26th Michigan infantry

Solomon D. Biggs

Solomon D. Biggs, also known as “Briggs”, was born 1833 in Jackson (?), New York, possibly the son of Jeremiah (b. 1781) and Elizabeth (b. 1795).

In 1840 there was one Jeremiah Biggs living in Salem, Washington County, New York. By 1850 Solomon was probably working as a laborer for a wealthy farmer named Freeman Fuller and living with his parents Jeremiah and Elizabeth and two older siblings in Salem, Washington County, New York.

Solomon eventually left New York and headed west, settling in western Michigan.

He was 25 years old and living in Berlin (now Saranac), Ionia County when he married 15-year-old Julia A. Woodworth (1844-1919) on August 18, 1859, in Ionia (probably in Berlin). They had at least two children: Harriet E. (b. 1860) and Charles A. (b. 1864). Curiously, Julia is listed as Julia A. Woodworth and living with her parents Benjamin and Mary in Ionia County in 1860; no mention of Solomon is noted.

Solomon stood 5’6” with gray eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion and was a 29-year-old farmer probably living in Ionia County, Michigan. when he enlisted in Company D on February 5, 1862, at Saranac, Ionia County for 3 years, and was mustered the same day. (Company D was composed in large part of men who came from western Ionia County and Eaton County.)
Solomon testified in March of 1863 that he had been wounded on May 31, 1862, at the battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia. He claimed to have been “shot through the right leg near the ankle -- breaking the fibula [causing] partial anchylosis of the ankle.” In fact, he had been treated for remittent fever from April 14-29, and then for bilious fever around August 5, and suffering from dropsy around August 10. He was admitted on or about August 13 or 31 to the general hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, where he remained at least until around October 10.

In October he was reported absent sick in the hospital, and in fact he was admitted to a ward at the hospital in West Philadelphia on October 10, suffering from “granular lids”, an opthomological problem.

While in the hospital in Philadelphia Solomon apparently attempted to procure a discharge any way he could. According to Dr. E. Dyer, surgeon in charge of the ward where Solomon was a patient, Biggs apparently feigned blindness in his right eye. However, Dyer had developed a “foolproof’ method for detecting suspicious cases of soldiers who were suddenly struck blind in one eye. Using a small prism, Dyer performed a simple test using a long object. On January 31, 1863, Dyer explained that

The following case of feigned blindness of one eye is noted inasmuch as there are so many physicians who have been called from private practice and who are not expecting the deceptions of soldiers, to examine recruits, persons claiming exemption from draft and soldiers seeking discharges from the service. Every kind of imposition is attempted and in many instances the unsuspecting surgeon is deceived. The following method is so simple and . . . so exact in discovering . . . blindness in one eye, that it may be worth while to lay it before army surgeons. It can never fail, and by this plan I have seen cases exposed in the Prussian army which had withstood all conceivable attempts to detect [feigned blindness, such as] sudden darting of knives at the eye, leading them through holes, unexpected blows, etc, in which a sharp man on his guard can anticipate the object of the surgeon and frustrate his experiments.
The idea of the method is based upon the principle that a prism of glass bends a [ray of light] and consequently the image of an object towards its base. The most convenient prism for use in these cases is one in which the two sides form with each other an angle of about 14 degrees each side about 1 1/2 in [length] which is large enough to handle with ease (see diagram [in file]). If such a prism be held before one eye with the base downwards, and any long object like a gun . . . be held horizontally before the eye, the rays from such an object will not coincide with the proper axis of vision, but will be bent downwards and strike the retina at a point before the macula lutea; consequently the object will be projected upwards. The patient in this case actually sees the object 2 or 3 inches above its real position, and if asked to strike it suddenly will pass as much above it.

Dr. Dyer then went on to explain how he tested his method for detecting feigned blindness on one of his patients. He noted that Solomon Biggs, of Company B, Third Michigan infantry,

came into my ward on Oct 10th 1862 with granular lids, for which he was treated for three or four weeks, during which time he sought his discharge on account of some private business. To show that he was anxious for it the fact is mentioned that he offered $25.00 for it. After being in the ward three or four weeks he told me suddenly that he was totally blind in his right eye. I at once suspected the truth of this statement, but he was willing to swear that when his left eye was closed he could not . . . distinguish the windows in the ward, and denied that he had any perception of sight whatever. I closed the left eye and held up my hand, but he affirmed that he could not see it. I then took such a prism as has been described and holding a pen horizontally and at the same time placing before the right eye the prism with the base downwards asked him if he did not see two pens; he said he did; I asked how they were related to each other; he said one was above the other. The explanation was simple enough: the axis of vision most always remained in the same horizontal plane; and the macular lutea were on the same line. . . . Of course if the right eye had been blind no image would have been recognized by the right eye -- and the pen would not have been seen double. . . . To place the affair beyond all doubt, I closed the left eye securely with . . . plaster, and a thick bandage, and left [orders] that the patient should be watched. I learned that he ate his meals and walked through the ward avoiding the chairs and stove, etc. with perfect facility and also played cards with the assumed totally blind eye. The same deception has never been attempted in the ward.

To confuse matters, however, it was also reported by Dr. William Thomas in Philadelphia that Solomon had in fact been shot in the lower third of his left leg, fracturing the fibula.
In any case, Solomon was discharged on January 5, 1863, at West Philadelphia hospital for general debility.

After he left the army Solomon returned to Saranac, and in late March of 1863 applied for a pension (no. 15956), again apparently trying to work yet another deception, this time regarding his alleged wounding in May of 1862. (Interestingly, one of those to witness his testimony was Edward Simmons, who would eventually marry Solomon’s widow.) In any case, the certificate was never granted and the claim abandoned. By early 1864 Solomon may have been living in Grand Rapids.

He reentered the service in the Second company of sharpshooters attached to M (?) company, Twenty-seventh Michigan Infantry on February 26, 1864, at Grand Rapids for 3 years, and was mustered the same day, giving his residence as Grand Rapids but crediting Berlin (Saranac). Biggs was promoted to Sergeant and reported missing in action on July 30 at Petersburg, Virginia. He may have been held prisoner briefly, and if so, was soon exchanged. It is also possible that he was sick in a hospital and simply unaccounted for.

Either way, Solomon died of chronic diarrhea on November 3, 1864, in the First Division general hospital at Annapolis, Maryland, and was buried at Annapolis: original grave no. 150, presently section J, grave no. 47 of Annapolis National Cemetery.

His widow applied for and received a pension (no. 39988) but in 1867 Julia married Edward Simmons (d. 1901), presumably in Ionia County. Subsequently a pension was filed on behalf of a minor child and granted (no. 109789). After Simmons’ death in 1901 Julia refiled for a pension, drawing $25 per month by 1919. She was living with her son Charles in Lowell, Kent County when she died in May of 1919, and was buried in Alton cemetery, Vergennes Township.

George W. Bennett update 10/18/2016

George W. Bennett was born on October 8, 1839, in Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan, the son of Cyrus (b. 1809 in Massachusetts) and Dianna (Larnes, b. 1813 in New York).

Cyrus married Deanna Larnes in Washtenaw County, Michigan in 1834 and by 1839 had settled in Kent County; he was still living in Grand Rapids in 1840. By 1850 Cyrus was working as a carpenter and the family was still living in Grand Rapids where George was attending school with three of his siblings, including a younger brother Jonas who would also join the 3rd Michigan. By 1860 Cyrus had moved his family to Brooks, Newaygo County where George and Jonas were both living with the family and where Cyrus continued to work as a carpenter. Also living with Cyrus and his family was George’s brother-in-law Charles Mills, and his wife Laura (Bennett) and their son Frederick.

George stood 5’8” with gray eyes, black hair and a fair complexion, and was a 22-year-old mechanic living in Muskegon County or Newaygo County when he enlisted as Second Corporal in Company H on May 13, 1861, along with his younger brother Jonas; his brother-in-law Charles enlisted in Company E. George W. was quite probably related to George A. Bennett, who enlisted at the same time as Second Sergeant of Company H. (Company H, formerly the “Muskegon Rangers,” was made up largely of men from the vicinity of Muskegon and Newaygo counties.)

George W. reportedly deserted on November 26, 1861 (so did George A. Bennett) at a camp near Fort Lyon, Virginia and returned under President Lincoln’s proclamation of amnesty on April 7, 1863, at Camp Pitcher, Virginia (so did George A.). He was treated for boils from May 21 to 28, and returned to duty. He was diagnosed with syphilis and sent to a hospital on September 16, 1863, and he remained hospitalized until he was furloughed on January 16, 1864. He was apparently back in the hospital by the middle of March, suffering from gonorrhea, and he remained hospitalized, possibly at the regimental hospital, until he was mustered out on June 20, 1864, at Detroit.

After his discharge from the army George returned to Michigan and may have spent a short time in Newaygo County in late 1864.

By 1865 he was living in Jackson, Jackson County, when he married Alice Burch (1844-1893) on December 20, 1864, in Jackson, and they had at least two children: Clarence (b. 1866) and Arthur (b. 1867).

In 1865 George moved to Muskegon, Muskegon County where he operated a restaurant on Western Avenue. In 1878 George quit the restaurant business in Muskegon and moved his family to Anthony, Kansas where he engaged in the hotel business, and by 1880 he was running a hotel in Anthony and living with his wife and children. By 1889 or 1893 he was living in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where his sons operated the Bennett Investment co. He was apparently back in Anthony, Kansas, in 1898 when he applied for and received a pension (no. 775,092), drawing $21.50 per month by 1914. (His brother Jonas, who also served in the Old Third lived his last years in Oklahoma City as well; see his biographical sketch below.)

He joined the Old 3rd Michigan Infantry Association in 1872 and was probably a member of the Episcopal Church.

George was a widower and reportedly deaf in both ears when he died in Oklahoma City of lung disease on September 7, 1914; he was buried in Forest Park Cemetery, Anthony, Kansas.