The church building was built in 1851/1852. It apparently was built in a large grove of old growth trees, with some of those trees being used to build the structure. Wooden beams supporting the church are some sixty-three feet long and sixteen inches square. The brick were fired on the property as was common for the time. The pews are the original, with each pew back being made from one piece of wood. A basement was dug in in the early 1960s, which was no small feat even for that time.
Being less than 10 years old at the time of the battle, Mt. Zion Church was one of the largest church buildings in Madison County. It originally was one large room. It has since added interior walls for Sunday School rooms and offices on the main floor. But you still can get a good feel of what the church looked like at the time of the Battle of Richmond in August 1862. The exterior remains virtually unchanged.
Federal forces occupied Richmond and the Federal Medical Director, Capt. Bernard J.D. Irwin, M.D., commandeered the Madison County Courthouse and Madison Female Institute as hospitals. Irwin noted that he had “few medical officers, instruments, ambulances, tents or other camp equipage to enable them to perform their duties.”
Mt. Zion became a field hospital early in the fight on August 30, and a yellow flag denoted that fact. However, the church was struck by Confederate artillery, scars of which remain to this day on the south side near the top of the electrical service.
Confederate forces took control of the church as the Union soldiers fled toward Richmond. Treatment of wounded became a cooperative effort between both sides, with many, many members of surrounding community helping out. In addition to military personnel, several local doctors, namely Dr. William Chase, Dr. Charles Wilmore and others, assisted in the treatment of scores of wounded. The dead were buried across the road from Mt. Zion, and were eventually moved to Richmond Cemetery. The Union dead were moved to Camp Nelson National Cemetery in 1867/68.
Mt. Zion Church is still an active congregation and has a strong sense of its unique history. The congregation has been a great partner in the preservation and interpretive efforts at the Battle of Richmond.
A Michigan Historical Marker denoting the initial position of Federal artillery from Michigan was dedicated in the summer of 2012 approximately 30 yards south of Mt. Zion Church.