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John Munroe: Royal Oak’s Last Civil War Veteran.

John Munroe was born on John R. St. in Detroit January 29, 1843. He enlisted in the Union Army in 1861 at the age of 18. Stationed at Ft. Wayne, in Detroit he belonged to Company A (latter transferred to Company G) of the 5th Michigan Volunteer Infantry. He was trained to be a “skirmisher” an advance scout sent out ahead of the main body of troops to determine the strength and location of the Confederate line. It was while engaged in this activity that John was taken captive.

Munroe’s company, encamped at Fredericksburg, was forced marched 12 miles reaching Gettysburg just before noon on the second day of the battle in the summer of 1863. Performing their duties as advance scouts Mr. Munroe and four other men were fired upon by Southern troops. Of the five men two were killed, one an Indian was knocked unconscious and left on the field, (Confederates did not take wounded soldiers) a fourth was never accounted for and John was captured.

Five Michigan soldiers were captured that day, John was the only one from his company. Captives were force to march 14 miles to a prison camp in Stanton, Virginia. Held for a short time in Stanton, prisoners were eventually moved 500 at a time on flat bed cars to Richmond, Virginia. They were first held in the Libby and Pemberton warehouses along the waterfront, but in August were moved to the Bell Isle prison in the St. James River. Here the men remained until they either died, because of prison conditions, or were exchanged for southern captives held by Union forces.

John Munroe was released in one of these exchanges in December 1863, possibly due to a letter written in September by his father inquiring about his missing son whom he had not heard from since July of 1863.

    Box 11, Detroit, Sept. 14, 1863
    General Meredith, U.S. Agent for Exchange of prisoners,


    Not having heard from my son, (John Munroe, a Corporal in    
   Company “A”, Fifth Michigan Infantry), for two months, and his
   comrades inferring that he was taken at “Gettysburg,” I take this
   opportunity to request you to make inquiries of the Confederate
   officer in charge of prisoners at Richmond, if there be such a
   soldier now in prison there.

    I know that a parent’s solicitude is an ample apology for this    
    intrusion on your official duties, which must be arduous.

    I am, General, with great respect,
    Your Ob’t Serv’t, A.B. Munroe

These notations were added to the letter as it passed through the Union and Confederate lines to its destination:

    Box 11, Detroit, Michigan, Sept. 14, 1863. Monroe, A.B. states
    that he has not heard from his son, (John Munroe, Corp. Co. A,
    Fifth Michigan Infantry) for over two months. Thinks he was
    taken prisoner at Gettysburg. Wishes inquiry to be made.
    Officer Com’r for Exchange, Fort Monroe, Sept. 18, 1863.
    Respectfully referred to Hon. R, Ould, Officer of Exchange, G.
    A. Meredith, Brig. Gen and Com’r for Exchange. Rec’d Fort
    Monroe, Va., Sept. 18.

Confederate notations were;

    Officer Exchange of  Prisoners, Richmond, Va., Sept. 21,
    1863, Resp. Referred Brig. Gen. Winder, Com’r Department,
    R. O. Ould, agent of exchange. Official W. H. Hatch, Capt. A. A. G.

When the letter finally passed through Bell Isle prison the guard, who went to the prison gate and called for John Munroe, and was informed by a New York prisoner that the man was at the prison, wrote “This man is here”, signing W. Barsieux. It was returned to the Officer for Exchange of Prisoners at Richmond, Va., Sept 21, 1863, and later to Brig. Gen. G. A. Meredith, agent for the Exchange of  Prisoners, with the notation, “The within named prisoner is at Bell Isle in this city.” R. O. Ould official agent for exchange. W. H. Hatch, A. A. G. The letter was then sent back to it’s source.

Above excerpted from “Local Veteran Reveals Valued Civil War Letter” unknown newspaper and date. From the John Munroe file at the Royal Oak Historical Museum.

John Munroe was discharged as a Corporal August 28, 1864, after participating in 10 battles of the Civil War, and serving under several generals, including McClellan, Hooker, Burnside, and Mead. He stood in the presence of Robert E. Lee the Confederate General and shook hands with Abraham Lincoln at Rappanock in April of 1863.

John Munroe, daughter Mildred and wife Margaret
(Gorsline) infront of their 1919 Ford Model T

John moved to Royal Oak in 1922, with wife Margaret (Gorsline). They and their two daughters lived at 329 North Street on the corner of Lafayette St., the house still exist today. He was a member of Royal Oaks Veterans of Foreign Wars post # 339, and an honorary member of the Acorn Post # 1669. He died at the age of 90 and is buried at Roseland Park Cemetery, Berkley (see obituary below).

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