Levi J. Cortright - Civil War Veteran
Born July 1, 1823, Levi was nicknamed "Bully" by his father while still in the cradle. His father, known as "Sheepskin Cortright" because he always wore a sheepskin coat, was known as "a man of more than the usual peculiarities." "Sheepskin" had served in the War of 1812 and his father in the Revolutionary War.
Levi, who resided in Reading, MI, enlisted in the Union Army on June 20, 1861 at the age of 37. He was in Company E of the 4th Michigan Infantry. He was wounded while on "picket," which usually means a small body of troops or a single soldier sent out to watch for the enemy. In Levi's case, however, he was out scouting for peaches when Confederates ambushed him.
The 4th Michigan Infantry was recruited from the southern tier of counties in Michigan and was organized by Col. Dwight A. Woodbury at Adrian. Like some of the other regiments, it was comprised of independent companies that had received considerable military training, a valuable assistance in the organization of citizen soldiers. Levi's direct commander in Company E was Captain Lombard, a local attorney, who was later killed in the Battle of the Wilderness.
The Fourth was uniformed and equipped for field service before it left the state. It set off for Washington on June 25, 1861 with an enrollment of 1,025 officers and enlisted men. It arrived on July 2 and went into camp near Georgetown in the District of Columbia.
The First Battle of Bull Run (called the Battle of Manassas by the Confederates) was fought on July 21, 1861, the first major conflict of the Civil War. The Union Army consisted of 28,000 men and was commanded by Brigadier General Irvin McDowell; the Confederate Army had 33,000 men under General P.G.T. Beauregard. The Union Army, under pressure to crush the Rebellion quickly, marched toward Richmond, VA, the capital of the Confederacy. They were surprised by the Confederate forces, which intercepted them on their way north from Manassas, a Southern base.
At the beginning of the five hour battle, the Union soldiers had the Confederates on the retreat, except for one brigade commanded by General Thomas J. Jackson. Due to Jackson's ability to stubbornly hold his ground, the men saw him as an immovable stone wall. Thus was created the legend of "Stonewall Jackson."
Thanks to Jackson the Confederates were able to hold out until Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnson arrived with 9,000 reinforcements to help Beauregard near Henry House Hill. The arrival changed the course of the battle and soon the Union soldiers were fleeing back to Washington. However, the disorganization in Beauregard's army precluded a pursuit of MacDowell and the Union troops.
The battle proved that this was not going to be a one-sided war, as had been predicted. The casualties soared to 2,900 killed, wounded, captured or missing for the Union army and 2,000 for the Confederates. The battle spurred a sense of victory in the South, pushing them on; in the North, a need for revenge resulted. On both sides the reality of war replaced the romantic notions of glory and honor that had filled the daydreams of Union and Confederate soldier boys before they saw battle.
Levi Cortright was one of the Union dead, believed to be the first Hillsdale County soldier to be killed in the Civil War. His body was embalmed and shipped home, where a funeral service was held at the County Courthouse, the building known as "The Old Stone Pile." He left a wife and five small children.
Carol A. Lackey