1862: Michael Garland to Parents

Michael Garland in later years

This letter was written by Michael Garland (1838-1913), the son of British emigrant William Garland (1808-1871) and Aurelia Cross (1817-1889) of Cape Vincent, Jefferson county, New York. He wrote the letter at the time of the 1862 Sioux Uprising. Though the Sioux attacked villages in Minnesota, the news of these attacks caused residents in Wisconsin from Lacrosse to Lake Michigan to react with hysteria.

The following biographical sketch was found on-line: “Michael Garland was educated in books in the local schools, but his natural mechanical abilities were encouraged in his father’s mill, very little of its construction or operation being unknown to him while he was still a child of tender years. When but 12 years of age he was perfectly competent to operate a steam engine. Naturally he learned the business of millwright and steam engineer and knowledge of these trades has been the basis for much experimenting and for innumerable inventions, Mr. Garland and his fellow stockholders at this time owning some 60 patents for improvements in sawmill, windmill and other kinds of machinery.

At the age of 17 years, Michael Garland left home for the West, going first to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from which point he sailed on October 17, 1857, for Manistee, Michigan. He had been engaged to put up a double-cutting circular sawmill for Adam and James Stronach at Old Stronach, Michigan. This contract he satisfactorily completed, but when its owners were ready to operate it they could not find sawyers of sufficient knowledge to run it. Mr. Garland consented to run it through the winter, filing for himself and other sawyers, but in the spring returned to his parents home in New York, where, at their earnest solicitation, he remained through the summer. In the following year he went to Dubuque, Iowa; from there he proceeded by boat to Cassville, Wisconsin, and shortly afterward went to Turkey River, Iowa. The summer was spent in that locality, full of work, erecting sawmills and building freight barges. As operator of a mill for Brown LeGraff & Company, at Cassville, Wisconsin, he remained in that village about two years, and during this period he also completed the manufacture of a number of barges in association with Homer Smith, a partnership having been formed under the name of Smith & Garland.

About 1859 Garland sold out to his partner and returned to Manistee, Michigan, where he engaged with the firm of Canfield, Coles & Company (lumbermen) and had sole charge of the mechanical departments of two mills, including the engines as well as all mill machinery. He remained in this important and responsible position until 1860, when he went to Chicago.

From Chicago, Mr. Garland went to what was then a more progressive place, one where business opportunities were better, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and there he operated a mill until June 15, 1862. The Civil War was then at its height and the military spirit penetrated every industry and aroused patriotic feelings in every loyal breast. Mr. Garland was now a young man only 24 years of age and had accomplished more than many men succeed in doing in double the time. He was known all through the section where he had followed his line of work as a thoroughly competent man and most reliable engineer. Openings were ready for him with many companies, but he decided to offer his services to his country, and on the last-mentioned date enlisted in Co. I, 30th Wisconsin Vol. Inf., and continued with that organization until it was mustered out October 28, 1865, at Madison, Wisconsin.

Mr. Garland spent the winter of 1864-65 at Fort Union, at the mouth of the Yellowstone River, and during this period was in a number of Indian skirmishes. His mechanical skill was frequently called into play in the building of boats designed to carry four companies of soldiers down to Fort Randall, at Sioux City, and he also had charge for 60 days as a noncommissioned officer with a guard of privates, of a steamboat on the river. He made a trip from Fort Union to St. Louis, on the steamer “Yellowstone.” While at Fort Union he built and operated for the government a portable sawmill, fitted with circular saws. Another experience far from pleasant, was an attack of smallpox, at Yankton, Dakota.”


West Eau Claire, [Wisconsin]
September 7th 1862

My dear Papa and Mama,

I am ashamed to think that I have been so negligent about writing to you. I have been putting it off from week to week. I have joined the army to fight for our country. I enlisted the day before I got your letter. I got one from Edward the day before.

This company will elect their officers tomorrow. The reason that I have not written was that we have been expecting to leave here and I thought I would wait till I got the number of our regiment but I shall write to Edward today. I suppose he has seen some fighting. He wrote to me but fortune always favors the brave.

We have had a great Indian scare here. Last Sabbath the people came in from the country in every direction and reported Indians coming and the town was in commotion at once. All the women and children were taken to the central fort of the town and guards stationed all round the town. This was in the early part of the day and there were a lot of horsemen sent out where the Indians were reported to have been and could not find any signs of them. They came in and reported all quiet and the people all went to their homes and retired for the night.

[It was] all quiet till about half past nine [when] a messenger came up the river and reported from 400 to 900 Indians two miles below. All [was] in uproar at once. I jumped [up] and examined my rifle all right and away we went to hunt Indians. We went down to meet them and if possible keep them out of town. [We went] through the woods and [it was] dark as tar but we did not see any Indians. Then we came back and guarded the town till morning and in the morning everyone turned out to find out the truth of the alarm. Men went in every direction and we found that it was all false alarm and all is quiet once more.

I have had tip top heath ever since last fall. I have been at work in a machine shop all summer but I suppose we shall leave here soon. You may write to West Eau Claire or wait till you hear from me again which will be as soon as we are organized. There is one thing that I wish you would not do—that is, do not borrow so much trouble for it is of no use.

Yours truly, — M. Garland


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