Benjamin Partridge

Civil War Union Brevet Brigadier General. When the Civil War broke out he resigned his position as county sheriff and enlisted in the First Michigan Lancers. When the lancers were disbanded, he was commissioned a 1st Lieutenant in Company I, 16th Michigan Volunteer Infantry. Rising to the rank of Colonel in command of the 16th Regiment, he participated in all but two of the fifty-four engagements, was wounded twice and was at the entire siege of Petersburg. He was brevetted Brigadier General of U.S. Volunteers on March 13, 1865 and was mustered out of the service with his regiment in July 1865. Upon returning to civilian life, he bought a farm in Bay County Michigan and was the district’s first County Supervisor. He was Michigan Land Commissioner in 1877 to 1878, a member of the Michigan State House of Representives in 1881 to 1882 and was post Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic in his township until his death. (bio by: John "J-Cat" Griffith)

His image has gone from obscurity to hero to something in between, but the fact remains, Bay City’s Gen. Benjamin Franklin Partridge answered the call when the nation needed men like him to save the Union.

Partridge, a man who had amassed a small fortune and lost it in the economic Panic of 1857, had been the sheriff of brand new Bay County as the nation descended into war, said Gerald Pergande, a Bay City attorney who has extensively researched Bay County history and authored a number of papers on local Civil War figures.

Pergande noted that Partridge used the title of General, or at least didn’t discourage being called General, but he never held that rank during the fighting.

“He was brevetted the rank of brigadier general after the war, which was a courtesy to him for his service,” Pergande said.

Partridge’s military career began shortly after Fort Sumter was attacked 150 years ago this week.

“He was the sheriff here and when the war broke out, he resigned and started recruiting men for a military unit called the 1st Michigan Lancers,” Pergande said. “He wanted to enlist a hundred men or so and form a company to take to Detroit.”

He managed to get quite a few to sign up and they joined the Lancers which had been organized in Detroit. When it was learned, however, that a Canadian was in charge of the regiment, the governor refused to accept it as part of the state’s militia, Pergande said.

“What happened was many of the men were sent to other units, and some were included in the 16th Michigan Infantry, with Partridge joining as a lieutenant,” he said. “Once it was organized, the 16th Michigan was sent east to Washington, D.C.”

Pergande said that he has done extensive research over the years on Partridge’s life and his view of the man has changed. At first, when just looking at his military record, he appears to be a heroic figure, but there was more to the man’s personality than that.

“I discovered that while he was a war hero he might not have been a very likable person,” Pergande said, noting Partridge was involved in a lot of business ventures, some unsuccessful, prior to the war.

Partridge was born in Macomb County in 1822 and didn’t get much formal education until the age of 14, but was intelligent enough to learn quickly, eventually studying law and mathematics. He became a civil engineer and surveyor and in 1845 he married Olive M. Wright and moved to Bay City — known then as Lower Saginaw — in 1854.

According to the 1883 History of Bay County, one of the earliest compilations of Bay area residents, Partridge began purchasing wooded acreage for two lumber mills he built. He purchased quite a bit of land in Bay City and just south of it in the village of Portsmouth, now the South End. However, the economic crash took his fortune away and he had to sell everything to pay off creditors.

He went back to work as a surveyor and engineer, and was hired as the county surveyor before becoming sheriff, serving for 18 months before resigning to join the service.

His personality was reserved, sometimes considered harsh. He was a lifelong, hard-line temperance man, opposed to alcohol in any form outside medicine.

After the war, he added to land he had purchased south of Bay City in what became a reorganized Portsmouth Township, and was elected its first supervisor. His farm straddled Tuscola Plank Road — later M-15 — a wooden toll road which he helped get constructed.

“He wasn’t exactly well liked I gathered,” Pergande said. “As an officer, his men called him “Old Pheasant” which wasn’t meant to be complimentary. One of his problems was he was put in charge of a company of soldiers in the 16th Michigan which largely was a Flint outfit and the men didn’t like having this Bay County guy giving orders.”

Pergande added that the officers who had been in charge of the regiment were let go because they were War Democrats and the governor was a Republican and Partridge was a Radical Republican. So that didn’t set well with the men either.”

Regardless of their feelings, the men of the 16th fought in every major battle and dozens of lesser ones, throughout the war.

At Gettysburg, the men of the 16th might have changed their view of Partridge. On the second day of the battle, the regiment was on Little Round Top, about to face a full-scale attack by a half-dozen Confederate regiments.

“It was kind of a scandal, but there was a Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the 16th who ran away and some of the flag bearers followed him, so a couple of the companies followed the flag and they all left, but Partridge stayed and kept the rest of the men there,” Pergande said.

Out of ammunition, Partridge’s men set their bayonets to meet the attack, which certainly would have ended badly for them, but a newly-arriving New York brigade counter-attacked in a charge down the hill, stopping the Confederate assault.

Pergande said Partridge was a hero of that battle and of others, some in which he was wounded. The worst came after he was promoted to major and placed in charge of the 83rd Pennsylvania. During the battle of Peebles Farm in Virginia on Sept. 30, 1864, he was shot through the neck while leading his troops and the bullet struck the 6th cervical vertebrae, causing paralysis.

“He was allowed to come back home to recuperate, which he did for a few months,” Pergande said.

Partridge’s condition improved, allowing him to return to duty and this time was placed in charge of the entire 16th Michigan regiment. He led the troops at the siege of Petersburg and was present at Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.

He then was promoted to colonel and placed in charge of seven regiments at Louisville, Ky. He was in charge of the court martial proceedings there for several months before being discharged.

Back home, there was a bit more evidence that, even though he was a war hero, he wasn’t popular with everyone.

“He had some problems within the Republican Party here and they weren’t always pleased with him,” Pergande said.

Still, he helped organize the first county fair, which was held annually on grounds at Washington Avenue and First Street, a space designated as Washington Park. He was chairman of the county Board of Supervisors for a time and was a commissioner of the state land office.

“His life came to a sad ending, though,” Pergande said. “He had a fire in his barn and when he went to put it out, he became trapped in it and barely survived, suffering burns. It led to his ill health and eventually his death.”

Partridge died on Oct. 19, 1892, at the age of 70. He had one of the largest funeral processions the county had seen, with a military burial and Masonic ceremony in Elm Lawn Cemetery.

He was survived by his wife, three daughters and a son.

By Tim Younkman | The Bay City Times Michigan

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