Civil War guide dedicated to Grosse Ile hero
Glory, Valor and Sacrifice: Southeast Michigan’s Contribution to the Civil War, a 50-page regional guide, pays homage to the local people of this era who bravely fought and those who died to protect and preserve the Union as well as those who challenged the oppressive institution of slavery.
Colonel Thornton Fleming Brodhead, who once resided on Grosse Ile and to whom the guide is dedicated, is a prime example of one who sacrificed his life so that we today may enjoy one nation, the United States of America.
Colonel Brodhead served with distinction in the US-Mexican War (1846-48) earning the rank of Full Captain. Following the war, he became a prominent figure in Michigan as he climbed the political ladder first as attorney then prosecuting attorney, deputy secretary of state and state senator. In 1853, President Franklin Pierce appointed him Detroit Postmaster.
Brodhead’s interest turned to publishing when he became owner and editor of the Democratic Free Press, a forerunner to the Detroit Free Press, and Detroit Commercial Bulletin. Brodhead was the first Michigan newspaper publisher to own a steam printing press.
The Colonel and his wife, Archange, a descendent of William Macomb, purchaser of the island of Grosse Ile from the Pottawattamie, and their six children lived in the “Mansion House” which once stood on East River Road, north of Church. To escape his rambunctious household, Brodhead had a stone office built where he could retreat in peace to write and concentrate on business affairs.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Brodhead was commissioned to raise a regiment in August of 1861 and became Colonel of the First Michigan Cavalry. One year later, at the bloody Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28-30, 1862), where Union forces suffered a huge defeat at the hand of the Confederacy, Colonel Brodhead was mortally wounded. Brodhead was one of approximately 10,000 Union casualties, or 16 percent of those engaged, to be killed or wounded in this battle.
This defeat was viewed by many – including Colonel Brodhead – as a major military blunder. From his deathbed, Brodhead penned a scathing letter to his wife where he criticized his military superiors including key commander Major General John Pope of being negligent in their duties; one even traitorous.
Brodhead concluded the letter with a poignant farewell to his family, friends and country:
“Two bullets have gone through my Chest, and directly through the lung. I suffer little now, but at first the pain was acute. I have won the Soldier’s fate. I hope that from heaven I may see the glorious old Flag waive again over the individual Union I have loved so well. Farewell wife and Babes and Friends. We shall meet again.
Your loving Thornton.”
A state historic marker in front of the private residence at 20604 East River denotes the site of Colonel Brodhead’s office. The exterior stone shell still stands.
Other Grosse Ile sites of interest found in the guide include the historic homes once belonging to Major Horace Gray, James Vernor and Kirkland C. (KC) Barker, mayor of Detroit during the final year of the Civil War.
Compiled by Grosse Ile resident Karin Risko and David Ingall of Temperance, MI., this guide lists over 80 local sites of interest pertaining to the Civil War and includes a few sites in northwest Ohio as well.
“Dedicating the guide to Colonel Brodhead was fitting as he put a face to the soldiers who fought and died for this nation,” says Risko. “His personal story became the inspiration behind my renewed interest in the Civil War.”
For those interested in learning more about the locals who participated in the Civil War, Risko and Ingall are offering narrated bus tours to many of the sites included in the guide on designated Sundays this summer.
Glory, Valor and Sacrifice: Southeast Michigan’s Contribution to the Civil War will be available for $10 at Times Square Boutique on Grosse Ile, The Detroiter Travel Center in Woodhaven and the Book Nook in Monroe beginning April 30, 2011.