Frederic and William Speed papers  1857-1874
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Biography

Speed, William

Rank : Capt.

Regiment : 24th Michigan Infantry Regiment. Company D. (1862-1865)

Service : 1862-1863 July 1

Speed, Frederic

Rank : Adj.

Regiment : 13th Maine Infantry Regiment. Companies F and S. (1861-1865)

Service : 1861 April 24-1866 September

William Speed was born March 27, 1832, the second child of John James Speed (ca. 1803-1867), who was an executive of the American Telegraph Company, and his wife, Anne Sophia Morrell (1829-1881). Born at Caroline, Tompkins County, New York, William Speed relocated to Detroit in 1852, where he worked as a lawyer in the office of Hon. Jacob M. Howard. In 1862, he enlisted as a captain in the 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, Company D, which formed part of the Iron Brigade in the Union Army of the Potomac. The regiment fought at the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, and at the latter, Speed was mortally wounded on July 1, 1863. The 24th Michigan was notable for suffering the most casualties of any regiment at Gettysburg, with 89 killed or mortally wounded in action, 218 wounded, and 56 captured during the three-day span of the battle.

Frederic was William's younger brother and the sixth child of James and Anne Speed, born September 22, 1841, in Ithaca, New York. After spending a few years with his family in Detroit, he moved to Portland, Maine, where he enlisted on April 24, 1861, as a private in the 5th Maine Infantry, which he had helped to raise. He was soon promoted to sergeant-major, and then received a commission as lieutenant. After fighting in the First Battle of Bull Run, he requested and received the appointment of adjutant in the newly raised 13th Maine Infantry Regiment under General Neal Dow. Speed and his regiment served at the Siege of Port Hudson in the summer of 1863, and upon Dow's promotion to brigadier-general, Speed was appointed assistant-adjutant general, at the rank of captain. In the spring of 1865, he was stationed in Vicksburg, where he was making preparations to receive and transport over 11,000 freed Union prisoners of war from Andersonville and Catawba prisons. Stepping in for an absent superior, he approved the overloading of the SS Sultana with 2300 ex-prisoners. The ship's captain supported a quick patching of the steamboat's boiler in lieu of a full replacement, which would require three days. On April 27, 1865, near Memphis, Tennessee, the Sultana 's repaired boiler exploded and the ship caught fire. Approximately 1800 passengers on the ship died in the flames or drowned. Speed was court martialled and found responsible for his role in the tragedy. After his discharge from the Army in September 1866, Speed practiced law in Vicksburg, and in 1871, he married Esther Adele ("Della") Hillyard, with whom he had five children. He died in 1911.