25 May 2006
I’m sorry to say I’d never heard of Hillsdale College until last week.
In south-central Michigan, Hillsdale was a hotbed of liberal thought, abolitionism, and Unionist sentiment in mid-19th Century America.
Because of its dedication to the principle of equality, Hillsdale became an early force for the abolition of slavery and for the education of black students; in fact, blacks were admitted immediately after the 1844 founding. The College became the second in the nation to grant four-year liberal arts degrees to women …
… Because of its early crusade against slavery, its role in helping to found the Republican party in Jackson in 1854 (President Edmund Fairfield was a leading founder of the party), and its location on the first railroad to pass through Michigan to Chicago, Hillsdale College was a natural site for more than two dozen nationally recognized speakers in the antebellum and Civil War eras … Frederick Douglass, Edward Everett, Governor Austin Blair, Senator Zachariah Chandler, Senator Charles Sumner, Carl Schurz, Wendell Phillips, Senator Lyman Trumbull, Owen Lovejoy, and William Lloyd Garrison …
I’m guessing this tradition, those speakers, and the political bent of the school administration fired-up the students. In 1861, shortly after Fort Sumter, a great number of them enlisted, many in the 4th Michigan Infantry. By the end of the War more than 400 students had served – reportedly a higher proportion of the student body than any other Northern school save West Point. Half were commissioned officers. Among them also were 4 Medal of Honor recipients and 2 general officers. 60 of them gave their lives.
It was one of Hillsdale’s MoH winners that twigged me to the school and its Civil War history. Moses A. Luce‘s name came up when I was researching his commanding officer in the 4th Michigan at Antietam, Colonel Jonathan W. Childs. Luce was later awarded the Medal of Honor [citation] for retrieving and returning with a badly wounded fellow Sergeant – and Hillsdale man – under fire near Spottsylvania Courthouse in 1864.
The Hillsdale men of the 4th Michigan regiment were not engaged at Antietam on September 17th, being part of McClellan’s Fifth Army Corps in reserve, but had some success at Shepherdstown (Boteler’s Ford) on the 19th and 20th, capturing a couple of Confederate artillery pieces.
As is often the case for surviving MOH winners, Luce had a notable life following his War experience. He returned to Hillsdale, graduated, and went on to a long, prominent legal and business career in San Diego. He was one of the “fathers” of that city, and the law firm he founded, Luce Forward, is still the top of the legal heap there.
The fuzzy photo of Luce above is from a group picture taken at Hillsdale in 1866. Titled the “Great Rebellion of 1866”, this refers to a school-wide protest in response to an administration edict that women aspiring to membership in any of the college’s literary societies needed approval not required for the men. Apparently about half the student body was expelled before it was all over. I assume the outcome was a reversal of the requirement.
Hillsdale continues its independent and moralistic tradition today. In 1978 they refused, on principle, to sign “Assurance of Compliance” forms mandated by the Federal Government certifying their non-discrimination status – status they felt had been obvious since 1844 – and raised private funds to replace the Federal money withheld as a result.
Quotes and other data from Hillsdale History.
I’ve had a brief email exchange with the Archivist at Hillsdale, and hope to learn more from her about the Civil War history of the school and its students as they return to classes there in a few weeks.