Capturing the Flag: the 2nd Ohio Infantry at Stones River

This week's blog post features a letter from Sergeant Tobias Ross of Co. B, 2nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry in which he gives a lengthy description of his regiment's participation in the Battle of Stones River. His letter appeared in the January 19, 1863 issue of the Cincinnati Commercial

The Battle of Stones River was one of the hardest fought battles of the western theater, and on December 31, 1862, the Federal army certainly lost more flags than they captured. But the 2nd Ohio managed to capture a flag that day from the 30th Arkansas Infantry which Ross briefly touches upon in his account.  

Murfreesboro, Tennessee
January 9, 1863
          We lay at Nashville (three miles south of the city) until Christmas. I, being placed on guard that day, Colonel Kell presented me a flask containing the necessary amount of the pure decoction of “Old Rye” to soothe every sorrow and lighten every affliction- a great favor I can assure you. From this time things began to grow very interesting. Heavy cannonading was heard to the south, which proved to be our advance skirmishing with the enemy. We struck tents early in the morning and then commenced a most exciting and eventful ten or twelve days.
Courtesy of the Wood County Museum
I know that you will have plenty of accounts of the battle, but you would like to have mine, and I will give it. We arrived on the field Tuesday night, and bivouacked about one mile from the enemy’s line, where we were destined to act early in the morning. After early breakfast, we were formed in line and marched for the front. In the first place, we were marched to the right of the pike through the thickest cedar woods I ever saw for the distance of 500-600 yards, Cos. A and B were deployed as skirmishers.

We had not been here more than 20 minutes when we were recalled, as I afterwards learned, at the request of Colonel Loomis; that he wished the 2nd Ohio to support his celebrated battery, which was posted on the left of the pike and a few hundred yards in advance. This, perhaps, was lucky for us.
Captain Cyrus Loomis
We had scarcely double quicked into position before the ball opened in the woods we had just left and in a short time regiments came rushing from the woods, in more or less disorder, but none broke until the 15th U.S. Regulars came out in complete disorder and made directly for where we were lying flat on our faces, the Rebels close in their rear and cutting them down at every step. They immediately charged for Loomis’ battery, but our colonel shouted, “Up boys and let them have it!” We instantly jumped to our feet and poured a well-directed fire into their close ranks, which brought them to a halt. They were within 100 yards of us, and you may imagine the effect of our fire. I think there was scarcely a ball ineffective. Their color bearer fell at the first fire, and we captured their flag.  We would have let them come still nearer, if it had not been for the cowardly Regulars being in our way. 

Location of the 2nd Ohio during the critical late morning of December 31, 1862. The Regular Brigade has generally been given great credit for their brave stand in the Cedars; Sergeant Ross disagreed with that sentiment and labeled the 15th U.S. "cowards."
(Ed Bearss Map, Stones River National Battlefield)

I stood in one place and fired 15 rounds. We then charged and routed them completely. We lost in this charge 35 men- our beloved Colonel Kell and Andy Ward being of the number. I do not wish to brag or boast, but I do certainly think if we had broken and run, the day would have been lost past redemption and the grand Army of the Cumberland would have been this day among the things that were, and in place of a glorious victory, disaster and defeat. Our repulse of the enemy was the first check they had up to this time received and was given under the immediate eyes of Generals Rousseau and Rosecrans.

The flag of the 30th Arkansas that was captured by the 2nd Ohio on December 31, 1862 was a McCown style flag with the battle honors of Farmington, Mississippi and Richmond, Kentucky emblazoned on them. Major Anson McCook shipped the flag home to Steubenville where it was displayed in a store window for a time. The local newspaper was less than impressed with the craftsmanship and called the flag "a relic of barbarism." 
(Flag photo courtesy of Old Statehouse Museum)

General Rousseau rode down our line, hat in hand, stopped in front of every company, and warmly thanked them for their gallantry, and said he could depend on the Ninth Brigade. You can imagine the effect of seeing your friends run and desert you in a tight place, but it was still worse for the old 2nd Ohio for our friends ran through our lines, causing more or less confusion for a moment, but the glorious boys closed up instantly without a break. Bitter and fierce were the curses we bestowed on the cowards as they crowded past, but they said nary a word. When the Rebels fell back, our regiment was immediately advanced with Companies A and B being deployed as skirmishers. As we started, I cast my eye to the right of our company and saw Andrew Ward lying dead. He was shot through the head and those near him said he died instantly without a struggle. He was shot at the first or second fire the Rebels gave.
Brigadier General Lovell H. Rousseau
This ended the fighting on the center for some time. Toward evening, the artillery did some heavy firing. We lay with fixed bayonets in front of our batteries. We lost five or six men from cannon shots going through our ranks. The Rebels had a battery about a half mile off that was playing on us the balance of the day. We could see the flash of their guns and the cry “look out” would pass down our lines. They were firing round shot mostly, which fell short about 100 yards and then would come bouncing and tearing over our heads but doing little damage. One ball struck within 15-20 feet of where myself and Alexander Schenk were sitting, rolled up to the battery, and mashed an artilleryman’s foot.

At dark, the fighting ended for the day, and we were ordered to lie on our arms, where we were without fires- and it was a cold frosty night, too. But a battlefield is a very good place to find things, and very soon Schenk and myself (we bunk together) had seven blankets, but still were cold. I forgot to mention that I was close to Captain Maxwell when he was wounded. He was struck in the neck by a piece of shell, which carried away a portion of his whiskers and severed an artery from which (if medical aid had not been close by) he would have soon bled to death. At half past twelve, I got up and welcomed the new year by making a cup of coffee at a small fire in the rear.
Captain Obediah Maxwell, 2nd O.V.I.
The sun of New Year’s morning rose clear and bright, but on what an awful scene. We were relieved early, and marched to the rear to get some breakfast, and warm our benumbed and frozen limbs, and in about two hours marched back to our old position in support of Loomis’ battery.

There was very heavy skirmishing this day on the right and left wings, but not much in the center. We lay on our arms all day- changing our position once or twice. At about 4 o’clock in the afternoon we lay on the right of the pike three miles from town; someone said we ought to get poor Andy Ward and bury him. I went and obtained permission for four of us to get him; I then called for three volunteers to go with me. John Sheady, James Thompson, and Oliver Huffman immediately agreed to accompany me. I wish you to understand that during the day, our center had fallen back about 300 yards which left Andy outside our lines and between the sharpshooters of both armies.  The bullets were whistling round rather uncomfortably near. We, however, went in, and brought him off without accident. The rest of the boys had prepared his grave close to the three mile stone and as darkness shrouded the scene, we laid poor Andy in a soldier’s grave. He was buried by his friends from his native town, and his comrades in arms. Peace to his ashes. We put a headboard with his name inscribed so he can be easily found. The verses on the burial of Sir John Moore came vividly to my mind; the time, the circumstances, the manner:

“No useless coffin enclosed his breast,
Nor in sheet nor shroud we wound him;
But he lay like a soldier taking his rest,
With his overcoat around him”

Major Anson G. McCook, 2nd O.V.I.
As our regiment has orders to move, we had but time to brush away a tear and off again. By a singular coincidence his friends in Companies B and F met by his side soon after he was brought in and laid him out: Alex Schenk, Jacob Thompson, and Tobias Ross. We laid on our arms again this night in front but were not disturbed. On Friday morning, skirmishing began early with great fury on the right and left wings. I then said I believed it to be feint, and that the center was where they really meant to attack in earnest. We had just been relieved and were going to the rear to get our breakfast, as usual, when suddenly the Rebels made one of the most terrific attacks you can possibly conceive upon our center. They had planted during the night three or four masked batteries in point-blank range and poured a most terrific hurricane of shot and shell into our position. We were speedily formed behind a gentle slope and ordered to lie down, which we obeyed with great alacrity. Loomis and Farrell’s batteries changed position and took up one immediately in front of us.

Rosecrans, Rousseau, McCook, and Loomis galloped to the front. The first three encouraged the infantry to stand firm, the latter arranging his artillery. It seemed to me at that instant that more depended on that one man than all the rest, and I could not help fervently exclaiming “Lord spare that man!” He soon got the exact range of the enemy and the way he then gave it to them was grand and extremely gratifying to behold. In about one hour and a half, he had completely silenced three of their batteries. In the meantime, our left wing had attacked their right and was driving them back. About 2 o’clock and officer came galloping back, waving his cap and shouting to where the four officers were standing. Instantly Rosecrans, Rousseau, and Loomis pulled off their caps and commenced shouting. Then we knew a great success had been obtained. We then sprang to our feet and gave a shout that could have been heard at least five miles. This was the first shout from the Union side. The Rebels had been doing all the shouting up to this time and tooting their locomotives in defiance. About 4 o’clock, an officer came rushing in from the left wing bearing a stand of colors and bringing the good news that we were carrying all before us. We, however, could see that for ourselves. So ended Friday.
This was the flag that Ross saw on January 2, 1863, the captured colors
of the 26th Tennessee Infantry. A soldier in the 78th Pennsylvania captured
them during the Federal counterattack across Stones River.

As the sun went down, it began raining. In the meantime, you will please bear in mind that we had nothing to eat; in fact, some had been out the day before the wagons left for Nashville and consequently nothing could be had. A good many of the boys, as a last resort, they skinned, cut up, and cooked horse steak, selecting the fattest of the horses killed for the operation and ate it without bread of any kind. I had a little coffee which I made and drank, and then went to bed. Would you like to know what kind of bed? Well, Alf Schenk had an oil cloth, and I had a blanket, and as it rained a cold, chilling rain at that, you may perhaps imagine our comfort. But in spite of all this, I slept and dreamed of home, only to be aroused by our bugles sounding the assembly, which is done several times a night. But nothing serious took place during the night and we were not called out. Thus ended Friday night.
Federal lines on January 2, 1863 as depicted by Henry Heubner, 3rd O.V.I.
Saturday morning broke as uncomfortable an army as you can well conceive; but notwithstanding, we all felt that great things were to be done that day. As we had nothing to eat, we put in the time cleaning and drying our guns. We did not, however, leave this position all day and as darkness set it, it again began raining. Just in the evening, the Rebels attacked suddenly our left with great fury. It was about one mile from where I stood and in full view. At first they appeared to be driving our left. Loomis now moved up his batteries, the center advanced, and now one of the grandest sights that war presents was before me. It was one continual sheet of fire. Suddenly, a great shout arose from our left wing. It was from a brigade Rosecrans himself was leading in a bayonet charge. They drove the enemy before them like chaff. From this time, it was all up with them. They fled, panic stricken, throwing away guns, blankets, and everything that impeded their flight. So ended Saturday and Saturday night.
Federal guns at Stones River (Author's photo)
Sunday morning the sun rose bright and cloudless- everything was as quiet and still as it was at home. What was the enemy doing? A reconnaissance showed their lines deserted, their pickets gone. At 9 o’clock I was detailed as Sergeant of the guard with 24 men to go on the field, gather up arms, etc. The scenes I then witnessed were the most appalling I ever beheld. The first place we visited was the rifle pits they had been driven from. Our dead lay on one side, theirs on the other. Further on were men and horses in every conceivable shape. A great many of the dead Rebels were mere boys, some had been eating where they were killed. They all seemed to have plenty of cornbread and fat pork to eat. I actually had the temerity to eat some of it on the spot as they appeared to have no further need of it. On Monday morning, we marched into Murfreesboro and then to this camp, where we are now. I could tell you many more things but am now tired. Please excuse mistakes and the bungling manner of this, as a camp is a very bad place to collect and scientifically write a letter.
Stones River represented Rosecrans' major battlefield triumph and his reputation soared following the hard fought victory. Idolized by his troops if increasingly disliked in Washington, the eccentric Ohioan would be removed from command following defeat at Chickamauga the following September.


  1. Very interesting letter. Great read on his experience. Thank you for sharing.


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