Michigan in the Civil War

Browse by Name: Noble, Alfred

Noble, Alfred, 1844-1914.

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Noble was a soldier in Company C, 24th Michigan Infantry during Civil War, and later a civil engineer concerned largely with construction of bridges and canals, especially improvements of the St. Mary's Falls Canal, and consultant engineer to the Panama Canal project. The collection contains Noble's diary (1863-1865), which describes his activities, including the battles of Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg. Also included is one letter (Aug. 22, 1864) from Henry Clay McFarlan of Company D, 6th Michigan Heavy Artillery, a recent draftee, written from military camp in Jackson, Mich.

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Ryder family

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The papers of this Livonia, Mich., family include letters and a diary of several soldiers:

Alfred G. Ryder attended the State Normal School in Ypsilanti, then enlisted in Company H, 1st Michigan Cavalry in August, 1861. He was taken prisoner at Bull Run, August 30, 1862; exchanged; promoted to corporal June 30, 1863; and died July 24, 1863, from wounds received in action at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.

There are about fifty letters written to members of his family in which he comments on camps and camp life and duties; drilling with their horses; inspection; guard and picket duty; skirmishing ("sometimes it is fun and sometimes it is not"); long marches and foraging. He says, "Measles is the greatest plague in camp for they bring down the greatest number." He comments on payday because many men drink and gamble and "lose all." He is interested in the people he meets, such as the oddly dressed little boys of six or eight who smoke a pipe or chew tobacco; in the women, proud but kind-hearted who brought food to him when he was sick and to all the sick men in the company; or again in the people in general who "are good natured but very ignorant;" saying, "Our boys in trade cheat them out of their eye teeth."

He tells of the march on Harpers Ferry, the burning and destruction of valuable houses occupied by rats and mice; of fleeing rebels and the capture of wagons, horses and flour; of marching through the city singing the Star Spangled Banner and the Red, White, and Blue while the people glared at them as if they were barbarians. He also tells of the desolation and destruction around Bull Run. His chief aim in life had been to get an education, but in soldiering he profits by observation and the reading of good books from the libraries of citizens who have deserted their homes.

He describes his captain as "a coward and black-hearted scamp unfit to command American soldiers." The officers have a "grand feast" on Christmas day, but the men have a "grand dinner" on New Year's Eve. He tells of the resignation of Burnside, saying, "I guess that's the only sensible thing that he has ever done." A soldier who shot himself because he could not keep up on the long march brought this comment from Alfred, "Oh, Ma, never think that I would desert. I would suffer a dozen deaths first. I want to stay and serve my country as long as I can," which he did until his death at Gettysburg. His father was with him when he died.

His diary (1861-1862) is composed of short entries, telling, in a rather philosophical way, of his duties, life in camp, religious convictions; of the long marches and encounters with the enemy; of hardships on picket duty in winter; with comments on officers, places, and events.

John E. Ryder enlisted in Company C, 24th Michigan Infantry, August 9, 1862, and was killed in action at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863.

There are about twenty-five letters written to members of his family. He tells of visiting Washington and seeing a great many sights; also of a visit to a hospital, a "bad smelling place." He says, "a soldier's life is not like home, but I cannot say that I have a desire to return home until this war is ended." On the Potomac the rebel pickets are not far from them. His comments: They "are hard up. They haven't clothes enough to keep them comfortable. They look worse than the beggars of Michigan, and most of them are mere skeletons." A prisoner with his arm shot off said "he expected to get well because raw-boned rebels were hard things to kill." John saw the President of the United States, and said "he looked more humble than his pictures show."

In a camp near Peniman he said, "it is as beautiful country as I ever saw ... but give me Michigan to live in." He speaks of the hardships endured and says, "I can't say I am anxious to go into battle-but if this thing can't be settled without it, the quicker the better." There was a long march in the rain and mud. The boys joked along the way, some agreeing to desert and others wanting to get into battle to get shot. He expressed his feelings on the eve of what he thought would be his first battle. A camp near Fayetteville he called "the most sickly hole they is in Virginia." There was no food and he wanted to go home, but he also wanted to do his duty. He speaks of the battle near Fredericksburg, of the many casualties, and of the burial of the dead. Boys were talking of deserting before fighting in another battle, but his comment was, "Shame on the deserter. I would rather die first." He asked for a box from home-butter, cheese, dried fruit.

He worked on winter quarters. "When that cold spell was, I woke up and found my hair froze to the tent." A man brought apples into camp "and in less than ten minutes they was 500 soldiers around to buy them at three for twenty-five cents." However, "they is no use buying anything for Uncle Sam furnishes such good stuff. It is hard tax [tack] and bacon. Take the hard tax and break them up, and you will find some very nice bugs to boil up in soup.... That is where we cheat the government. We get live stock that is counted as nothing." He calls it "the great skaddle" when about to cross a river, they saw a large army of rebels and retreated. He tells of the punishment given men for straggling. Officers are resigning and privates deserting. "I don't know which is worse to resign or desert, both is unfit to live. ... I find in soldiering that life is altogether uncertain and not much to be relied upon."

He tells of picket duty in rain and snow. He comments on the attitude of many of the men toward fighting the South-" We cannot whip them for they are united to a man, fighting for their rights until they die."-On a six day scouting expedition in the blazing sun and clouds of dust, they capture soldiers, slaves, mules and a caravan of animals. On picket duty on the banks of a river with Rebs on the other bank, they visit back and forth. "They like us when not in battle." He speaks of drinking among the officers. He wishes all men from eighteen to forty would be drafted "to get this over with in a hurry. We have just enough men now to get licked every time." (June 24, 1863 letter). On July 1, 1863, he was killed in the Battle of Gettysburg.

John S. Frey, of Gettysburg, Pa. Two letters (Nov. 17 and Dec. 2, 1863) written from Gettysburg to Mr. Ryder concern sending home the bodies of Alfred and John Ryder.

Amasa E. Mathews, of Plymouth, Mich. He enlisted in Company H, 1st Michigan Cavalry, as quartermaster sergeant,Aug. 8, 1861; was second lieutenant, first lieutenant, and acting assistant adjutant general by July 15, 1863; then captain of Company I June 13, 1864. He was wounded in action at Winchester, Va., Sept. 19, 1864, and discharged for disability Jan. 16, 1865.

One letter (Sept. 6, 1862) was written to the Ryder family to tell them that their son Alfred has been taken prisoner at Bull Run.

Alfred Noble, of Livonia, Mich. One letter (Sept. 15, 1863) to Mr. Ryder, concerns the death of his son John Ryder. Noble was in Company C, 24th Michigan Infantry.

William C. Way, of Plymouth, Mich. He entered service in the 24th Michigan Infantry at its organization (1862) as chaplain and was mustered out June 30, 1865. His four letters (July 9-18, 1863), to the Ryder family tell them of the death of their son John at Gettysburg and that "I buried him with my own hands;" also of the dangerous condition of Alfred-wounded at Gettysburg, and of his impending death in a hospital.

This collection is available on microfilm for interlibrary loan.

Finding aid available online