Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Third Arrives to Defend Washington, DC

The Third Michigan left Grand Rapids on June 13, 1861 and travelled by train and steamer to Washington, DC where it arrived three days later.

It reached its destination on the sixteenth of June and, trudging down Pennsylvania Avenue through horrid heat, passed theWhite House, where it was said that on the east portico both President Lincoln and General Winfield Scott could be seen sitting in plain view. However, the city was ill prepared to receive the arriving throngs of troops, and this inefficiency led to a shortage of tents and blankets for shelter.
Soldiers crowded the streets of Washington’s downtown area and quickly became unwieldy and undisciplined. Finally, after several days, encampments began to spring up on the outskirts of town. The Third Regiment occupied Camp Blair and spent its first days drilling and digging earthworks around the city at Georgetown Heights. - Courage Without Fear, p. 37

They were tired, hungry and weary when they marched to Chain Bridge just above Georgetown on the Potomac river, where they set up their first wartime encampment on the bluffs overlooking the river. The camp was first called Camp McConnell (after the colonel of the regiment) but then quickly changed to Camp Blair (after Austin Blair, then governor of the state of Michigan).

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Chain Bridge was one of the key Potomac River crossings into Washington from Virginia.  (The other two were Aqueduct Bridge, near the current Key Bridge, and Long Bridge, around the site of the 14th Street Bridge today.)  The bridge was originally constructed in 1797 by Georgetown merchants who wanted to compete with the port of Alexandria.  The bridge enabled them to transport goods directly from Virginia into Georgetown.   In 1808, a chain suspension bridge was built at the site -- this bridge became known as the "Chain Bridge," but the name stuck and carried over to subsequent bridges.  The original Chain Bridge collapsed and in 1852 was replaced by the crossbeam structure that existed at the time of the Civil War.  - Ronald Baumgarten

The bands, the crowds, the patriotic fervor of late April soon give way to war's harshest reality: death. The first man to die was William Choates of C company, who died on July 1, 1861, not amidst the glories of battle but in the throes of fever. He was buried near Camp Blair, and is presumably buried there still.


(1) Chain bridge photos and description from "All Not So Quiet Along the Potomac" blog by Ronald Baumgarten

(2) Description of the Third's movement from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Washington, DC from "Courage Without Fear: The Story of the Grand Rapids Guard" by David Britten, Xlibris, 2004

(3) Photo of Third Michigan in camp at the Chain Bridge from "The Third Michigan Infantry Research Project" by Steve Soper

(4) Other material from "3rd Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment" Wikipedia site