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 nonetheless 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 who 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. George and Jacob Hulse, Joel Harris, Calvin Webber, and George Feeley among them. 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 further information in regard to them since. Nothing more of importance occurred to our regiment during the 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


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