At 8:30 on the morning of Thursday, June 13, 1861, ten companies of the 3rd Michigan Infantry Regiment of Volunteers, led by its regimental band and the field and staff officers, left their quarters at Cantonment Anderson on the site of the Kent County agricultural fairgrounds, about two and a half miles south of the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan.The regiment marched north up the Kalamazoo Plank road (present-day Division street) into the city.
The companies turned down Monroe street to Canal street and headed north to the Detroit & Milwaukee railroad depot, near what is today the corner of Plainfield and Leonard streets.
Upon reaching the train station, more than 1,000 men boarded two special trains heading east. The trains passed through Ada, St. Johns, Owosso, Pontiac and terminated in Detroit, where the 3rd Michigan was feted by the citizens. The men then boarded two boats for a night cruise to Cleveland, Ohio. From Cleveland they went by rail to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and then on to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Maryland, and arrived in Washington, DC, on Sunday June 16. They marched north out of the city and set up their first camp, Camp Blair (after then Michigan governor Austin Blair) near the Chain Bridge, overlooking the Potomac River.
The regiment's baptism into war came less than three weeks later in the action at Blackburn's Ford on July 18, 1861, a prelude to the first battle of Bull Run on July 21. The 3rd Michigan suffered its first wartime casualty early on Saturday morning, July 20, 1861, when Homer Morgan of Company B allegedly took his own life.
The 3rd Michigan Infantry covered the retreat of the federal troops from Bull Run on July 21, and subsequently went into a succession of camps around Washington throughout the fall and winter of 1861-62. The regiment participated in McClellan's Peninsular campaign of 1862 and suffered its worst casualties to date at Fair Oaks, Virginia on May 31, 1862 and then at Groveton (or Second Bull Run) on August 29, 1862.
The 3rd Michigan Infantry played a peripheral part in the battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862. The next major action for the regiment was at Chancellorsville, Virginia, on May 3, 1863, followed by Gettysburg where the 3rd found itself exposed in the Peach Orchard on July 2, 1863.
Near the end of the summer of 1863 the 3rd Michigan was detached to the Department of the East under General Dix and sent northward to New York City in late August to serve as a deterrent to the expected rioting in the upcoming draft in that state. The regiment spent several days in New York City, the draft went off without event and the 3rd Michigan was sent up the Hudson River to Troy to oversee the draft in that city. The regiment remained in Troy for two weeks before it was ordered back to Virginia to rejoin the Army of the Potomac.
By early May of 1864, the Army of the Potomac was again on the move in Virginia and the 3rd Michigan was hotly engaged on May 5-6 at the Wilderness and on May 11-12 at Spotsylvania Court House. The regiment participated in Grant's sidestepping moves southeastward around Lee's right flank across the North Anna River and ended its military service in the trenches in front of Petersburg, Virginia, on June 10, 1864, and was formally mustered out that same day.
Those men who had enlisted in June of 1861 but who had not reenlisted were sent home to be officially mustered out in Detroit on June 20,1864. The remainder of the regiment, reenlisted veterans and recent enlistees, were incorporated into four companies (A, E, F, and I) and then consolidated into the 5th Michigan infantry. They were mustered out with that regiment at Jeffersonville, Indiana in July of 1865.
The history of the regiment was over, but its history as a relic of that conflict, as a symbol of what that struggle represented would continue to linger on in the guise of the Old 3rd Michigan Association until well into the twentieth century, indeed until 1937 when the last man, Willard Olds, passed away in Belding, Ionia County.