That one of the inheritances of the early settlers of Ingham County, Michigan was the military spirit of their forefathers was shown by their enthusiasm of "General Training Day" and the organization of a military company as early as 1857. "Uncle" George W. Shafer, a man prominent in affairs in Mason at that time, took an active interest in the formation of the "Curtenius Guard" as the first military company was called, and was commissioned a Colonel by the State Militia on order of Governor Barry. Colonel Frederick W. Curtenius, a Mexican war veteran, whose home was in Kalamazoo, came here to act as installing officer, and for him the company was named. In that way the name Curtenius became inked with the history of Ingham County and the family was of such note in the United States that it does not seem out of place to give a brief sketch of it here.
His father, Peter Curtenius, was a general in the War of 1812 and commanded troops quartered in New York City. He was afterwards made New York State Marshall and while holding that position, arrested Aaron Burr for treason. He was a member of the State Legislature for several terms. Both his father and father-in-law, grandfather of Frederick W. Curtenius gave distinguished service in the Revolutionary army. The father of Peter Curtenius sold his business in New York City for sixteen thousand dollars and expended the whole amount for the benefit of the army. On July 11, 1776, he read the Declaration of Independence in New York, the first time it had ever been read in public. With Alexander Hamilton, Mayor of New York and other city officials, he placed himself at the head of the "Sons of Freedom", a local organization, and with them as their leader, the party marched to where the equestrian statue of King George III stood, demolished it and sent the pieces to Litchfield, Connecticut where the loyal women of that place made the lead into musket balls for the use of the American army.
Frederick W. Curtenius was born in New York City in 1806 and graduated from Hamilton College, Oneida, New York in 1823 and began to study law. His inherited military taste proved stranger than his love of books, and after a short time, he gave up his studies and went to South America to join the patriots, who were making an effort to free themselves from Spanish domain. He was made a Lieutenant and gave good service until the close of the war when he returned to New York, where he later commanded the regiment of State Militia. In 1835, he came to Michigan and settled in what is now called Kalamazoo. In 1837, he raised a company for the First Michigan Infantry, commanded by Colonel T.B. W. Stockton, was made captain of his company, and went with it to Mexico, where he stayed until the close of the war. In 1855, he was made Adjutant General of the State of Michigan and held that position until 1861. He was then commissioned as Colonel of the Sixth Michigan Infantry. He did garrison duty in Baltimore for six months, then the regiment was made part of the Gulf Division under General B. F. Butler and moved to New Orleans. This regiment after the capture of the city was the first to take charge of the United States mint. Some time later Colonel Curtenius was placed in charge of the United States property in Vicksburg, and owing to an incident which occurred there, he left the service. Some slaves had sought refuge with his regiment and the general commander of the brigade ordered the Colonel to hand them over to their owners. This he would not do, saying the state of Michigan had not commission him to deliver slaves to their masters and for this reply was placed under arrest. These proceedings so displeased him that he resigned his commissioned returned home and the state of Michigan upheld him in the course he had taken.
He served as a state Senator for two terms besides in other high official positions. He died in Kalamazoo in 1883 and is buried in Mountain Home Cemetery. It was while he was serving the State as Adjutant General that he came to Mason and organized the "Curtenius Guards" which proved a dominant note in the military symphony of the county.
Its muster roll contained many names of prominent men in the county. Amos E. Steele was first captain and he was succeeded by Philip Mc Kernan who was still in command when Lincoln's call for men came in 1861. The "Curtenius Guards" properly tendered their services to the Government. They were accepted and assigned a position of Company B Seventh Michigan Infantry, then in camp in Monroe, Ira R. Grosvenor, Colonel. The guards left Mason August 15, 1861 with one hundred abled bodied men and served gallantly through the war, participating in nearly all the battles in Virginia acquiring distinction on account of their bravery. Only about seven or eight of the original members returned and they with crippled bodies and health impaired. The following is a list of officers and men who were members of the original organization that went into service:
Captain Philip Mc Kernan (died at Poolsville, MD 9/26/61), 1st. Lt. Amos E. Steele Jr. (Promoted to Lt. Colonel. Killed at the battle of Gettysburg PA), 2nd Lt. John B. Howell (Resigned), 1st Sgt. Franklin B. Siegfried (Wounded), 2nd Sgt. Richard Reynolds (Wounded), 3rd Sgt. Edwin G. Eaton, 4th Sgt. Henry D. Bath (Wounded), 1st Cpl. Russell B. Gogfrey, 3rd Cpl.Wellington W. Bowdish, 4th Cpl.Lewis A. Holden, 6th Cpl. V. Lancourt Northrup, 5th Cpl. Nicholas H. Wilkins, 7th Cpl. Hartman S. Felt, Private S. B. Bennett, Private James Butler, Private William H. Childs, Private Charles D. Clough, Private Myron A. Converse, Private William W. Evarts, Private Andrew Gibbs, Private Henry M. Gum, Private Allen B. Laycock, Private A. N. Lombard, Private Frederick Overholt, Private George Palmer, Private William H. Palmer, Private Cad. B. Palmer, Private George W. Perkins, Private David V. Perkins, Private A. Tennant, Private David E. Walker, Private Manley Walker, Private Albert Wilson, Private Lucius Bowdish, Private Myron J. Chalker, Private Oliver C. Chapman, Private John Gibbs, Private James D. Harlow, Private Ralph B. Huntington, Private Nelson Irish, Private Alonzo D. Palmer, Private Jehial Rayner, Private Melvin S. Rice, Private Frederick Searles, Private Charles Smith, Private Rudolphus P. Tryon, and Private Charles B. Wheeler.
Several others who were members of Curtenius Guards were members enlisted and served in other regiments. Among the names found are those of:
Charles Rhodes, J. C. Freeland, B. F. Darling, Henry V. Steele, Robert Hall, and J. H. Sayers.
Three members of the Curtenius Guards were given a lasting memorial in Mason when two posts of the Grand Army of the Republic were names for them. The first post organized in the city was given the name of Phil Mc Kerner #53. This was organized in the early 1880s and nearly a score of years later, a second post was formed and given the name, Steele Brothers in honor of Amos E and Henry V. Steele. Also, almost 100 years later, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War , the legal heir to the Grand Army of the Republic, established a camp with the name of Curtenius Guard Camp #17 in Lansing/Sunfield in 1983.
After the war the Curtenius Guards were never resurrected but the military zeal and patriotic spirit of the veterans, who had returned to their homes were so vigorous that a new militia company was formed, known as the "Mason Light Guard." This was an independent organization that existed from 1860-1877 with only Civil War veterans in its ranks. During the winter of 1877, the company lost all its arms and equipment in a fire that destroyed the armory.
Through the efforts of Honorable Stanley M. Turner, Representative of the district, an act was passed allowing the Light Guards to re-enlist and re-organize in the State service and on May 15, 1877, it became Company K of the First Michigan Regiment, Colonel W. H. Withington of Jackson being in command. The company was mustered into service in June by Inspector Lewis W. Heath of Grand Rapids, Lieutenant John C. Squires of Mason acting as mustering officer in company headquarters on the third floor in the rear of the International Order of Odd Fellows Hall. The names on the muster in roll included:
Captain, Alonzo Cheney, First Lieut. John C. Squires, Second Lieut. Lewis A. Holden, First Sergeant, Charles A. Perry, Second Sergeant, Elmer G. Curtis, Third Sergeant, Solon D. Needy, Fifth Sergeant, Henry McNeill, First Corporal, Robert T. Mason, Second Corporal, Charles M. Shafer, Third Corporal, Frank S. Stroud, Fourth Corporal, Frank L. Gardner, Fifth Corporal, Thomas F. Royston, sixth Corporal, Joseph P. Smith, Seventh Corporal, James P. Horton, Eighth Corporal, Charles F. Hammond. Privates Benjamin C. Baker, Charles H. Beardesley, Alexander Bush, Lorenze A. Call, Harvey Canfield, Williams E. Craig, Isaac Crish, George F. Day, Alonzo Ellswerth, Thomas M. Fay, Alfred J. Gilbert, Oliver F. Griffin, Edward R. Guy, David D. Lindsay, Reuben D. Maxwell, Wilten S. Mead, Andrew W. Mehtam, James H. Morey, Albert F. Norris, Edson Rolph, N. A. Seaman, George W. Story, Charles H. Stroud, Henry Whitelly, J. Vernon Johnson, Aaron E. Ball, Clay E. Call, Royal D. Corey, Julius F. Crittenden, George Cotton, Willis F. Cornell, Herman Darling, Benjamin J. Fitz, Charles E. Fowler, William H. Goucher, Daniel B. Green, Charles F. Lyon, James Mc Michael, Frank P. Millbury, Jay D. Morrow, James H. Newberry, Elisha P. Rowe, Smith Simons, Cassius M. Smith, Fred Stanton, George W. Swiggett, and Seymour H. Worden.
Sometime during the year 1885-1886, the name of this company was changed from "K" to "F" and the residents of Ingham County know the part Company F had in the 31st Michigan Infantry in the Spanish American war.
When later this company merged into a battery, the armory was sold to the city and the pictures and flags turned over to Phil McKernan Post, Grand Army of the Republic, the pioneer post of the city and are now in the hands of the Ingham County Pioneer and Historical Society. These flags form valuable souvenirs. At first, the flag used by the Curtenius Guards was with the others, but this disappeared some years ago. In 1878, Mrs. George Mead and Mrs. Jessie Beach, two patriotic women, who have passed to their reward, raised fifty dollars by popular subscription and purchased a silk flag for Company K which was presented at the celebration held in this city on July 4 of that year.
This "simply a flag tattered and torn and hanging in rags", but the association connected with it make it invaluable as an historic relic. The field on one side bears Michigan's coat of arms and on the other, the other thirty-seven stars represent the States of the Union. The red stripes have faded until the striped portion of the banner is now white and the end is simply a mass of fine tatters. There are two company F flags, in quite a state of preservation, but the style of construction show they were made at dates considerably apart. One has gilt stars pasted on the blue field, while the other has embroidered stars. Having played a part in the history of the county, it seems only right that they should be in charge of some society of a patriotic nature and they are highly prized by the County Historical Society, which counts itself as patriotic to the core.
In 1889, D.B. Harrington researched the 111 men who served in the Curtentius Guards (Company B). He prepared a report which was printed in the Ingham County News on January 3, 1889:
Historical: The Curtenius Guard
Another source of reference material regarding the history of the Curtenius Guards is the The Seventh Michigan Volunteer Infantry written by David G. Townsend and published by Southeast Publications, Inc.