Three Ecorse Farm Boys Join the Michigan Cavalry
Elijah, Gabriel, and Martin Goodell , were all farm boys from Ecorse, Michigan, so they appreciated the farms, green fields, and orchards they encountered around Trevilian Station in Louisa County, Virginia, in June 1864, even though they were there to save the Union instead of enjoying Southern scenery. Ironically, they would soon participate in a battle that would take place in part on three farms- Brackett’s farm, Ogg’s farm, and the Gentry farm.
Three Farm Boys from Michigan and the Green, Green, Grass of Home
The three Goodells came from a tradition of French ribbon farms fronting on the Detroit River all of the way from Lake St. Clair to Monroe, Michigan. Cadillac had given each farmer land on the riverfront, which followed the shoreline for two hundred to one thousand feet and extended from the Detroit River back two to three miles. The plots were so long and narrow that they were called French ribbon farms.
Because water transportation was essential in these early times of dirt trails and dense forests, every farmer wanted to own land rights on the Detroit River and yet remain near to Fort Pontchartrain (Detroit). The proximity of the farms to the fort provided protection and allowed the farmers crucial access to the rivers which provided them with transportation and a communication highway. The farmers used their canoes and bateaux to visit other farmers and friends in Fort Pontchartrain and to take their farm produce and furs to market. The descendents of the men who helped Cadillac settled Detroit inherited the French ribbon farms, men with names like J.B. Rousson, Joseph Bondy, and Louis Bourassa.
Elijah Goodell, a forerunner of the Goodell family in Ecorse, added an English name to the list of farmers. He was born in England in 1759, and came to Michigan in 1799. In 1818, he purchased a farm in Ecorse Township on the Detroit River from Louis Leduc and moved to Ecorse. Jonas Goodell, one of his sons, inherited his father’s farm in 1820. In 1822 he married Angelique Salliotte, a granddaughter of original settler J.B. Saliot. The first Township meeting of Ecorse Township which took its name from the Ecorse River, was held at the home of Daniel Goodell in 1827.
The plot of the village was first recorded in 1836 after having been laid out by Simon Rousseau, A. Labadie, L. Bourassa, and P. Leblanc. At this time it was named Grandport, but it was not incorporated as a village until 1920 when the name was changed to Ecorse. A.M. Salliotte was its first president.
The next generation of farmers had to stop their plowing and planting of corn and wheat and gardens and delay tending their orchards to fight to preserve the Union. Elijah and Martin Goodell both enlisted in August 1862, while Gabriel had already enlisted in September 1861.
Martin Goodell was one of Daniel Goodell’s children listed in the 1860 Census along with Thomas, Lilus, and Polly. He was 23 when he enlisted in Company C, Michigan 5th Cavalry Regiment on August 27, 1862.
Elijah Goodell appears in the 1860 Census as age 25 and is listed with his father Jonas 62, his mother Angelique, 60, his brothers Richard age 21 and Alex age 17 and his sister Louisa, 23. He enlisted on August 14, 1862 in Company A of the 5th Michigan Cavalry at age 27 with the rank of sergeant.
Gabriel Goodell was born in 1837 in Ecorse and the Michigan Census lists him as the son of Jones (Jonas) Goodell and Angile Salliotte. He enlisted in Company K, Michigan 1st Cavalry Regiment on September 26, 1861 when he was 23 years old.
All three Goodells were farm boys and as they marched through the Virginia countryside in June of 1864, they thought about the apple and pear orchards in Ecorse fragrant with blossoms and buzzing with the sounds of bees pollinating them under the warm summer sun. They thought longingly of Ecorse vegetable gardens and their mothers roasting corn and boiling potatoes for supper.
In a letter written from Strasburg, Virginia on May 19, 1862, Gabriel told his mother that there would be “an abundance of fruit this year, apples, pears, peaches an cherries and many other varieties. You have not stated anything about the fruit at home whether they be any or not. I wish you would tell me all about it in your next…”
In June 1864, the Goodell soldiers looked around them at the pastures and farms of Louisa County, Virginia, and for a moment they could forget the realities of war.
Louisa County Virginia Farm Country
The agricultural practices in newly settled Louisa County were the same as those of Eastern Virginia. At first the settlers grew tobacco as their Eastern Virginia counterparts had done, but after years of growing tobacco had depleted the soil, the Colonial Legislature restricted the tobacco acreage and required the farmers and plantation owners to grow alternative crops like wheat, corn, oats, and flax. Between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, each small farm and plantation grew to be self sustaining, producing everything needed for their owners to survive including materials like wool and cotton to produce cloth. They employed blacksmiths to forge iron products including plows. Owners of small plantations usually entrusted the operation of their farms to overseers.
The Virginia Central Railroad reached Louisa Courthouse in 1838, and by 1840 the railroad made travel easy throughout the county. People could travel to visit each other and transport goods and services. During the Civil War, the Virginia Central Railroad served as a vital supply lines to the Confederate troops, so Louisa County was the crossroads for both Union and Confederate Cavalry actions and it was also the underlying reason for the clash of cavalries at Trevillian Station in 1864. Despite repeated efforts, Union troops were never able to sweep through Louisa County to stop the railroad activity in Gordonsville.
Martin Goodell -Near Hartwood Church, Virginia
The woods and fields of Louisa County, Virginia, reminded the three Goodell soldiers of all they had left behind them in Ecorse.
Martin Goodell of the 5th Michigan Cavalry wrote a letter home to his cousin back in Ecorse dated near Hartwood Church, September 8, 1863. He told her how much he missed her and asked her to tell him the local romantic gossip. He reminded her of the ride they had taken together and he implied that he had courted a girl on that ride, telling his cousin that he wanted to take that ride again when he returned from the war.
He concluded his letter by saying, “Cousin I suppose you have heard enough about the boys of Ecorse in the regiment we have been very lucky so far and I hope to return home this fall and I bid you good bye but not forever.” He signed his letter “Your dear cousin Martin Goodell. Amen.”
The scenery that Martin Goodell saw around Hartwood Church consisted of cleared land that had been farmed out and abandoned. A thick crop of scrubby pines had grown up so densely that in some places they were impenetrable, even on foot. Built in 1858, the present Hartwood Church rests on high ground near the junction of several roads, all providing access to popular fords of the Rappahannock River.
On February 25, 1863, the largest Civil War battle fought in Stafford County occurred when detachments of the 1st, 2d, and 3d Virginia Cavalry Regiments under Confederate Fitzhugh Lee attacked the Union cavalry outpost stationed at the church. They defeated the Union Cavalry and captured 150 men.
After the Gettysburg Campaign the Union and Confederate Armies returned to Virginia, and the Hartwood Church became the headquarters of General Judson Kilpatrick, Third Cavalry Division of the Army of the Potomac. The Union soldiers considerably damaged the interior of the church, but it survived and its Presbyterian congregation is still active.
Elijah Goodell – The Battle of Trevilian Station
Hartwood Church survived the Civil War, but Martin Goodell didn’t fare as well a little over a year later at the Battle of Trevilian Station on June 11-12, 1864. While the Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia, still raged, General Ulysses S. Grant sent General Philip Sheridan, his cavalry commander, and his men on a ride toward Charlottesville. General Grant ordered General Sheridan to cut the Virginia Central Railroad that supplied Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia which was locked in mortal combat with General Grant’s Army of the Potomac around Richmond and Petersburg. General Grant told General Sheridan to destroy the tracks and Trevilian station and then join forces with General David Hunter who was coming east from Lynchburg.
General Sheridan and his cavalry – 8,000-9,000 men strong- galloped north around Richmond toward Charlottesville, 60 miles northwest of Richmond. General Wade Hampton, Confederate cavalry commander with 5,000 Confederate cavalrymen hurried to meet the Yankees. The two opposing cavalry forces clashed on June 11-12, 1864, near Trevilian Station on the Virginia Central Railroad near Louisa Court House. Union General George A. Custer and his cavalry attacked General Hampton’s supply train near Trevilian Station. The first day of the battle belonged to the Union when General Custer’s men initially drove the Confederates back, but then the Confederate cavalry nearly surrounded the Union forces. General Custer ordered his men into triangle formation and counterattacked several times before General Sheridan swooped in to rescue him late in the afternoon, capturing 500 Southern prisoners in the operation.
The battle continued the next day, June 12, 1864, and General Sheridan found himself in a precarious position with his ammunition low and his cavalry dangerously distant from its supply line.
After several attacks failed, the Union troops withdrew and General Sheridan and his men returned to the Army of the Potomac. The Yankees destroyed about five miles of the railroad line and burned Trevilian station, but inflicted light damage in proportion to the number of casualties. General Sheridan lost 735 men and General Hampton about 1,000. The Confederates drove the Union Cavalry away and quickly repaired the railroad. The Confederate victory kept General Sheridan from reaching Charlottesville and joining the Union troops from the Valley of Virginia, but the Battle of Trevilian Station drew crucial cavalry away from General Lee’s Army at Cold Harbor and allowed General Grant’s army to cross the James River to Petersburg.
In a letter home to Ecorse dated White House, June 21/1864, Elijah Goodell told his sister that he had just returned from his last adventure at Louisa Courthouse where his 5th Cavalry had clashed with the rebels. He told her that his regiment had lost six men killed, seven wounded and 38 prisoners and that he was the only sergeant that hadn’t been killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. He wrote, “William & Martin are both prisoners taken at the Battle of Tivillian Station.”
M. Hicks, Confederate Prisoner of War
On the Confederate side, Stuart Horse Artilleryman M. Hicks, from Martinsburg, West Virginia, recalled the story of his adventure with the 5th Michigan Cavalry many years later. He was a member of the Stuart Horse Artillery and he and a fellow soldier got lost in the woods surrounding the Virginia Central Railroad and men from the 5th Michigan Cavalry took them prisoner during the Battle of Trevilian Station. M. Hicks soon discovered that his Yankee captors were lost and the entire group of soldiers concentrated on traveling together and finding their way through the dense woods to their own lines. M. Hicks noted that he and his Confederate comrades had been prisoners of the Yankee cavalrymen for about thirty-six hours and everyone was very tired. He said, “I was sick and hardly able to keep up, and freedom did not come too soon for me.”
M. Hicks noted that many of the Yankee soldiers came up to say good-bye to the Confederates and he described the last one to say goodbye to him as a man thirty or thirty five years old with sandy hair and mustache and nearly six feet tall. The night before M. Hicks had noticed that when the man had settled near him to sleep that he did not set his canteen aside, but kept it on all night. This made M. Hicks certain that the Confederate had something stronger than water in his canteen. He discovered his suspicions were correct when the Confederate offered him a drink from the canteen and told him that it would do him good.
M. Hicks wrote that the drink did make him feel better, because it was peach brandy. He said that Yankees released the Confederates to go back to their own lines and he saw them no more. He concluded, “I went to the reunion at Gettysburg, hoping to see this man and others of Company B, 5th Michigan Cavalry, but learned that the command was not on the ground.”
Gabriel Goodell, First Michigan Cavalry
Company K-First Michigan Cavalry
Gabriel Goodell of the First Michigan Cavalry wrote a letter home from camp near City Point, Virginia, dated June 29/64. Along with comments about the weather and reporting that his company had helped construct a railroad near Petersburg, Gabriel told his family that…”Elige is in Com’d of his Co his Capt being badly wounded Martin Goodell is a Pisiner in Richmond also Wm Frasier he was taken three times got away twice martin was taken twice got away once…”
Martin Goodell in Andersonville
Martin Goodell didn’t escape the second time, and after spending some time in prison in Richmond, probably at Belle Isle because only officers were sent to Libby Prison, he was transferred to Andersonville.
At this point in the war, prisoner exchange agreements between the North and the South had broken down, which increased the number of Union soldiers held near Richmond. So many prisoners nearby posed a threat to the security of Richmond and taxed Virginia’s already limited resources, so prisoners were transferred from Belle Isle and Libby Prisons to Andersonville in Georgia.
Andersonville had been built to hold up to 10,000 soldiers, but soon became jammed with over 32,000 Union prisoners, mostly enlisted men.
An open air stockade enclosed by twenty foot high log walls was expanded to over 26, acres, but remained over crowded as prisoners continued to be packed inside. A stagnant, foul stream called Sweet Water Branch ran through the middle of the stockade and it served as a sewer as well as for drinking and bathing. Prisoners were supposed to be fed the same rations as Confederate soldiers which meant they received rancid grain and a few tablespoons a day of mealy beans or peas.
Poor food, no sanitation, shelter or health care, and the hot Georgia sun combined to create favorable conditions for dysentery, scurvy, and malaria. Operating until the end of the war, Andersonville held nearly 45,000 captured Union soldiers with nearly 13,500 or 30 percent of them dying in captivity.
Martin Goodell didn’t return home to Michigan with his cousins. He died in Andersonville Prison on February 2, 1865, of diarrhea and his military record lists him as being mustered out on February 2, 1865. He is buried in grave 12573.
Elijah and Gabriel Goodell Came Home to Ecorse
Gabriel Goodell wrote on his parents on May 8, 1865, from Camp 1st Mich. Cav. near Petersburg, Virginia that he was well and the weather was fine and warm. He said that “every thing looks nice there will be plenty of fruits in this part of the country. Peaches are as large has a large cherry and the trees are over loaded with them… He predicted that “I think we will be home by the 4th of July that is all I care for…”
The 1880 census showed Gabriel employed as postmaster of Ecorse. He was married to Elizabeth and they had two children, Elmer and Ellen. Gabriel died on August 19, 1902, in Ecorse and is buried in St. Francis Cemetery.
Elijah Goodell was mustered out on June 19, 1865, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The 1880 census listed Elijah as working as a surveyor. He married Josephine and they had three sons, John, Frederick and Charles. Elijah died in 1909 and he too is buried in St. Francis Cemetery.
When spring greens the trees growing near the graves of Elijah and Gabriel Goodell in St. Francis Cemetery and at Martin Goodell’s grave in Andersonville, it is not difficult to imagine the faint sound of bugles, stirrups jangling, and the shouts of three Ecorse farm boys riding away to new battles.
5th Michigan Cavalry
Soldiers from Ecorse
Brock, Charles Company C Ecorse 28
Harris, John Company B Ecorse 29
Collins, Richard C. Company C Ecorse 21
Frasier, William R. Company C Ecorse 20
Goodell, Martin Company C Ecorse 23
Goodell, Elijah Company A Ecorse 27
Kilson, Joseph D. Company D Ecorse 33
Misch, August Company C Ecorse 35
Namen, Harry Unassigned Ecorse 28
First Michigan Cavalry
Soldiers from Ecorse
Bordino, Augustus C. Company G Ecorse 40
Cicotte, David Jr. Company C Ecorse 18
Demay, John P. Company G Ecorse 21
Goodell, Gabriel R. Company K Ecorse 23
Jacob, Peter Company K Ecorse 32
Loranger, Richard J. Company G Ecorse 22
Phillips, Charles Unassigned Ecorse 18
Swank, Walbrook D. Battle of Trevillian Station: The Civil War’s Greatest and Bloodiest All Cavalry Battle. Burd Street Press, 2007.
Urwin, Gregory J. W. "Battle of Trevilian Station." In Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, edited by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000
Wittenberg, Eric J. Glory Enough For All: Sheridan's Second Raid and the Battle of Trevilian Station. Washington, DC: Brassey's, Inc., 2001
Escape from Andersonville. Conditions in Andersonville. John L. Ransom, 9th Michigan Cavalry.