John J. Dennis

John J. Dennis was born 1827 in Ohio.

John married New York native Rebecca A. (1833-1910), on February 3, 1857, possibly in Michigan, and they had at least two children: George (b. 1857) and Fanny (b. 1859).

The family settled in Michigan sometime before 1857 and in 1859-60 John was operating a saloon on the northwest side of Fountain Street between Division and Bostwick Street in Grand Rapids. In late 1859 or early 1860 John became involved with the Valley City Guard, one of the three prewar militia companies in Grand Rapids and whose members would serve as the nucleus for Company A. In March of 1860 John was elected First Corporal, replacing Miles Adams who had resigned, and by the end of December was elected Third Lieutenant, replacing Ben Luce who had also resigned. In 1860 John was still operating a saloon and living with his wife Rebecca in Grand Rapids’ Third Ward (also living with them was Amanda Dennis, possibly John’s younger sister).

John was 34 years old and probably still living in Grand Rapids when he enlisted as Captain of Company F on May 13, 1861. According to at least one member of Company F, Captain Dennis was well liked by the men. Nevertheless, John resigned on account of ill health on August 20, 1861, at Camp Hunter (Hunter’s farm), Virginia.

After his discharge John returned to his home in Grand Rapids where he reentered the service in Battery E, First Michigan Light Artillery at the organization of that unit in Marshall, Calhoun County. The battery was organized in Grand Rapids, Albion and Marshall during the fall of 1861. Indeed, by late fall of 1861 John was actively recruiting for that Regiment in Grand Rapids and sometime in mid-November he opened a recruiting office in Nevius’s block, Grand Rapids, “for recruits for an artillery company to be attached to the Fusilleer Regiment under” Colonel William Innes, and which would count Dennis among its officers.

Presumably John was with the battery when it left Michigan on December 17, 1861, for Louisville, Kentucky and then on to Bacon Creek, Kentucky where it remained until February of 1862. The regiment participated in the advance on Nashville, Tennessee from February 10 until March 3, in the march to Savannah, Tennessee in late March and early April and in the siege of Corinth, Mississippi from late April to late May of 1862 when it occupied that city. (Apparently it did not take part in the battle of Shiloh.) John resigned for reasons unknown on June 9, 1862.

After his discharge from the Michigan artillery, John returned to western Michigan and by early fall of 1863 he was again trying to raise a company of recruits, this time for the Tenth Michigan cavalry. On September 5, the Grand Rapids Eagle reported that Dennis was “raising a company for the Tenth cavalry,” and had “already enlisted between 20 and 30 stalwart men.”

On September 17 the Eagle wrote “A few more men are wanted to fill up Captain John J. Dennis’ company, now being raised for the Tenth cavalry. Everybody, hereabouts, knows the Captain, and, knowing him, with his valuable experience in military matters, and fitness to command, will be pleased to join his company. He has already about fifty men enlisted, and he wants a few more of the same sort. To the rescue, boys -- the tenth will be a ‘bully’ Regiment, led by a brave and true man, and officered throughout b y experienced and competent men.” Apparently John failed to raise enough men, however, since he is not found in the records for the Tenth cavalry.

John remained in Grand Rapids where he opened up a dining saloon in late May of 1864, opposite the Rathbun House, and in the city director for 1865-66 was operating a saloon at 31 Monroe Street. According to an advertisement he placed in the Eagle of May 28, 1864, he had recently “purchased the Saloon . . . formerly owned by the Sergeant brothers, and fitted it up nicely, added a large Dining Room to it. I am now prepared to furnish the public with warm meals, everything the market affords in the eating line, on the shortest notice, and got up in the best possible manner. Beef steak, Ham and Eggs, Broiled Chicken, Cold Tongue, Pig’s Feet, etc. etc.”

According to Dr. William deCamp, formerly surgeon with the First Michigan Engineers and Mechanics, and who knew John before the war and to whose unit John’s battery was reportedly attached at one point in the spring of 1862, John quite probably suffered from chronic lung disease. When deCamp returned home to Grand Rapids in 1864 he found John “suffering from severe pulmonary disease which terminated fatally some time in the summer of 1865.”

Indeed, John died, probably of pulmonary disease on July 21, 1865, and presumably in Grand Rapids. (There is however no record extant of his burial in any of the city cemeteries.)

In 1869 his widow applied for and received a pension (no. 132602).

By 1870 Rebecca was working as a hairdresser and living in Lansing’s Third Ward; also living with her was her son George. In 1880 she was listed as a widower and living alone and doing “hair work” in Lansing. She eventually remarried to one George Little in 1885 in Marshall, Michigan. By 1905 she was living in St. Louis, Missouri when she sought to have her previous widow’s pension restored, her second husband having died the year before.