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John Surine 2nd US Cavalry and 17th NYVI fom Michigan

Photo used with permission of Dale Niesen.

This is the second attempt to post this article to the blog, hopefully I will have better luck this time. I am deeply indebted to Dale Niesen for allowing me to use the image of John Sirrine from his private collection, and to Bob O’Neill for retrieving his pension record from the National Archives to add detail to the post.

John Sirrine was born in Williamsfield, Ashtabula county, Ohio on May 27, 1841. His family was Methodist, and his father a Sunday school superintendent for his church. John noted in his pension record a certificate he received at age seven for learning 73 verses of scripture. During his childhood, his family moved to Paw Paw, Van Buren county, Michigan, just west of Kalamazoo. His father died when he was 10. In his own words,

“My father went to Paw Paw Michigan in the year 1851 and purchased a nice tract of land, but two days later was called from this world to that better one, and where he had laid up greater treasures. Not having paid in full for the land in Michigan, my Mother lost nearly everything. My Mother having several children, I went to live with a neighbor farmer until I should be twenty one.”

At the outbreak of the Civil War John and many of his neighbors tried to enlist as volunteers in the Union Army. The local militia company, known as the La Fayette Light Guard, had formed in Van Buren county in 1859, and its ranks soon swelled with volunteers. The problem was that Michigan had already provided her share of the volunteers requested by President Lincoln. Not to be deterred, the company’s officers persisted in their efforts and the company became Company C, 70th New York Volunteer Infantry. John enlisted in the company on April 25, 1861, five days after his cousin Arthur.

The company departed for New York City on June 13, 1861, and mustered into federal service on June 30th. It remained on Staten Island until boarding a train for Washington July 23rd, arriving the next day. The regiment encamped on Meridian Heights through the winter, and embarked on ships for the peninsula with the rest of McClellan’s army in April 1862. It lost several men to typhoid fever during the winter, and John was nearly one of them. He was so sick that his brother travelled to Washington to care for him while he was in the hospital. He was offered his discharge, but refused it and was back on his feet in time for the spring campaign.

The company was heavily blooded during the spring and summer’s fighting. One hundred twelve men enrolled in the company, including the officers. In its first battle at Williamsburg on May 5, 1862, it lost 8 men killed and 23 wounded and missing. One soldier drowned at Harrison’s Landing, and a few weeks later at Fair Oaks it lost two more men killed and three who would later be discharged due to their wounds. Several more were wounded at Second Bull Run in August and Antietam in September. The company’s losses weighed so heavily on its commander, Captain James M. Longwell, that he resigned on November 21st and returned to Paw Paw.

When the order was published in October that volunteers could join regular army units for the remainder of their enlistments, it is unsurprising that John, his cousin Art, and six others volunteered for what they expected to be easier duty in the regular cavalry. All eight were enlisted into the regiment by Captain Samuel Starr in Alexandria, Virginia on October 28, 1862. John’s enlistment documents describe him as 5’ 5” tall, with light hair, blue eyes and a light complexion. He listed his occupation as a farmer. John and two others, Henry Crandall and Samuel Garver, were assigned to Captain Starr’s Company D. Arthur and the others were assigned to Company B.

All eight survived the heavy fighting of 1863, including the grueling Gettysburg campaign. John thought so much of service with the cavalry that he re-enlisted at Leonardstown, Maryland on March 25, 1864. The Michigan men all survived the intense fighting of the Overland campaign during the summer of 1864 more or less intact. Unfortunately, they did not fare as well in the Shenandoah Valley.

John was shot in the right shoulder during the fighting at Winchester on September 19, 1864, and nearly lost his arm. The ball entered two inches below his right clavicle and exited through the deltoid muscle, fracturing the humerus and injuring the nerves controlling the forearm and hand. As he describes the event in his pension records:

“After wounded was next day taken to a church in Winchester, where after examination by a surgeon, was labeled (sic) “Operation.” I saw other surgeons taking men out of back door marked same way, and I investigated what took place in back yard. … I quarreled with the two surgeons who came to take me to the operating table the next day. They said, ‘Then lie there and die if you would rather do that than have that arm amputated.’”

Three days later John was evacuated to McClellan Hospital in Germantown, PA. He was forwarded with the remainder of the regular cavalry wounded to Carlisle Barracks about a month later. He was discharged for disability at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania on December, a week after the other seven were discharged by order of the Adjutant General’s Office since their volunteer enlistments had expired.

John returned to Paw Paw after his discharge. He filed his pension claim in January 1866. By 1870 he was working as a painter and married to his wife Rosetta, a woman seven years younger from New York. She died childless before the next census, and John never remarried. In 1880 he was working in a furniture store in Paw Paw and living in a boarding house. His mother died there in 1887.

John entered the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on July 21, 1896. At the time he was receiving $8 per month from a disability pension. He was discharged at his own request February 3, 1899 and moved to nearby River Falls. In 1908, his pension was increased by Congress to $30 per month. His cousin Art had passed away the year before at the Michigan Soldiers Home. By 1912 John had returned to live in Paw Paw.

John continued to lobby the government for higher disability payments, without much success. Local doctors would examine him and recommend a higher rate, only to be denied by the Bureau’s surgeons when they examined his records. In one letter he noted bitterly:

“The trouble seems to be with some of us that we enlisted too early in the war, served too long, kept out of hospital too much, didn’t give ourselves up to be prisoners of war, didn’t drink enough “Plantation Bitters” and haven’t drank enough “Personal” or the stuff that made Milwaukee famous since.”

By 1920 John had moved to California. His brother and sister had both died in Paw Paw the year before, so there were few remaining ties to keep him in Michigan. His half-brother, B.W. Bonfoey, lived in Los Angeles. In the 1920 census he was living at 926 Wall Street in Los Angeles, with no occupation listed.

John Sirrine died chronic myocarditis and arterio sclerosis on March 5, 1923 in Los Angeles, California. He is buried in Los Angeles National Cemetery, plot 44 16.

The Civil War service of the other seven members of his company:

Abrams, James E. Resident of Paw Paw, MI. Enlisted Company C, 70th New York Infantry May 14, 1861, at Paw Paw, Michigan as a private. Transferred to Company B, 2nd U.S. Cavalry October 28, 1862 by Captain Samuel Starr in Alexandria, VA. Discharged at the expiration of his term of service on October 28, 1864 as a private. Born Clarendon county, New York. Farmer.

Crandall, Henry. Resident of Keeler, MI. Enlisted Company C, 70th New York Infantry May 14, 1861, at Paw Paw, MI as a private. Transferred to Company D, 2nd U.S. Cavalry October 28, 1862 by Captain Samuel Starr in Alexandria, VA. Discharged by order of the Adjutant General’s Office at Camp Russell, Virginia on December 6, 1864 as a private. Born Hillsdale county, MI. Farmer.

Garver, Samuel. Resident of Lawton, MI. Enlisted Company C, 70th New York Infantry April 27, 1861, at Paw Paw, MI as a private. Wounded in action at Williamsburg, VA on May 5, 1862. Transferred to Company D, 2nd U.S. Cavalry October 28, 1862 by Captain Samuel Starr in Alexandria, VA. Discharged by order of the Adjutant General’s Office at Camp Russell, Virginia on December 6, 1864as a private. Born Seneca county, Ohio. Farmer.

Reese, Henry. Resident of Porter, MI. Enlisted Company C, 70th New York Infantry April 30, 1861, at Paw Paw, MI as a private. Transferred to Company B, 2nd U.S. Cavalry October 28, 1862 by Captain Samuel Starr in Alexandria, VA. Discharged by order of the Adjutant General’s Office at Camp Russell, VA on December 7, 1864 as a private. Born Kalamazoo, MI. Farmer.

Robinson, Lyman. Resident of Paw Paw, MI. Enlisted Company C, 70th New York Infantry April 22, 1861, at Paw Paw, MI as a private. Transferred to Company B, 2nd U.S. Cavalry October 28, 1862 by Captain Samuel Starr in Alexandria, VA. Discharged by order of the Adjutant General’s Office at Camp Russell, VA on December 6, 1864 as a private. Born Van Buren county, MI. Cooper.

Ryan, Michael. Resident of Lawrence, MI. Enlisted Company C, 70th New York Infantry May 22, 1861, at Paw Paw, MI as a sergeant. Transferred to Company B, 2nd U.S. Cavalry October 28, 1862 by Captain Samuel Starr in Alexandria, VA. Discharged by order of the Adjutant General’s Office on December 6, 1864 as a private. Re-entered service in Company B, 10th Michigan Cavalry, discharged November 7, 1865. Born in Ireland. Wagon maker.

Sirrine, Art. Resident of Paw Paw, MI. Enlisted Company C, 70th New York Infantry April 20, 1861, at Paw Paw, MI as a private. Transferred to Company B, 2nd U.S. Cavalry October 28, 1862 by Captain Samuel Starr in Alexandria, VA. Discharged by order of the Adjutant General’s Office at Camp Russell, VA on December 6, 1864 as a private. Born Trumbull county, Ohio. Farmer.

Sources:

National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Army Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914.
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Returns from Regular Army Non-infantry Regiments, 1821-1916: 2nd U.S. Cavalry.
National Archives, Record Group 15, Records of the Veterans Administration, Pension record #67724.
Rowland, Captain O.W. A History of Van Buren County Michigan, Volume 1. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1912. Pages 300-307.

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