Benjamin Luce, sutler

Benjamin Luce was born in 1815 in New York.

Benjamin left New York and moved westward, eventually settling in Grand Rapids in 1837, just four years after the first permanent settlement had been established along the banks of the Grand River. He probably served in a Michigan Regiment during the Mexican-American War.

He was probably married twice, but his first wife’s name is unknown. He married his second wife, Celeste Marion Brundige (1833-1876), on March 5, 1857.

Luce was actively involved in the organization and development of the Valley City Guard, one of three prewar Grand Rapids militia companies and whose members would serve as the nucleus for Company A, Third Michigan infantry in 1861. In fact, Luce was probably one of the charter members of the company in 1855, and by February 12, 1858, he was elected to replace Third Lieutenant Milton Littlefield. Luce continued to serve as Third Lieutenant until he resigned (reasons unknown) on December 3, 1860. That same year he was working as a United States mail agent and living with his wife and children in Grand Rapids, First Ward.

On April 26, 1861, the Grand Rapids Enquirer reported that Captain Lucius Patterson and Ben Luce, among others, were “engaged in getting up a new military company, to take its place in the second Regiment,” then forming in Grand Rapids and soon to be renumbered the third Regiment. The name of this particular unit, according to the Enquirer on April 30, was to be the “Michigan Union Guards” and it already had “the name[s] of 61 privates on its roll, with recruiting officers around the County, who have not yet reported. Captain Lucius Patterson, First Lieutenant Benj. Luce, Second Lieutenant Frederick W. Worden, First Sergeant A. C. McKenzie.”

For whatever reason, however, this unit never materialized and its privates were amalgamated into other companies then forming in Grand Rapids, notably Company A which grew out of the former Valley City Guard and Company B which began as the old Grand Rapids Artillery militia company. Fred Worden joined Company B, and at the age of 46 Luce was appointed Sutler of the Third Michigan infantry.

Benjamin was with the Regiment when it departed Grand Rapids for Washington on June 13, 1861, and after the war Dan Crotty of Company F told the story that on June 15-16, 1861, on the train from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Baltimore, the rumor went around the Regiment that the engineer was a rebel and had plans to tip the train into a ditch. “We have,” Crotty wrote, “an engineer too, and our gallant Sutler, Ben Luce, mounts the engine and tells the rebel that if he plays us false he will be the first to suffer with his life. No accidents happen, however.”

In addition to providing the soldiers with various amenities unavailable through their own Quartermaster Departments, Luce made frequent loans of cash and goods on credit to the men and officers of the Third Michigan. For example, Captain Stephen Lowing of Company I wrote home in October of 1862 asking his brother-in-law to pay Luce’s wife $30.00, which he had borrowed from the sutler.

Benjamin apparently returned to Michigan in the summer of 1862, and was reported on July 24 to be staying at the Michigan Exchange Hotel in Detroit. Luce eventually returned to Virginia, but, for whatever reason, by the fall of 1863 he had apparently left the Regiment as sutler and returned home to western Michigan.

On September 14, 1863, the Grand Rapids Eagle reported that Luce had recently returned to Grand Rapids and accepted the appointment as Sutler of the Eleventh Michigan cavalry, then being organized at Kalamazoo. After working as a Sutler in the Army of the Cumberland, he returned home to Grand Rapids in mid-December of 1864. It is not known if he ever rejoined the Army of the Cumberland.

After the war Benjamin resumed his various businesses such as real estate and loans in Grand Rapids.

In 1865-68 he was residing at 29 Greenwich Street in Grand Rapids, and by 1880-81 he was engaged in real estate and loans with an office at 41 Monroe Street, and his residence was at 11 (old) Clinton Street. In 1870 he was still working as a real estate agent (he owned some $10,000 worth of real estate) and was living with his wife, Rhode Island native Marion C. (b. 1833), and two sons in Grand Rapids’ Second Ward.

Benjamin was a member of the Old Settlers’ Association, a member of the Mexican War Veterans’ association of the State of Michigan, a Democrat and a Freemason.

Benjamin died from a “lingering illness” on Sunday October 10, 1880, at his home, 11 Clinton Street, and the funeral service was held at the residence at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday October 12. He was buried in Fulton cemetery: block 10, lot 25 grave 4.