Peter D. Lawyer was born on December 24, 1820, either in Lawyerville, Schoharie County or in Herkimer County, New York, the son of John Sebastian Lawyer (?) and Catharine Storring (1801-1876).
Sometime before 1842 Peter moved to Kent County, Michigan, where he married Michigan native Lydia Laraway (1828-1881), on December 5, 1842, in Cascade, Kent County. (Lydia was the sister of John Laraway who would also enlist in Company A.) Peter and Lydia had at least six children: Henry M. (1846-1864), William R. (b. 1848), Charles (b. 1850), Mary K. (b. 1852), Frederick (b. 1854) and Jessie F. (b. 1857).
By 1850 Peter and his family were living on a farm in Grand Rapids, Kent County. Peter took an interest in the growing militia movement in western Michigan in the late 1850s, and he joined the Ringgold Artillery, under command of Captain John Fay. He was reported First Corporal of the company in 1858. By 1860 Peter was living with his wife Lydia and their children on a farm on Cascade road (just east of the present “East Beltline”) in Grand Rapids Township.
Peter stood 5’7” with gray eyes, brown hair and a dark complexion and was 40 years old and still residing in Grand Rapids Township when he enlisted in Company A on May 13, 1861. Besides his relationship to John Laraway of Company A, Peter was related to two other members of Company A: he was half-brother to Anna Reed, the wife of Miles Adams of Company A, and his own son Henry would enlist in the company in 1862. By early August of 1861 Peter was a Corporal. On December 18 he was reported to be in poor health and. according to George Miller of Company A, who was probably acquainted with Lawyer before the war and often spoke of him in letters to his parents, Lawyer was rumored to be “going home for 30 days on a furlough if he can get one, his health is very poor. Father knows him. He lives down toward the Rapids near Fisk’s tavern.”
By December 28 Peter had still “not gone home yet but expects to soon,” and in fact, by the first week of January, 1862, Lawyer along with First Lieutenant George Judd of Company A had left for Grand Rapids, probably to recruit for the Regiment. It is quite likely that since he was on recruiting duty back home in Michigan he probably recruited his son Henry, who would enlist in Company A in late February of 1862. (Henry would be killed at the Wilderness, Virginia, in May of 1864; another son William R. served in Company E, 10th Michigan cavalry.)
In late winter or early spring of 1862 Peter returned to Virginia and was with the Regiment when it moved down into Virginia for McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign. On Sunday, June 22, 1862, Lawyer replied to enquiries made by the mother of George Miller, who was missing in action at the battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia, on May 31, 1862. “I have just received your letter of inquiry with regard to your son, G. W. Miller,” he wrote,
which I hasten to answer and I will give you all the information I can, and all that anyone can. G. W. Miller was selected out of our Regiment as one of the sharpshooters together with about 50 more, and they were commanded by our worthy Capt. S. A. Judd, and they went into the battle about 100 yds in advance of the balance of the Regiment, but as the battle raged were soon all mixed up together and we had all we could do for every man to look our for himself. Many of our brave volunteers fell for the last time. G. W. Miller, James V. Smith, William H. Drake among the missing. The battlefield was all looked over for the wounded, dead and we found all but the above mentioned; it is my candid opinion that these 3 are taken prisoners. They all belong to company A, the same company that I do myself and G. W. Miller was a favorite in the company and very highly esteemed by all who knew him. We are all flattering ourselves that he will yet be returned to us.
The last that was seen of George he was as far in advance as any that was seen in the company. We were engaging the enemy on our left and we drove them back although they greatly outnumbered us, after some time had elapsed and we were all the time facing a perfect shower of bullets and grapeshot, the enemy overpowered our right wing which fell back. They came very near flanking us, it was with the utmost exertion that any of us escaped and there is where we think our 3 men was taken prisoner, G.W. among the rest.
Our Capt [Judd] was killed and our company was badly cut to pieces. 4 of our sgts were wounded, the highest officer we have left in our company is a sgt. We hope it will be as we expect, if so we shall all see You must hope for the best. It is my sincere wish that your son will be especially returned to you again.
Suffering from “heart disease,” Peter was discharged as a Corporal on September 30, 1862, at Upton’s Hill, near Alexandria, Virginia. After his discharge from the army Peter returned to his farm in Grand Rapids, where he died of heart disease on Wednesday, June 25, 1863. The funeral service was held on Friday, and the procession left the residence at 3:00 p.m. The services were held at the brick school house near, on either Reed’s or Fisk’s Lake, at 4:00 p.m. He was buried in Fulton cemetery: section 1 lot 26.
Lydia remained in Grand Rapids. In 1880 (?) Lydia applied for a widow’s pension (application no. 266481).
According to Lydia’s obituary she was living in the Township of Grand Rapids in 1881 when she
died of paralysis on the 19th of November. Her death and the suddenness of their bereavement was a severe shock to her children and the many warm friends of the family. She was stricken down while about her household duties, which it was ever her pleasure to perform for her loved ones, as one who looked well to the ways of her household, eating not the bread of idleness, and whose children rise up and call her blessed. She was an early settler, and the widow of the late Peter O. Lawyer, whose name is pleasantly familiar to scores of ‘boys in blue’, as he was one of the first to go out at the beginning of the war with out gallant ‘Old Third’ Michigan Infantry -- one who was prompt and honest as a soldier, never shrinking or swerving from the line of duty -- generous to a fault, kind to all, and in demeanor a gentleman in the best and manliest sense of the word. All this is recalled as we speak of the death of his amiable wife who has, her friends fondly trust, now found him in a better land, where there is no more trouble and the weary are at rest. Mr. Lawyer was a brother to Mrs. W. H. Reynolds, and half brother to Mrs. Miles S. Adams, Mrs. Frank Outhwaite of Muskegon, and Mrs. Theodore DePuy of St. Joseph, Missouri.
In 1888 a minor child dependent’s application was filed for Jessie Tongue who was probably Jessie Lawyer, one of Peter’s children, and which was granted (no. 250957).