Benjamin M., John A. and William W. Nestel

Benjamin M. Nestel, alias “Benjamin Radford,”was born in 1843 in New York, the son of George (1818-1888) and Abigail (Radford, 1820-1889).

New York natives George and Abigail were probably married in New York sometime before 1838. George moved his family from New York to Michigan sometime after 1853. By 1860 Benjamin was probably working as a farm laborer in Kent County.

Benjamin was 18 years old (and probably unable to read or write) when he enlisted with the consent of the Justice of the Peace in Company F on May 13, 1861, along with his brothers John and William, and all three men were transferred to Company C before the Regiment left for Washington on June 13, 1861. Benjamin was reported sick in his quarters on February 28, 1862.

Benjamin reportedly deserted from the Regiment on August 24, 1862.

He was tried and convicted on September 24, 1862, for having deserted from August 24, 1862, and remaining absent until September 22, and for violation of the 52nd Article of War, that is, for having intentionally thrown away his gun and ammunition, and for violation of the 21st Article of War, being absent from his command without leave. He pled guilty to all charges and was sentenced on September 30 to “forfeit all pay and allowance which are or may hereafter be due him; to be indelibly branded on the left hip with the letter D -- one and one-half inches long; to have his head shaved, and to be drummed out of the service.”

The sentence was executed in the presence of the entire Third Brigade on Friday, October 3. According to George Waldron of the fifth Michigan Infantry and a regular correspondent to the Detroit Advertiser and Tribune,

several regiments of Berry’s Brigade (excepting the 5th Michigan that being on picket) were drawn up in two parallels with an intervening space of about 3 rods, to witness the execution of the sentence of a court martial upon a private in Co. C of the 3d Michigan, for desertion and throwing away his gun and cartridge box, these being the principal charges and the sentence was that the deserter (I withhold his name out of respect to his friends) should have his head shaved and be branded with the letter D on his left hip, and be drummed out of camp all of which was duly executed under the supervision of a Lieutenant of the Provost Guard/ The deserter was marched down the lines in full view of all, under a guard of six soldiers, with four fifers and six drummers, playing the “Rogue’s March,” and thence to the top of a hill a few rods in front, where the whole Brigade had a full view of the execution of the sentence, after which the subject of this sentence was marched back again, with head uncovered. the band playing the same tune and the guard in the rear with arms in the position of charge bayonets, after which he was left to go withersoever he would. The sentence also deprived him of all back pay, which was considerable, being about five months. I am informed this loss was made up to him by the generosity of the 2d and 3d Michigan and 37th New York, his own company presenting him $50, and the above regiments increasing the amount to $390. There was so little dissatisfaction in his company and regiment on account of, as is said, the injustice of the sentence, which I have not taken the trouble to investigate, being satisfied for the present with the verdict of a Court Martial.

The desertion was since the Army of the Potomac returned from the Peninsula, and while the regiment to which the deserter belonged was marching from Alexandria toward Bull Run [Groveton]. On his trial he had every opportunity and assistance offered him to produce proof of his innocence.


This is the first time such a sentence has every been executed in Berry’s Brigade and I think it will be the last for it will have such a decided effect upon the men that desertion henceforth will be unknown in this Brigade. Let those who are absent without leave at their homes in Michigan and elsewhere take warning by this terrible example and hasten to their regiments.

According to Edgar Clark of Company G, who witnessed the affair, “[i]t was a hard-looking sight.” Nestle’s “head was shaved in sight of the whole camp and then was marched right in front and six drums played the tune called the ‘Rogue’s March’.” Clark added that he “never wanted to see another such sight. I would rather be shot and buried five feet underground than be disgraced in that way.”

Curiously, George Waldron wrote that Benjamin had, in fact, quite a bit of sympathy in his own regiment.

The deserter was marched down the lines in full view of all, under a guard of six soldiers, with four fifers and six drummers, playing the “Rogue’s March,” and thence to the top of a hill a few rods in front, where the whole brigade had full view of the execution of the sentence, after which the subject of this sentence was marched back again with head uncovered, the band playing the same tune and the guard in the rear with arms in the position of charge bayonets, after which he was left to do whatsoever he would. The sentence deprived him of all back pay, which was considerable being about five months. I am informed this loss was made up to him by the generosity off the 2d and 3d Michigan and the 37th New York, his own company presenting him $50, and the above regiments increasing to $300. There was some little dissatisfaction in his company and regiment on account of, as I said, the injustice of the sentence. . . .

After his discharge Benjamin reportedly enlisted in the U.S. Navy at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in December of 1862, under the name of Benjamin Radford (his mother’s maiden name). He served for some nine years altogether, for about two years aboard the USS Franklin (which he joined at New York City), and when the Franklin was de-commissioned he was transferred to the USS Wabash. Benjamin left the Wabash at Key West, shipped aboard the USS Powahtan for New York City where he was put aboard the Minnesota.

He was discharged from the Navy on July 6, 1877, and eventually returned to Michigan, settling in St. Louis, Gratiot County, where he was living in 1890, in Pine River in 1894 and in St. Louis in 1907.

He married Elizabeth Ann Myers in Gratiot County on July 5 (?), 1878, and they had at least two children: Wallace Waldrow (b. 1880) and Perley (?) May (1884-1902).

Benjamin was living in Pine River, Gratiot County in 1890 and 1894, apparently with his cousin (or brother) William, and worked most of his life as a laborer.

Benjamin applied for and received a pension (no. 841931).

He may be buried in an unmarked grave (which has a flag on it) in the family plot in Oak Grove cemetery in St. Louis, Gratiot County: section G no. 37.

John A. Nestel was born in 1842 in Cayuga County, New York, the son of George (1818-1888) and Abigail (Radford, 1820-1889).

Both New York natives, George and Abigail were probably married in New York sometime before 1838. George moved his family from New York to Michigan sometime after 1853, and by 1860 John was working as a farm laborer (as was his older brother William who would also enlist in the Third Michigan) and living with his family in Grand Rapids Township, where his father, who could not read or write, worked as a farmer.

He stood 5’10” with brown eyes, light hair and a light complexion and was 19 years old and residing in Grand Rapids when he enlisted with the consent of the Justice of the Peace in Company F on May 13, 1861, along with his brothers William and Benjamin. All three men were transferred to Company C before the Regiment left for Washington on June 13, 1861. John was wounded in the right side of the head on May 3, 1863, at Chancellorsville, Virginia, and admitted on May 6 to Lincoln hospital in Washington, DC, where he was treated for a gunshot wound to the right ear. He was sick in the hospital in June, a provost guard in Washington during July and sick in the hospital through August.

John returned to duty on September 8, and reenlisted on December 21, 1863, at Brandy Station, Virginia, crediting Grand Rapids. He probably returned home to Michigan on veteran’s furlough in January of 1864, and rejoined the Regiment on or about the first of February.

He was wounded again, this time severely in one of his hands and taken prisoner during the Wilderness campaign of early May, 1864, probably on May 6. On May 19 he was admitted to the prison hospital in Richmond, suffering from dysentery. He was probably still absent as a prisoner-of-war (or at the very least absent sick) when he was transferred to Company I, Fifth Michigan infantry upon consolidation of the Third and Fifth Michigan Regiments on June 10, 1864, and was reported absent” sick or wounded” through March of 1865. He was mustered out on July 5, 1865, at Jeffersonville, Indiana

After the war John returned to Michigan.

He was married to Michigan native Martha (b. 1847) and they had at least four children: Eva (b. 1867), William W. (b. 1873), Thomas (b. 1874) and Kittie (b.. 1877).

By 1880 John was working as a farmer and living with his wife and children in Pine River, Gratiot County; his parents as well as his brother William were also living in Pine River that year. John was probably working as a farmer in Cedar Springs, Kent County in 1884. He was living in Houghton Lake, Roscommon County in 1888, 1890 and in 1894.

In 1885 John applied for and received a pension (no. 335967).

John was possibly a widower when he died on March 15, 1921, in Clare, Michigan and was presumably buried there.

William Wallace was born in 1838 in Cayuga County, New York, the son of George (1818-1888) and Abigail (Radford, 1820-1889).

Both New York natives, George and Abigail were probably married in New York sometime before 1838. George moved his family from New York to Michigan sometime after 1853, and by 1860 William was working as a farm laborer (as was his younger brother John who would also enlist in the Third Michigan) and living with his family in Grand Rapids Township, where his father, who could not read or write, worked as a farmer.

William (or "Wallace W.") stood 5’9” with blue eyes, light hair and a light complexion and was 23 years old and residing in Kent County when he enlisted in Company F on May 13, 1861, along with his brothers John and Benjamin. All three men were transferred to Company C before the Regiment left for Washington on June 13, 1861.

William was reported absent sick in the Regimental hospital, probably in the summer of 1861, as AWOL in August through September of 1862, and allegedly deserted on October 23, 1862 at Edward’s Ferry, Maryland. This occurred at the same time that Benjamin was reported AWOL and who was eventually court-martialed and dismissed from the service. William had in fact been sent to the hospital on August 27, 1862, and was discharged for disability on January 10, 1863, at Fort Hamilton in New York harbor.

He may have reentered the service in I battery, Second New York artillery on September 2, 1862. If so, he received a gunshot wound to the right leg and was discharged on May 18, 1865.

In any case, William eventually returned to Michigan. By 1870 he was working on his father’s farm and living with his parents in Alma, Pine River Township, Gratiot County, and he was still living with his parents in 1880 in Pine River. He was living in Pine River, Gratiot County in 1888, 1890 and in 1890 along with Benjamin.

He was a member of Grand Army of the Republic Wilkins Post No. 91 in St. Louis, Pine River Township, Gratiot County.

In 1870 he applied for and received a pension (no. 834513).

William died on December 13, 1915, probably in Pine River and was buried in Oak Grove cemetery in St. Louis (as was Benjamin): section G no. 31.