Melvin Philip Brewer – “Brewer’s Company, 1st Michigan Calvary Regiment

Melvin Philip Brewer was born on October 31, 1831 in Wilson, Niagara County, New York as the first child of Philip Brewer and Mary (“Polly”) Wright Brewer.  The first member of the family to come to America was Jan Brouwer – Melvin’s fourth great grandfather – who arrived from the Netherlands in 1657.

Shortly after their marriage, Philip and Mary moved to Wilson Township in Niagara County and established a farm.  On October 25, 1833, Melvin’s sister Elnora was born and sister, Delency was born on July 1, 1836.  The year Delency was born, Melvin’s father purchased property in White Lake Township in Oakland County, Michigan.  In the spring of 1837, Philip moved the family to the White Lake property and began the construction of a farm.  Sister Leanora was born on January 11, 1843 and brother, David, was born on December 11, 1846.  Three months after David’s birth, Melvin’s father passed away on March 3, 1847.  For four years, Melvin and his mother operated the farm but were unable to make a go of it. 

They sold the farm in 1851 and purchased a 20-acre farm.  A portion of the money from the sale of the original homestead was used to send Melvin to law school at the University of Michigan’s Pontiac campus.

By 1855, Melvin had completed his education and moved to Lapeer to practicing law.  In 1856, he met Amanda Clark.  Amanda was born on October 5, 1834 in Springfield, Massachusetts to William Henry Clark of Massachusetts and Francis Martin Clark of New Hampshire.  On February 4, 1857 they were married in the Grace Episcopal Church in Lapeer.  Shortly after their marriage, Melvin was elected Lapeer County Prosecutor.  He and Amanda moved to the town of Lapeer.  On November 11, 1857, Melvin and Amanda’s first child, a daughter, Emmer (Emma), was born.  Their son, Melvin Napoleon Brewer was born on August 1, 1859.  About this time, Melvin and an associate moved to Almont to start their law practice. 

On April 15, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers for federal service in the military for a period of three years.  Eleven days after President Lincoln’s call for militia, Melvin Brewer wrote to John R. Robertson, the state Adjutant General to apply for service.  Thornton Fleming Brodhead, a former infantry officer and veteran of the Mexican-American War, began recruiting men to form a cavalry regiment.  Thornton Brodhead was a Detroit attorney whom Melvin knew.  Melvin applied to Brodhead and was offered a conditional appointment as Captain.

Brewer set to work recruiting men from the Almont and Armada area.  He was enlisted as a Captain.  On the regiment’s muster-in roll, Brewer was listed as Captain of Captain Brewer’s Company, 1st Regiment Michigan Cavalry.  The Company was later designated as Company L of the 1st Regiment of Michigan Cavalry.  The regiment assembled for training at Camp Lyon (the old Hamtramck Racetrack) outside Detroit on August 21, 1861.  On September 29th, the regiment received orders to proceed to Washington, D. C. 

In the Civil War, cavalry units served two primary purposes.  First, they performed reconnaissance work for the infantry.  Secondly, cavalry units acted as “screening” units when the army was moving.  Melvin Brewer and the 1st Michigan Regiment played a key role in numerous battles:

March 23, 1826KernstownMay 5-7, 1864Wilderness
March 25, 1862WinchesterMay 9, 1864Beaver Dan Station
July 17, 1862GordonsvilleMay 10-11Yellow Tavern
July 27, 1862Assigned escort dutyMay 12, 1864Meadow Bridge
August 9, 1862Cedar MountainMay 28, 1864Haw’s Shop – wounded
Aug. 26-28, 1862Second Bull RunMay 31, 1864Cold Harbor
January 1, 1863Promoted to “Major”June 6, 1864Promoted to “Lt. Colonel”
June 30, 1863Hanover Command 7th Michigan Regiment
July 1- 14, 1863GettysburgJune 11, 1864Travilian Station
July 20, 1863Ashby’s GapAugust 16, 1864Chester Gap/Crooked Run
October 10, 1863Brandy StationSep. 19, 1864Winchester – killed

On May 21, 1863, General Banks, in New Orleans, organized a Corps of colored troops and Brewer offered his services.  It is not known with certainty what the response was but it was probably refused. 

The charge on July 3, 1863 of the 1st Michigan Cavalry Regiment into Stuart’s superior force has been pronounced by many militia historians to have been the “finest cavalry charge made during the war”.  Major Brewer and his four companies were in the middle of this gallant effort.  Many military historians believe that the charge of the 1st Michigan Cavalry regiment was crucial in defeating General Lee’s battle plan for July 3rd and resulted in not only the Confederate’s defeat in the battle but ultimately, the war.

Major Brewer and the Michigan Brigade were both the first and last troops to see action in the Gettysburg Campaign.

During the Third Battle of Winchester, Colonel Brewer was shot through the head but he didn’t die for six days – on September 25, 1864.  His brother David Lawrence Brewer of the 1st Michigan was assigned to accompany the body home.  Once back in Michigan, Melvin was buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Pontiac, Oakland County. 

Ada remarried on October 7, 1871.  She married Edward Clark who was a gunsmith who was living in Flint.  When Ada remarried, her widow’s pension was transferred to her children, Emma and Melvin.  The children would continue to receive the pension until they reached the age of 16.

Daughter Emma married Edward O. Hamilton on February 5, 1876 in Flint when she was 18 and he was 21.  Edward had a problem with alcohol and the couple separated.  No children were born to their union.  Emma appears to never have divorced Edward and she never remarried.  She died on August 1, 1933 in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the age of 75.  Edward died on July 13, 1900 in Chicago, Illinois.

Melvin Napoleon Brewer was living with his mother and step-father in 1880.  Melvin had followed in his step-father’s trade as a gunsmith.  What happened to Melvin after the 1880 U. S. Census is not known.  When or where he died is not known.  Whether he ever married and had children is also not known.

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