Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Charles Edward Bliven of the Army Telegraph Corps at Shiloh

This article focuses on the Civil War era correspondence of military telegrapher Charles Edward Bliven (pen name “Pen Lever”) to the editor of the Daily Toledo Blade from late 1861 to the fall of 1862 as he followed the fortunes of the western Federal armies. While Bliven occasionally touches on his specific duties with the telegraph corps, the primary focus of his correspondence centers around his impressions of the communities in which he worked. Recruited into the nascent Army Telegraph Corps in late 1861 “by reason of his practical knowledge of telegraphy and high standing as an expert in that art,” Bliven initially worked as the chief operator in General Don Carlos Buell's headquarters in Louisville, then went south after the Battle of Shiloh and after some time in Nashville, headed west to work as the chief operator in Memphis. His travels took him into northern Alabama and western Tennessee, and he was in Jackson when that city was threatened by Armstrong's cavalry raid in late August 1862. The correspondence next finds Bliven engaged in Cincinnati where he describes the effect of the Confederate invasion of Kentucky upon the city.

These letters provide a fascinating insight into the Civil War as viewed from behind the lines. Bliven's stories focus on the impact of war on the local populace; how citizens responded to changing economic and war conditions, how loyalties shifted during the course of the conflict, even how citizens dealt with the carnage that the war left behind- cities filled with sick and wounded men, hillsides covered with shallow graves, mass destruction of basic infrastructure such as bridges and railroads. As a military telegrapher, Bliven had daily access to a great deal of sensitive inside information, as well as knowing of any developments from other parts of the western theater that were communicated via telegraph between military commanders. “In addition to his duties and service as an organizer and director, he was very often made the confidant and adviser of the highest civil and military actors in that critical period, and affairs of the most momentous importance were committed and entrusted to him” a comrade later wrote.

Born September 21, 1835 in Phelps, Ontario County, New York, Bliven moved with his family to Toledo, Ohio in the 1840s where Phelps soon took a job as a messenger boy for the railroad. He worked his way up the ranks and was working as superintendent of the railway department when the Civil War began in 1861.Bliven's efforts in the field were rewarded by his promotion to Assistant Superintendent of Telegraphic Communication for the southwest in 1863, based in Cincinnati. His efficiency in this role led to his transfer into the Quartermaster Department as a Captain in late 1864. Bliven served briefly with the Army of the Potomac, before transferring back to Cincinnati where he served as Inspector and Executive Officer in charge of Camp and Garrison Equipage, Transportation, Post Quartermaster, and Disbursing Officer. One measure of his efficiency in this role is a statement from a government auditor who found an error of only 33 cents in Bliven's accounts, extending over two years and millions of dollars of expenditures, a record unprecedented in the Quartermaster Corps. Bliven ended the war as a Brevet Major, and after declining an offer to remain in the Army, was honorably discharged on May 31, 1866. Following the war, Major Bliven returned home to Toledo where he entered into the practice of law for a few years before making his fortune in the insurance business. Major Bliven died on August 29, 1896 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Toledo.
In this segment, Bliven relates his experiences carrying dispatches in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862; he also recounts his exploration of the horrors of the battlefield. The entire set of 1861-1862 letters will be uploaded soon to the research files section of my website at
Steamer E.H. Fairchild, Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee
April 13, 1862
I was fortunate enough to be one of the delegation sent here by the Louisville Sanitary Commission with this steamer and hospital stores for the wounded and suffering soldiers engaged in the late battle. We left Louisville at 12 o'clock Thursday night, having on board 23 ladies and 45 gentlemen including the surgeons and assistants sent from Lexington and Frankfort by the State Military Board, and M.C. Younglove of Cleveland. Additional supplies were received from the ladies of different places along the river. At Evansville, Mr. Younglove and myself obtained a sewing machine from a former resident of Toledo, which enabled the ladies on board to prepare the bedding necessary, after being disappointed in not receiving the expected supply of cots at Evansville.
Friday afternoon we met the Commodore Perry from Pittsburg with about 300 wounded on board. The same evening we met the Switzerland with about the same number; she was hailed with stores and assistance tendered which were not needed. We learned enough to make us all anxious to reach the scene of suffering, and the boat was crowded along at the rate of twenty miles per hour. She made 40 miles in two hours and ten minutes. At Paducah, where we expected to receive more supplies and further instructions after some little detention we turned into the Tennessee river and hurried along as fast as possible against the strong current. We passed the Empress about daylight and the Anglo Saxon at Fort Henry, both bound up the river.
At Fort Henry, I received dispatches to deliver to Gen. Halleck at Pittsburg, Above the fort we met the Woodford and War Eagle bound down with more wounded. We saw but few people along the river; some of them had only lately returned as the pilot told me; their houses were vacant on the last trip. Those we did see manifested every satisfaction at our presence and saluted us with waving handkerchiefs, swinging hats, and cheers. At one place a white flag was prominently displayed; at another, several men, women, and children rushed down to the banks and cheered us; one of the men hailed and asked 'how the fight was going up yonder?' Standing by the pilothouse, I answered 'all right' at which all commenced cheering, swinging their hats, and crying out 'Good, glory to God!' We saw much desolation and in but a few places signs of returning prosperity. Several dead bodies were passed floating in the river, confirming the report that our troops were forced to the river on Sunday and many of them drowned. Why the bodies were not recovered I can not say, unless it was thought best not to delay, but to hurry to a greater work.
We arrived at Savannah about 2 o'clock Sunday morning and at Pittsburg at 3. After delivering my dispatches immediately to General Halleck on board the Continental, I set about finding troops from Toledo and vicinity.  The 14th Ohio was up river with General Sherman on an important expedition to destroy Rebel communication with the east, across the Tennessee river, which was successfully accomplished by them. Three other expeditions had been sent to do this work and had failed. The 14th Ohio returned today, all right. Lt. Col. Este and Lt. Davis were sick on the steamer White Cloud across the river, and Col. Steedman was at headquarters; so I did not see them during my short visit to their camp. The boys are without tents, the baggage trains not having come up yet. They have made themselves as comfortable as possible with blankets, brush, and bark- almost every tree on the battlefield is stripped of its bark to make shelter for the troops that came up without tents. The 68th Ohio is at Crump's Landing, between here and Savannah, guarding Gen. Lew Wallace's camp. The 38th Ohio has not got here yet. The 3rd Ohio Cavalry is camped two miles east of Savannah from whence detachments are sent to guard the trains. A portion of the regiment is at Waynesboro. Company C under Captain Howland is about 15 miles east of Savannah. The 21st, 49th, and 72nd were in the battle and suffered more or less. The 72nd had not a field officer in command Sunday night, Col. Buckland acting Brigadier General, is highly spoken of, as is Col. W.H. Gibson of the 49th, also acting Brigadier General. I have not been able to find the 21st, but learn that they were in the thickest of the fight with General Nelson and behaved well.

It is reported that some Ohio troops behaved badly on the first day. The regiments particularly mentioned in this respect were the newest regiments in the field, all of them having left the state since the fall of Fort Donelson and occupied the worst advanced and exposed positions in Saturday's fight. They were not properly supported and one regiment had so lately arrived that it had not been supplied with ammunition. These same regiments did their whole duty on Monday when properly handled and supported by Gen. Buell. They were in the thickest of the fight, and it is conceded on all hands here that they were among the bravest troops on the field. If they lost any honor on Sunday, they regained it on Monday, as their lists of killed and wounded will show. Regiments from other states acted precisely the same under similar circumstances. A Wisconsin regiment arrived on Saturday afternoon, was sent to the front, were attacked and driven back before their tents were pitched. A Michigan regiment was also sent to the front without a round of ammunition.

I wandered all over the field yesterday. The scene was a terrible one. The almost countless little hillocks of fresh turned earth told the cost of the victory. The great heaps here and there show how hard the Rebels fought and how great was their loss. Gen. Johnson's grave is on the brow of a ravine, and is surrounded by a neat fence. Whenever a body could be recognized, the grave was properly marked by a board placed at the head on which was roughly carved the name and number of the regiment of the dead sleeper. On a beech tree I found the name, number of regiment, and a Masonic emblem, neatly engraved, showing that a friend and brother had paid the last tribute due to the dead soldier whose body laid at its foot.

Major General Don Carlos Buell, commander of the Army of the Ohio

Before I started for the field, one of Gen. Halleck's aides assured me that a pass was not necessary. I however, went to Gen. Buell and procured the following:

Headquarters, Army of the Ohio, April 19, 1862

Pass bearer, Mr. C.E. Bliven, to Gen. Wood's Head Quarters.

By order of Maj. Gen. Buell, Chas. L. Fitzhugh, A.D.C.
This bit of paper was all powerful wherever I chose to go. It passed me all over the field or if I had occasion to go on board the Continental, Gen. Halleck's headquarters, or on to the Tigress, those of Gen. Grant, or to Savannah and back where I went to find my friends. I was about to produce it once, when away out in front, about five miles from the river where I was stopped by the officer of the guard when a familiar voice was heard, 'let him pass.' Much astonished I looked up and found Lt. Col. William H. Graves of the 12th Michigan, advancing with a smiling face and extended hands. An invitation to visit his tent followed, which was indeed acceptable, I being much fatigued from constant walking through mud and water up to my boot tops. Col. Graves was in command of the 12th Michigan, was in the thickest of the fight, and gained great credit for his coolness and bravery, and especially in extricating his command from the overwhelming force which took Gen. Prentiss and so many men prisoners. He was particularly observed by Gen. Buell and was among the first who attracted the general's attention Sunday afternoon. He was ably seconded by Maj. George Kimmell, who greatly distinguished himself throughout the day. The adjutant had three horses shot under him. The chaplain was particularly conspicuous for the daring courage exhibited while acting as aid to Gen. Prentiss in carrying his orders under the hottest fire. (see Chapter 41 of Thomas P. Lowry's Curmudgeons, Drunkards, and Outright Fools for more insight into Lt. Col. W.H. Graves, his superior Colonel Francis Quinn, and the schism in the regiment fostered by these two men. (
Dr. Kedale of Blissfield, Michigan was taken prisoner early Sunday morning because he would not abandon his hospitals with sick and wounded. He was released and returned to his regiment on Thursday. To him I am indebted for much interesting information. He states that the Rebels were much elated with their success on Sunday and felt sure of Grant and his whole army on Monday morning. They said the reason they did not achieve it Sunday afternoon was the intoxication of Breckenridge, who caused five of his regiments to fire into three others, which was returned and kept up for 20 minutes causing great slaughter and confusion among them. He says this was the cause of the cessation of Rebel hostilities on Sunday afternoon, and during which the heavy battery was got into position at the landing and the gunboats sent up river to shell the ravines, and Gen. Nelson crossed over the river and advanced so as to protect Grant's scattered forces, checking the Rebel advance for the night. In the morning, Gen. Buell's arrangements were complete, and the result is well known.
The Rebels taken prisoners say they soon found out on Monday morning that they had a different foe to fight; that there was none of the vacillation of Sunday. Everything moved admirably and speedily like clockwork. Gen. Beauregard said in the presence of a lieutenant colonel now a prisoner that Buell's left wing was the best formed he ever saw. The way Nelson handled it on the field verified the assertion. Gen. Buell's headquarters have been in the field since his arrival here. His army is splendidly arranged and will not be surprised. Gen. Grant's headquarters have been on the Tigress but were moved into the field this P.M. Gen. Halleck has ordered his staff to move their baggage ashore, I suppose his headquarters will be in the field tomorrow or the next day. The telegraph line was completed to this point and the cable laid across the river today.
We commenced taking on board the wounded yesterday and shall leave this evening with about 230, some of whom are Rebels, most of whom say they were greatly deceived by their leaders. They appear to be agreeably disappointed at their kind treatment. They say that Beauregard had from 50-60,000 men in the battle and 30,000 in reserve in Corinth under Crittenden. His troops were enlisted for a short time- some for one year, some for 90 days, and a large number for this battle. Our force engaged on Sunday was about 30,000. In the afternoon before Buell came up, it was not over 20,000. One of Gen. Halleck's staff told me that our loss was about 1,500 killed, 4,000 wounded, and 3,000 prisoners. The Rebel loss in killed and wounded is one third greater, and about 1,000 prisoners.
I have been busy writing letters for wounded men to their friends. Among others, I wrote one today for a young Rebel prisoner, about 17, to his mother in Hickman, Kentucky. He said to me, 'Be sure and tell her that I was guarded five days after I was taken from home; that I was wounded while fighting in the Southern army but now I mean to live and die under the stars and stripes.'
The E.H. Fairchild left Pittsburg Landing that evening and arrived in Louisville on April 17, 1862, carrying Bliven along with 288 wounded soldiers, both Union and Confederate, who were delivered to the city's hospitals. Bliven soon left Louisville, repairing and setting up telegraph lines along the railroad line leading south from Louisville to Nashville.
“Sick and Wounded Soldiers,” Daily Toledo Blade, April 22, 1862, pg. 2
Letter from C.E. Bliven, Daily Toledo Blade, April 22, 1862, pg. 2

Dan Masters

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Jeff Parsons of the 67th Ohio at the First Battle of Kernstown

One of the favorite regiments that I've been introduced to over the past 20 years of Civil War research is one discovered in my own backyard: the 67th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The 67th Ohio served exclusively in the eastern theater, starting off their service in the Shenandoah Valley fighting against Stonewall Jackson at First Kernstown in March 1862, then traipsed all over Virginia with Shields' Division before joining the Army of the Potomac at Harrison's Landing in the wake of the Seven Days battles. For the remainder of the war, the 67th Ohio served in what I would term the 'backwaters' of the war: Suffolk, Va., the sea islands in South Carolina, and then Bermuda Hundred. As Grant's army closed in on Petersburg, the 67th Ohio took part in the siege and played an important role in breaking the Confederate hold on Petersburg by storming Fort Gregg on April 2, 1865, and was present for the close of the war at Appomattox Courthouse.

The 67th Ohio's soldiers came from all over northwestern and northeastern Ohio, with large contingents from the Toledo, Cleveland, and Akron areas. As a matter of fact, I've found 67th Ohio soldiers' correspondence in more than a dozen newspapers from all over the state. However, one of the most interesting sets of correspondence I've come across was really the first that I found while indexing the Perrysburg Journal back in 2001. Wood County resident John J. "Jeff" Parsons enlisted in Company H on October 9, 1861 and was appointed Corporal when the regiment mustered into service in December. Corporal Parsons served with Co. H through early 1864 (he was promoted to Sergeant along the way), when he was commissioned as second lieutenant of Co. B. He was promoted again to First Lieutenant and was assigned back to Co. H on August 11, 1864- five days later, he was dead, having been killed while leading his company in a desperate charge on Confederate breastworks at the Battle of Deep Bottom Run.

In this letter below (his fourth letter published in the Perrysburg Journal), Corporal Parsons recounts his regiment's first time under fire during the First Battle of Kernstown which was fought March 23, 1862 by the men of Shields' division and about 3,000 men under the command of 'Stonewall' Jackson. It was a Federal victory, one of the few obtained against the legendary Confederate general, and a point of pride for the 67th Ohio as long as its veterans could tell the tale....

Strasburg, Virginia
March 30, 1862
Friends in Wood County:
            Let me express to you the success and joys of the 67th Ohio which we obtained at Winchester, Virginia on the 23rd of this month. On Saturday evening about 5 o’clock, we were hastily called out from our camp, which is situated two miles north of town, and hastened through and beyond the place about a mile, when we were greeted by the roar of one of the enemies’ big guns. We were immediately deployed into line as skirmishers and proceeded to our duty, but as battery H of the 1st Ohio Light Artillery (from Toledo) opened on them, the enemy thought best to draw back, and as the darkness came on things had to rest for the night.; three companies remaining out during the night as pickets, one of which was Company H. The first shot the enemy made was the means of wounding General Shields in the left arm. It was afterwards found that the enemy’s forces on Saturday evening were only composed of Ashby’s cavalry and two pieces of artillery.
Lt. Col. Alvin C. Voris led the 67th Ohio
at Kernstown- the former colonel Otto Burstenbinder
had been placed under arrest for a multitude of abuses
and would be dishonorably dismissed July 29, 1862.
On Sunday morning about 9 o’clock, they opened fire on us again, having been reinforced either in the night or early morning by Jackson’s forces of from 5,000-7,000 infantry. Dunn’s splendid battery was soon arrayed against them with the 67th in support. Here we were for the first time introduced to the hellish sounds of the enemy’s shells as they began to visit our position while on their intended messages of death, and while at the same time our own cannon were doing good execution hastening their infantry from one place to another. At noon our regiment was relieved by the 5th Ohio and we moved off to the right into a little wood where we remained for about two hours. We then returned to the support of the battery, the 5th moving to the rear. Just at this time, the enemy tried to flank our forces on the left, but our men having good guns and being superior marksmen, the Secesh were soon driven back to their reserve, many of them having received genuine passes to another world.
            The cannonading was then kept up on our side for a few minutes, but it was soon ascertained that their infantry was fast congregating in the woods in front of us just across a clear low land about a half mile distant and from all appearances about to make a charge upon us; but Battery L, 1st Ohio Light Artillery (brass battery with 6 pounders) soon hustled them out of that, and the way they hurried over the wood covered hill which they had chosen as their battleground and defense is indescribable. Just at this time we could very distinctly see that they were planting their artillery on quite a high hill nearly in front of ours, about a mile distant and to the right of their infantry, but our Parrot guns soon drove them back into the woods; yet they were not to be disappointed in this and soon opened on us with a large 24 pounder which they manned well, aiming this gun at our regiment. We were immediately ordered to lay down and hide our flag.
National colors of the 67th O.V.I.
Here we lay for nearly 5 hours in fair view of their gunners, some of their shells bursted in front of us, throwing dirt into our line while others produced almost a yell as they sped through the air, our batteries doing their best at the same time. While this cannonading was going on, Battery L of the brass guns ran out of ammunition and moved down to hill to our right, and directly in front of their left flank, not for the intention of charging them, for as I have said, they were out of ammunition, but for the purpose of drawing them further down to our right. This move had a charming effect as they soon had their guns stationed at intervals from their big 24 pounder above mentioned all along the ridge of woods, to nearly opposite our right and proceeded to open fire briskly on the defenseless battery, killing one of its gunners.
It had now gotten to be about 4:40 in the afternoon and as we were getting quite serious to know the result of the day, we saw Tyler’s Brigade, composed of several regiments including the 7th Ohio entering the woods on the left flank of the enemy. They soon met and commenced firing sharply, we about the same time receiving orders to arise and double quick across the flat and next in front. As soon as we started, they commenced on us with their artillery, throwing shell and grape accurately, but luckily we gained the woods, losing only one or two men. We gained the woods, ascended the hill and took our position on its brow, at the left of the 7th Ohio with the 84th Pennsylvania at our left, just in time to render great assistance to the 7th which was receiving the greater part of the enemy’s shots. The rebels were behind and defended by a stone wall which ran parallel with and 20 rods in front of the line of Tyler’s Brigade. As we came up, we formed a right angle with Tyler’s men at the same time opening a cross fire on the hidden rebels where we could shoot lengthwise of the wall. In this position, we showed our good will for our country’s sake for about half an hour, when the enemy became panic stricken and turning their backs to us, commenced hunting more comfortable quarters as fast as possible while our men were yelling and hallowing for joy at the top of their voices as they continued to pursue them as fast as they sped on.
Map of the Battle of Kernstown by Hal Jespersen (
Soon the enemy attempted to make another stand, but this time we routed them for good and as our men were so overjoyed with their success, they rushed upon several of the enemy’s cannons, turning them upside down before they could be gotten away, the gunners being obliged to cut their things and flee for their own lives, leaving several guns to our care. Here night set in and huddled in a heap on the fallen leaves among the dead sons of Dixie, awaited the coming morn. Those who have died in the Union forces up to this date from effects of the battle number a little over 100, while Jackson lost in killed and wounded from 500 to 600. Our wounded were about 150, while his is unknown yet undoubtedly will swell up to 400. The battle was a hard fought one and many a brave son fell, but through the kindness of Him who is ever mindful of the right, we sustained our cause and won a glorious victory.
The Rebels continued to flee during the night, carrying off many of their wounded in wagons, a fact which was proved the next day as we followed them, finding many houses along the road filled with them. The prisoners taken in connection with the killed and wounded will without exaggeration exceed 1,000. Secesh stragglers tell us that Jackson fled, showing no mercy to his men, and is undoubtedly by this time 50 miles from our lines.
But my story is becoming lengthy, and suffice to say, that we are sweetly anticipating an evening not many months hence when with our dear ones at home around glowing firesides, we shall relate the many little incidents and hairs breadth escapes of which we were ourselves eyewitnesses, while in the service of our country, fighting her battles.
Long may our country stand.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The 1st Ohio Cavalry at Stones River

As related on my website (, my interest in studying Civil War history began when I received my great-great-great grandfather's discharge from my grandmother about 20 years ago. She didn't know much about it, except that she found it in her father's papers after he passed and she said the soldier was an ancestor of ours. What started off as a genealogy project has grown into an abiding passion for telling the story of our common soldiers in the war. My ancestor was Private James Morrow, who enlisted in Co. H, 1st Ohio Volunteer Cavalry in September 1861 and served a full three term enlistment with the regiment, mustering out in October 1864 at Columbia, Tennessee. Although I have never been able to find any accounts that he may have left, I have been able to find some documents from other members of Company H that help paint the picture of what his experience may have been like.
Unknown trooper of 1st Ohio Cavalry

The letter below was written by his company commander Captain Martin Buck to the Highland Weekly News in February 1863 and recounts the actions of the regiment on the first day of the Battle of Stones River, December 31, 1862. At the beginning of the battle, the regiment was located in the rear of McCook's Corps and was caught up in the general panic that ensued when Johnson's division was broken shortly after dawn. As William L. Curry related in his regimental history Four Years in the Saddle (, "When Johnson's division was driven from the field, the brigade covered the retreat and fought stubbornly for every inch of ground. Colonel Millikin acted with great bravery and coolness, encouraging his officers and soldiers and handling his regiment with great skill to prevent them from partaking of the general panic on the right. But the brigade, was pushed slowly until the rebel cavalry were so close that they were using their revolvers. The very acme of Colonel Millikin's ambition had been to have the regiment make a saber charge, and now the supreme opportunity had arrived." Captain Buck's letter gives his own description of the desperate charge of the 1st Ohio, and the propriety of making it....

Camp of the 1st, O.V.C., Stewart’s Creek, Tennessee
January 30, 1863

Perhaps the report that I was killed might have reached home (as it was reported in Nashville) therefore it would be useless to be writing to a dead man which would be a very good excuse. I believe I promised in my first communication to write you soon again and give you a more detailed account of the work of the 1st Ohio before Murfreesboro on the 31st of December. Although you may have seen several versions of that day’s strife, I will proceed nevertheless to give mine according to promise, and as near “on the square” as I am capable of doing.

As I was not well at the time the regiment marched out from Nashville, I did not join the company until the 30th, arriving just in time to take part in a skirmish that evening which was kept up until dark when we went temporarily into camp, for it was necessary to be on the alert until daylight when we were again in the saddle and in line of battle ready for work which now had just begun close by us. The first intimation we had of anything wrong was by a few panic-stricken infantry rushing through our column as we were just moving across a little ravine. On asking one what was the matter, he replied that “they had been surprised and Johnson’s whole division was cut all to the devil, batteries all captured, etc.”
Unknown private of 1st Ohio Cavalry

As we moved on a little further it was quite evident that the man had told the truth for now could be seen infantry and artillery with horses and caissons breaking in great confusion. Not yet realizing what had occurred, the cavalry kept moving forward until coming into a pasture field, a shell dropped among us, then another, killing Major Moore of our regiment, and wounding two privates. We were now formed into line when the Rebel cavalry undertook to charge us, but a volley from our carbines checked them up. Then they discharged their pieces at us and wavered a moment, until another volley from our boys sent them back down under the hill out of sight. Then could be seen numerous horses without riders running in all directions. It was here that John Lambert of Co. H was slightly wounded in the arm, but it is now well and he is doing duty.

Now came those infernal shells again and we were ordered to move, this time a little faster than before as they are pursuing us closely with their infantry, artillery, and cavalry, and will soon have us surrounded. There come several lines of infantry charging and cheering right toward us. We think at first they are our own men, but on pressing near one of their flanks, they soon convince us to the contrary by sending a few leaden missiles over among us, which caused us to change our direction a little. But on we go in perfect order with skirmishers out in rear to keep them in check as much as possible, and their artillery continuing to drop very often among us, but without doing much damage except to horseflesh. By this time, there began to be evident signs of a regular stampede which, if not checked, which I have no doubt our Colonel saw, and therefore ordered the 1st Ohio to charge without orders from anyone else.
From the regimental history, a depiction of the charge at Stones River by Sergeant Nathan Finegan of Co D- regimental records indicate that my ancestor James Morrow was present with the regiment at Stones River and participated in this charge. "Colonel Millikin, sending word to the commanders of the other regiments of the brigade to support his regiment in a charge, wheeled his regiment by fours to the rear giving the command, "Draw saber." There was no time to tighten girths or to look after the condition of revolvers, but tightening the reins on his noble bay "Archie" and raising in his stirrups, gave the command, "Charge!" which was repeated to right and left along the line. "With sharp ring of bugle the sabers all clank, And the spurs are pressed to each horse's hot flank. Commending their souls to God, they charged home." Dashing forward under the spur, with a cheer they followed their brave and peerless leader to his death in that awful carnage."
William L. Curry wrote, "The ground will be recognized by every member of the regiment who participated in the charge or who may have examined the ground afterwards. The house used as a Confederate hospital is on the left, with the infantry battle line and battery in the distance, and is very realistic and life-like. The charging columns have just met in the shock, and are shown in the noise, confusion and struggle of the melee that follows, and in which the revolver and saber play a prominent part. The artist has avoided that great error, so usual in pictures, representing cavalry charges of straight lines, horses' heads all erect and troopers all in the same position in their saddles, which looks well on paper, but is far from being true to life. What adds so much to the value of the picture is the fact that it was drawn on the ground only a few days after the battle under the direction of some of the officers of the regiment. It represents the true cavalry melee in which horse and rider are in all kinds of positions in the supreme moment of the cavalryman's highest ambition."

We were yet moving at a rapid pace when the command was given, “Fours left about-draw saber,” which was responded to unanimously and in good order while not more than 100 yards from us was a long line of Rebel cavalry popping away at us as though they didn’t care if they hit somebody. But now the command “Charge” was given, and the boys went in with a yell, the Colonel leading. After charging and driving their first line several hundred yards, we came to another line to our right, drawn up at nearly right angles, which gave us a crossfire as we passed them, but being on rather lower ground than they were, I think they must have shot over us, particularly Co. H as we were on the right and nearest to them. They now began to close in around us when all saw at a glance that we had to cut our way out or be taken prisoners, so all, except those who had already surrendered, now took the chances of being shot in the back rather than surrender as prisoners of war. Your humble servant was among the latter, and by the good use of spurs and pistols, escaped without even a scratch; but I am perfectly satisfied that I had not some bullet holes through me when I had made an examination. 
Colonel Minor Millikin, 1st Ohio Cavalry

In this affair, Colonel Minor Millikin and Lieutenant Condit and two privates were killed; Lieutenant Scott and several privates were wounded and 40 or 50 taken prisoners. The Colonel, overanxious to distinguish himself in this war, probably acted in this affair without proper discretion, but he was nevertheless a brave man and exhibited more coolness and presence of mind than any other cavalry commander on the ground. I heard him several times complaining that he could get no orders from his superior officers.

By this time, the Rebels had possession of a portion of our wagon train and were in the act of running it off, when the 4th U.S. Cavalry, with what few of the 1st Ohio had recovered from the first charge, made another and more successful charge, recapturing most of our men, together with the train and several of the enemy. But five of my company are still missing. George and Jacob Hulse, Joel Harris, Calvin Webber, and George Feeley. I learned by one of those that was retaken that Joel Harris was wounded but taken away with the others. I have not been able to get any further information in regard to them since. Nothing more of importance occurred to our regiment during this day. But in connection with this tragic affair were some laughable scenes enacted, one of which I must relate as a closing scene. The principal actor was one of Co. H, and three others whom we will call Reb, Secesh, and Ranger, who were all in pursuit of John and seemed bent on capturing him alive if possible. But John, being mounted on his favorite animal of whose speed he had frequently boasted, was going at railroad speed, closely followed by Secesh, Ranger, and Reb, all approaching a high fence on the other side of which was a sleek green field, which John determined to make by jumping the fence. This he accomplished, but unfortunately in so doing his saddle turned and went under; but John, ever mindful of his duty and military bearing, still retained his seat not in the saddle, but on the horse’s back without ever losing his equilibrium or the position of a soldier. Finding out that his pursuers were gaining on him and that a capture was inevitable now (as the saddle was an impediment to the horse’s speed), John concluded to take it afoot; so by an evolution familiar only those of the grand and lofty tumbling order, alighted to his feet just in time to be nabbed by Mr. Secesh, who disarmed him and robbed him of his overcoat and blanket and was in the act of leading him towards Murfreesboro when the timely charge of the 4th U.S. Regulars released him and he is still with us, as hale and hearty as ever. The boys often have a good laugh at John’s expense, by frequent reference to this affair.

After the war, Captain Buck built this house in Hillsborough which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (

For some insight on the family that Colonel Millikin left behind, please check out Melissa Strobel's site:!/2013/12/the-story-of-minor-millikin-and-family.html

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Hardin County Historical Museum

Back in October, I had to opportunity to visit the Hardin County Historical Museum in beautiful Kenton, Ohio. I've wanted to visit Hardin County for a long time having read and enjoyed Wheeler McMillen's book "Ohio Farm" which tells the story of late 19th/early 20th century farm life; McMillen's farm was located near McGuffey. Kenton itself is a bustling county seat but has lots of old buildings and is a delight to visit. The museum, located in the Sullivan-Johnson House at 223 N. Main St., proved to be a nice place to visit and had some interesting Civil War artifacts as well as a large collection of cast iron toys from the Kenton Hardware Co., a famous name in cast iron toys.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Brigadier General James Sidney Robinson
The pre-eminent local Civil War hero, General Robinson served in the 82nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and was wounded at Gettysburg (like Captain Alfred E. Lee) and later was promoted to brigade command with the 20th Corps. Captain Lee served on his staff so naturally I was very interested in the museum's collection of General Robinson's items, which including his spyglasses, epaulets, and saddle.

Another very interesting fact is that Hardin County is the home of two Medal of Honor recipients, including the first soldier awarded the medal, Jacob Parrott of the 33rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Jacob Parrott served as part of Andrew's Raiders. The second individual to receive the medal was Delano Morey of the 82nd Ohio who was awarded the medal for bravery displayed at the Battle of McDowell on May 8, 1862.

Jacob Parrott:
Delano Morey:

The museum has both medals (Parrott's original medal is at West Point) on display in the war room.

Another item that really intrigued me was this hair ring woven from the hair of 65 Civil War soldiers that passed through Kenton in the final year of the war. They have documentation on who these soldiers were, and I must admit that this is the first time I'd ever seen an article quite like this.

This log, cut from a tree that stood between the lines on the battlefield of Antietam, has been in the museum for many years. How it came to arrive in Kenton is something of a mystery, but it was donated to the county relic room in 1915 and now resides at the museum. There is a cannonball embedded in the log, which was later painted with a depiction of the reconciliation of the Union and Confederate soldiers. A neat item, but as I said, something of a mystery.

The day that we visited, the staff was busily engaged in reorganizing the military room (as shown by the ladder) but were very gracious and helpful. The museum far exceeded my expectations and the visit was most pleasant; I even picked up a book written about Jacob Parrott that gave me a great deal more insight into Andrew's Raiders.
Following our visit to the museum, we elected to stop by Grove Cemetery and pay our respects to General Robinson and the two Medal of Honor recipients. It was a rather chilly fall day so we had to place to ourselves. One gravestone that really struck me as an oddity was this one of a soldier from Co. D, 82nd Ohio Infantry named Godfrey Sutermeister with a 3" Ordnance Rifle atop the stone; I'm sure that there's a good story there.


Friday, December 8, 2017

John H. Purvis at the Battle of Stones River

A few months ago, I shared a letter written by Sergeant John H. Purvis of Co. B, 51st Ohio Volunteer Infantry giving his experiences at the Battle of Chickamauga, which included the death of his brother James. Nine months prior to Chickamauga at the Battle of Stones River, then Corporal Purvis was struck four times in rapid succession when his regiment tried to stop Breckinridge's famous late afternoon attack on January 2, 1863 that eventually resulted in the final defeat for the Army of Tennessee at that battle. Below is Purvis' account of that afternoon and what it was like to lie wounded as your enemies overrun your position...
51st Ohio National Colors

Nashville, Tennessee, January 19, 1863

Dear Father:

This is the first opportunity I have had to write to you since the battle of Murfreesboro. On the evening of the 2nd instant, we had a severe engagement on the left where our brigade was stationed. The enemy camp upon is in overwhelming numbers. They came swarming in masses, not in columns, and our ranks melted away before them like snow on a spring morning. We fought desperately, but all was of no avail, and the order was given to retreat. But I did not hear it amid the noise of battle and continued to load and fire until the Rebels were almost upon me. Just as I had brought my gun up to fire the sixth time, a ball struck me on the top of my head, knocking me over on my back, but the wound was not deep and I quickly sprung to my feet, discharged my musket, and loaded again. But the blood streamed over my face and into my eyes so that I could not see. Then I turned around to go behind a tree a short distance off, carrying my gun with me. But no sooner had I reached the tree than a ball entered my left leg just above the ankle. This brought me down to my knees, and just as I fell another rifle ball struck me in the lower part of my bowels, and a buck shot hit me on the left knee but this last did not go very deep. Thus I was wounded in four places and I then thought the wound in my bowels was mortal. I was glad to lie down by the tree, faint from the loss of blood which flowed freely from my head and leg.
The 51st Ohio formed the right flank of the front line of Colonel Samuel W. Price's Third Brigade of Horatio Van Cleve's Third Division of Crittenden's Corps (later the 21st Corps). The 51st was wedged between the rest of the brigade and Stones River which was to their right; Captain John Mendenhall assembled the line of cannon across the river that broke the back of the Confederate assault after it overran Price's position.

On came the enemy with shouts and yells, trampling over me. What my feelings were I leave you to imagine. I cared not so much for myself, though my wounds were frightful; hundreds of my comrades were as badly or worse hurt than I was; but to hear the cursed Rebels shout victory was galling in the extreme.

Their triumph was short-lived, however, for our men soon rallied; reinforcements soon arrived, and 50 pieces of artillery opened on the Rebel masses. The effect was terrific. The heavens seemed rent with the awful volume of sound which burst from those 50 cannon. The forest trees were shattered to splinters and the earth was torn up by the iron storm. The Rebels were hurled back in dismay, hundreds falling to rise no more. All who could escaped- and back they fled in wild confusion, throwing away their guns and everything else they carried and uttering bitter curses in their flight.
Ed Bearss map showing the location of the 51st Ohio along the banks of Stones River. The regiment was struck by the veteran Kentuckians of General Roger W. Hanson's Orphan Brigade.

It did my heart good to see them run, closely pursued by our men. I raised up on my knees and hurrahed with all my strength for the old flag- the glorious stars and stripes. I saw the Rebel banner and its bearer fall into our hands. (This would have been the flag of the 26th Tennessee Infantry that was captured by a soldier in the 78th Pennsylvania- Ed. note)  But all this time I was between two fires-ours and the enemy’s. The balls rained thickly around me and I have often wondered since that I was not killed.

Was this one of the men who shot Corporal Purvis?
It might have been...
Sergeant Sidney Reed, Co. A,
2nd Kentucky Infantry, C.S.A.

As soon as the Rebels were driven back, and our men passed me in pursuit, I thought it was time for me to try and get off the field, as it was getting dark. I stripped off my accoutrements and crawled down to the river where two kind hearted soldiers of the 11th Michigan found me and carried me across the river to a house where my wounds were dressed. Here my brother James found me and took me in his ambulance to the general hospital of our division. My wounds were again examined. The balls were still in my leg and bowels and the surgeon tried to take them out, but could not, and they are in yet. However, I am doing finely; much better than I expected and am in a fair way to recover. I may, however, be lamed for life as the large sinew in my left heel is cut. I was brought to Nashville a few days since and will soon be sent to Louisville or Cincinnati.

Your affectionate son,

John H. Purvis
Tuscarawas Advocate, February 6, 1863, pg. 2

This image shows Mendenhall's artillery position from near where Corporal Purvis lay wounded.
News item:

The following soldiers of the 51st Ohio wounded at the battle of Murfreesboro were brought from Nashville to hospitals in Cincinnati on the 12th instant: Private John Long (Co. C), Private George Meese (Co. G), First Sergeant Andrew George Wood (Co. B), Corporal James K. Ecksline (Co. B), Private Wesley Poland (Co. A), Private Thomas Huston (Co. B), William Sugle, Sergeant John H. Purvis (Co. B), Private Thomas Elliott (Co. I), Private William Welch (Co. F, died of wounds February 14, 1863), W.L. Ritterly, Private Jacob Gross (Co. E), Private Samuel Thomas Hilton (Co. E), Corporal Reuben B. Whitaker (Co. H), Samuel Thompson, Private John Ginther (Co. B), L. Courtright, Private Alexander Berlin (Co. A, died of wounds March 15, 1863), Private William Moore (Co. A), Private John Plotts (Co. A), H. Covant, John Reefer, and W.P. Gortman.

Tuscarawas Advocate, February 20, 1863, pg. 3

No. 163 Report of Lieutenant Colonel Richard W. McClain, 51st Ohio Volunteer Infantry
HDQRS. FIFTY-FIRST REGIMENT OHIO VOLUNTEER INFANTRY, Camp near Murfreesboro, Tenn., January --, 1863

COLONEL: I have the honor to make the following report of the operations of the 51st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry in front of Murfreesboro during the late engagement:

On our arrival at Stone's River, on Monday evening, December 29, 1862, my regiment was ordered on picket duty, to take post to the left of the pickets of General Wood's division, where we remained until Wednesday morning, December 31, when we received orders to rejoin our brigade, which was then en route for the purpose of crossing Stone's River. After we had crossed over, the 51st was assigned its position in the center of the first line of battle; the 8th Kentucky on our right, and the 35th Indiana Infantry on our left. We had not been in line of battle over half an hour, when I received orders to recross the river and take position opposite the ford, where we remained until 1 p. m., when the enemy's cavalry, with two pieces of artillery, made a dash at our hospital wagons, which had not yet recrossed. Thereupon the 51st was ordered to change position some 40 paces to the rear, in order to open the way for one of our batteries to open fire upon the enemy. We remained in that position until 3 p. m. The enemy's shot commenced falling among us, and we were again ordered to change our position about 100 yards to the rear, and out of range of the enemy's battery, where we remained during the night.

On Thursday morning, January 1, at 5.30 o'clock, I received orders from Colonel Samuel Beatty, then commanding the Third Division, "to take the 51st Ohio and throw it across Stone's River immediately; then to deploy four companies as skirmishers, holding the remaining six companies as a 'reserve;'" adding at the same time, "move your regiment forward," and he would throw additional forces to support me, and, if possible, to accomplish this before it was clearly light, which was done. Our line of skirmishers had not advanced far before a spirited fire was opened between them and the enemy's line of skirmishers. In a few minutes I received orders to "halt the line of skirmishers and not bring on an engagement," which I did.
Colonel Samuel W. Price, commanding the Third Brigade, Third Division, Left Wing

The six companies of reserve were then ordered to take position on the eminence on the right of the first line of battle, my right resting near Stone's River, while the 8th Kentucky and 35th Indiana formed on our left. We immediately discovered a battery of the enemy about 1,200 yards in our front, which I reported to Colonel Beatty, who sent a battery to the front, posting two pieces to my right and four pieces to the left of the first line. Our battery then opened fire on the enemy, consisting of artillery, cavalry, and infantry, who were posted in the edge of the woods in front of us, the enemy feebly replying with their artillery, their sharpshooters at the same time keeping up a brisk fire on our line of skirmishers all day. Thus passed Thursday. In the evening the four companies that were skirmishing were relieved and formed with the regiment, where we lay that night on our arms.

On Friday morning, at daybreak, the enemy's sharpshooters opened on us with increased vigor. Two companies of the 51st were then sent to relieve the front line of skirmishers. At about 12 m. the enemy changed the position of their battery to the left of our front, and opened a heavy fire on us at this elevated point, and, having got range of the two pieces of artillery posted where we were stationed, our pieces had to be withdrawn a short distance to the rear. The enemy's line of skirmishers was then strengthened, and drove our skirmishers back a short distance, and gained possession of some buildings which our skirmishers were unable to hold. Our line then rallied, drove the enemy from the buildings, who set them on fire before leaving them.

Between the hours of 1 and 2 p. m. we could distinctly see in the distance large bodies of infantry forming in our front and moving to our left, accompanied by artillery and cavalry. I immediately notified the proper officers of the movements of the enemy. Soon thereafter we saw large bodies of infantry forming in our front in line of battle, and moving toward us. They advanced to within between 600 and 800 yards of our front and halted, and commenced throwing down a line of fence running parallel to our line. I immediately directed Adjutant William Nicholas to report the fact, and he informed Major Lyne Starling of the enemy's movements, as well as the brigade and division commanders that the enemy were in the act of attacking us. The enemy's artillery was playing on us up to this time, when it ceased, and their line of battle immediately advanced, their center moving steadily, while their left was thrown around to Stone's River. After advancing in this manner to within 200 yards of our front, they set up a most hideous yell, and charged upon us in two lines of battle, closed in mass, while their skirmishers rallied to their left.
General Roger W. Hanson was mortally wounded
leading his Orphan Brigade in their
desperate attack at Stones River.

At this period the eight companies of the 51st were lying down, with bayonets fixed, being partially protected by a depression of the ground, the two companies of skirmishers still disputing the advance of the enemy's left, which was in advance of their center, and moving more rapidly, in order to get between us and the river, to outflank us. When their line arrived within 60 yards of our front, so that we could plainly see their breasts, I gave the command to rise and fire, which was done, the enemy at the same time opening a terrific fire upon us; their front line, using revolving rifles, kept up a continuous fire, and advancing. Being pressed heavily, and our right forced back and outflanked, the artillery having been withdrawn previous to the charge, we were compelled to fall back and cross the river, where I rallied portions of the regiment under cover of our artillery, then recrossed the river, and advanced with our colors and assisted in driving the enemy beyond our first position, capturing one piece of artillery belonging to the Washington Battery, our colors being the first to wave over the gun. It being dark, and the enemy driven from the field, we were ordered to seek quarters for the night.

The following is a list of the killed, wounded, and missing in the regiment during the engagement: Killed, 24; wounded, 122; missing, 44.

Total, 190.

The following is a list of those especially noted for gallantry and ungallantry:

For gallant conduct: Sergeants Thomas Rodgers (Company C, color-bearer) and William O. Barnes, Company H; Privates Jesse T. Beachler, Company A; Private Marcellus Morgan, Private John G. Fox, and Private John Hilliker, Company F; Private Nathaniel Jones and Musician Theophilus Phillips, Company H, and Private Nathan A. Carpenter, Company I.

For ungallantry: First Sergeant William A. Himes, Company A; Privates Jacob Lenhart and Private Martin Hart, Company F.

Great praise is due both officers and soldiers for the manner in which they sustained the first charge of the enemy, and, although compelled to fall back, being pressed by superior numbers, still greater praise is due them for rallying with the advance, and assisting to drive the enemy from the field.
I am, colonel, your obedient servant,

Richard W. McCLAIN,

Lieutenant-Colonel, Commanding 51st Regiment Ohio Vol. Infantry


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Standing like pillars of adamant: the 61st Ohio at Freeman's Ford

The Battle of Freeman’s Ford, Virginia was fought August 22, 1862 along the banks of the Rappahannock River in one of the opening thrusts of the campaign which culminated with the Second Battle of Bull Run. Stonewall Jackson was busily working his way along the south bank of the Rappahannock in an attempt to get around the right flank of General John Pope’s Army of Virginia when scouts reported the movement to General Franz Sigel. Sigel directed divisional commander Carl Schurz to reconnoiter across the river to determine the enemy’s strength, and if possible, to disrupt the movement of Confederate forces.
Major General Carl Schurz

“I selected Colonel Schimmelpfennig’s 74th Pennsylvania,” wrote General Schurz. “Schimmelpfennig forthwith forded the river, the water reaching up to the belts of the men, ascended the rising open field on the other side, crossed a belt of timber on top of it and saw a large wagon train of the enemy moving northward apparently unguarded. He promptly captured eleven heavily-loaded pack mules and several infantrymen, and also observed troops marching not far off. His booty he sent to me, with the request that the other two regiments of the brigade be thrown across to support him if he were to do anything further, and to secure his retreat in case the enemy should try to get between him and the river.”

Schurz had the two remaining regiments of General Henry Bohlen’s brigade at hand at Freeman’s Ford (the 8th West Virginia and 61st Ohio) and sent them over to reinforce Schimmelpfennig’s line. “Although in the regular order of things I was not required as commander of the division to accompany the brigade in person, I followed an instinctive impulse to do so, this being my first opportunity to be with the troops of my command under fire. I placed a mountain howitzer battery on an eminence to sweep the open field and the roads on the other side in case of necessity and then I crossed with some members of my staff,” wrote Schurz.

Earlier that morning, General Schurz had honored the 61st Ohio by presenting the regiment with the divisional colors. “While yet four miles distant from the battleground, General Schurz presented the 61st Ohio with his divisional colors and said he hoped we would do them honor,” remembered Private Samuel Rau of Company D. “We proudly took them, and gave three hearty cheers as the ample folds of the good old flag were unfurled over our heads.” Colonel Newton Schleich entrusted the colors to Sergeant William Kirkwood of Company C. “The Colonel called for me and told me that he assigned to me the part of honor, and that I must never let these colors fall,” wrote Kirkwood. “I promised him they never should until I fell with them. The Colonel then called on the boys to never disgrace him, their regiment, or their colors.” The regiment soon had ample opportunity to win their laurels.
Colonel Newton Schleich, 61st OVI

Private Rau continues the story. “The Rappahannock is fordable at this point. We were however obliged to wade through the water and mud almost waist deep and protected our guns and ammunitions from the wet by holding them at arms’ length and over our heads. After emerging from the water we were obliged to climb a steep, shrub-covered embankment in order to gain the level meadow above. Upon gaining the level space beyond the river, we formed into platoons and slowly proceeded to the edge of a wood on a gently sloping hill and halted.”

Crossing the Rappahannock at the head of its regiment as it entered its first fight, Colonel Schleich soon disappeared. Lieutenant Colonel Stephen J. McGroarty reported that the colonel, “shortly after the opening of the fight, could not be found, and the regiment, being without a head, was led on by Captain Koenig of General Schurz’s staff and myself.” Colonel Schleich was not alone; several weeks later McGroarty reported in his official after action report of the campaign that the colonel and seven lieutenants were also “unaccountably absent since the skirmish at Freeman’s Ford. I hope, general, that you will find it convenient to inquire into the reason of the absence and general conduct of the named officers.” General Schimmelpfenning did so inquire, and by mid-October 1862, Schleich and all seven lieutenants had either been discharged or had resigned their commissions.
Colonel (later Brigadier General) Alexander Schimmelpfennig, 74th Pennsylvania Infantry

While some of the officers sloughed off into the brush, the remainder of the regiment stood their ground. Private Rau wrote that “we were only a few minutes in the woods until our skirmishers commenced a brisk fire, and soon after were forced to fall back upon us for support. The enemy at first tried to draw us into an ambush, but finding that General Sigel would not bite at the bait, set in upon us with the ferocity of devils incarnate.”
The "devils incarnate" that gave the 61st Ohio the most trouble at Freeman's Ford was the three regiments of General Isaac R. Trimble's brigade. The "tail end Charlie" of Jackson's column, Trimble was tasked with defending the wagon train and his regiments were the first on the scene to confront the 74th Pennsylvania. Trimble bided his time until reinforcements from the head of Longstreet's column (two brigades from John Bell Hood's division) approached late in the afternoon. Trimble then sent two of his regiments off through the woods to strike the Union right flank and made a hard push with the 21st North Carolina. His attack was quite successful; the 8th West Virginia bolted at the first shot and the 74th Pennsylvania was not long in following. In his after action report, Trimble gave scant credit to any of Hood's men for the success at Freeman's Ford, claiming the victory belonged solely to his troops.

“Colonel Schimmelpfennig’s foresight in asking for help proved well founded,” averred General Schurz. “When he proceeded to subject the Rebel wagon train to further annoyance, Trimble’s brigade of Stonewall Jackson’s rear guard suddenly turned about and fell on our right flank, and the two regiments brought to Schimmelpfennig’s aid were at once hotly engaged.” Private Joseph C. Lowe of Co. C of the 61st Ohio stated that the skirmishers “had been out but a few moments when firing became general between them and the enemy, and in less time than I am taking to describe the scene which occurred, the skirmishers came rushing in, firing as they ran, hotly pursued by more than ten times their number. We no sooner discovered this than a line of battle was formed by our brigade in front of the woods on the south side, while the enemy was steadily advancing in front with several whole brigades, firing into our ranks as they advanced, and we, standing like pillars of adamant, not daring to fire for fear of cutting down our own men (the skirmishers) between us and the enemy. No sooner had the skirmishers entered within our own lines than we discharged a volley into the enemy’s ranks and fell back a few steps to the edge of the woods and loaded, preparatory to a second volley, when the 8th West Virginia and 74th Pennsylvania retreated.”
The hard charging Texans of General John Bell Hood's division suffered a total of 10 casualties, all wounded, at Freeman's Ford. Hood had a healthy respect for the plentiful Union artillery on the north bank and after driving Bohlen's brigade across the river, he halted and pulled his men back to safer ground. Law's Brigade suffered no casualties at Freeman's Ford.

Schurz reported that the Confederate assault “was fierce, and my 8th West Virginia broke and ran. My first service on the battlefield thus consisted in stopping and rallying broken troops, which I and my staff officers did with drawn swords and lively language.” (Schurz would unfortunately gain much experience in this activity, being with the 11th Corps at both Chancellorsville and Gettysburg). The men of the 61st Ohio watched in disbelief as first their skirmishers then entire regiments started to bolt from the field. “The Rebels came out in swarms, the 8th West Virginia ran and never rallied until they got across the river, and the 74th Pennsylvania ran right through our line of battle but we stood our ground like men,” wrote Sergeant Kirkwood with understandable pride.
Battle of Freeman's Ford overlaid on modern satellite image of the battlefield. Companies A and I of the 61st Ohio were sent out as skirmishers and came racing back for the main line when Confederate General Isaac Trimble launched his assault, backed up by the famous Texas Brigade and Evander Law's brigade. The rout of the 8th West Virginia left the 61st Ohio vulnerable on their right flank, while the retreat of the 74th Pennsylvania left them alone against three Confederate brigades and nearly surrounded. (Author's work)

The 61st Ohio was soon hemmed in by Confederate infantry in their front and on both flanks. Private Lowe wrote that “the third time our boys rallied and discharged another volley, when another brigade was discovered on our right flank, firing into our ranks as they advanced. Thus we were almost entirely hemmed in, the enemy being in front and on the right and left flank, and a muddy dirty river in our rear. As soon as this was discovered, we were ordered to fall back; the flight and the pursuit then became general. Our men ran down the hill and plunged into the river at whatever point they happened first to make, some swimming, others running the best way they could, and others trudging through the mud, the enemy’s balls falling in the river and on the opposite bank for which our troops were making, like hail in a violent storm. It is certainly providential and appears almost miraculous that so many of us escaped.”

Battle of Freeman's Ford

Sergeant Kirkwood was wounded twice while retreating toward the ford. “I was hit across the head and fell; I gathered myself up and was then struck across the knee cap which came near knocking it off. The colonel then ordered me to be taken to the rear; as I was leaving, they made the third and last rally. I gave the flag to a brave little corporal on my right as I left but he was soon knocked over, but another one of the color guards picked up the flag and brought it across the river safe.”

“The ‘butternut devils’ fought with desperation,” commented Private Rau who was wounded in the leg during the retreat. “Many of them were without coats or hats and look it ala-Bull Run. They pursued us to the water’s edge and many of our brave fellows perished in the river, being obliged to cross below the ferry where the water was too deep to be waded, and where the enemy was playing with musketry. The engagement lasted about an hour, but was most terrific for the numbers engaged.”

Brigadier General Henry Bohlen died along the
banks of the Rappahannock amidst the retreating
61st Ohio. "Boys, I am dead, but go on and fight!" he
reportedly said before he died. The Confederates
retrieved the body, misidentifying him as a colonel.

Sergeant Kirkwood witnessed the death of General Bohlen along the river bank. “As I was leaving the field, our general (Henry Bohlen) was shot within 30 feet of me and his horse came near running over the boys that were helping me from the field. Lieutenant Milton W. Junkins, who is a brave little fellow, was knocked down the bank of the river by a smearcase Dutchman belonging to the 74th Pennsylvania; (this regiment had) rallied on the river bank and were pouring a galling fire into our regiment as we were retreating down the hill.” Private Rau also witnessed the death of General Bohlen, stating that “as he fell, he exclaimed, ‘Boys, I am dead, but go on and fight!”

“Many of us were saved by the timely energy of Schenk’s and Milroy’s men on this side of the river who, as soon as our men were supposed to have arrived, covered our retreat by a galling fire upon the enemy who had followed us to the water’s edge,” wrote Private Lowe. “I myself had plunged in the river at the first place I came and after swimming perhaps some 20 feet found that my haversack, canteen, cartridge box with 50 rounds, and heavy clothing were weighing me down in deep water, when I made my way back to the shore, and laid there in the mud under the bank until the fire on both sides, which continued for the space of half an hour over my head, had ceased, and the enemy had retreated.”

General Schurz stated that “when our regiments were out of the woods, they went down the field to the river at a somewhat accelerated pace. Forthwith our artillery opened to keep the enemy from venturing into the open, but they pushed a skirmish line to the edge of the woods to send their musket balls after us. General Bohlen fell dead from his horse, shot through the heart. I thought it would not do for the division commander and his staff officers to retreat in full view of his command at a gait faster than a walk. So we moved down to the river in a leisurely way. I did not cross the ford until my regiments were all on the other side. When I rode up the bank, the brigade drawn up there in line received me with a ringing cheer. I met General Sigel, who watched the whole operation. His first word was “Where is your hat?” I answered, “It must be somewhere in the woods yonder. Whether it was knocked from my head by a Rebel bullet or the branch of a tree, I don’t know. But let us say a Rebel bullet. It sounds better.” We had a merry laugh. “Well,” said Sigel, “I am glad you are here again. When I saw you coming down that field at a walk under the fire from the woods, I feared to see you drop at any moment.”
Corps commander Franz Sigel met General Schurz
and his staff after they retreated safely across the
Rappahannock. His first words to Schurz were
"Where is your hat?"
“This Freeman’s Ford fight amounted to very little as it was,” wrote Schurz. “But it might have been of importance had it been followed up by a vigorous push of our forces assembled at and near Freeman’s Ford to break into the Rebel column of march just at the point where Jackson’s wagon train passed along and only his rearguard and Longstreet’s vanguard were within supporting distance.”

That evening, Private Rau was loaded in an ambulance and set out for Washington. “Late in the evening of the day of battle, we left for Rappahannock Station with sixteen ambulances full of wounded, and from thence on Saturday morning for Alexandria, where we arrived at 4 o’clock Sunday morning. Washington and Alexandria are literally filled with sick and wounded. Private houses, churches, and even parts of the Capitol building are being converted into hospitals. Everything is excitement and bustle.”

Freeman’s Ford was a battle of beginnings and endings for both the 61st Ohio and for General Carl Schurz. For the regiment and the general, it was the first exposure to the rigors of combat, and both would see much more of it before the war would come to a close. The 61st Ohio gained a reputation for its steadiness under fire at Freeman’s Ford. Whitelaw Reid wrote that the 61st Ohio “was always a reliable regiment and was ever found where duty called it. Its losses by the casualties of the field were so numerous that at the close of its service a little band of only about 60 men and officers remained to answer it last roll call.” Sergeant Kirkwood offered that Freeman’s Ford “will never be forgotten by any of us, for we may get into 50 fights before we get through and never get into as hot a place as we did that day.”
Lieutenant Colonel Stephen J. McGroarty led the 61st Ohio at Freeman's Ford after Colonel Schleich went "unaccountably absent." He would lead the regiment for the rest of the war.
But the battle also proved to be the beginning of the end of Colonel Newton Schleich. He rode across the Rappanhannock with the regiment into the engagement but then unaccountably disappeared for the remainder of the battle, and for several days afterwards could not be found. Having charged Sergeant Kirkwood with never disgracing the regiment, Schleich’s actions during and after the battle became subject to wide comment with the opinions being that Schleich was either a drunk or a coward.

In his post entitled “A Tremendous Little Man” featured on Emerging Civil War on August 30th of this year (see: Jon-Erik Gilot opined that Schleich was “arguably one of the worst political generals produced by the state of Ohio during the Civil War” and it is hard to disagree with that assessment. With rumors swirling that he had been either drunk or a coward at Freeman’s Ford (as well as charges of negligence and outright desertion) and finding his regiment again under the command of his old nemesis George B. McClellan, Schleich offered his resignation on September 20, 1862 which was accepted a few days later.

Letter from a member of Co. B, 74th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry published in the September 9, 1862 issue of the  Pittsburgher Volksblatt describing the fight at Freeman's Ford.