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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Bullet Dodging at New Hope Church with the 93rd Ohio

The following account from Private Daniel W. Sheidler of the 93rd Ohio recounts his intense experiences dodging Rebel bullets during the Union assault at the Battle of Pickett's Mills, also known as New Hope Church, on May 27, 1864. Pickett's Mills proved one of the hardest fought engagements of the Atlanta campaign, and one that didn't go well for the Union as is evidenced by the heavy casualty lists incurred during the assault on the Confederate lines that day. My wife's great-great-great grandfather was one of those wounded, so the story of this battle is of additional interest to me personally. 

This battle has previously been discussed on this blog in "Inside the Crime of Pickett's Mills: Voices from the 49th Ohio" from last May which can be viewed here. Scheidler's story appeared in the March 17, 1898 issue of the National Tribune

Thursday, May 21, 2020

To Defy Death Itself: Lancelot Scott at Stones River Part II

Thursday, January 1, 1863: New Year’s morning dawned clear, much brighter than our hopes. We took position much the same as on the preceding evening. A division of artillery, probably 36 pieces, stood masked in the bushes just to our left. Not much firing took place before we got into line. I soon saw the Rebel line emerge from the wood and try to cross that field and try to for the third time. It was the last. A chief of artillery standing near commanded fire. An almost instantaneous discharge followed and the shattered Rebel columns took refuge in the wood. Not much fighting occurred. In the afternoon, our division was ordered to the extreme right and the Rebels were appearing in force there. We marched back along the pike about a mile and formed but no attack came. We passed the night by the pike. It was intensely cold and having no blanket or overcoat I found it impossible to sleep. That night seemed to be one of unlimited length and of unequaled suffering to me.
The bluff over McFadden's Ford at Stones River where Captain Mendenhall lined up 58 cannon to repulse General Breckinridge's assault on the Federal left. 

Friday, January 2, 1863: We kept making short moves of position all forenoon. About 2 o’clock, the battle commenced again on the left and the division was ordered there. Arriving, we found the enemy was making the attack on Van Cleve’s division which had been thrown across the river and occupied a low hill that ran down to the stream. On our side the bank was very bluff.

While we were laying on the bluff, the 15th Ohio came up to our support. I was lying in a low fence corner with Captain Cable and five or six others and just to our right was a mud hole. As the 15th came up, one of them was struck on the top of the head just enough to bring the blood and knock him back into the mud hole, where he lay making such a frantic struggle to get up that I had to laugh at him. We took position some distance back at first but soon the Rebels commenced to drive our men slowly but surely down the hill and into the river and then we advanced to the bluff and, laying down, delivered our volley.
Private Leonidas Allen of Co. F, 18th Ohio Infantry
(Ohio History Connection)

Just to our right and on the opposite side of a building from our right wing as many as a dozen batteries were playing on the Rebels and they were answered with spirit. The ground fairly quaked and the “plug, plug” of the Rebels bullets was heard entering men at any second. But still the rebel line advanced down the hill with a steady step and seemed to defy death itself. Their flag floated out on the breeze and they came on in such a splendid line that I could not but admire them. But at last when near the river they gave way and then passing a yell, we dashed down the bank and across the river, our left wing and the 19th Illinois in mingled confusion. I don’t believe I ever felt better in my life than I did just then. All this time the batteries were engaged in a deadly duel and the sky was fairly darkened with smoke.
A view across Stones River with Wayne's Hill in the distance; the golf course that sits here once ran red with the blood of hundreds of Union and Confederate soldiers who contested this ground on January 2, 1863. 

I halted under the opposite bank to reload and then hastened up the hill after the retreating Rebels. Only the left companies of our regiment crossed the river, the rest being engaged on the right bank of the river which runs obliquely across the battlefield. There was no order now; everyone was fighting on his own hook.

About halfway up the hill a color bearer was standing behind a tree while he held the flag out in view. We made a simultaneous rush all striving to get the flag. A private in the 78th Pennsylvania was the first to reach it and as he seized it, the color bearer turned to flee. In an instant, 50 rifles were leveled at him and he fell, shot to pieces.
The 26th Tennessee flag which was captured at Stones River is on display in Pennsylvania. 

The mass was no so dense that there was no chance to get to the front so I oblique towards the river and soon was engaged with a squad of rebels behind some rocks. After I had fired once and was reloading, I felt a sharp twinge on my left hip and remained still for half a minute thinking I had been wounded. But when I examined it I found that a ball had gone through my haversack and broken my spoon, a piece of which had hit my hip. Our fire got too hot for the Rebels and some of them commenced to retreat from the rocks. Then we charged and captured about a dozen, I being one of the foremost, captured two. They were very much frightened and begged us not to kill them. I suppose they thought that we would act as they would in similar circumstances. They were sent to the rear.

We had now reached the top of the ascent. A fence ran along the top of the ridge and behind it lay a line of Rebels and a battery. The battery opened on us with cannons and raked us fearfully. We recoiled for a moment and then charged in a perfect frenzy. The shock was terrible. A last desperate rush and we poured past the guns like a mob. A half-witted fellow in Co. I shot down one of the cannoneers just as he was pulling the lanyard string. The infantry and caissons retreated across the field in disorder and the day was ours.
Federal forces surged across Stones River and a soldier in the 78th Pennsylvania captured the colors of the 26th Tennessee. 

We had been so occupied that we made no note of time and night now seemed to fall like a veil. The pursuit was stopped and a line was formed. The Federal battery stationed on the hill and the captured pieces (three 24-lb belonging to the Washington, Georgia artillery) were dragged across the river. Our fire had produced a dreadful slaughter around the guns. I counted nine Rebels that lay touching each other in one place. I picked up several nice Enfield and Springfield rifles but threw them down, concluding to cling to my old U.S. which had done such good service.

I now retraced my steps across the river to find the regiment. After a search of about two hours I found it. It was sprinkling rain and was intensely dark. A cheerless prospect was before us. As we had no blankets the rain soon penetrated to the skin. A small gutter ran along just where we had stacked arms and the bottom of it was hard and dry and formed quite a contrast to the mushy ground. I took possession and soon it was filled with sleepers. Late in the night the rain fell heavily but worn out and exhausted I slept on until such a torrent of water came down the gutter that I was forced to rise. Of that night seemed fill of unalterable agony and suffering! But all things must have an end and so did that Friday night. Our faith in our beloved general was now stronger than ever. We had beaten the enemy and our spirits rose in proportion. Let the day’s fight decide as it would; we would go in with willing hearts.
The limestone bluff above McFadden's Ford with the monument resting upon the hill marking the location of some of the Federal cannon that helped hold this part of the line for Rosecrans. 

Saturday January 3, 1863: Early in the forenoon came the order “fall in 18s!” We were going on the skirmish line. The rain fell in floods. We marched out past the breastworks and took refuge from the rain in a Negro shanty. Eighteen dead bodies lay in front of the hut and dotted the field all around the outposts. We had to keep in the hut for every move outside was a signal for a Rebel bullet. When the outposts were relieved, the ongoing guard would double quick up to the line under a shower of bullets and the old guard watching their chance would slip back. Our company came in late in the afternoon. When I arrived at my post, I found the hole (gopher holes we called them) full of water. Lying on the damp ground and in water was not conclusive to either health or comfort but necessity knows no law so I had to do it.
At the end of an hour when the relief came we were thoroughly chilled. The body of Colonel Joseph Hawkins of the 13th Ohio lay just to our right between the lines. I came on again about 9 o’clock. The Rebels in our front of the line built large fires. Some move was evidently pending. The night was intensely dark. Our artillery shelled the woods. The shells would come whizzing over our heads and bursting in a glare of light bore distraction to all before them. I noticed one thing about them that I shall improve on. When they burst all of the pieces go on in their former direction.
Plaque on the artillery monument at Stones River; the monument was erected by the railroad in 1906 as a point of interest along the line. 

Spears’ Tennesseans and one or two other regiments marched out just to our right and engaged the enemy in a point of woods about 200 yards from us. For awhile, a fierce fight occurred. The combatants were so close that we could hear every command that they would give and tell which one delivered volleys by the direction of the flash. One Rebel commander appeared very anxious to keep his men from running and used a profusion of oaths to affect his object. Presently our attention was called out front. A man was approaching from the direction of the Rebels. I heard the click, click of the guns in the next gopher hole and called to the boys in a low voice to let him come up as it might be one of our men wounded and on his way to the rear. He proved to be a Rebel, an orderly sergeant in the 1st Louisiana regiment. Shortly after two more came in and one of the Co. B boys shot one of them, wounding him. They belonged to some South Carolina regiment. They were taken to the reserve and Captain Steadman busied himself all night taking care of the wounded man.

After an hour or more the fight ceased and the regiments withdrew. The Tennesseans threw the left of their picket line behind our right and while a relief was coming back from post, one of them fired and killed Oscar Clark of Co. D, one of our best soldiers. A squad of Co. D hurried out and threatened to kill the whole guard but was formally pacified. Scattering shots were still exchanged on our right and when I came on again at 1 o’clock, a considerable skirmish was in progress. It was a wild night and a fierce wind blew in our faces while the falling rain pelted us piteously. George Butt found an old cracker box near the hole and putting it on his head went to sleep. At 3, the regiment was relieved and marched back to where the division was bivouacked and, collecting some cedar boughs, I threw myself down on them and despite the cold was soon fast asleep.
18th Ohio Infantry regimental colors with the battle honor "Stone River" emblazoned atop the eagle. (Ohio History Connection)

Sunday January 4, 1863: The sun was shining bright and clear when I awoke Sunday morning. Looking around me I found that I had my bed on the edge of a little gutter and lying in it was a dead man. Cheer after cheer was rolling up from the cedars and reverberating along the river. I inquired as to the cause. The Rebels had retreated. If anything earthly could seem heavenly, it was those cheers as they rose on the air and a glorious sun streaming down from a cloudless sky which seemed to share in our triumph. Rosey, Thomas, and Negley never knew how our hearts exalted them in that hour. That come what would, our unshaken confidence in them would lead us through peril and suffering. Our banners had been torn. Our artillery scattered here and there with broken wheels and dismounted guns. Our ranks were shattered. Our comrades lay in the still embrace of death among the somber silent cedars and in the muddy river. We had nothing to eat or wear but we had victory.

A force was sent into Murfreesboro in the afternoon which took possession of the town and exchanged shots with the Rebel rear guard which hung on the outskirts of the town and seemed loathe to leave the scene of its bloody defeat. During the afternoon, Captain Cable, two others, and myself visited the field of Wednesday’s fight. I found the rebel at the edge of the cedars that I had taken position behind. He was a gigantic, dreadfully swollen man that had been shot through the head. I picked up a ball near him and am going to keep it as a memento. Also found one near where I made my first fire. We found our dead that had been within rebel lines collected in squads but unburied. I found two of my company in one of the collections: Jack Springer of Nelsonville and John Pratchant, a Tennessean. Poor Jack! Many a time have we roamed the streets at home together when all else was asleep. He was shot through the head. I cut a lock of his hair and am going to send it to his mother. And so passed Sunday the last day of the great battle. Previously, we had all been dissatisfied, always saying among ourselves that we would never get into a battle of any magnitude. But we have been gratified at last and now wait anxiously to hear what our friends think of our actions.
Federal artillery standing guard over the graves at Stones River National Cemetery

Monday, January 5, 1863: This morning we crossed Stones River and entered the town with banners flying and drums beating as the 19th Illinois sang “John Brown’s Body.” On the way in, we passed some brick chimneys in a deserted camp, a pretty sure sign that the Rebel army would have wintered here but for our untimely interference. Our brigade moved out three miles on the Shelbyville Pike as a corps of observation. After a stay of three hours, we returned to town and are now quartered on the Manchester Pike a short distance from town on a ridge. Rosey has just rode past and was greeted with the greatest enthusiasm.
General Rosecrans rides with his ablest lieutenants in this painting by William Travis. 

Among the somber cedars: Lancelot Scott at Stones River

Lancelot Scott enlisted as a private in Co. G of the 18th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in 1861 and soon thereafter was promoted to the rank of sergeant. Scott kept a diary during his service which he expanded upon later in life. The following excerpt covers the period of December 28, 1862 through January 5, 1863, “the most momentous week of my life” Scott wrote. “The histories and stories of battles that I have read have been supplanted by actual facts and scenes and not all that I ever read can convey half the impression of reality. I hardly know how to write the history of the past week but shall try and relate my own experience.”
Image of a Union encampment outside of Nashville, Tennessee in December 1862 by William Travis. Note the contraband cook at left stirring the soup while dressed in a blue forage cap and blue army trousers. While stationed at Nashville, Lancelot Scott had the opportunity to visit the theater in Nashville where he saw a play entitled "Hunchback" then "went threrounds and finally brought up with an oyster supper in a saloon on the square when the boys all ran out without paying." Nashville provided a dose of civilization for these Union troops who had spent the past three months marching all over Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky. 

Sunday, December 28, 1862: Rousseau’s division came up. We still rested in the cedars in front of Murfreesboro.

Monday, December 29, 1862: Monday morning shortly after sunrise the army was in motion. The batteries were planted all along the creek and the Rebel cavalry driven off by their fire. As the division marched out, we could see them fleeing for dear life. Our division crossed some distance above the pike bridges, our regiment in the advance with Co. B thrown out as skirmishers. They fired a few times at the Rebel pickets. Marching in battle order we did not make much progress until some time in the afternoon when we regained the pike and as some of the left wing was ahead of us we pushed on rapidly. At dark, we were within three miles of Murfreesboro and as not many Rebels had been seen during the day, we though that we would enter Murfreesboro the next day without serious trouble. There was some skirmishing about dark. It rained during the night which passed off miserably enough and we had no fires.

Tuesday, December 30, 1862: Early on Tuesday morning the division was deployed and then for the first time I began to think that the work was going to be more serious than was anticipated. The ease with which the engineers cut roads through the woods and with which the army was deployed showed that we did not know as much as the commanding general did. Our brigade took positions in the cedars on the right of the pike and at the edge of the woods near the Wilkinson Pike. The 19th Illinois was sent out as skirmishers and soon fell in with the enemy’s skirmishers and then we knew for certain that we were going to fight. The enemy retired slowly. Our skirmishers did not press them, being ordered as I since learned, to merely hold them in check until the right wing of the army got into position. So they did not go far past the Pike. At noon our regiment relieved them and continued on the line until dark. Our company did not go on the line. Many of the boys were carried back on the stretchers.
Lancelot L. Scott
Co. G, 18th Ohio Infantry
Image courtesy of L.M. Strayer

Those were trying moments standing there expecting every moment to be called forward and take the place of those wounded a great deal worse than the duty itself. I don’t believe I felt any real fear but standing there all afternoon with the balls whizzing past me I got worked up and dreaded to hear the order for the company to advance. But when dark came the regiment was relieved and we fell back to the Pike and bivouacked. During the latter part of the afternoon the right wing of the army got into line and bore down on the enemy right gallantly. I was detailed as guard. Looking to the right, left, and rear, the Union camp fires lit up the sky to the horizon but in front all was silent. No lights from the Rebels glared up on the sky.

Wednesday, December 31, 1862: Slowly the night passed away and the sun rose upon us ready for action. Our overcoats and blankets were sent back to the wagons and we fell into line. At sunrise, the battle commenced on McCook’s right. The enemy was evidently driving him and as each succeeding volley came, it sounded still farther toward the rear. But our attention was soon called to our own movements. Sheridan’s division having been driven back, one of his batteries galloped over and took position in our front and commenced shelling some Rebels near a brick kiln. The fire drew a reply from a Rebel battery on our right.

The regiment was standing close column en masse. The shells all came over us. Presently one came that just missed. We all ducked our heads. “Good morning!” cried Colonel Given. “What are you all bowing to me for?” He then put us through the manual of arms and that gave us confidence in ourselves. I don’t believe I felt anything like fear after this.
Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Given
18th Ohio Infantry

The battle was roaring all around us and still we were standing there. We advanced to within 30 yards of the pike and laid down and awaited the onset of the Rebels. It soon came. Their line marched up with practiced step and the air of veterans. The regiment in our front wore large felt hats. When they arrived near the Pike, Colonel Given commanded us to fire and we did with a vengeance. We continued firing for about 20 minutes then ceased. Only an occasional shot whistled amongst us now. The regiment that marched up so gallantly was nowhere to be seen. A piece of Sheridan’s artillery stood before the left of the company. The near tongue horse was shot the first fire. I laid down behind him and fired. Presently, the other horse received a ball and commenced plunging. He fell and balanced on the tongue. I lay ready to spring if he should roll toward me. Fortunately, he turned the other way and died, his blood pouring on a dead cannoneer.
Colonel Timothy Stanley's brigade consisted of four regiments: his own 18th Ohio, the 69th Ohio, the crack 19th Illinois, and the 11th Michigan, supported by Captain Frederick Schultz's Battery M, 1st Ohio Light Artillery. This brigade fought in the southernmost border of the cedar swamp, land which today forms the southern boundary of Stones River National Battlefield. 

The man on my right belonging to the 42nd Illinois was shot dead. The Rebels advanced again. The 19th Illinois marched down in our front to make a charge, their colonel sitting on his horse smoking as unconcerned as if imaginable. A shell came over and struck a tree which fell and killed several men. The charge was not made for the Rebels in our front ceased to fire save for the sharpshooters. We changed front so as to face to the right where Sheridan’s division had been.

In our front now there was a large open field and we could see regiment after regiment of Rebels marching across and obliquing in behind us. It was not a gratifying sight and our situation became critical in the extreme. The “glug glug” of the sharpshooters’ balls was incessant and the tops of the trees threatened to fall on us every instant from the cannon balls that tore through them. It was a curious scene to see the tree tops falling without any visible cause. Soon a roar rose in our rear that exceeded anything before heard. The enemy had encountered opposition in their project of surrounding us. The first line was repulsed and we at last received orders to retire from our now worthless position. We retreated several hundred yards and took position in the cedars about 50 yards in the rear of the first line in the near position.
This bucolic image dating from the late 1800s shows the Wilkinson Pike looking east from the Blanton House. The 18th Ohio fought in the woods at the center of this photo. As is evident, the term "pike" implied nothing more than a cleared road, not a hardened macadamized surface like that on the Nashville Pike. (Middle Tennessee State University)

The enemy came on in overwhelming numbers and their shots when they engaged the first line all came directly among us. I was in the rear rank and hugging the ground behind a pair of big boots that Jim Ventz was wearing. The balls cut so close that I thought I would get behind a small cedar tree that stood just to my right and rear about six inches through but just as I reached it, three or four balls struck it and I scrambled back behind the boots.

When the enemy came up we gave them a volley but it was of no use. No single line of men could stem the massed columns that swept everything before them. We were in the edge of the cedars. Beyond lay a cornfield about 200 yards wide and then the railroad bank which offered a safe refuge. We retreated from the cedars like autumn leaves before the wind and reached the railroad where all the regiments on our left had by this time formed a new line. But our removal had left the troops on our left in a precarious position and general Rosecrans came riding over, hat in hand, and implored us to charge back and gain the woods. There were only about 200 of the regiment left; the rest were scattered dead, wounded, and prisoners.
Lieutenant Charles Grant
Co. D, 18th Ohio Infantry

Colonel Given gave the command and we fixed bayonets and marched back across that field of death on the double quick. A line of Rebels was issuing from the woods. They retreated before our charge and we gained the shelter of the woods but our efforts, though determined, were of no avail. No support came to our aid. With the enemy to the right and front and soon to the left pouring in a deadly fire, it was something human endurance would not stand and we gave way. At the edge of the woods I came across a dead Rebel and hauling him into position, I lay down behind him and fired. It seemed to me that all of the bushes around me were cut off by enemy’s balls.
The enemy brought up a battery as we were retreating across the field and gave us a volley. I dropped just in time to save myself from a shell, it passing on and taking a shoulder from a man in front. We were running towards one of our batteries and the cannoneers waved their hands for us to get out of the way as quick as possible. A line of Rebels was issuing from the woods. When we got near the battery, we dropped and it opened on the enemy with terrible effect and retreated in disorder. I was now thoroughly exhausted.
Walking tour stop at Stones River National Battlefield in the approximate location where Stanley's brigade fought on December 31, 1862. The Wilkinson Pike is location to the left of the picture and the cedar swamp is to the right. 

We formed again and lay there under artillery fire during the rest of the day. The sounds of battle were now principally on our left. One continuous roar of thunder rolled up from the left wing. The enemy was trying to drive it similar to the right but all his attacks were successfully resisted and we still had some hope, but night closed down upon us almost discouraged. Indeed, I did feel almost helpless that night as I lay down on my bed of cedar boughs tired and half starved. I could have no bright anticipations of victory on the morrow. Nothing but my faith in Rosey and Negley kept me from despairing. But thoughts of the battle died away when sleep came to my relief and the night passed off without any alarm. It snowed in the night.

Click here to read Part II: "To Defy Death Itself

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

One of the 17 2/3%: A Texan Survives Antietam

Through the courtesy of a family friend, I present an excerpt from the Civil War diary of Thomas Lyons McCarty that discusses his participation in Lee's Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Antietam. "T.L." as he was known served for nearly four years as a private in Co. L of the 1st Texas Infantry. The 1st Texas formed a part of the celebrated Texas Brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia, the brigade gaining much fame under its first commander John Bell Hood. 

McCarty was born in 1838 in Houston, Texas and later was one of the founders of both Ennis, Texas and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. His diaries cover his wartime service from May 1862 right until the surrender at Appomattox

The complete diary and McCarty's papers reside at the University of Texas Austin. McCarty's diary picks up a few days before Antietam when the 1st Texas tried to reinforce positions on South Mountain on the evening of September 14, 1862...
The Miller Cornfield at Antietam National Battlefield

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The "Horrors of Sixty-Two": Rowena Blankenship and New Year's Eve 1863

Rowena Alexis Blankenship was born in 1844 in the high hills of Gallia County in southeastern Ohio, growing up near the small village of Mercerville. As she watched her neighbors, family, and friends go off to war, Rowena crafted a number of poems to help lift the spirits of her community and to help others make sense of the tumultuous times. Her work survives through the pages of the Gallipolis Journal, and while her poetry will not give Walt Whitman any fears of losing his title as America’s premier Civil War-era poet, several of her pieces are very evocative of the times and provide a wonderful insight into how a young Ohio woman viewed the Civil War.
A patriotic woman of the North who appears to be about the same age as Rowena Blankenship. The Civil War for the women of the home front was at times a gut-wrenching and life-changing experience. For Rowena, she found a release through her poetry. This incredible image is part of the Liljenquist Collection of the Library of Congress. 

Rowena would marry Civil War veteran Ira W. Booton in 1865 following his discharge from the service. Corporal Booton served in the 73rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and was wounded and captured at Second Bull Run in 1862, and wounded a second time at the Battle of Lookout Valley, Tennessee October 29, 1863. This wound in the shoulder took months to recover from and ended his war. Years later, Ira’s grandson would sit on his lap and insert his finger into the wound caused by a Rebel bullet 50 years prior. Ira and Rowena had three children together (Minnie, James, and Rowena) before Rowena passed away at the age of 27.

The following poem entitled “New Year’s Eve of 1863” was published in the January 15, 1863 edition of the Gallipolis Journal. Its words strike me as especially poignant when viewed in conjunction with the Battle of Stones River, which by January 15, 1863 was just starting to make the news in Gallipolis. “Farewell to the year that is fading, ‘twas sorrow and misery through, our hearts and spirits are hardened, by the horrors of ‘sixty-two,” Rowena wrote. "May hearts long wedded to sadness be joyful in sixty-three."

But the casualty lists would be lengthy, and final victory for the Union seemed ever so elusive…