Among the guns at Chancellorsville

Battery H of the 1st Ohio Volunteer Light Artillery was raised in large part in Toledo and the following account from Corporal William H. Perigo appeared in both the Wood County Independent at the Toledo Blade following the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863. Perigo's letter gives an interesting account of the rout of the 11th Corps, and how the 3rd Corps artillery struggled to maintain their position on May 2, 1863. His praise for his battery commander Captain James Huntingdon is also noteworthy. 

Perigo would go on to a distinguished career with the battery, being promoted to Sergeant to date May 1, 1863 and then commissioned as a second lieutenant the following June. Promotion to first lieutenant would follow in February 1865 and he would muster out with the battery June 14, 1865.

Camp near Falmouth, Virginia
May 8-9, 1863

Dear Friends:

Another battle has been fought, and although we have not accomplished what we intended, we have not been whipped by the enemy; the terrible rain storm which commenced Tuesday afternoon has made it impossible for us to do anything but go into camp and wait for the weather to improve; but I will attempt to give you some idea of events which transpired previous to Tuesday the 5th.

Tuesday evening, April 28th, we left camp and at 10 o’clock reached the position assigned us on the bluffs fronting the river. Our duty was to cover the bridge builders. At daylight the next morning, we were awakened by volleys of musketry and we made quick time in getting to our guns. It was so foggy that we could not see what was to pay, but we soon learned that the shots were fired by the Rebels at our troops crossing in boats. The Rebels fired two volleys then ran. In less than an hour the bridge was completed, and our division had crossed. No further resistance was made and our troops threw out pickets and went into camp. Thus things remained until Thursday noon when our corps (3rd) was ordered to move up the river to United States Ford, cross, and reinforce the troops there, some of whom had been steadily fighting and driving the enemy since Tuesday. 

Our corps reached the front Friday night and the infantry relieved the troops directly in front, the artillery went into camp and remained there until Saturday noon, when we were ordered to join our division and corps, who were extending our lines. Everything went off finely until just before dark when the rebels under Jackson charged upon the 11th Corps (Sigel’s old corps), who behaved very badly indeed, breaking and running like so many sheep. Our General, supposing everything perfectly safe, had ordered us to unbridle our horses and feed, but soon the infantry of the 11th Corps came running by us, saying the Rebels were coming and would capture every one of us in 15 minutes; but instead of following their example and running, our four batteries (24 guns) were put into position to give the enemy a warm reception, and we did not have long to wait.

"Surrender you damned Yankees!"

They soon came out of the woods crying “Surrender you damned Yankees” and other similar expressions, to which we replied with shell and canister. After firing about an hour, the enemy retreated to the woods. One division of infantry was brought up to support us, and we remained in peaceful possession of the field all night. At daylight next morning, we were ordered to fall back about ½ mile to a stronger position. Our battery and two regiments of infantry were to remain and cover the troops which were falling back. 

The Rebels soon saw what we were doing and down they came on us-pell mell. One of the regiments supporting us (Colliss’ Zouaves of Pennsylvania) ran at the first volley leaving us entirely unsupported and we kept pouring in the canister, but it soon became evident that our battery alone could not check the enemy who were steadily advancing, and the Chief of Artillery ordered us to get out as soon as possible, which we attempted to do. The enemy were right on our heels, the roads were very bad, and we were obliged to leave three of our guns, in mud almost axle-deep. My gun came out ok for which I am very glad, although no one blames us in the least for losing three guns but, on the contrary, we have been complimented very highly for conduct, and our Captain was yesterday appointed Chief of Artillery of this division, vice Captain A. Von Pul Kammer-who is now under arrest, charged with cowardice and disobedience of orders. Our loss was 4 wounded and 4 missing, 26 horses killed.
Battery H of the 1st Ohio Light Artillery lost three guns at Chancellorsville. "We were obliged to leave three of our guns in mud axle deep," related Perigo. "No one blames us in the least for losing three guns, but on the contrary, we have been complimented very highly for our conduct."

Had it not been for the splendid cover afforded by the high ground directly in front of us, our loss would have been much heavier. I never before saw such a storm of bullets; they were continually passing over my head-zip zip and pat pat, but as luck would have it, they all missed me. Not a single boy from our part of the state was at all hurt. We are now back in the same old camp where we have been all winter. The camp is full of rumors-some say that the Rebels were retreating in great haste towards Richmond, while others say they are still over the river. We have just heard on good authority that Major General Stoneman with his cavalry has destroyed all the bridges between Fredericksburg and Richmond. If so, Mr. Secesh must be in a rather bad fix. One thing is certain, the battle is not yet decided, and before many days the river again will cease to be a dividing line between the two armies. In the late engagement, the Rebels must have lost two to our one. We must have taken 5,000 prisoners.

Toledo boys are all well and in good spirits.

Believe me as ever, W.H. Perigo

Saturday Morning, May 9, 1863

I wrote you yesterday afternoon, giving rather a hurried account of the part of which our battery took in the fight which has been progressing for the past two weeks. You will undoubtedly have a full account of the battle in the papers. Both sides have lost a great many men, but I think the loss of the Rebels must exceed ours at least 2 to 1.

Gen. Whipple, who commanded our division, was shot by a Rebel sharpshooter while standing in his tent. He has since died from the effect of the wound. Gen. Graham is now in command of our division.

Brigadier Amiel Weeks Whipple died of his wound May 7, 1863.

This morning is the first time the sun has shone since Tuesday afternoon. We expect to get one new gun and some horses today. This will give us 4 guns. We haven’t enough now to man more than 4 guns as our battery has been very much reduced during winter and spring by sickness- we lost in the late engagement 8 men-4 wounded and 4 taken prisoners. Our wounded are severely but not seriously wounded.

The battle was the first time I was ever under a musketry fire for any length of time and I am not in least ashamed to say that it required every bit of courage I had to stand there one and a half hours under a perfect shower of balls. Had it not been for the splendid cover afforded by the brink of the hill just in front of us, we would all undoubtedly been cut to pieces, but as it was, most of the balls went just a little too high to do any damage.

A Rebel who was in the charge but afterward taken prisoner said the effect of our canister upon them was terrible; to use his own expression, “We piled them up in heaps.”

The more we see of our Captain, the better we like him. I think he is as brave a man as walks. One thing is certain, he never asks us to go where he won’t go himself.



Most Popular Posts

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

Dressing the Rebels: How to Dye Butternut Jeans Cloth

Arming the Buckeyes: Longarms of the Ohio Infantry Regiments

A Buckeye Remembers Scenes of Horror After the Battle of Corinth

Mauled at Resaca: Eight Fatal Minutes for the 36th Alabama

The Cannons are Now Silent: The Field of Death of Tupelo

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

Buckeye Rapid-Fire: The 21st Ohio and the Colt’s Revolving Rifles

Dedicating the Gettysburg National Cemetery

A Galvanized Yankee Executed at Tullahoma