The three sons of the Aplin family of Genessee County, Michigan all volunteered for service in the Civil War and remained in the army until death or war's end. Apparently the Aplin family circle offered little in the way of warmth or security, and in fact teen-aged Arthur, or "Tommy," had run away from home to escape the unhappy situation there. Writing to his sister Sarah in 1859, Tommy denies running away, but says that in any case "I do not think I done wrong for it was not Home..." The collection reveals nothing of family life, but the parents separated a few years later, and mother Elvira Aplin never made reference to her husband or his family without bitterness and criticism. To the Aplin boys, joining the army probably seemed like an improvement on their present lot. But they were not to have an easy time of it there, either.
Henry, known as Tip, served with the Army of the Potomac in Fitz John Porter's 1st division. The 16th Michigan started its service with the ill-fated Peninsula campaign, then fought at second Bull Run in August, 1862, taking heavy casualties at Gaines Mills, Malvern Hill, and Bull Run. In the Maryland campaign the regiment supported the line of artillery at Antietam and afterward participated in the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Middleburg, and Gettysburg, coming out of the fight for Little Round Top with 55 killed or wounded. Moving back into Virginia, the regiment saw action at Kelly's Ford and Mine Run and then, reforming after reenlistment and furlough, rejoined the same brigade, division, and corps of the Army of the Potomac. It remained in Virginia for the rest of the war, participating in various engagements and in the siege of Petersburg, and was mustered out in July 1865.
Henry Aplin was captured at Savage Station, Va. on July 30, 1862, but spent only a couple of weeks in a Richmond prison before parole to Annapolis. His exchange took some months, so Tip profited from the enforced free time by running a small-scale sutler's business. Meanwhile, his company sustained heavy losses, and by the time he returned in late 1862 only 27 of the original 96 remained. Now assigned to the Quartermaster's department, Henry Aplin continued to sell goods on the side up until being made a sergeant in the spring of 1865, at which point he decided that speculating was unbecoming an officer. Although he was never wounded, and managed to endure his short prison stint well because he had money to buy extra food, Tip did suffer a seriously debilitating case of diarrhea in the summer of 1864. He was able to recover thanks to a cousin who took pains to get him proper food and understanding officers who relieved him of duty so that he could regain strength.
After the war Henry Aplin married and ran a news and stationery business in West Bay City, Michigan and, becoming a leading Michigan Republican, served in a number of local, state, and national political offices. He was, at various times, postmaster of West Bay City, township clerk and treasurer, chairman of the 10th district Republican Congressional Committee, state auditor general, state representative, and Congressman. He had been elected to fill a vacancy in 1901, but was not re-nominated for Congress.
George Aplin had been a schoolteacher before the war, and also owned some land and livestock which he hastily left in the care of his uncle upon joining the army. His 10th Michigan regiment served with the western Army; ranging from Tennessee to Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas. It was first assigned to General Pope's division, taking part in the siege of Corinth and then acting as provost guard at Tuscumbia, Alabama. Marching to Nashville in September 1862, the 10th was assigned to the Army of the Cumberland and spent the winter guarding trains and doing reconnaissance. In the fall of 1863 the regiment moved into Georgia to occupy towns around Chickamauga, and in February 1864 took part in fighting at Buzzard's Roost, near Dalton, Ga. After a furlough the men returned to Chattanooga to begin the Georgia campaign with General Sherman's Army. The 10th disbanded on August 1, 1865.
George Aplin covered a lot of ground in hard marches, but did not take part in the kind of grueling, bloody campaigns experienced by Tip in the Army of the Potomac. Like his brother, he did some minor speculating in goods acquired from home, but George's real amateur avocation was journalism -- he wrote long letters to the Flint Citizen, whose editor praised his detailed accounts of army life. He also had the time and energy for minor romantic pursuits during his extended stay in Nashville, and considered settling there after the war. Other than bouts of ague and bowel complaints, George Aplin weathered military service well, and attained the rank of first lieutenant shortly before his regiment disbanded. Afterward he returned home, married, and unsuccessfully tried his hand at farming. Debts forced foreclosure on his property and, in poverty, he managed to get a political patronage appointment through the influence of his brother Tip. He tried, evidently unsuccessfully, to collect on military service claims. Until the end of his life George Aplin faithfully attended 10th Regiment reunions and kept in touch with fellow veterans.
Youngest brother Arthur [Tommy] Aplin enlisted after running away from home. His 35th Illinois infantry regiment, part of the Army of the Cumberland, saw action at Pea Ridge, then remained mostly in Tennessee, with forays into Mississippi and Kentucky. In late 1862 and early 1863 it participated in the fighting at Perryville, Kentucky. and Stone's River, Tennessee Tommy was wounded at Pea Ridge, suffered complications from ague and recovered slowly. For his bold participation in raids and skirmishes in the vicinity of Murfeesboro, Tennessee he was cited for bravery and made corporal in the spring of 1863, but by May, for unknown reasons, had been demoted to private. Part of the 35th regiment was placed on guard duty at Lunette Thomas, a convalescent camp near Murfeesboro, in July 1863. Tommy soon tired of this "easy duty" and petitioned to rejoin his comrades at the front, but was not permitted to do so until March of 1864. Shortly thereafter he was wounded, and in July died in a military hospital after being moved several times and developing complications.
Tommy was the temperamental, rebellious Aplin brother, and he accused his mother and relatives at home of criticizing and abandoning him. At one point he vowed never to return to Michigan. After he died his mother was overcome by guilt to learn that her son had had no money to acquire things he needed while in the hospital, and blamed herself for his death. She became obsessed with having the body returned home, which evidently was accomplished, as the collection includes a receipt for his zinc coffin.
At home, mother Elvira Aplin shifted for herself with the help of money sent home by her sons, especially Tip, whose sutler's business prospered. In July 1863 she left her home and husband, taking "only my clothes and bed" and began living with various relatives. During this period she tried to look out for George's business affairs, but as he had given her no legal power to do so, she could mostly only report on how things were being mismanaged by his Uncle Wilson. Elvira frequently sent packages of foods, medicine, and stationery to her sons, both for their own use and for Tip and George to resell. She wrote to all of them (although only the letters to George survive), passing on information from one to the other, giving news of home, offering commentary on the war as she heard about it from them and from the newspapers, advising them on conduct and morality. After the war she made her home with George and his family.
A daughter, Sarah Louisa Aplin, supported herself meagerly as a schoolteacher during the war, and like her mother, awaited her brothers' return in hopes of having a settled home once again. Another daughter, Mary, also called Helen, was married to George Wheeler and lived in Bay City, Michigan. The Wheelers took in Elvira Aplin for extended periods after her separation from her husband.