Charles R. Calkins

Charles R. Calkins was born December 4, 1836 or January 4, 1837, in either Unadilla, Otsego County, or Chenango County, New York, the son of Sylvanus or Sylvester (b. 1798) and Jane (Vanderberg, b. 1806).

Sylvanus was living in New Berlin, Chenango County, New York in 1840. In any case, by 1850 Charles was attending school with his two siblings and living with his parents in Bainbridge, Chenango County, New York, where his father (listed as “Sylvester W.”) was working as a shoemaker (the Vanderberg family lived nearby). it is not known if Charles left New York on his own if he moved west with his family. By 1860 Charles was probably working as a sash-maker for Warren Rindge in Grand Rapids’ Second Ward. That same year his mother (?) Jane was working as a nurse for and living with the George Judd family in Grand Rapids’ First Ward; George and his brother Samuel would also join the Third Michigan in 1861.

Charles stood 5’7” with black eyes, black hair and a dark complexion, and was 24 years old and probably still living in Grand Rapids when he enlisted in Company A on May 13, 1861. (Company A was made up largely of men from Grand Rapids, and many of whom had served in various local militia units before the war, specifically the Valley City Guards, or VCG, under the command of Captain Samuel Judd, who would also command Company A.)

According to a statement he made after the war, sometime in the fall of 1861, while serving with the regiment in its camp near Alexandria, Virginia, Charles was taken with chills and a fever and in “November 1861 was seized with pneumonia and placed in [the] regimental hospital” where he remained for about three weeks and then came home in a furlough. He was reported absent on furlough from January 23, 1862 and reported as still in furlough through the end of April, 1862.

He was reported at home sick on furlough in Grand Rapids in June of 1862, and on June 13, 1862, he wrote to Colonel Smith commanding the military rendezvous in Detroit inquiring what he should do about his furlough and his presumed discharge. He began by saying that in a recent issue of the Detroit Free Press he had seen

a notice to soldiers on furlough to report at your office. So I will state my case and await your advice [as to] what to do. I am a private of Co. A Capt. Judd (before he was killed) 3 Mich regt of infantry. I was taken sick in October [and] obtained a furlough the last of February. I was suffering with bronchitis when I came home and am now got [have now gotten] my furlough renewed [extended]. The next time I reported I sent my surgeon’s certificate for a discharge but did not hear any more for sometime but reported regular[ly] when my time expired. When Capt [Charles] Lyon went back [to the Regiment after] recruiting here for our Regt he said that I never would be fit to soldier anymore very soon anyway, and he would see what the Col. had done. Shortly after Lt. Lindsey of co. B resigned and came home and Col Champlin and Capt Judd sent word by him that my papers were properly made out and sent to Washington and that I ought to have had them before this time but to rest easy and he [Lyon] would make it all right.

Calkins added that Colonel Stephen Champlin, commanding the Third Michigan and who had recently been wounded, was “on his way home and I think the best way is let wait until he comes.” He also said that he asked the Kent County clerk to write “to the Auditor Gen to look for my papers now if they shouldn’t come shall I report to you [Smith] I have lost my health in the army and it seems as so I ought to be entitled to an honorable discharge but the pay is not what I am after but the thing has run long enough and the prospects are that I will not be able to do anything this summer at least. Please send me a letter by return mail with your advice.”

It is not known what Colonel Smith’s reply was, but apparently Charles was ordered to report to Detroit where he was examined by a Dr. Pritchard who found him recovered sufficiently to be returned to his regiment in Virginia. Charles claimed some years later that while en route to his regiment he took sick again and was admitted to a hospital in Baltimore.

By mid-July he was reported in Hygeia Hospital near Fortress Monroe, in “feeble” condition and “of little use as a soldier.” In fact, he was apparently suffering from typhoid fever. He was soon transferred up north, and on July 10, 1862 he was admitted to the general hospital at Fifth & Buttonwood Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, suffering from bronchitis. (Variously known as either fifth Street hospital or Buttonwood hospital.) He told an agent for the Michigan Soldiers’ Aid Association who interviewed him in Fifth Street hospital in Philadelphia that he thought he would soon be discharged, and indeed, he was discharged for bronchitis on August 2, 1862, at Philadelphia. (Charles claimed that he was admitted to Buttonwood hospital in Philadelphia and discharged from there as well.)

According to one report Calkins had contracted pneumonia during the war and “was sent home to die, but proved the surgeons in error by living nearly fifty years.”

Following his discharge from the army Charles returned to western Michigan.

He married New York native Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keeley (1845-1915) in 1863, and they had probably at least four children: Carrie (b. 1866), Mary E. (b. 1868), Emma (b. 1870), Clarence A. (1872-1894) and Frederick (b. 1876).

By 1867-69 Charles was working as a cabinet-maker and living on the west side of Broadway between Fifth and Sixth Streets in Grand Rapids, and in 1870 he was living with his wife and four children in the Fourth Ward working as a blinds-maker. By 1880 Charles was working in a furniture factory and living with his wife and children in Grand Rapids’ Seventh Ward; by 1881 he was residing at 149 Broadway in Grand Rapids. In fact he lived his postwar years mainly in Grand Rapids, in the Second and Sixth Wards, working as a cabinet-maker, and then operating a grocery business for some years on east Bridge Street Hill. In 1889-90 he was probably living at 346 Broadway, working for T. W. Allen in 1889 and C. C. Comstock in 1890.

Charles was a member of both the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association and Grand Army of the Republic Custer Post No. 29 in Grand Rapids, and in 1881 he applied for and received pension no. 268315.

He resided at Eleventh and Broadway Streets for more than 25 years, probably at 344 Broadway, and in about 1906 he retired to a farm near Cascade. He was living in Cascade in 1907.

When he became ill in the summer of 1910 he was taken to his daughter’s home at 445 South College Street in Grand Rapids, where he died of apoplexy on July 26, 1910. Funeral services were held at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Schmidt, at 2:00 p.m. Friday afternoon, July 29, and he was buried in Greenwood cemetery: section P lot 17.

His widow applied for and received a pension (no. 708759).