Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Ezra Stearns Papers, 1861-1870

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, May 1994

Summary Information
Title: Ezra Stearns papers
Creator: Brewer, Ellen M.
Inclusive dates: 1861-1870
Extent: 62 items
Abstract:
The Stearns collection consists of 45 letters written by Ezra Stearns to his sister, Ellen M. Brewer while he served as a private soldier in the 1st Michigan Engineers, plus two letters from his brother, Edwin (a private in the 20th Michigan Infantry), and 10 post-war letters from Stearns' wife, Mary, all written to Ellen. Ezra Stearns' letters document aspects of camp life, particularly his culinary activities as a military cook, including recipes of several dishes.
Language: The material is in English.
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1990.M-2564.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open to research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Ezra Stearns papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Biography

Stearns, Ezra

Rank : Private

Regiment : 1st Michigan Engineers & Mechanics Regiment (1861-1865)

Service : 1861 October 29-1864 November (?)

In October, 1861, Ezra Stearns mustered into the 1st Michigan Engineers Regiment at Camp Owen, in Marshall, Mich. In February, after a winter of drilling, the regiment were sent to Tennessee, where they became one of the first Union regiments to occupy Nashville. Shortly thereafter, Stearns narrowly missed "seeing the elephant" for the first time, arriving at Pittsburg Landing on the day after the Battle of Shiloh, but for his first two years in the army, he saw nothing else of the large scale conflict. Instead, the Engineers rapidly settled into the vital work of providing the muscle and expertise to build and maintain roads and rails and keeping lines of communication open in southern Tennessee and northern Alabama. With the army spread over a large area in hostile territory, Stearns and his comrades were kept busy laying and repairing the railroad track, bridges, and fortifications that proved so vulnerable to destruction by guerrillas and regular Confederate cavalry. On several occasions, the regiment had brushes with guerrilla forces attacking the railroads.

From all appearances, Stearns was a talented military cook, and throughout his service, he was called on by tent mates and fellow soldiers to handle the culinary chores. He considered his pies to be superior to the "Kentucky soleleather pies" available for sale and relished the foods that became seasonally available, particularly berries and fruits.

In July, 1864, the 1st Michigan Engineers were attached to Sherman's Army of Georgia for the Atlanta Campaign. From mid-July to mid-September, the regiment was posted at Cartersville, Ga. They were present at a Confederate assault during Joseph Wheeler's raid in August when two "Colored" regiments dove into the thick of the battle shouting "Fort Pillow," a reference to the Confederate slaughter of African-American troops in 1862. In general, Stearns seems positively disposed toward African-American soldiers, even at one point considering applying for a commission. The 1st U.S. Colored Regiment was partly recruited in south-central Tennessee near where the 1st Michigan Engineers was stationed, and his regiment provided several officers for "colored" regiments.

Stearns chose not to reenlist when his three year commitment came up at the end of October, 1864, and he was back home in Michigan before February of the following year. He married a woman, Mary, shortly after the war, and in 1868 the couple settled on a farm in a rural area near White Hall, Muskegon County, Michigan. They had at least two children, a son, Arthur (b. ca.1867), and a daughter.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The Stearns collection consists of 45 letters written by Ezra Stearns to his sister, Ellen M. Brewer while he served as a private soldier in the 1st Michigan Engineers, plus two letters from his brother, Edwin (a private in the 20th Michigan Infantry), and 10 post-war letters from Stearns' wife, Mary, all written to Ellen.

Stearns' letters provide an account of service in an important Engineer regiment in Tennessee. While the letters do not include much insight into the engineering activities of the regiment, they are quite useful at documenting aspects of camp life, particularly the culinary activities and tastes of a talented military cook. Stearns relishes in his descriptions of cooking and he provides recipes for biscuits and pork soup, among other dishes. Other interesting letters include one with a description of a guerrilla attack on a train (1863 October 23), some letters with commentary on the recruiting and service of African-American soldiers, and the series of letters written during the Atlanta Campaign.

Finally, among the post-war correspondence are two excellent letters from Ezra's wife, Mary. The first, written from July 29-August 2, 1868, includes a description of settling into a new life on an isolated farm, becoming a "real Mohawk" in their new life in the woods and battling a fire threatening their new home. The second letter, written on October 11th, 1870, provides an account of the malarial infection afflicting Ezra and their young son, Arthur.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • United States. Army. Michigan Engineers and Mechanics Regiment, 1st (1861-1865)
    • Atlanta Campaign, 1864.
    • Cookery, Military.
    • Railroads--Tennessee.
    • Railroad bridges.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African American.
    • United States. Army--Military life.
    Contributors:
    • Stearns, Edwin.
    • Stearns, Ezra.
    • Stearns, Mary.
    Genre Terms:
    • Recipes.
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
    Box   51 Schoff Civil War Soldiers' Letters  
    Ezra Stearns papers,  1861 November-1870 November 07 [series]:
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    Ambushes and surprises.
    • [1863] October 23
    Atlanta Campaign, 1864.
    • 1864 July 12
    • 1864 August 7
    • 1864 August 17
    • 1864 August 28
    • 1864 September 18
    Blockhouses.
    • 1864 April 30-May 1
    Children.
    • December 20
    Christmas.
    • [1863] December 27
    Cookery, Military.
    • 1862 August 10
    • 1863 May 17
    • 1863 December 12
    • 1864 August 7
    Drumming out.
    • 1861 November 2
    Duty.
    • 1863 August 11
    Elk River (Tenn.), Skirmish at, 1863.
    • 1863 October 11
    Enemy--Relations.
    • 1863 August 3
    Erisepelas.
    • 1863 April 25
    Executions and executioners.
    • 1864 March 27
    Farms--Michigan.
    • [1868] July 29-August 2
    • January 10
    Fathers.
    • 1863 August 11
    Fires--Michigan.
    • [1868] April 12
    • [1868] July 29-August 2
    Food.
    • 1862 July 9
    • 1863 May 17
    • 1863 August 30
    • 1863 December 12
    Foraging--Alabama.
    • 1862 July 9
    Foraging--Tennessee.
    • 1862 November 19
    • 1863 October 11
    Forrest, Nathan Bedford, 1821-1874.
    • 1864 April 30-May 1
    Guerrillas.
    • 1864 September 18
    Guerrillas--Alabama.
    • 1862 August 10
    Guerrillas--Tennessee.
    • [1863] October 23
    • 1864 March 27
    Harewood Hospital (Washington, D.C.)
    • 1864 July 29
    Hymns.
    • 1861 October 20
    Insubordination.
    • 1861 November 2
    Malaria.
    • [1870] October 11
    • [1870] November 6-7
    Mothers.
    • February 18
    Mothers--Death.
    • 1863 March 22-24
    Nashville (Tenn.)
    • 1862 February 28-March 1
    Petersburg, Battle of, 1864.
    • 1864 June 22
    Pies.
    • 1863 June 1
    Pillow, Gideon Johnson, 1806-1878--Homes and haunts.
    • 1864 March 20
    Railroad bridges.
    • 1862 July 9
    • 1863 July 16
    • 1863 August 3
    • 1863 August 30
    Railroads--Alabama.
    • 1862 July 9
    Railroads--Tennessee.
    • 1862 November 19
    • 1863 October 11
    • [1863] October 23
    • [1863] December 27
    • 1864 March 10
    • 1864 March 20
    Shelbyville (Tenn.), Skirmish near, 1863.
    • 1863 October 11
    Shiloh (Tenn.) Battlefield.
    • 1862 April 20
    Shiloh, Battle of, 1862.
    • 1862 April 20
    Slaves--Alabama.
    • 1862 August 9
    Soldiers--Conduct of life.
    • 1864 March 10
    Soldiers--Death.
    • 1863 April 25
    • 1863 April 28
    Soldiers--Religious life.
    • 1863 August 30
    • 1863 December 12
    Tullahoma (Tenn.), Skirmish near, 1863.
    • [1863] October 23
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--African Americans.
    • 1862 August 9
    • 1863 August 3
    • 1864 August 7
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Health aspects.
    • 1864 July 17
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Hospitals.
    • 1864 July 29
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African American.
    • 1863 August 3
    • 1863 August 30
    • 1863 September 20
    • 1864 August 28
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Poetry.
    • n.d.
    United States. Army--Cooks.
    • 1862 August 9
    • 1863 May 17
    • 1864 August 7
    United States. Army--Engineers.
    • 1862 February 28-March 1
    • 1863 March 22-24
    • 1864 March 10
    United States. Army--Military life.
    • 1863 January 16
    • 1864 March 20
    United States. Army--Reenlistment.
    • 1864 February 25
    War wounds.
    • 1864 July 29
    War--Psychological aspects.
    • 1862 November 19
    • [1863] December 27
    Wheeler's Raid (Atlanta Campaign), 1864.
    • 1864 August 28
    Women--Georgia.
    • 1864 August 7