55th Ohio at Second Bull Run

    The story of the fight of the 55th Ohio along Chinn Ridge on the second day of the otherwise disastrous Second Battle of Bull Run is one that even 156 years later resonates as one of the finest examples of Buckeye courage displayed during the Civil War. As a matter of fact, noted historian John J. Hennessy stated in his study of the Second Bull Run campaign that "no Union brigade would play a more critical role in the battle than McLean's, and no regiment more than the 55th Ohio." (His work Return to Bull Run is highly recommended and available here.)

    On the second day of the battle, the 1,200 men of Colonel Nathaniel McLean's Ohio brigade, consisting of the 25th, 55th, 73rd, and 75th Ohio regiments played a vital role in slowing Longstreet's assault against the Union left, and bought valuable time for the remainder of the army to redeploy and retreat, paying as heavy price in blood for their efforts. In their time atop Chinn Ridge, they repulsed multiple assaults from parts of two Confederate brigades (Evans', Hood's) then held off the Virginia brigade of Montgomery Corse in some of the fiercest fighting of the battle. The timely arrival of the Washington Artillery along with a renewed assault from the battered remnants of Corse's, Hood's, and Evans' brigade finally drove the 55th Ohio away from Chinn Ridge. Colonel McLean was furious that his brigade had not been supported, but wrote Hennessy, "the Ohio colonel could take great satisfaction in that his brigade had done precisely what had been asked of it: buy the Federals some time."

Sergeant Luther B. Mesnard, Co. D, 55th O.V.I.

    Included below is an account from one of the survivors of Chinn Ridge- Second Lieutenant Jesse Bowsher of Co. K. Lieutenant Bowsher wrote this account two weeks after the battle while the regiment was encamped in Washington, D.C. Originally published in the September 26, 1862 issue of the Wyandot Pioneer.

Colonel Nathaniel McLean, commanding the Ohio Brigade at Second Bull Run

Camp five miles from Washington, D.C.
September 15, 1862
    To go back as far as the 7th of August, the day we left Sperryville for Culpeper and Cedar Mountain. We left that place about six o’clock in the evening, traveled all night, and arrived next day about 10 o’clock at Culpeper; lay there all day toll evening when we went to Cedar Mountain just in time to be too late to be in the fight. We encamped a few days and then had some skirmishing and then moved on to Rapidan River. We lay there some days in front of the enemy, skirmishing all the time; moved back towards Culpeper, the night Lieutenant Miller left us, expecting an attack at any moment and marched through Culpeper towards Sulphur Springs; found Jackson there again and kept moving day and night towards the Rappahannock River. We had a heavy artillery battle there and also lots of infantry firing across the river. This is where the 61st Ohio was used up and General Bohlen killed as they crossed the river and were attacked by a heavy force of the enemy and had to retreat across the river.

    We kept fighting some days and found the enemy trying to cross the river higher up and moved back to Culpeper and again had another fight with the enemy who tried to cross the river. When he found he could not cross he moved further up, We advanced to Waterloo Bridge and attacked him there, killing a good many Rebels and burning the bridge and then moved back towards Warrenton where we found the enemy moving towards Manassas to destroy Washington. We moved on after him through mud and rain, day and night with not much to ear and pretty well done out but still bound to fight Jackson. We came on to the Bull Run battle ground and encamped on the same ground on which the Rebel Black Horse cavalry charge was made last year. There was fighting ahead of us all the time. We moved on a few miles further and got up close to the enemy who were in Thoroughfare Gap.

      On the 30th of August while supporting the battery we found the enemy coming on to us fast, and the 55th Ohio had to go in and show their courage. They came to us so fast that we had to change our position and then we “went for them.” Shot, shell, musket balls, railroad iron, and spikes fell thicker than any hail storm you ever saw. We stood up under such a fire 40 minutes and found we were to be flanked by five fresh regiments, through carelessness of McDowell so said. He was on our left and hardly fired a gun before falling back. The force we first attacked went through an apple orchard like the devil. We had them completely whipped but we could not stand the flanking force, so we had to retreat from the field.
Brigadier General Robert Schenk

    Just before General Schenk was wounded in the arm (which has since been taken off I believe), he hallowed to the boys to give the Rebels hell as we had them going. He is an able and brave general. Colonel Lee showed his bravery like a man- was in the thickest of the fight, encouraging the men all he could and did not give the command to fall back until the enemy was within a few rods of us and had taken the battery. That night after the battle, we fell back towards Centreville and lie there a few days and found the enemy moving. We moved on the roads towards Vienna, General Milroy fighting the enemy on our flank pretty sharply. We kept moving back towards Washington until pretty close to the city and laying there some days, we moved to this place about three miles from Alexandria where I think we will remain until we get recruited up again. If you have a spare drink, send it down this way as we have had none for a long time. If you can’t send it, drink and remember us. We would like to have you in camp for a few days or have you on some of our hard night marches to see you go through. For 15-20 days while on the march, we had continual cannonading and musketry. We went to sleep by it, what little we got. Men got so tired and sleepy that they would be asleep and move right along in the ranks. But that is all over and we don’t think much of it anymore.

Sergeant Moses Pugh, Co. H, 55th O.V.I.


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