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"My Brave Mechanics"

The First Michigan Engineers and Their Civil War

Mark Hoffman
Foreword by William M. Anderson

Award Winner

American History, Michigan, Military History

Great Lakes Books Series

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Published: June 2007
ISBN: 9780814332924
Pages: 488 Size: 6x9 Illustrations: 35

The book is well researched and written, a valuable addition to the literature of the war.

— Alan T. Nolan

As volunteer engineers for the Union army, the First Michigan Engineers and Mechanics regiment was made up of skilled artisans, craftsmen, railroad men, and engineers whose behind-the-scenes work was crucial to the Union victory. Charged with maintaining the Union supply line in the western theater, the engineers constructed and repaired a staggering number of bridges, blockhouses, fortifications, railroads, and telegraph lines to keep the Union army functioning in the aftermath of battle. "My Brave Mechanics" traces the history of this little-known unit, revealing their substantial engineering accomplishments as well as their combat experience.

Although they were charged primarily with engineering work, the regiment also saw substantial direct combat action. Confederate guerillas and bushwackers bent on disrupting vital communication and supply lines routinely disregarded the usual rules of warfare to target the engineers. They struck quickly, and sometimes at night, exploiting the isolation and vulnerability of the workmen, who, unlike regular infantrymen, were almost never dug-in and ready for an attack. Yet despite the odds against them, the Michigan engineers are recognized for several key accomplishments, including their work in keeping the railroad open south from Union supply depots in Louisville, the relief of the Union forces in Chattanooga, and destruction of rebel railroads during Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas. The regiment’s senior officers also held important posts within the Union military organization in the west and were instrumental in developing a coherent policy for the use of captured rebel railroads and infrastructure.

Historian Mark Hoffman offers readers a detailed account of the Michigan engineers from a wealth of sources, including letters, diaries, regimental papers, communications and orders from the military establishment, period newspapers, and postwar accounts. As little has been written about Union volunteer engineers in the western theater, their unique history will undoubtedly be fascinating reading for Civil War buffs, local historians, and those interested in the history of American military engineering.

Mark Hoffman is deputy department director of the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries.

This work traces the history of this little-known unit of volunteer mechanics and reveals the group's substantial engineering accomplishments and combat experience. Hoffman offers readers a detailed account of the Michigan engineers from a wealth of sources, including letters, diaries, regimental papers, period newspapers and postwar accounts. Mark Hoffman has created an excellent volume that is well crafted, extensively researched, and accompanied with many photos. My Brave Mechanics" fills an important niche in the history of our great state and its contributions to the American Civil War.

– Historical Society of Michigan Chronicle

My Brave Mechanics is a fine history of an unusual regiment, the First Michigan Engineers. Organized in 1861 to provide bridging and similar facilities to the armies, the Michigan men were assigned to the western theater and worked at Corinth, on Sherman's march, and finally at Bentonville. The book is well researched and written, a valuable addition to the literature of the war."

– Alan T. Nolan, author of The Iron Brigade, Lee Considered, and Rally Once Again

My Brave Mechanics tells the tale of the First Michigan Engineers, a regiment of Wolverine volunteers whose skill with tools and courage in battle contributed greatly to the North's defeat of the South in the West. Well researched and well written, it provides many significant insights into how the Civil War was waged."

– Albert Castel, author of Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864

  • 2006 State History Award - Result: Winner in the category of Publications: Books: University & Commercial
  • 2007 Michigan Notable Book Awards - Result: 1 of 20 selected annually