Beastly Drunk: The Dismissal of Colonel William B. Cassilly 69th Ohio

The sounds of battle still reverberated amongst the hills of middle Tennessee when Colonel Timothy Stanley of the 18th Ohio wrote his official report of the Battle of Stones River. His command, the 29th Brigade of General James S. Negley’s Division consisting of the 19th Illinois, 11th Michigan, 18th Ohio, 69th Ohio, and Battery M, 1st Ohio Light Artillery, had taken part in some of the toughest fighting of the battle in a section of cedar forest now known as the Slaughter Pen. His brigade had suffered heavy casualties in its failed attempt to stem the Confederate tide. He was proud of his men. “They acted with bravery expected of well-disciplined troops fighting in a just cause,” he wrote. “They stood manfully and bravely the appalling fire of a much larger force.” But there was, unfortunately, one exception.

          “Early in the action of this day [December 31, 1862] I discovered that Colonel William B. Cassilly of the 69th Ohio Volunteers was so drunk as to be unfitted for command,” Stanley wrote with scarcely disguised anger. “I ordered him to the rear in arrest.” Stanley placed Major Eli Hickcox in command but in the resulting engagement, Hickcox was injured and command devolved to a pair of captains. The 69th Ohio with its men, “much mortified at the conduct of their Colonel” as reported in the Cadiz Sentinel, “did but little service in the action” wrote Colonel Stanley due to the command confusion engendered by Cassilly’s drunkenness.
Colonel Timothy R. Stanley
18th Ohio Infantry

          “I recommend the dismissal of Colonel Cassilly from the service. I cannot for a moment tolerate or pass over such flagrant conduct. I saw nothing of him after the action, but have learned that he was wounded and had gone to Nashville. A man who will come to the field of battle, having the lives of so many in his keeping, in such a situation, no matter what his social position, is totally unfit for any command,” Stanley concluded. The Cadiz Sentinel, quoting a letter from a member of the 69th Ohio, stated that Cassilly “was stupidly, beastly drunk.”

          Much had been expected from Colonel Cassilly based on his length of time in service and general good conduct. Born in April 1824 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, his family had moved to Cincinnati, Ohio by the early 1830s where Cassilly attended the prestigious Woodward School and served several terms on Cincinnati City Council while working as an insurance agent. At the outbreak of the war in April 1861, he joined the 10th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, serving three months as regimental quartermaster. Then he led a Cincinnati contingent of the Benton Cadets in Missouri for another three months before obtaining a commission as lieutenant colonel of the 69th Ohio Infantry in January 1862. While Colonel Cassilly’s defense against this charge doesn’t reside in the Official Records, he did have a card published in the January 23, 1863 issue of the Cincinnati Commercial asking for “a suspension of public opinion on the charge of drunkenness in the late battle of Stones River until I am able to obtain a court of inquiry.” [This never happened.] The colonel then gave his own description of what occurred on the morning of December 31, 1862.
While this map focuses on the regiments of Colonel Frederick Miller's brigade, Stanley's brigade is located just to the left and this portion of the battlefield has been preserved as part of the Stones River National Battlefield. 

          “On the morning of the 31st, my regiment was in the advance of the brigade which was in a thicket of cedars some 200 yards in the rear. We were not informed of our right being turned until the enemy appeared in force on our right flank, when we were ordered back to form with the balance of the  brigade. In returning, as we were ascending a small hill, my horse was shot through the leg. I dismounted to examine his wound and was in doing so, my saddle turned and I was delayed some time in adjusting that and examining the wound of my horse to see if he could carry me. Upon remounting I found that regiment had passed over the hill and out of sight. Just as I took up the reigns to ride after them, I received a wound through the left arm, shattering the bone. I took out my handkerchief to bind it up, when someone rode up and assisted me, after which the person took hold of the bridle of my horse and proposed to lead me off, which I declined. But at the same moment I felt myself growing faint until my head rested on the neck of my horse. I remember no more until I raised my head and found myself on the turnpike road at least a mile if not more from the place where I was wounded. When I came to, the same person was leading my horse and a young man walking along side holding me on. On attempting to rise, I again became faint and fell off when I was put in an ambulance and driven to Nashville.” Interestingly, Cassilly makes no mention (or has no memory) of Colonel Stanley putting him under arrest.

Stanley’s report worked its way up the chain of command, being approved and forward by both Generals Negley and Thomas before arriving at General William Rosecrans’ headquarters. Here an order was promptly cut dismissing Colonel Cassilly from the service effective January 16, 1863. The action of dismissing officers was governed by General Orders No. 4 and  No. 9 issued November 9, 1862 by General Rosecrans headquarters which states that “whenever an order mustering out or dismissing an officer is given from these headquarters, it will be sent through the proper commanders to the commanding officer of the regiment or detachment to which the culprit belongs. It will be the duty of the immediate commander to cause the command to be assembled and the order published to it as soon as practicable. He will cause the culprit to appear in front of the command, uncovered, while the order is read, and after its publication, the Adjutant will strip from him, in presence of the command, his shoulder straps and all other marks of rank; after which he will be conducted by the guards to the lines of the command.”

          A reporter for the Chicago Tribune stated that Colonel Cassilly was spared this humiliation because of the wound he sustained in the battle. “Colonel Cassilly stood fair as an officer and gentleman in the army” and it was speculated that his social standing also mitigated against the full enforcement of Order No. 9. [General Rosecrans, being a Cincinnati resident, may have known Cassilly personally.] Cassilly returned home to Cincinnati, his postwar years spent selling insurance and serving on city council. He was a proud member of the Woodward Club and died July 24, 1888 at age 64. Colonel Cassilly is buried at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, his stone making no mention of his Civil War services with the 10th and 69th Ohio regiments or the Benton Cadets. Regardless, for Colonel Cassilly, the Civil War was over and his name is largely remembered in that context not for deeds of valor on the battlefield, but for his affinity with the bottle.

          For a nice wartime image of Colonel Cassilly, I recommend checking out David Holcomb’s article on “Hard Drinking Colonels” from Military Images magazine.


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