Memorial Day for A Soldier: Captain Franklin J. Sauter of the 55th Ohio Volunteer Infantry


    Each Memorial Day, I make it a point to visit one of our nation’s war dead at a local cemetery- this year, my family and I chose to pay tribute to the memory of Captain Franklin John Sauter of Co. B, 55th Ohio Volunteer Infantry who is buried at Fort Meigs Cemetery here in Perrysburg. Captain Sautter was killed in action May 2, 1863 during the opening moments of Stonewall Jackson's flank attack at the Battle of Chancellorsville. 

Gravestone of Captain Franklin J. Sauter of Co. B, 55th Ohio Volunteer Infantry at Fort Meigs Cemetery. It is unclear as to whether Captain Sauter is actually buried here or if his remains are still in Virginia- he is not listed as being buried at Fredericksburg National Cemetery but as there are so many unknowns there from Chancellorsville, its possible that his remains are in an unmarked grave. 

    Captain Sauter was born in 1838 to John and Helena Sauter of Perrysburg, Ohio. In the fall of 1861, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in Co. B of the 55th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, being promoted to First Lieutenant to date July 16, 1862, and to Captain April 4, 1863 upon the resignation of Captain Augustus M. Bement. Captain Sauter had just returned to the Army of the Potomac in its camps near Falmouth, Virginia after a 15 day furlough at home, and upon his return he learned that Captain Bement had resigned and that he was now the company commander. During the journey home in early March, he traveled with Captain William S. Wickham of Co. D from Norwalk- Captain Wickham would later relate the circumstances surrounding Captain Sauter’s death on the battlefield at Chancellorsville.
    Captain Sauter’s war journal is in possession of the Fredericksburg Spotsylvania National Military Park and is quoted extensively in Albert Conner and Chris Mackowski’s book Seizing Destiny: The Army of the Potomac’s “Valley Forge” and the Civil War Winter That Saved the Union.


    The story of the Jackson’s famous flank march and devastating attack on the 11th Corps at Chancellorsville is a familiar one to most Civil War buffs, Lieutenant Edward C. Culp's account being one of the best Federal accounts available. The 55th Ohio Infantry, under Colonel John Calvin Lee of Tiffin, was part of the Second Brigade (Brigadier General Nathaniel G. McLean), Second Division (Brigadier General Charles Devens), of Oliver O. Howard’s 11th Corps. As shown on the map below, McLean’s brigade was stationed on the far right of the 11th Corps along the Orange Turnpike- the neighboring First Brigade of Colonel Leopold von Gilsa held the extreme right which was at a right angle (at least partially) to the Second Brigade. 

Map showing the positions of McLean's and Von Gilsa's brigades on the afternoon of May 2, 1863. From Hartwell Osborn's book Trials and Triumphs of the 55th O.V.I.

    The 55th Ohio was the right flank regiment of the Second Brigade- to its right was the two German regiments- the veteran 45th New York and the green 107th Ohio. The 55th Ohio faced south behind a line of rifle pits and entrenchments awaiting a Confederate attack from Lewis Run which lay in their front- warnings all afternoon that the Confederates were moving toward the Union right passed through the regiment to brigade command and beyond, but the sightings were dismissed and not acted upon. When the Confederate attack began around 5 in the evening- it fell upon a lightly guarded flank and hit with the strength of an avalanche.
Captain William S. Wickham was a frequent contributor to the Norwalk Reflector newspaper during the war and witnessed Captain Sautter's death in the opening moments of Chancellorsville. 

    Captain William S. Wickham of Company D related the following about the flank attack at Chancellorsville in Hartwell Osborn’s Trials and Triumphs of the 55th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. In it, he also describes the death of Captain Sauter:
    You will remember how we were posted, beside a nearly east and west road facing southerly with a rail fence chinked with broken wood our only protection. You will recall a limited open field in our front across which scampered wild animals of the country, including deer, roused from their rest by the maneuvering forces of Stonewall Jackson who were hastily forming for an attack- and how all else, so far as we could see or so far as we in the ranks could know, was densely wooded country- a wilderness indeed. My heart sickens even now when now when I think how easily we might have been prepared for the struggle that was about to open, and how, through criminal carelessness or gross incompetency, a probably glorious victory was turned into disaster and for a time into utter rout.
    Instead of coming in our front, the attack was made on our right and rear by Jackson’s full corps, 25,000 strong. The 55th Ohio held the right of brigade that day and with the exception of Von Gilsa’s brigade which was still farther to the right and somewhat refused, the extreme right flank of the Union army. So unexpected was the assault that the guns of Von Gilsa’s brigade were stacked at the time, and the men were actually engaged in preparing their evening meal with scarcely a thought that their repast was to consist of steel and lead rather than of their almost equally unimpressionable hardtack and guileless bacon. And you will recollect, no doubt, that at this very moment the band of the 55th Ohio was in the pines just across the road from us engaged in laudable efforts to cheer the hearts of the boys with such familiar pieces as “The Girl I Left Behind Me” and “Get Out of the Wilderness,” and how their endeavor to accomplish the latter on foot were accelerated by the crash of Jackson’s guns and the Rebel yell from more than twice 10,000 throats.
    Stricken as we were in flank, there was but a single thing to do- fall back across the road and attempt a reformation behind the 25th and 75th Ohio regiments which were lying there in reserve in column formation- and this was what was attempted. I can still see, despite the lapse of more than a third of a century, our regiment falling back from the worse than useless position it was occupying, breaking away from right to left with a regularity that was simply wonderful under the circumstances and the change of base might well be described as a change of front to the rear en echelon.
    The only guns the enemy could bring to bear, owing to the heavily timbered condition of the country in which they were operating, were those I have already referred to as posted in the road above us and which startled us with their crash, but they did their work with a too fatal precision and decimated our ranks with fearful rapidity during the brief moments they had us within their range. The road was a narrow one, however, and soon traversed, though many were destined never to cross it. It was here that I saw Captain Sauter of Company B who was a few yards to my right and a little in front fall headlong by the roadside, dead in his tracks- the first officer and perhaps the first soldier to die that day. 

Comments

  1. Capt. Sauter is the late brother of my g-g-g-grandmother Phoebe Raab. I have a few of his letters home to his family. You may contact me at the above email.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Most Popular Posts

Arming the Buckeyes: Longarms of the Ohio Infantry Regiments

Dressing the Rebels: How to Dye Butternut Jeans Cloth

Bullets for the Union: Manufacturing Small Arms Ammunition During the Civil War

The Vaunted Enfield Rifle Musket

Straw Already Threshed: Sherman on Shiloh

Charging Battery Robinett: An Alabama Soldier Recalls the Vicious Fighting at Corinth

A Fight for Corn: Eight Medals of Honor Awarded at Nolensville

In front of Atlanta with the 68th Ohio

The Legend of Leatherbreeches: Hubert Dilger in the Atlanta Campaign

Federal Arms in the Stones River Campaign