Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, October 10, 1990, pg. 2.
This is the second installment of a two-part series on Albion’s involvement in the Civil War. How would you like to have a name like Phineas Graves? It sounds like the name of an evil-chemist in a 1950s grade "B" monster movie. Actually, that was the name of a prominent 19th century Albion citizen who served valiantly in the Civil War. Graves (1826-1904) was an educator who came to Albion in 1855. He taught at the Little red Schoolhouse, and at Ira Mayhew’s Commercial College. Later, Graves was postmaster for our Village from 1867 to 1875.
When the Civil War began, Graves raised a company of men in the Albion area and joined the 12th Michigan Infantry at Niles, and was named Captain of Company D. The Company gained the nickname "the Union Clinchers of Albion." Phinea’s brother George H. and William W. served as 2nd Lieutenants. The latter was later promoted as Captain of Company G. Other officers of the 12th Michigan Infantry. Company D included: Sergeants Joseph Ruff and Wallace Skutt of Concord; John M. Watson of Albion; Corporals Lauriston C. Griffin, George R. Weldon, Joseph H. Davis, and Lewis Wiselogel, all of Albion, and Wesley Skutt of Concord.
According to historian Dr. Elmore Palmer, Captain Graves possessed unusual executive ability. He proved to be a valiant soldier, passing through the terrible battle of Shiloh with his regiment within a month after it was organized. It was Captain Graves who was in command of his company as scouts, who fired the very first shots that brought on the historical Battle of Shiloh in April, 1862. For bravery in action and faithfulness of duty, Phineas was promoted to Major, and later to Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment.
There are several items from Grave’s estate locally, including several photographs of Graves’ officers, and a personal Civil War account book used by his brother William W. This week in our Historical Notebook we present a photograph of Captain Phineas Graves with his brother, 2nd Lieut. William W. Graves.
Chaplain of the 12th Michigan Infantry was Rev. A. J. Eldred, who served in that post during 1861 and 1862. Eldred was a Democrat, the political party which contained many "Copperheads," northern sympathizers for the south’s cause. In those days a man’s politics was counted almost as important as his religion. In 1864, the annual conference of the Methodist Church was held in Niles, and Rev. Eldred was appointed minister at the Albion Methodist Church on E. Erie St. Local church members in Albion were outraged, and as one source stated, "This created great excitement and provoked a protest which was forwarded to the bishop with the warning that the church would not receive him nor fix him a salary if he came."
Local church officials carried out their threat: they refused to pay him a salary when he came, and many refused to hear him preach and went to other churches in Albion. In addition, most members of the local congregation, joined by members of Eldred’s former church at Dowagiac, petitioned church authorities for his expulsion. They also petitioned the War Department in Washington D.C. for his arrest and conviction for treasonable utterances! What a great way to welcome a minister...
Eldred, on the other hand, repeatedly had to answer the question, "What are your politics?" To that he would reply, "I am an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I am here on His business." Eldred’s steadfastness paid off, for according to the History of Calhoun County (1877) pp. 460, "The first result of his efforts was the repairing of the church building. Afterward there came the greatest revival in the history of Albion. The church which had refused to estimate him a support at the beginning of the year paid double the customary salary. Twice as much was given to benevolences as in any previous year, and among the great throng of new members were many of the most prominent businessmen of the city. The prestige of the church, as an organization, was raised to higher levels, and the oral life of the community thoroughly aroused."
We are fortunate to present a photograph of Rev. Eldred, which we are also presenting this week. Eldred’s story is perhaps similar to many at the time who were caught in the middle of partisan politics. Individual beliefs were challenged publicly, and suspicion ran high during that tragic time of the war between the states. Albion’s men contributed greatly to the Union cause (and a few to the Confederacy, too...) and this short series has been written to acquaint our readers with just a sampling of that contribution.
Rev. A. J. Eldred
The Graves Brothers
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic