"God Alone Knows the Degree of Their Misery" An Ohio officer at the Crater

Archibald Johnson Sampson was born June 21, 1839 in Cadiz, Harrison County, Ohio. He grew up on the family farm and attended the local schools, then attended Mount Union College graduating on his birthday in 1861. By then, the war had commenced and he enlisted in Co. C of the 43rd Ohio Infantry as a Private, serving with the regiment until June 1862 when he was discharged for disability. By that time, he had been promoted to the rank of sergeant. Returning home to Uhrichsville, he was elected the superintendent of schools but the lure of army life proved too strong and he enlisted as a private in Co. C of the 5th Independent Battalion of Ohio Cavalry in 1863. The 5th Battalion was later merged with the 4th Battalion to form the 13th Ohio Cavalry regiment. Sampson was promoted to regimental commissary sergeant.
Lt Archibald J. Sampson, Co. H, 27th U.S.C.T.

In April 1864, Sampson was commissioned a first lieutenant in the 27th U.S. Colored Troops and joined the regiment in Columbus, Ohio before it left the state. He was assigned to Co. H. Lieutenant Sampson was on detached duty during June/July commanding a detachment of recruits at Point Lookout, Maryland and during this period requested staff duty with Brigadier General Barnes. Sampson cited several generals who could attest to his qualifications including prominent Ohio Republicans James A. Garfield and Robert Schenk, both generals then serving in Congress.

He served with the 27th U.S.C.T. until late November 1864, taking part in several battles including the Crater and Hatcher's Run. He came ill with a heart condition and rheumatism in his right shoulder and was hospitalized in December 1864. In January 1865, he wrote a letter to Major General Silas Casey in Washington, D.C. seeking an appointment to Casey's staff. “I have been one of Uncle Sam's boys for two years but I am not physically qualified to endure active field service any longer,” he wrote. “I will be compelled to leave the service which I do not want to do. I can do as much work as ever as long as I don't expose myself too much.” General Casey chose not to act on Sampson's letter and Sampson was given an honorable discharge February 4, 1865. In 1867, he was given a brevet promotion to captain for “gallant and meritorius services during the war.”

After the war, Sampson moved to Missouri with his younger brother Francis and set up a law practice in Sedalia. He married Kate I. Turner, the daughter of Judge A.C. Turner of Cadiz in 1866, but she died in December of 1886 in Denver. He later re-married to another widow, Mrs. Frances S. Wood of Joliet, Illinois. "For some time, even in the camp as a soldier, Mr. Sampson pursued the study of law and on his return home, having passed the requisite examination, was admitted to practice at Mount Vernon, Ohio. He was subsequently graduated from the Cleveland Law School and in 1865 located at Sedalia, Missouri where he began a successful practice. While a resident of that city, he served as county superintendent of schools, as attorney for the State Board of Education for the 5th Congressional District, and as city and county attorney. In 1872 he declined the appointment of the United States consul to Palestine to which he had been appointed by President Grant. In 1873, Mr. Sampson removed to Colorado and located at Canon City where he resumed the practice of law and served one term as county attorney. In 1876 he was nominated and later elected attorney general of Colorado, receiving one of the largest majorities on the ticket," it was written in the Historical & Biographical Record of the Territory of Arizona in 1896. "He is a courteous, affable, and most agreeable gentleman."

Sampson enjoyed good political connections dating back to his Civil War service and they served him in good stead throughout his long career. He gained popularity as a stump speaker advocating for the Republican Party and was very active socially with memberships in the G.A.R., M.O.L.L.U.S., and the Masons. With the election of President William Harrison in 1889, he was appointed to a consulship in Paso Del Norte, Mexico where he learned to speak and read Spanish. In 1892, he moved with his family to Arizona and took up ranching and managing other business interests such as mining. With the election of fellow Ohio Civil War veteran William McKinley to the Presidency in 1897, Sampson was appointed Minister to Ecuador and served in that capacity until 1907. He died of kidney disease and pneumonia on Christmas Eve 1921 in Phoenix, Arizona at the age of 82 and is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Denver, Colorado. 

The 27th U.S. Colored Troops was comprised of men of color, many of whom were Ohio residents at the time of their enlistment. The regiment mustered into service January 16, 1864 at Camp Delaware (Delaware, Ohio) and was assigned to the Army of the Potomac in April. The regiment served with the army supply train until July when it was sent to Petersburg and took part in the siege operations being conducted by the Army of the Potomac. At the Battle of the Crater, the regiment formed a part of the First Brigade (Lieutenant Colonel Joshua K. Sigfried commanding) along with the 30th, 39th, and 43rd U.S.C.T. regiments. General Edward Ferrero was the division commander.
Battle of the Crater as depicted by artist Alfred Waud in 1864

The following letter written by Lieutenant Sampson was published in the August 9, 1864 issue of the Tuscarawas Advocate.

In the trenches of Petersburg, Virginia
August 2, 1864

Editor Advocate:
Thinking a few words in regard to the late battle at this place would not be uninteresting to the readers of the Advocate, and having a few leisure moments, I hasten to prepare you a few notes. Long ere this reaches you, the North will be aroused with the intelligence that a great battle has been fought and numerous statements will be made in regard to it, the most of which will vary more or less from the truth.

As an eyewitness and participant I shall strive to give a correct account, but not full in detail as I would not likely be able to complete it were I to commence such. On Saturday morning at 4:30, the desultory firing of the pickets and sharpshooters from noon till night and from night till noon was for variety of program changed so as to all all the privilege which the pickets and sharps had heretofore enjoyed, and one of the most bloody battles of the war was fought. Soldiers of many battles say they never saw one equal to it.

“The ball opened” by the explosion of our mines and sending the Rebel fort heavenward; throwing many Rebels nearer that place than they will ever get again. The noise was very slight, nothing but a hoarse growling when the next instant, as estimated by some, the clay was thrown 100 feet high. It was entirely unexpected by the Johnnies, as some of them told me who were in the fort sleeping at the time and taken prisoners. In this explosion they lost 200 men. Had a bold charge been made at this moment, I believe we would today be in Petersburg for the Rebels evacuated a fort which afterwards gave us such an enfilade fire; they also abandoned almost their entire line not knowing how many more mines we had under them. But the unpropitious moment was unoccupied until they became satisfied that there we no other mines and they returned to their posts for duty.

The attack of Ferrero's division at the Crater had the regiments stacked into an attacking column which blundered right into the hole created by the mine explosion. (Map courtesy of American Battlefield Trust)

At last, however, the command came: “charge!” This was done by white and colored troops in a manner that showed their determination. Soon the fort was occupied and on went our brave boys until we had some six or eight stand of colors on the Rebel works. Now came the unpropitious moment for the Rebels opened an enfilade fire from both directions of their line and at the same time about 10,000 Rebels made the charge on our troops yelling like fiends. The colored troops not being properly supported and exposed to such a severe fire retreated. Here were performed deeds of daring and heroism which have never been surpassed. Almost superhuman exertions were made to rally those retreating but all to no purpose. Our regiment (27th U.S.C.T.) stood up bravely to the work until compelled to retreat to save being trampled by the Second Brigade. [Sampson is referencing the Second Brigade of the Fourth Division which was led by Colonel Henry Goddard Thomas and comprised of the 19th, 23rd, 29th, and 31st U.S.C.T. regiments.] White troops as well as colored were compelled to retreat until we now occupy the same positions we did in the morning before the battle.

Patriots shed tears while viewing the field and thinking where we might be if...history will tell that. I do not believe the failure was on account of colored troops, but ask anyone who was in the charge. No heroes ever fought more valiantly than many colored men did that day. This is acknowledged by all. Our dead number about 300, wounded and prisoners I know not how many but both are heavy. On Saturday we sent in a flag of truce to have the privilege of burying our dead and caring for the wounded, but this was refused by those heartless fiends on account of informality on our part, as they said.

While they were parleying, hostilities ceased so that we could get up and look across at the Johnnies only a few rods apart, but could not go over to give water to those who were dying for want of it. One poor fellow raised his tin cup, waved it, and then raised it to his lips, going through the motions of drinking, showing us what he wanted, but by those devils it was refused. There lay our wounded two days, enduring the almost unendurable stench of the dead exposed to the burning rays of a 100 degree sun. God alone knows the degree of their misery.

On Monday morning our flag of truce was accepted and I hastened to the field with water to give to the suffering heroes. Oh, with what eagerness they did drink- thousands of dollars would not be an equivalent for one drink of water I suppose. It is a hard sight to be in battle, listen to the confusion, the dying groans, the pleadings of the wounded, etc., but all this is nothing to compare to the field of the dead. God grant it may never be my lot to behold such another sight as I here beheld. My heart sickens at the sight and I shrink from a further description of scenes. As soon as our flag of truce was hoisted, the Rebel hordes were out by the score robbing our dead, coolly and deliberately before our eyes. At this sight my wrath was kindled a little more than it ordinarily is, but as the field was theirs, we had to silently endure it.

I know of one Tuscarawas boy hurt (Albert Parish of Uhrichsville); he came near being killed by a shell and was severely stunned by it, but now is all right again. It is now unknown what will be our next move, but rest assured there is no inactivity in the Army of the Potomac.

I may write to you again as soon as anything of importance transpires. We still are hopeful of success.

Yours in haste,
Lt. Arch. J. Sampson, commanding Co. H, 27th U.S.C.T.


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 Cannons are Now Silent: The Field of Death of Tupelo

The Vaunted Enfield Rifle Musket

Straw Already Threshed: Sherman on Shiloh

Federal Arms in the Stones River Campaign

Federal Arms in the Chickamauga Campaign

The Legend of Leatherbreeches: Hubert Dilger in the Atlanta Campaign

In front of Atlanta with the 68th Ohio