John G. Byrns

John G. Byrns was born 1843 in Canada, the son of David (b. 1801) and Charlotte (b. 1817).

Both of his parents were Canadian natives and were probably married in Canada sometime before 1841. The family lived in Canada for some years before immigrating to the United States, eventually settling in Michigan sometime between 1853 and 1857. By 1860 John was probably attending school with his siblings and living with his family in Grand Rapids’ Third Ward, Kent County, where his father worked as a shoemaker and shoe dealer.

John was 18 years old and probably still living in Kent County when he enlisted with his parents’ consent in Company A on May 13, 1861. Although he was reported to have deserted sometime around June 1, 1862 at Washington, DC, he was also reported on furlough in July of 1862, and in fact, he had returned home to Grand Rapids where he married Mary Smith on June 28, 1862.

The remaining details of Byrns’ service remain unclear. Colonel Stephen Champlin, who was commanding the Third Regiment in the summer of 1862, was himself home in Michigan on furlough after being wounded at Fair Oaks, Virginia, on May 31, 1862, and notified Michigan Adjutant General John Robertson in Detroit that “A young man named Byrnes . . . is showing a certificate recommending him to a commission with my name attached.” He informed the Adjutant General that “If he should show such to Gov. [Austin] Blair [of Michigan], please assure the gov. that the same is a forgery.”

Sergeant Charles Wright of Company A, discussed Byrns’ character at some length in a letter he wrote home in early 1863.

I have heard [Wright wrote home on February 23] of the arrest and confinement of one John Byrns in your city [Grand Rapids]. He was formerly of my company and after the battle of Fair Oaks (in which he was not a participant) he deserted and has never been heard from until now. He always was set down by the boys as a coward and we all know he is a thief. The day before the battle of Fair Oaks he was detailed to go to the rear and across the Chickahominy and guard our knapsacks which had been previously sent back in anticipation of a battle. He robbed some of the knapsacks of clothing and found other articles which were afterwards found with him. So he pretended to be wounded after the battle, and got passage to Washington. There he waited upon Cap. Geo. Judd, and in a few days forged a furlough and deserted. Now if it is so they have got him locked up in jail at Grand Rapids, I hope he may be sent here to be punished; such a mean . . . coward deserves punishment at the hands of his own officers and men. I know all the boys would like to see his head shaved and the letter D branded upon him, for even that would a light punishment, for such a coward as he.

There is, however, no public record of Byrns’s trial or confinement in Grand Rapids, nor is there any further record of his military service or postwar life, and no pension seems to be available.

There was one John Byrns, a resident of Chicago, who enlisted as a Sergeant on July 25, 1862 in Company A, Seventy-second Illinois infantry, and subsequently deserted on December 31, 1862. He was at one point reduced to the ranks as a Private. There was also a“John Byrns”, who enlisted as a Private on March 26, 1863, in Unassigned, Twelfth Pennsylvania cavalry. Again, there is no further record.

In any case, there are no further details on his family nor do we know of what became of his wife Mary.