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.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Opening the Cracker Line- Battle of Wauhatchie with Alfred E. Lee

This week is a sneak preview of my upcoming book entitled Alfred E. Lee's Civil War due out January 29, 2018 through Columbian Arsenal Press.

Capt. Alfred E. Lee, Co. E, 82nd O.V.I.

Alfred Emory Lee was a 23 year old graduate student (and budding attorney) at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio when he chose to help recruit for Company I of the 82nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Lee was elected first lieutenant and saw action with his regiment at McDowell, Cross Keys, the Virginia campaign (Cedar Mountain and Freeman's Ford), and Second Bull Run before being promoted to captain and transferred to Company E in the fall of 1862. The 82nd Ohio was attached a divisional provost guard for the 3rd Division (Schurz) XI Corps during the Chancellorsville campaign and took part in resisting Jackson's flank attack on May 2nd (Lee's account of that action is phenomenal and is in the upcoming book). After Chancellorsville, the 82nd Ohio was placed in Wladimir Krzyzanowski's brigade of the 3rd Division XI Corps and took very heavy casualties on the first day of Gettysburg. Captain Lee was wounded badly in the hip on the retreat, was captured by the Confederates, and witnessed the death of his close friend Adjutant Stowel L. Burnham that night.

Lee was initially reported among the killed and returned to Delaware amid great surprise about two weeks after the battle and set about recruiting his health. In late September 1863, amid rumblings that a portion of the eastern army was moving into action, Lee traveled back east to rejoin his regiment but Army doctors determined that he was not yet fit for duty and sent him to the general hospital at Annapolis, Maryland. Lee chafed at being in the hospital while his regiment was on the move, and secured his release after a two week stay and went west to catch up with the regiment which was now camped near Bridgeport, Alabama.
Headquarters flag of Gen. O.O. Howard, XI Corps

Following the defeat of the Army of the Cumberland at the Battle of Chickamauga, it was determined to send two corps from the Army of the Potomac (the XI and XII) to the western theater to reinforce Rosecrans' beleaguered army holed up in Chattanooga. Rosecrans' men were in a real fix as the Confederate Army under Braxton Bragg had Chattanooga under a state of siege- supplies came in at a trickle over a very tenuous supply line and the first order of business was to reopen a more secure supply line from Bridgeport to Chattanooga along the Tennessee River. The job of "opening the cracker line" was the soldiers referred to it fell to some of the newly arrived troops from the XI Corps, including the 82nd Ohio.

Lee's account below describes his regiment's role in this vital operation and also describes the resulting Battle of Wauhatchie. Longstreet's troops struck Geary's Division hard at Wauhatchie station, and Schurz's division of the XI Corps was sent out on a march in the middle of the night to relieve them. The 82nd Ohio was part of the First Brigade under Brigadier General G. Hector Tyndale (see my blog post from June regarding Tyndale's experiences at the Battle of Antietam: )
The First Brigadier consisted of the 101st Illinois, 45th and 143rd New York, and 61st and 82nd Ohio regiments.

A few days after the Battle of Wauhatchie, General Tyndale was inspecting the brigade lines at night and met Captain Lee for the first time. Tyndale was impressed with Lee, and was perhaps doubly impressed when he saw that Lee was hobbling around from his gunshot wound at Gettysburg yet was in the field doing duty. Tyndale had sustained a bad head wound at Antietam that still gave him great trouble, and no doubt appreciated Lee's evident devotion to duty that kept him in the field through the pain. Upon his return to headquarters, Tyndale promoted Lee to a position as assistant adjutant general on his staff, and Lee would serve for the remainder of the war in that capacity.
Brigadier General G. Hector Tyndale
First Bde., Third Division, XI Corps

Headquarters, 82nd Ohio Vols., Lookout Valley, Tennessee

November 12, 1863

On the morning of the 27th of October, the 11th Corps followed by Geary’s division of the 12th Corps, commenced its march up the left bank of the Tennessee towards Chattanooga. Thus was inaugurated as the sequel has proved one of the boldest, most successful and important movements of the war. The brave Army of the Cumberland was starving. New communications must be opened for it, or within five days’ time it must be brought to the painful necessity of a disastrous retreat. Upon the veterans of the Potomac devolved the vast responsibility of seizing by one bold sudden stroke the mountain bulwarks that range along the south bank of the Tennessee River, of making that beautiful stream a highway for Union navigation and or rendering Chattanooga the eagle’s nest- the impregnable stronghold of freedom.

The first day’s march was accomplished without special incident and we encamped at night among the mountain defiles, resting our weary limbs beside a swift little stream denominated Running Water. Next morning we had slung knapsacks and were again pursuing our march before old Sol had bestowed his morning kiss upon the gray, angry brow of Lookout Mountain. Signs of the desolation of war began to present themselves in deserted homes, burned railroad bridges and weedy untilled fields. From straggling citizens we learned that a small Rebel force had picketed the road the night before and had leisurely retired before the advance guard, yet there were no emphatic signs of resistance until 10 A.M. when we began to hear the ominous thunder of artillery far in the advance. Some incredulous ones said it was accidental thumping on a drum but more practiced and veteran ears detected its real meaning as easily as the schooled hunter interprets the distant rumbling made by a galloping herd of bison.

The Rebels were shelling our passing columns from Point Lookout. This towering mountain spur is the abrupt termination of the Lookout range, and it lifts its rocky crest 2,400 feet above sea level, directly in front of Chattanooga. Near the top it is permeated by a large stratum of rock 50 feet in thickness, the faces of which are perpendicular thus rendering a direct assault next to impossible. Upon the very pinnacle of this crag the Rebels have managed to plant a battery of light guns. The road along which we were compelled to pass led us under the fire of this battery for about one mile. There was no chance of replying and our nerve and grit was fairly tested by the merciless nuggets of iron that came shrieking down upon us like howling demons.
Major General Joseph Hooker. Relieved on the cusp of the Battle of Gettysburg, Hooker was chosen to lead the XI and XII Corps west and was determined to redeem his reputation in his new assignment. He started off on the wrong foot with General Grant, and had a frosty relationship with Gen. Sherman once Sherman took command of the Military Division of the Mississippi in early 1864. After being passed over for command of the Army of the Tennessee in the wake of Gen. McPherson's death, Hooker asked to be relieved of command, which Sherman was only too happy to oblige. Regardless, Hooker had gained Captain Lee's respect and Lee viewed Hooker as his beau ideal of a soldier.

We marched at quick time and most of the men kept their places well though the jagged pieces of exploded shells tore up the ground and rattled among trees, houses, and fences like iron hail. But why should the heroes of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville shrink at this? Had they not faced a hundred times worse on dozens of immortal fields? Rapidly but firmly moved the column almost entirely unshaken, though now and then a blood-bespattered artillery horse or a ragged indentation in the soil pointed out the danger they were passing.

Very few casualties occurred in passing this Rebel blockade. Emerging from the thick woods that skirted the road into the open fields we saw standing upon the summits of a series of heights on our right, groups of darkly clad men whom we knew to be soldiers but were they Rebels? No, for there in the clear air of the evening was the glorious old flag of the Union waving us welcome. Then came such volleys of shouts as made the welkin ring and the mountains echo. Shouts such as we heard come only from the throats of freemen. Then the bands struck up "Hail Columbia" and other airs that must have brought sad reminiscences to many a Rebel heart. The Army of the Potomac had greeted the Army of the Cumberland. There are episodes in the life of a soldier which are worth a century’s enjoyment of luxurious pleasure. Such was the one I have just described.

Encampment of Tyndale's Bde. at Wauhatchie

We now encamped for the night but just as our minds were beginning to soothe tired nature with fancy pictures of home and dreamland, we were aroused by heavy and continuous volleys of musketry in the direction from which we had come. Longstreet’s Rebels were trying to pounce upon our trains and intercept Geary. Our men fell shivering into line for the night was bitter cold and the moon shone too brightly and the stars twinkled too merrily for such a scene. Tyndale’s brigade of the Third Division, 11th Corps was ordered to the front on the double quick. The enemy had occupied a series of precipitous wooden heights on our left and we were completely ambushed by the dark shadows of the timber. They saw our columns passing in the moonlight and fired on us. The bullets rattled, whizzed, and spattered in their old familiar way, some going too high, some too low, and others here and there striking a soldier.  
Arriving at the base of the wooded heights, two companies of the 82nd, by the personal direction of General Hooker, were ordered to reconnoiter them. Deploying as skirmishers, we began to advance cautiously. We could hear the rebels far above us and expected warm work. But they fled hastily before us, not even firing until at a safe distance. Our skirmishers advanced to the crest of the mountain, the Rebels giving way before us, scampering through the bushes like frightened rabbits. We remained in our position until daybreak, looking down on rebel camps and listening to Rebel conversations and commands. While these things were going on in Schurz’s division, Von Steinwehr’s men had made several successive assaults upon another height on our left and after repeated and most brilliant charges had carried it. In this gallant affair I regret to say that Captain Buchwalter, one of the most brave and patriotic hearts that beat, ceased to beat upon the field of the Wauhatchie; he was mortally wounded but his life’s sun has set in the immortal glory which will forever crown the death of those who in this war have given up their lives to sustain the cause of justice and republican freedom. 
Major General Carl Schurz led the Third Division, XI Corps
through the Chattanooga and Knoxville campaigns. After the war,
General Schurz was editor of the Detroit Daily Post and offered
Captain Lee a position on the editorial staff.

Von Steinwehr had no sooner won these fresh laurels for his brave division when General Geary’s men put to rout greatly superior numbers and established his communication with us. Our victory was thus complete, the communication opened, Chattanooga saved, and the battle scarred and much-abused soldiers of the Peninsula, of Chancellorsville, of Cross Keys, and Fredericksburg were vindicated upon a western field. Such was the Battle of the Wauhatchie, and while I do not desire to indulge in self-praise or make individual distinction, let me say that the scandalous and foolish tongues those who sit by their firesides, planning campaigns and criticizing generals and who have no more idea of the real vastness of this war or the proper method of conducting a campaign than an insect has of the motions of the spheres; these twaddlers I say cannot so falsify history as to cheat the brave men of the 11th and 12th Corps, particularly in the former, of the laurels they have gained in redeeming Chattanooga, any more than they can deprive them of those more hardly won on the bloody fields of the Old Dominion.
Tyndale's men charged up the hill which was later called "Tyndale's Hill" which the brigade under Col. Orland Smith had a tough engagement pushing Longstreet's men off what became known as Smith's Hill.
We are now strongly entrenched and have no doubt as to our ability to maintain our position. Our picket lines are in close proximity to those of the Rebels and conversation passes freely between the insurgents and our soldiers. Deserters come in by scores. Mutual agreements are made with our pickets by which they can enter our lines. A few nights since, over 30 came inside the 11th and 12th Corps lines with seven of whom I conversely immediately afterward. They were intelligent and freely gave all the information they could. They belonged to the 46th Alabama, almost all of whom they represented as ready to desert. They had even gone so far as to construct a raft to ferry themselves over Lookout Creek but were deprived of an opportunity to escape. They said Bragg’s men are living on one-fourth rations of corn bread and are greatly disaffected. This morning one waded across Lookout Creek in broad daylight and in full view of the Rebel pickets. While his pantaloons were still wet, he told me his comrades did not fire on him because they wanted to follow him. He said that many of the commissioned officers were actively engaged in trying to persuade their companies and regiments to disband and go home. Such is a deserter’s story and I give it for what it is worth.

This photograph of Whitesides Valley will give a good idea of the topography that the XI Corps marched through on the way to Wauhatchie. Sparsely populated, thickly wooded, and abounding in mystery, this region of Tennessee played an important role in the Chattanooga campaign.


Monday, November 13, 2017

On the Peninsula with Berdan's Sharpshooters

While my research and blog is generally focused on Ohio soldiers and their contributions to the Civil War, I occasionally come across items from soldiers of other states that pique my interest and inevitably lead to a research project. Such is the case with the letters of Adjutant J. Smith Brown of the 1st United States Sharpshooters. I came across Brown's series of letters in the Yates County Chronicle, and an impressive set of correspondence he left behind. Brown wrote frequent, almost weekly, letters to his hometown newspaper and provide a detailed view of soldiers life during the Peninsula campaign. That Brown was serving with Berdan's Sharpshooters makes his perspective somewhat unique and a pleasure to read.

Adjt J Smith Brown, 1st U.S. Sharpshooters

I was doubly interested in Brown's story when I learned that following the Second Battle of Bull Run, he was commissioned as adjutant of the 126th New York Volunteer Infantry, a new regiment that was quickly swept up in the debacle at Harper's Ferry. The 126th has a special place in my heart- back in May, my son Jake and I discovered the grave of Private Gilbert Smith of the 126th New York at the town cemetery in Swanton, Ohio. For Memorial Day, we cleaned his stone and brought fresh cut roses from our front garden in tribute to his service. Smith served in Company C; an 1864 enlistee, he was wounded May 30, 1864 at Totopotomoy Creek, Virginia and this essentially ended his war. He later moved to southern Michigan then northwestern Ohio, settling near Swanton and was one of the last Civil War veterans in town when he died in 1925.

The PDF file contains Adjutant J. Smith Brown's letters to the Yates County Chronicle covering the period from May-mid July which encompasses his experiences at the Battles of Williamsburg, Fair Oaks, and the Seven Days. It can be accessed through the Civil War research files section of my website- the file is entitled On the Peninsula with Berdan's Sharpshooters:

The University of North Carolina also has a handwritten record of Colonel Smith's service with both the 1st U.S.S.S. and the 126th New York which can be requested here:

In the course of learning more about Adjutant Smith, it was an absolute pleasure to utilize the abundant resources provided by the New York State Military Museum and Research Center. Not only do they host comprehensive unit rosters, but the individual regiment pages include short regimental histories, a source list, photos, and even newspaper letters in PDF format. It made conducting research a breeze, and the sheer magnitude of what has been made available warms my heart. If only Ohio had such a phenomenal resource...
New York State Military Museum:

The 126th New York's page can be accessed here:

The newspaper clipping file contains other letters written by Adjutant (later Lieutenant Colonel) J. Smith Brown so please check it out and enjoy.