Lawyer publishes Civil War book with a Michigan bent

by Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Jack Dempsey’s book about the Civil War is unique among the myriad of literary works out there – he focuses on Michigan’s role in the four-year conflict between the Union and Confederacy.

“It is a comprehensive portrayal of the role that Michigan played immediately prior to, during, and immediately after the Civil War,” said Dempsey, an attorney with Dickinson Wright and a resident of Plymouth. “Michigan (provided) military support, logistical support, political support, and then you have a number of incidents – or vignettes – where Michiganders played a highly significant role, both in general and specific,” added the 59-year-old Dempsey, author of Michigan and the Civil War: A Great and Bloody Sacrifice (The History Press $21.99).

For instance, Dempsey pointed out that probably 99 percent of the people from Michigan do not know anything about Orlando Wilcox. A Detroit native, Wilcox was a veteran of the Mexican-American War who later became a general in the Union Army.

“Wilcox became the leader of the first Michigan infantry unit to go to war,” Dempsey explained. “His was the first unit to cross the Potomac into hostile Virginia, and he was the leader that made the farthest incursion into Confederate lines at the first battle of Bull Run. He was wounded and captured there. He was a POW, [who was] exchanged and fought out the rest of the war with great distinction. Wilcox was also a Medal of Honor winner.” 

Along with fellow authors Rick Liblong, Marty Bertera, and Kim Crawford, Dempsey will be speaking about his book at this year’s Kerrytown Book Fest in Ann Arbor at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 11.

An alumnus of Michigan State University (1974) and George Washington University Law School (’77), Dempsey is a partner in the Ann Arbor office of Dickinson Wright. Dempsey is chairman of the Michigan Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee, the vice-president of the Michigan Historical Commission, the chair of the Michigan History Foundation, and a board member of the Historical Society of Michigan. The author’s proceeds from the book support Michigan’s commemoration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial.

“Growing up, I learned about the American Revolution and the Civil War, which meant that there were a lot of lawyers involved in the country’s formation and in the Civil War era. It really appealed to me – [law] was an honorable career,” said Dempsey.

 The History Press approached Dempsey last year about writing a book on Michigan’s role in the Civil War, a subject he wrote about in three articles published through the Historical Society of Michigan.

“Michigan was a very young state. During the [Civil War], Michiganders stepped up to help save the country and put it on a much more solid foundation of human freedom,” said Dempsey, a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Michigan. “As Michigan’s come through this past decade – the lost decade – I think we can draw inspiration from 150 years ago as we move into the future.”

For further information about this year’s Kerrytown Bookfest, call 734-669-0451 or go to