Brigham's War: Letters from the 27th Ohio Infantry Pt. II

In July 1861, a company was raised by Captain Milton Wells in southeastern Ohio and went to Camp Chase at Columbus to join a new regiment. The company called itself the Monroe and Noble Rangers, named for the two counties from which the men enlisted, and became Co. D of the 27th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. In its ranks, an unknown soldier who went by the pen name 'Brigham' wrote a series of letters to the Woodsfield Spirit of Democracy giving a detailed account of life in the first year of the Civil War, the last of which was published in February 1863. Billed as “A Soldier's Jottings,” Brigham's letters come to us as rather chatty descriptions of life in Uncle Sam's service in the western theater in the early years of the war. This blog post includes some of the highlights of this correspondence.

The 27th Ohio Infantry served in the western theater, initially going to Missouri and taking part in several successful operations along the Mississippi River. In April 1862, it sailed up the Tennessee River to join General Henry W. Halleck's army at Pittsburg Landing where it took part in the siege of Corinth. Following the Rebel abandonment of Corinth, the 27th Ohio remained in the area until late in the year and during that time took part in both the battles of Iuka and Corinth. On the last day of December 1862, the 27th Ohio clashed with Nathan Bedford Forrest's troopers at Parker's Crossroads, Tennessee which closes out “Brigham's War.”

Part II of this series covers the actions along the Mississippi that constituted the campaign against New Madrid and Island No. 10. 

Siege of New Madrid, Missouri
March 3-14, 1862

Whitelaw Reid: “In March, the army moved upon New Madrid, the 27th Ohio being in the advance. The morning the column neared the town, the regiment drove the enemy's skirmishers back to the main line and then advanced upon this line through a perfect storm of shells from the forts and gunboats. When the enemy's position had been well ascertained, the regiment moved back out of the range of the Rebel guns and encamped. On the night of March 12th, two companies of the 27th Ohio with a detachment from another regiment, drove in the Rebel pickets and protected the force detailed to place the siege guns in position. This was effected without loss, and the next day the regiment moved up in support of the battery. The regiment was actively engaged during the remainder of the siege, and after the surrender of the town, remained in camp two weeks constantly engaged in drill.”

New Madrid, Missouri, March 16, 1862
“From the heading of this article, you see that the stars and stripes wave on the banks of the great Father of Waters at this point, and more than that, we have here the men and means to sustain them. When we arrived here on the 3rd of this month, the tri-colored rag of the fast-disappearing humbug Confederate States, waved over forts and gunboats and cowardly traitors beneath it hurled shot and shell at us, but such things are no more. We met them at fearful odds and conquered.”

“On the third day of March, we arrived near this place and made the first advance. The 27th Ohio led the way closely followed by the 39th Ohio, being the First Brigade of the First Division of the Army of the Mississippi under the immediate supervision of General Schuyler Hamilton, at that time commander of the First Division. About three miles from the place, six companies (A,F, and D on the right of the road, and G,K, and B on the left) were deployed as skirmishers, the other four companies forming the reserve. Great care was exercised for fear of being surprised and cut off, but not a single Secesh was seen. We had proceeded to within less than a mile of the town unmolested and we began to fancy an easy capture when suddenly the gunboats, three in number, opened on us, and having nothing with us as to contend with such monsters, a halt was sounded and for six long hours we lay flat on the ground to avoid instant destruction as the shot and shell were poured at us in a constant shower.”
Brigadier General Schuyler Hamilton

“During this time, all observations wanted were taken and we fell back with one man wounded, one missing (taken prisoner), and one killed. We camped for the night just outside the range of their guns, resting under the conviction that Secesh were up and alive. Since then two demonstrations were made on the place with the hope of drawing them out and take a fair fight, but in vain, as nothing would entice them from the protection of the boats and another mode to take the place had to be adopted.”

“To bombard the place, heavy guns were requisite, none of which we had along, and we had to fall back and await for them to be brought up. The railroad from Bird's Point to Sykestown had to be repaired as the swamps from here to Commerce rendered it an impossibility for them to be transported from thence. On the evening of the 12th three 32-pounders and one 10-inch mortar arrived, and active operations were immediately begun. Two companies from our regiment, two from the 39th, and perhaps some troops from other brigades, were sent under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Kennett to drive in the Rebel pickets and protects our sappers and miners while they threw up proper fortifications to plant our cannon in. The place had been selected purposely on a slightly elevated piece of ground within 800 yards of the Rebel fort and the river, and although their guns completely and thoroughly covered the ground, they never fired a shot during the night and when daylight dawned, our men awoke them from their sleep of security by sending a 32-pound shot crashing in among them.”

“At one o'clock on the morning of the 13th, the whole command was silently awakened and as silently marched to their proper stations in the coming combat. Our brigade was in the advance and just at dawn our fortifications were reached, and as the Rebels had two regiments stationed in a piece of timber on the right of it, we were ordered to drive them out. Marching by the flank within 50 yards of their lines, during which they fired a volley at us with no other result than wounding an aide's horse, we were formed right in their faces, and the order to charge bayonets given. But no charge was made as our appearance frightened them so that they fled without pausing to await the help of cold steel. During all this time, our guns were playing on the forts and gunboats which they were not slow in returning, and the roar of cannon and bursting of shells was terrific. The position we occupied was a prominent one, and the fog and smoke which settled over us only saved us from a fearful fire, and orders were given to fall back under cover and be ready to support our guns, if necessary. In moving, our position was changed from the right to the left of the breastwork, and in doing so, a narrow lane had to be passed directly in range of the enemy's guns and the passage was a dreadful one. One shell burst directly over our company, wounding two men, and killed one in Co. F which was ahead of us, and scattered hundreds of pieces among us, and wonder is it did so little damage. A ball passed through Co. H and wounded three men, cutting both legs off one, and one each of the other two, and their cries were shuddering in the extreme. Reaching a sheltered place behind a bank, our brigadier (Colonel John Groesbeck of the 39th Ohio) ordered us to lie down and thus situated, we were comparatively safe. A road leading from town to our rear was as yet unguarded, and Co. K under the command of our First Lieutenant John W.W. Brock (its officers were sick) was sent to perform that duty and soon after, four more companies (A,F,D, and I) were ordered to the same place. During the whole day and night, the position of this half of the regiment remained unchanged and the rest of the brigade also did not move, but they dug a ditch to protect them during the night.”

“The cannonading was kept up all day with unremitted fury on both sides and many are the narrow escapes which are told. When night set in, the rain came down in torrents and the artillery of heaven rivaled the artillery of man. But soon, as if by common consent, the war of cannon ceased and the storm king held indisputable sway. The lightning was awful as it came seething from above, and I expected every moment to have my musket torn from my grasp and myself hurled into eternity by it. The crashing balls and hissing shells I shall ever remember, but the recollection of that storm will be the last thing that will fade from my mind.”

“When the morning came, we expected a renewal of the attack; and as we had held a perilous position for 24 hours, the General gave us orders to be relived and the troops necessary to do it were ordered from the reserve. But it was needless for the enemy was gone. During the night everything available was brought into requisition and cutting loose, the willing Mississippi carried them I know not whither. The town is a perfect desert, as not a single house in it has escaped injury, and more than half of them were either torn down or burnt up by the Rebels to give them range for their cannon, and all ornamental trees and a large grove were cut down for the same purpose and when I was there, not a single inhabitant could be found. The fort proper is a formidable affair, being an earthwork in the form of a duadecagon, and was defended by twelve pivot 32-pound guns and two smaller pieces, and if brave men had occupied it, thousands could have been held at bay. A ditch extends around it ten feet deep and about fifteen wide, and the walls are no less than fourteen feet in thickness and at important place they are far more. It is situated about one mile below town and close on the river bank. The works in town consisted of a fortified camp, having a wall and ditch around it except on the river side, and it ought undoubtedly to be called Fort Corn as it is built wholly of that article, shelled and sacked in common gunny sacks which are piled on one another and covered with sand. The wall is full three quarters of a mile long and five feet high and six feet high, and contains a vast amount of grain. This work was also defended by twelve 32-pound pivot guns besides several smaller ones, the latter of which were thrown into the river before the place was deserted.”

“Around both forts at the distance of 30 paces as out works is constructed of brush, cut and placed in with the tops out, and very difficult to clamber over proving very conclusively that the Rebels are bushwhackers, for where they have no brush naturally growing they cut and haul it near enough to look at even, if they dare not crawl into it and hide. With such fortifications, not taking the gunboats into consideration, it is a mystery to me why they skedaddled, when we only had three guns and one mortar that dared to fire at them as our field pieces were of no account to us. No means are at hand to ascertain the amount of captured property. They left it all, not taking a single thing with them, even their haversacks which contain any amount of cooked rations. The magazine are full of powder, and piles of balls, shells, grape, and canister meet the eye everywhere, and the wonder is they did not toss the whole thing into the river. The guns are not captured really as [former Secretary of War] John Floyd only borrowed them from the United States, and this may be considered as a kind of return. Most of them are spiked but it is very loosely done, and will injure them but little.”

Siege of Island No. 10
March 14-April 7, 1862

New Madrid, Missouri, April 10, 1862
“On the morning of April 7th at 8 o'clock, the march toward the river about two miles from our camp was begun, and the place of embarkation reached about an hour afterwards. All know that a day or two before, the splendid gunboat Carondelet had run the blockade under the most terrific fire, followed the next day by the no less daring Pittsburg, and these two monsters of iron hail were ready in the stream to assist in the crossing. For three wearisome weeks, a never tiring band had been at work in a bayou leading from the river above Island No. 10 to this place, and their continual exertions were crowned at daylight this morning with success. Two large transports and several barges emerged from the woods apparently and showing many signs of the rough passage about the sides and chimneys, proudly floated again on the bosom of the wide Mississippi. The sight astonished even Uncle Sam's boys; how it must have been with the Rebels, the boats being visible from several of their batteries on the opposite shore and after their exit from the timber.”
U.S.S. Carondelet

“Before attempting to cross, the batteries on the opposite shore had to be demolished or silenced, and the gunboats were made the willing instruments to perform the task, and a duty was never more thoroughly and swiftly done. Under a full head of steam, the Carondelet headed for the upper fortification, an earthwork mounting three heavy guns and one mortar, and her bow guns howling like the trumpet of judgment, hurled forth iron entrails as destructive as the thunder bolts of heaven. The Rebels beheld her advance and shot after shot was fired in quick succession at the approaching foe, but in vain as on came that iron clad monster regardless of all resistance. One gun was dismounted but still in desperation, the remainder were worked with increased energy. A well-aimed shot hits another, and it flies into the ditch as if it was a twig. Despair now nerves their arms, and the remaining mortar was worked with a will. On came the undaunted Carondelet until only a few hundred yards remained unpassed between her and the fort, and confounded, its brave defenders fled into the woods to avoid instant death. One after another, the fortifications below it yielded in the same way.”

“The way now being open, the transit was made without any difficulty and about 2 o'clock the 27th Ohio set foot on Kentucky soil, preceded by two regiments of our own division and another entire division with several field batteries. The route taken was down the river and without meeting any obstruction a point opposite Point Pleasant was reached. All the way the greatest precaution was used to prevent a surprise and night coming on, orders were given to halt and await daylight. The hours passed slowly under the expectation of an engagement that never came. Morning dawned and we were soon again under way, still down the river through the woods, canebrakes, cornfields, and deeply tangled brush, making rather slow progress owing thereto. The little town of Tiptonsville was distant from where we spent the night by ten miles, and now seven of them were behind us and at the place resistance was expected. Silence was enjoined and as still as night, the winding path through the woods was followed, each one tightly grasping his faithful piece, ready for any emergency that might arise.”

“Loud shouting came on the breeze from a head, and whispers went around that our men in advance were making a charge, but still silent and firm the solid column moved on until the news came back that the enemy had surrendered without firing a shot, and the town was soon in our possession. When like the mighty roar of falling waters, the cheers went up. One continued yell from one end of the line to the other rent the heavens, and one who never heard it can form no idea of the rushing, crashing sound of thousands cheering, the echo and re-echo of the voice of united freemen. Under the excitement of the occasion, the distance from the town was hardly noticed and reaching the place, the report was verified by witnessing the long stacks of Rebel arms and the long lines of Federals, guarding the Rebels themselves.”
Major General Henry W. Halleck

“Dress parade is just over and an order from General Halleck to General Pope complimenting him and his troops for their skill and bravery exhibited at New Madrid and Island No. 10 and read in front of the regiment. General Pope remarked that he had little to add to the order, only that he hoped yet to lead his army where superiority in numbers would induce the foe to contest the field more tenaciously and give us the pleasure of snatching victory from its grasp. In conclusion, he ordered the standards of the troops under his command to have engraved upon them 'New Madrid and Island No. 10.' The order was received with loud and prolonged cheers, proving the entire confidence placed in General Pope by his troops.”


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