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Col. Lounsberry’s Civil War Service


By 1864, the Union army under General Ulysses S. Grant had been forced to abandon their plans to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, VA by direct assault.

But 25 miles south of Richmond lay Petersburg, an important supply center to the capital city. Boasting several railroad lines and key roads, both Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee understood that if these were cut, Petersburg could no longer provide Richmond with much needed supplies.

For nearly ten months, Union troops encircled Petersburg, gradually cutting each supply line. By April 1, 1865 Union General Phillip Sheridan successfully captured the last rail connection into Petersburg. The next morning, Grant ordered attacks all along the siege line. By nightfall the VI Corps had broken through to the west of the city and the Army of Northern Virginia began evacuating Petersburg as well as Richmond. General Lee’s final surrender at Appomattox Courthouse was only a week away.

Perhaps you’re wondering what this has to do with North Dakota? The Michigan troops who were the first to advance into Petersburg and hoist their flags on the Courthouse and Customs House were led by Colonel Clement A. Lounsberry, the founder of the Bismarck Tribune. Lounsberry conducted the advance and personally accepted the surrender of Petersburg, VA from its mayor.

Clement A. Lounsberry, born on this day, March 27, 1843, enlisted as a private in the First Michigan Volunteers at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. Wounded and captured at the first Battle of Bull Run he was taken to Richmond, VA where he spent nearly a year in a Confederate prison camp before being released in a prisoner exchange.

Re-enlisting one month after his release from prison, Lounsberry mustered into service as first sergeant of Company I, Twentieth Michigan. Over the following three years, he received several wounds and spent another three weeks in a Confederate prison camp. General B. M. Cutcheon later wrote, “Colonel Lounsberry served under me as a private, a sergeant, a second lieutenant, a captain, as aide, and as assistant adjutant general and chief of my staff, and finally succeeded me as colonel, and I feel that I can say that I think he was the bravest man I ever knew.”

In the decades following the Civil War, Col. Lounsberry moved to Dakota Territory where among other services, he established the Bismarck Tribune, served as the first president of the North Dakota Historical Society board of directors and published a three-volume book on the history and people of North Dakota.

Written by Christina Sunwall


Arlington National Cemetery-

Cutcheon, Byron Mac. The Story of the Twentieth Michigan Infantry (R. Smith Printing Co.; 1904)

Lounseberry, Clement A. North Dakota: History and People, Volume III (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company; 1917)

McGrath, Hugh J. and William Stoddard. History of The Great Northwest and its Men of Progress (Minneapolis: The Minneapolis Journal; 1901)

National Park Service: Petersburg National Battlefield-