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Former Macon resident honored for capture of Confederacy president

By
MARY KAY McPARTLIN

On Sunday, May 23, Macon resident William Harrison Crittenden was recognized with a plaque on his gravestone to commemorate his important contribution to the Civil War. The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), Nash-Hodges Camp #43, spent two years thoroughly researching Crittenden’s work in capturing President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis near Irwinsville, Tennessee, on May 10, 1865.

“He’s a special person and it’s kind of neat he is from our area,” said David Ingall, commander of Nash-Hodges Camp #43 in Blissfield. “He experienced some incredible things.”

Crittenden was one of five men from Michigan who took Davis into custody. Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union forces on April 9, 1865, which ended the Civil War.

Just before he surrendered, Lee warned Davis, who left Richmond, Virginia, in a hurry, headed for Florida. Union forces began searching for Davis immediately.

Crittenden was part of Lt. Col. Benjamin Pritchard’s 4th Michigan Cavalry in Company D made up of over 400 men. Just before making contact with Davis, Pritchard had designated five soldiers from the Michigan company to capture Davis.

“They were the guys that would spring the surprise on Davis’ camp,” Ingall said. “They tracked him for some time.”

The Blissfield chapter of the SUVCW knew the Union company that captured Davis was from southern Michigan and decided to do some research to see if any local residents were part of the group. They discovered that Crittenden was one of five men cited by Pritchard who apprehended Davis.

As the five Michigan men entered the camp, they spotted what at first appeared to be an elderly woman carrying a pail. Accounts of the capture at the time said Davis was wearing a dress as a disguise.

According to Ingall, further study of the first-person accounts find Davis was not wearing a dress. Instead, he had on his wife’s coat with her shawl over his head, and his wife called out it was her elderly mother going to get water.

In his written account of the event, Crittenden said, “When I saw the woman had spurs and boots, I knew something was up.”
A call of “Halt” from one of the men of the 4th Cavalry caused Davis to drop the shawl and reveal his identity. After saying a quick prayer, Davis told the men he did not want to die and was taken into custody.

Over the years, the five men who were part of the capture claimed they were the man who shouted, “Halt.”

“In the end we can’t say who was the actual guy,” said Ingall. “It probably was all five. They would have ridden right up on him on horseback.”

There was also a sad component to the capture. According to their research, Ingall said the First Wisconsin Cavalry was also in pursuit of Davis. They arrived at the camp shortly after the Michigan men and fired on the camp, killing two of the men from the 4th Cavalry, including a resident of Manchester.

The Blissfield chapter was aided in its research of the events by the Crittenden family, who had Crittenden’s written statement with the family papers. Mark Crittenden, the great-great-great grandson of William, shared the document with the chapter.

Ingall credits Bob Elliott and Gary Naugle for guiding the research and making contact with the Crittenden family. He hopes Crittenden’s recognition brings more attention to the men from Lenawee County who fought in the Civil War.

“They need to be commemorated and honored for what they did at the time. Lenawee County sent the second largest contingent of soldiers in Michigan,” Ingall said. “That’s a major accomplishment. It shows the patriotism and the mindset of the people. They heeded the call and went off to war. That’s what happened in Crittenden’s case.”

The SUVCW is committed to keeping alive the memory of soldiers who fought in the Union Army. More information on the Nash-Hodges Camp 43 can be found at sites.google.com/site/suvcw43/.
 

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