During the American Civil War (1861-1865), soldiers from the same town or region mustered together into units. Men volunteered because they believed in the cause, to receive an enlistment bonus, or to avoid getting drafted. Many already knew each other; while others formed new friendships that would last a lifetime. Families back home followed news from the battlefront of their hometown boys with interest, pride, and sometimes horror. Several groups from the Grand Rapids area played important roles in the Civil War including the First Regiment Michigan Engineers and Mechanics.
Part of the Army of the Ohio, the First Regiment Michigan Engineers and Mechanics mustered into service in Marshall, Michigan, with quite a few men from Grand Rapids. This group of engineers built railroads, bridges and buildings in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama for the movement of troops and supplies from the North. In 1865 they participated in the siege of Atlanta, destroying Confederate infrastructure. From there the Michigan engineers built roads to facilitate Sherman’s famous march through Georgia to Savannah.
Following the Civil War, the group had reunions, providing medals such as this 1910 one to Captain J.W. McCrath, one of their members. Grand Rapids Public Museum also has other items relating to Captain McCrath's service during the Civil War including his uniform and an archival collection #letters and a photograph. This would have been the last reunion attended by McCrath who passed away in February of that year.
McCrath, Captain John W. John Wood McCrath was born September 3, 1837, in Genesee County, Michigan. He entered the Union Army on September 12, 1861, as a Second Lieutenant at the age of 24. During the Civil War, he served on the First Michigan Engineers and Mechanics Regiment and was promoted to Captain on May 11, 1863. In 1865, he was mustered out and honorably discharged.
After his service, McCrath engaged in business ventures in Atlanta, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, before eventually moving to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he served as a city alderman. He was later appointed to the Board of Managers for the Michigan Soldiers’ Home. John McCrath died on February 8, 1910 of a stroke. He is buried in Garfield Park Cemetery in Grand Rapids.