Copeland was born in New Castle, Maine. He studied at Harvard College and then read law under Daniel Webster. In 1844 he moved to St. Clair, Michigan and latter built a sawmill in Bay City, Michigan.
At the start of the Civil War Copeland served first as colonel and commander of the 1st Michigan Volunteer Cavalry, and then the 5th Michigan Volunteer Cavalry. Later promoted to brigadier general, he commanded the "wolverines" of the Michigan Brigade, but was replaced by George A. Custer shortly before the Battle of Gettysburg.
After this Copeland moved to Orchard Lake, Michigan where he built a residence known as "The Castle". In 1870 he and some local businessmen turned it into a hotel, but the venture went under in 1873.
In 1878 Copeland moved to Florida where he served for a time as a judge in Clay County.
He was initially buried in Orange Park, Florida, but was later re-interred at Oak Hill Cemetery in Pontiac, Michigan.
- Joseph T. Copeland at Find a Grave Retrieved on 2010-01-03