Letters tell story of Union soldier

Special to the EagleHerald This illustration shows Union troops crossing the Rappahannock River to begin the Battle of Fredericksburg (Virginia) in December 1862. Marion Frank Bishop of Marquette, Mich., a member of Michigan’s 1st Infantry, was wounded in combat shortly after the famous battle erupted. The 18-year old Union soldier had the shell fragment from a cannon ball that was removed during surgery sent home for a keepsake. A stack of Bishop’s letters from the battlefield to his parents in the U.P. are on file at the Anuta Research Center. The battle had a combined casualty list of more than 100,000 officers and men.

It has been written many times that war almost is a way of life in America. The United States was founded as a result of an armed revolution against Great Britain. Our country has engaged in conflict on its home soil and on foreign grounds.

The calendar is dotted with reminders of those engagements — anniversary dates, major battles and peace treaties. Public buildings, courtyards, parks, highways, bridges and recreation facilities honor the names of heroes who fought in the skirmishes. Museums and monuments of many sorts keep memories alive.

The bloodiest war in our nation’s history occurred on American soil. From 1861 to 1865, more than 600,000 Union and Confederate soldiers lost their lives in nearly 400 battles on the homeland.

The Civil War is well chronicled in newspaper files, history books and in numerous other documents. One of the finest was written by Richard Sauers and published by Zenith Press in 2013. Titled “Civil War Battlegrounds,” the book covers 160 pages with 300 illustrations of photos, plus maps.

Sauers’ book lets you walk in the footsteps of the men and women who lived, fought and died in the bloodiest of all American conflicts. Some information for today’s column was taken from Sauer’s book.

Area cemeteries and museums retain memories of the war.

James F. Lyon, who came to Menominee with his family in 1853, is the area’s best-known Civil War veteran. Known as “Uncle Jim” to townspeople, he was the area’s last surviving Civil War soldier. He was 102 when he died in 1946.

Lyon went to war with Company C, 1st Wisconsin Cavalry, was wounded and never returned to combat. His older brother, Albert, died of battle wounds suffered in Georgia.

The first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, Charleston, S.C. on April 12, 1861. The bloodshed ended when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, a small settlement in Virginia, on April 9, 1865.

I was searching Civil War files at the Anuta Research Center, hoping to uncover “letters from the front” scribbled by the soldiers themselves. Many families retained letters from loved ones in wartime.

In the age of primitive mail service, crude penmanship and limited writing materials, I didn’t think I’d have much luck. I did, however, find a stack of letters written by a Marquette, Mich., warrior to his parents. It’s a mystery how the letters from Marion Frank Bishop wound up at the Anuta Center.

Bishop’s letters to his folks in the U.P. detailed the sacrifices and unimaginable hardships endured by the men who fought in the war.

The son of Dilaren and Pamela Bishop, Marion was 18 years old when he joined the Union Army on Aug. 28, 1861. He was a member of Michigan’s 1st Infantry. He entered service as a private and was discharged a captain.

Bishop suffered a chest wound at Fredericksburg, Va., in December 1862. He explained that a shell fragment from a cannon ball lodged in his chest and circled his shoulder blade near the spinal cord. He complained later of having pain in his lung area.

The wounded warrior was shipped by train to a hospital in Washington, D.C. He informed his parents he was sending the shell fragment removed in surgery back home for a keepsake.

A deeply religious man and devoted to his family during difficult times on the homefront, Bishop attended a Methodist revival meeting in Alexandria, Va., where he met Annie Harmon, daughter of a merchant. A romance blossomed.

The first letter of record in the Anuta archives was dated Oct. 2, 1861. The exchange of letters between soldier son and parents usually required three weeks.

Bishop told of hiking on long marches from one camp to another. His unit sometimes traveled by steamer or train.

Proud of his strong Christian beliefs, Bishop often reminded his parents that he read the Bible daily.

“My mother, the Bible you sent me is precious to my heart,” he once wrote. “Still, continue to pray for me that God will may in his own way bring round (sic) the desire of my heart and I feel, I believe that he will,” he added.

He described some of the historic sea battles between the war vessels Monitor and Merrimac and the wrought-iron cannon balls they fired at each other.

For the full term of the bitterly fought war, Bishop detailed the scores of men he saw fall in battle, others dying of sickness, and the skimpy food rations the soldiers were served. He informed his parents of his promotions and pay increases, and how he would increase his support payments to the family.

Bishop’s final letter in a thick file was dated Oct. 27, 1865. 

“At last, we are awaiting muster out,” he wrote. “Splendid weather coming down and made 280 miles in 10 days. Pretty good traveling for infantry.”

The Bishop letters transmit only a fraction of what life was about during the Civil War.

“Although this deadliest of American wars took place a century and a half ago, its legacy — good and bad — is still felt today,” the Sauers book noted. “The battlefields are haunting reminders of the blood that was spilled, their names echoing with history: Shiloh, Antietam, Gettysburg. Unlike the faraway World Wars, these battlefields, where hundreds of thousands of young men met their deaths, are right here in on local soil, with modern civilization encroaching on the once smoke-filled scenes of desperate combat.”

Closer to home, the letters written by Capt. Marion Frank Bishop, a U.P. soldier, provides a stark reminder that freedom is not free.