Ezra Stearns papers  1861-1870
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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.