The Twenty-First was recruited in the Fourth Congressional District, comprising the counties of Barry, Ionia, Montcalm, Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon, Oceana, Newago, Mecosta, Mason, Manistee, Grand Traverse, Leelanaw, Manitou, Oceola, Emmet, Mackinac, Delta and Cheyboygan and was mustered into service Sept. 4, 1862, with an enrollment of 1,000 officers and men.
A beautiful silk flag was provided by the ladies of Ionia and delivered to the Regiment, on the 6th of September, at that city. The center of the flag was decorated with an American Eagle holding its quiver of arrows, olive branch, etc. Over this, a small national flag, and beneath it, the words "Union" and "Constitution". At the same time, another flag was presented to Company "G" by the children of the Grand Haven Sunday School.
The flag was carried by the Regiment through all of its engagements, brought back to the State, and at a celebration on the 4th of July 1865, was formally returned to the ladies by the honorable John Avery of Greenville, the highest ranking officer present, being recieved by the Hon. John Hutchins, of Ionia.
The Regiment was rendezvoused at Ionia and it left that place for Cincinnati, Ohio the 12th of Sept. and upon arrival proceeded to Louisville, Ky. It was soon to experience the realities of war, for the 8th of October it served in Sheridan's division at the battle of Perryville and though newly organized, received flattering notice from the commanding general for it's splendid deportment in this hard fought engagement.
After the battle of Perryville the Twenty-First joined General Rosecran's army at Nashville for a forward movement upon Murfreesboro. Sheridan's division, having the advance, came in contact with the Confederates near Lavergne at Stewart's Creek, skirmishing heavily with him until he made his stand at Stone River. The division to which the Twenty-First belonged was on the right of the Union line which was crushed by the savage onslaught of the Confederates and driven back to the Nashville Pike. Sheridan's men were wherever the fighting was the fiercest. For hours the fate of the battle rested on him and his division, which fought with reckless daring, being compelled to change front under fire several times, but always maintaining a compact body and only yielding ground after other troops had retired and his ammunition was exhausted. His men were assailed in front and in the flank, his three Brigade commanders were killed, but he brought his forces from the field in good order, ready to renew the conflict when supplied with ammunition. In the Five day's fighting in front of Stone River, the Twenty-First lost 17 killed, 89 wounded and 37 missing.
Colonel Stevens resigned Feb. 3, 1863, on account of ill health, and William B. McCreery, who had formerly served in the Second Infantry was commissioned Colonel of the Twenty-First, the same date as the resignation of Colonel Stevens. During June and July of 1863, the Regiment was at Tullahoma, Cowan and Anderson Station, then occupying Bridgeport, Ala., where the Brigade was commanded by Colonel Lytle.
The Twenty-First was in General McCook's Corp and was engaged at Chickamauga, Ga., in one of the most desperate battles of the war. General Sheridan's Division was on the right of the line when General Longstreet's Division made his fierce assault, there the Twenty-First was where the battle raged fiercest. The Union forces were cut to pieces by the terrific fire of the Confederates. With their ranks broken, and General Lytle killed, they slowly fell back a few hundred yards, but did not lose their organization as did other troops on that part of the battlefield. Colonel McCreery was severely wounded, falling into the hands of the Confederates, while the Regiment lost heavily in killed and wounded during the three days of carnage. The Twenty-First was specially complimented by General Sheridan for the splendid work it did during the battle.
After the battle of Chickamauga, the Regiment was placed in the Engineer Corp, working diligently during the summer, building bridges and hospital building around Chattanooga. Then in November, under command of Colonel Bishop, joined the Fourteenth Corp at Kingston, Ga., then proceeded to Atlanta. The Regiment marched with its Corp, on Sherman's March to the Sea from Atlanta to Savannah, where it arrived the 10th of December.
After the fall of Savannah the Twenty-First started on its long march through South and North Carolina, reaching Bentonville, N.C. where it suffered severely in an attack upon the city's works March 19th. It fought with its usual gallantry, but this was the last severe engagement the Regiment was called upon to take part in. Upon the retreat of the Confederates from Bentonville, the Twenty-First marched to Raleigh, being there when General Johnston surrendered to General Sherman.
The Twenty-First, with the balance of the Fourteenth Corp, then marched to Richmond, Va., thence to Washington, D.C., where it took part in the Grand Review, held May 24th, from whence they set forth immediately for Michigan. The Regiment was mustered out of service June 8th, paid off and disbanded at Detroit, Mich. June 22, 1865.