James R. Ayres

James R. Ayres, also known as “Ayers”, was born 1840 in Stamford, Fairfield County, Connecticut, the son of Jeremiah N. or Joseph (1813-1882) and Frances Louisa (Newman, b. 1818).

Connecticut-born Jeremiah married Frances in Stamford on March 12, 1837, and they had three children of which James was the youngest. Jeremiah married his second wife Sarah E (b. 1818) and then his third (?) wife, Connecticut native Sarah Mariah Leeds (1819-1904) on June 21, 1849, in Stamford, and they had six children. By 1850 James was attending school with his older sister Emily and living with his family in Stamford where his father worked as a bookkeeper. By 1860 John was living in Stamford, at home with his family, where his father (“Joseph”, born in New York) owned and operated a factory (he owned some $7500 worth of real estate). Before the war broke out John left Connecticut and headed westward, eventually settling in Michigan.

John stood 5’4” with brown eyes, dark hair and a dark complexion, and was a 21-year-old farmer probably living in Grand Rapids when he enlisted in Company C on May 13, 1861. (Company C was made up largely of German and Dutch immigrants, many of whom lived on the west side of the Grand River in Grand Rapids. This company was the descendant of the old Grand Rapids Rifles, also known as the “German Rifles”, a prewar local militia company composed solely of German troopers.)

During the battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, on May 2-3, 1863, James reportedly left the lines for 48 hours without permission. He was charged with deserting his company by Captain Israel Geer, then commanding Company C, and was court-martialled on August 1, 1863, at headquarters, First Division, Third Corps. Specifically, it was alleged that James did desert the company and regiment while it was engaged at the battle of Chancellorsville, and did not return to the regiment until May 3. he pled not guilty.

Lieutenant Theodore Hetz of Company C was called by the prosecution. Hetz swore that “On the 2nd of May, 1863, we were ordered to make a night charge. When we went in he was with the company while we were fighting, and acted very well. I did not again see him till the 4th day of May, when he reported to the regiment at the rifle pits.”
Judge Advocate: Was he in any other engagements, under fire, that day, previous to the charge?

Answer: Yes. We were engaged in the afternoon.

Judge Advocate: Was the accused with his company during the engagement of the afternoon?

Answer: Yes, he was there, and he behaved very well.

Prisoner: What has been my character as a soldier?

Answer: It has been very good. He has behaved well both in camp and in battle; he fought well at Gettysburg.
Lieutenant Hetz was then dismissed and the prosecution called First Sergeant Muhlberg. He testified that James

left the company after the charge was made, on or about the night of the 2nd of May, 1863. I saw him whenhe charged, he was in his place in the ranks. When we fell back, about 10 or 11 o’clock PM and took position in the rifle pits, I was ordered to call the roll, and I missed him, and reported him as missing in action. I did not see him again till the morning of the 4th of May 1863, when he returned, and reported himself to the regiment. For his absence, he gave, as an excuse, that he could not rejoin his regiment.
Judge Advocate: How did he behave in action?

Answer: He behaved well; he always does, he is a good soldier in camp also.

Judge Advocate: Has he been on duty since he has been a prisoner?

Answer: Yes, sir, and fought well at the battle of Gettysburg, Pa.

The defense then called George Shadduck of Company C.

Prisoner: What time did I return to my regiment after the charge made on the 2nd of May 1863?

Answer: He returned about dark, on the night of the 3rd.

James then called Mathias Greenwalt of Company C.

Prisoner: At what time did I report to my regiment aft the charge made the night of the 2nd of May?

Answer: I do not know whether he reported himself or not, but I saw him at the regiment on the night of the 3rd of May.

James then submitted the following statement to the court:

I got separated from my regiment in the charge on the night of 2nd of May, it was very dark, and I got into the 12th Army Corps; in the morning, at daybreak, I was with a large number of men, from different regiments (some from our brigade), put into the rifle pits on the left of the Chancellor House, and obliged to remain there till ordered to fall back, when, finding it a good opportunity to get to my regiment [did so].
James was found guilty and sentenced to forfeit one month’s pay. The officers of the court, however, signed a letter to the commanding general recommending that the sentence be remitted (which it was) due to his previous good character.

In any case, James reenlisted on December 24, 1863, at Brandy Station, Virginia, crediting Lowell, Kent County, returned home (to Michigan or perhaps Connecticut) on veteran’s furlough in January of 1864, and probably returned to the Regiment on or about the first of February. He was transferred to Company I, Fifth Michigan infantry upon consolidation of the Third and Fifth Michigan Regiments on June 10, 1864.

James was reportedly shot and killed by a rebel sharpshooter near Petersburg, Virginia on June 17, 1864. According to the treasurer of the Michigan Soldiers’ Relief Association, James, “while laboring on the breastworks, about fifty feet from brigade headquarters, fell, shot through the left breast by a rebel sharpshooter. He expired within two minutes, without uttering a word. He has been buried under a locust on the bank of a small stream, forty rods north of a road leading east of Petersburg, and a mile or two from that city. I understand he was a gallant soldier and much esteemed in his regiment.”

Originally buried on Henry Bryan’s property near Meade Station, Virginia, James was eventually reburied in City Point National Cemetery: section E, grave 2554.

No pension seems to be available.