could not tell until one ran against the Colonel and ordered him to surrender or die.  I had my gun ready to fire and I shot and killed him.

That was as far as they attempted to advance, but they had my Company's tents to loot and made ten prisoners who had not got out, sleepy heads.  The Colonel claimed I saved his life then and wrote me after the War.  He offered me many chances of promotion, but I refused, to the wonder of the boys.  The stripes I had were enough.  I would have done the same thing for any of the boys.  I felt nearer and dearer to the boys as a Corporal, as I wished to be, for there are many that take a dislike to all officers.

This was our last battle and we could see that the men in grey had lost their old-time bravery.  They did not feel disposed to charge at all.  What a contrast to the Battle of Cold Harbor.  Lee's men were hungry.  General Sheridan had cleaned out the great source of supplies in the Valley where Early and Wheeler had been kept by Lee to keep and protect this important  base of good rations.

As I think of these old heroes, I remember the lines,:
'There is a time, we know not when,
A place, we know not where,
That marks the destinies of men,
For bravery, or for War.'

General Lee could forsee that the War was near the end.  He was in the last ditch.  It was in a spirit of desperation that he planned to cut our lines and make his escape to join Johnson some sixty miles away.  He tried out in our Division.  With no chance that the Army of the James, across the River, could give any aid, and after his defeat at Fort
Steadman, he had to make a hasty retreat and surrender.

When I looked into his face, I had pity and sympathy.  He was not enthusiastic over having the War, like other Southerners with hot heads and traitorous hearts.

I have written elsewhere of the closing of the War."

Daniel Lorenzo Nash.

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 by Jan Cortez 2003 - Present
with permission from Fred Bonjour, Joan Brausch, Denny Zank and Sandy Redmond 1996-2003.