By Martin N. Bertera
After the firing on Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln sounded the call to arms to put down the rebellion. Men across the North chomped at the bit to volunteer. While some enlisted by themselves, many joined the army in groups, including families, neighbors and co-workers.
Case in point: Cornelius Hadley of Litchfield, Mich.
In June 1861, Hadley enlisted in the 4th Michigan Infantry with two brothers, a brother-in-law and one of his farmhands. The family clan went on to engage in some of the war’s major battles in the Eastern and Western theaters.
Soon after they received their state-issue gray uniforms and caps they set out for Washington, D.C. and arrived in time for the First Battle of Bull Run. Much to the disappointment of the men, they were held in reserve.
The defeat of the Union army prompted a reorganization by its new commander, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan. He implemented drill and uniform codes that prompted the State of Michigan to replace the gray uniforms with distinctive dark blue sack coats and pants, and tan leather or canvas leggings. Some of the men received knit caps with a tassel hanging from the top.
The new uniforms may have been the brainchild of the regiment’s commander, Col. Dwight A. Woodbury, who knew firsthand what a unique uniform could do to build esprit de corps. A year earlier, when he served in the Michigan State Militia, Woodbury and others hosted Elmer E. Ellsworth, the dashing leader of the nationally known Zouave Cadets of Chicago. Ellsworth’s exotically uniformed company thrilled audiences with their precision march and drill routines. Woodbury, who had become friends with Ellsworth, was truly impressed by the jaw-dropping effect that the smartly dressed, highly trained cadets had on his militia soldiers.
It is easy to imagine that Woodbury championed the new uniforms, and he may have even had a say in the design. The new style was technically Zouave. The basic uniform consisted of American trousers and coat, rather than the baggy pants and short jackets common to Zouaves. Still, some referred to the Michiganders as a Zouave regiment, perhaps in recognition of the leggings and tasseled caps.
In October 1861, photographer Mathew Brady and his assistants toured some of the camps around Washington with a wet plate studio wagon. One of the stops was at the encampment of the 4th, located near Fort Woodbury, situated along the Arlington Line of the capital city’s defensive perimeter.
Brady or his assistants captured numerous views of soldiers in the regiment. To this day, a large number of the soldiers are unidentified. Why Brady took so many images of the Michiganders remains a mystery. It may have been because the regiment hailed from the developing western part of the country, which carried a certain mystique for folks back East with visions of hardy woodsmen and other frontier types. The unusual uniforms also may have drawn Brady’s attention. But the main reason was likely money. The Michigan volunteers were essentially a captive crowd, confined to camp. Selling photos to nearly a thousand of them provided an opportunity for easy money. Most likely, all these factors contributed to Brady’s decision making.
Flash forward 150 years. While gathering information about the 4th for a regimental history, I slogged through many dusty pages of local history books in small historical museums in southern Michigan. While exploring the Hadley family, I came across a book that included a biography of Cornelius. At the bottom of the page was a print of this image from Brady’s well-known “Camp Scenes” series, with all the men identified. Until that moment, the identities had been unknown to me, as well as the majority of the Civil War community. Now, after all these years, we can place names to faces of five of soldiers in Company H of the 4th Michigan Infantry.
Standing left to right are Cpl. Cornelius M. Hadley, a future Medal of Honor recipient, his brother, Pvt. Jesse L. Hadley, Sgt. William R. Linsey who had worked on the Hadley family farm as a laborer, brother-in-law Alonzo Van Scooter and 1st Lt. Simon B. Hadley, the eldest Hadley brother, and ranking member of this squad.
The non-commissioned soldiers are armed with the Model 1842 Springfield muskets with attached bayonets. All have knives tucked into their belts, and three have pistols tucked inside the belts, most likely manufactured by Smith and Wesson. Two of the men wear white gaiters and two are dressed in tan. All have breastplates on their cartridge belts. The only cartridge box that can be seen lacks a U.S. plate. The men all wear fezzes with tassels.
The officer, Simon Hadley, is dressed in standard uniform and waist belt plate, and rests his hands on an 1850 model foot officer’s sword.
The future took the men down different paths.
Medal of Honor recipient: A farmer in Litchfield, Mich., Cornelius M. “Neil” Hadley was born in Sandy Creek, N.Y., in 1838. He began his service in the regiment as a third corporal. About a year after he posed for this photograph, he received a disability discharge and left the army. In May 1863, he reenlisted as a sergeant in Company M of the 9th Michigan Cavalry. During the Siege of Knoxville, Tenn., in late 1863, Hadley and a companion carried important dispatches between Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, who commanded Union forces in Knoxville. In recognition of his courageous efforts, Hadley received the Medal of Honor. In June 1864, he left the regiment to accept a lieutenancy in the 1st U.S. Colored Artillery. He mustered out of the regiment in 1866, and returned to Litchfield, where he died in 1902. His remains are buried in Plot 32 of Mount Hope Cemetery in Litchfield.
Comeback after a disability: The youngest of the three brothers, Jesse L. Hadley was 21 when he enlisted as a private. About two months after he posed for the group portrait, he left the regiment due to his feeble constitution and the effects of typhoid fever. In the summer of 1862, he rejoined the army as a private in Company I of the 4th Michigan Cavalry. He mustered out in July 1865 and returned to Litchfield. He died in 1917 and is buried in Ovid, Mich.
Became a sharpshooter: New York-born William Linsey worked as a laborer on the Hadley farm prior to his enlistment as fourth sergeant in Company H. He mustered out of the regiment in May 1862, and rejoined the army in October 1864 as a private in the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters. He mustered out in July 1865 and suffered from a spine injury after the war. He died in 1900 and was buried in Saline, Mich.
Wounded at Malvern Hill: Alonzo B. “Lon” Van Scoter, brother-in-law to the Hadleys, was born in Michigan, and worked as a carpenter and joiner. He married Abigail Hadley in 1857, and she died two years later as a young mother. Van Scoter enlisted as a private and earned his sergeant’s stripes in February 1862. A few months later during the Peninsula Campaign, he suffered a gunshot wound in the shoulder at the Battle of Malvern Hill. The injury ended his military career. He mustered out with a disability discharge before the end of the year. He resided in Concord, Mich., and lived until 1922—the last surviving member of this group.
Suffered mental illness: First Lt. Simon B. Hadley was the eldest brother. Born in New York, he was a schoolteacher. The first to leave the regiment, Hadley resigned on Christmas Eve 1861—just a couple months after he joined the regiment. He returned to the army in August 1862 as first sergeant of Company D of the 4th Michigan Cavalry, the same regiment that his brother Jesse joined. Hadley was discharged in late August 1864, due to the onset of mental illness. According to his pension record, “He would have wild schemes such as building a railroad from Earth to Heaven. He would go to town and sing Darky songs and dance in the streets. He would fill his pipe with matches and make like he is smoking” among other episodes. He eventually recovered and led a somewhat normal life—well enough to serve as Department Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. But a relapse ended with a full mental break and a diagnosis of insanity. He died in 1906.
References: Ferguson, 150 Years in the Hills and Dales: A Bicentennial History of Hillsdale County, Michigan, Vol. 1; Bertera, The 4th Michigan Infantry in the
Civil War; Genealogical and military records on Ancestry.com.
Martin N. Bertera is the author of The Battle of New Bridge Virginia, co-author of The 4th Michigan Volunteer Infantry at Gettysburg and The 4th Michigan Infantry in the Civil War.
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