Byron Root Pierce was born on September 20, 1829, in East Bloomfield, New York, the grandson of a Revolutionary War veteran. He followed his father into business in a woolen mill but studied to be a dentist, and in 1856 he moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan to set up his practice. He also became Captain of a militia company, the “Valley City Light Guards.”
in June of 1861 his unit was mustered in as Company K of the 3rd Michigan Infantry, which joined the army around Washington In time to participate in Bull Run. In October Pierce became the regiment’s major, and in July lieutenant colonel, participating in the Peninsula Campaign and in the battles of Chantilly and Groveton in the Second Bull Run campaign.
Pierce was promoted to colonel and commanded the regiment at Fredericksburg and at Chancellorsville. There on May 3, 1863, he was wounded in the left hand and right arm , but immediately returned to duty after having his wounds dressed. His brigade commander, General H. G. Berry, singled him out as “distinguished for gallantry.”
He continued to command the regiment at Gettysburg (see regimental monument at Gettysburg). During the fighting around the Peach Orchard on July 2 he was wounded below the left knee. Although many sources state that he lost his leg, Medical Histories of Union Generals by Jack D. Welsh (University of Oklahoma. 1996, pp. 258-259) states that “he was not hospitalized and his wound was dressed by the regimental surgeon.”
He was in command of his brigade and sometimes a division during the Overland campaign, and at Spotsylvania he was again wounded. He was promoted to brigadier general in June of 1864, and on June 18 was wounded at Petersburg. After being sick with diarrhea for many days he was sent to the Union hospital at City Point, and returned to Grand Rapids on leave for dysentery and general disability. He returned to the army in time to be brevetted major general for his his actions at Saylor’s Creek, and he was present at Appomattox. He mustered out in August of 1865.
After the war Pierce returned to Grand Rapids. He participated in both the Grand Army of the Republic and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion. He served as commandant of the Michigan Soldier’s Home (now the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans), which he was instrumental in having built in Grand Rapids.In the late 1890’s he he ran a hotel. He retired from business in 1899
Byron Pierce died on July 10, 1924, at the age of 95. He was Michigan’s last surviving Civil War officer. Pierce is buried in Fulton Street Cemetery in Grand Rapids.