Some sligh history

My wife and I have lived near Sligh Blvd. in Grand Rapids for a number of years now. Through general curiosity and some circumstances that I now forget, I connected Sligh Blvd. to the Sligh Furniture Company and Charles R. Sligh. Over multiple generations, the Slighs influenced the furniture industry and the development of the Riverside Gardens neighborhood in Grand Rapids.

In a short piece written for the North End Connection, Julie Tabberer provided some background on the development of the Riverside Gardens neighborhood situated between Monroe Ave. and Plainfield Ave. The Comstock and Sligh families owned much of the property and platted it out for a new residential development in the 1920s. In fact, my house sits on what was once the Sligh Golf Course.

While the history of the Riverside Gardens neighborhood is quite fascinating, what really piqued my interest was that Charles Sligh’s father, James W. Sligh, was a captain in the First Regiment Michigan Engineers and Mechanics during the Civil War. Not only that, Charles Sligh’s brother James M. Sligh also served in the Michigan Engineers and Mechanics and would eventually rise to the rank of captain as well.

Charles R. Sligh, History of the Services of the First Regiment Michigan Engineers and Mechanics During the Civil War 1861 – 1865. Grand Rapids, 1921

James W. Sligh, a native of Scotland, immigrated to the United States and eventually settled in Grand Rapids. James W. helped organize the Michigan Engineers and Mechanics. Tragically, James W. would suffer a serious injury in a train accident near Tullahoma, Tennessee in October of 1863, just a month after the massive battle of Chickamauga. The rail was damaged by Confederate raiders, who ambushed the passengers after the accident. James W. died a month later as a result of his wounds.

Capt. James W. Sligh is buried in Grand Rapids’s Oak Hill Cemetery. At the Sligh family plot, you can see the beautiful obelisk that honors his service. His son Captain James M. Sligh M.D., who survived the war and became a medical doctor, is also buried in the family plot.

Charles R. Sligh, History of the Services of the First Regiment Michigan Engineers and Mechanics During the Civil War 1861 – 1865. Grand Rapids, 1921

Captain James W. Sligh’s brother, Robert, also served in the Civil War. Robert served with Grand Rapids’s own Third Michigan Infantry Regiment. Steve Soper has written a profile for Robert Sligh on his 3rd Michigan Infantry page. Robert, like his brother James, sadly gave his life in the service of his new country. Robert died in Gettysburg from wounds received while fighting in the famed peach orchard on July 2, 1863.

It is sobering to consider that a Scottish immigrant family paid such a high cost for the Union.

In addition to starting a furniture company, Charles R. Sligh also wrote a history of the Michigan Engineers and Mechanics to commemorate the service of his father and brother. In the preface, he wrote the following.

“As a son of Captain James W. Sligh and brother of Captain James M. Sligh I have always felt a just pride in the wonderful achievements of this grand old regiment during those years when the very life of the nation was at stake.”

. . .

“This volume is compiled with hope that it may be of historical interest to those members of the regiment who are still living and the descendants of those who have passed to the Great Beyond, and as a reminder of the service rendered for the preservation of the Union.”

Charles R. Sligh, History of the Services of the First Regiment Michigan Engineers and Mechanics During the Civil War 1861 – 1865. Grand Rapids, 1921

As you can imagine, I was especially pleased to find that I had such a strong connection to Michigan’s Civil War history in my literal backyard. Thankfully, the Sligh family papers are stored at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. I have only begun to scratch the surface of the papers, but they are a treasure.

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