Lost history III: The Persons of Company K


by Ron Robotham

It has been some kind of labor of love for Chris Czopek to do his research about Company K.  Remember, he was mentioned in the first installment and definitely gets credited for inspiring my continued research. His greatest passion is to identify where each individual Native was from and where that individual is buried.  One of the most beautiful accomplishments in that regard is documented in the DVD/Documentary The Road to Andersonville available through your local library. Czopek and others, including the documentarian David Schock (who has been profiled in these pages before concerning his films about cold-case murders), traveled to Andersonville Prison Cemetery and consecrated each of the seven Native Americans of Company K buried there in the Native American tradition.

In our last writing, we mentioned that the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters were involved in several terrible battles. Notable was one called, in most records, The Battle of the Crater. Interestingly, the crater was not a naturally formed feature, but an interesting piece of failed military imagination. Originally, the Confederates decided to dig a long tunnel toward Union lines. They filled the end of the tunnel with tons of dynamite.  The idea was to coax the Union army toward their lines by faking a retreat.  Then when the Union men swarmed forward, they would detonate the dynamite.  However, it all went off too early and did not accomplish its intended goal but produced a huge ‘crater;’ thus, the Battle of the Crater.

For our historical interest, that battle was significant, for Company K had fifteen soldiers captured by the Rebel Army. Those men were sent to the already overcrowded and notoriously awful Andersonville Prison, also known as Camp Sumter. There seven men died, as mentioned above.

I would like to highlight certain soldiers from Elbridge. One was Sgt. Louis Genereau.  Louis was a half-Native with education, whose father worked as an interpreter when Company K was recruited.  Louis, the son, signed up also and led the other 24 volunteers to Pentwater that July 4th when they sailed to join the ranks of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters.  He was a leader and made a Sergeant of the company.  Genereau was wounded at the battle of Spotsylvania May 9, 1864. (The Crater battle was July 30 of that busy, horrible summer.) Sgt. Genereau is buried in Elbridge Township.

Another is Antoine Scott.  Quoting from another good resource, Between Two Fires by Laurence Hauptman, on Page 134:  “Also departing that day was Antoine Scott, later cited by the Adjutant General’s Office for valor at the battle of the Crater.  ‘Before Petersburg, July 30, 1864, instead of screening himself behind the captured works, this soldier stood boldly up and deliberately fired his piece until the enemy was close upon him. Then instead of surrendering, he ran the gauntlet of shot and shell and escaped.’  Scott’s actions, a diversionary tactic, helped save some of his trapped Indian Comrades.”  (We already mentioned the fifteen who were captured.)

I would like to also identify another Chief who was central to the recruitment.  Chief Pay-Baw-Me was a younger chief and very active in the affairs of the Reservation at its onset.  The Chief went with the twenty-five recruits to Pentwater and blessed their departure.  The Chief is identified by a monument at Harrison Rd. and 144th St., just north of St. Joseph’s Church and Cemetery in Hart.  The Chief is buried in an old, possibly lost, early Indian Cemetery a short way to the north and west of the churches cemetery.

As I have revisited some of the sites I mention, I again understand some of the passion Chris Czopek must feel for his work. In many ways I feel there is a spirit that lingers in this history. I sense it when I drive the roads and try to think of how the land must have looked when the Native Americans came to Oceana County in 1855.   I felt that spirit pull me to walk among the many unnamed graves in the old St. Joseph’s Church Cemetery.  There I found another Company K soldier’s grave, that of Charles Wabsis.  When I visited the site recently, I thought of a great activity to suggest for anyone interested in this study. 

At the beginning of this series on Lost History, I was hoping others would become interested and venture out to find some of these sites themselves. A great activity I am hoping to do myself is to do a grave-stone rubbing of Charles Wabsis’ stone.  His stone is a very old GAR (Grand Army of the Republic)-placed marker that you can barely read.  A gravestone rubbing would bring out the unreadable, especially the dates at the bottom half.

Along with that, you could visit Chief Cobmosso’s monument at Taylor Rd. and 144th, and the Chief Pay-Baw-Me memorial about two miles north.  I also highly recommend visiting the Pentwater Historical Museum in the village but be sure to plan ahead and check their hours.  They have a great collection of Indian artifacts, and a very good map of the reservation area.  You could make all of that in one good day of driving in the country just for fun and let your mind wander in the spirit of history!