The Saga of Battery G: A Desperate Escape from the Slaughter Pen at Stones River

On the southern edge of the Stones River National Battlefield is an open field now used for artillery demonstrations highlighting the story of the Federal batteries that fought in that bitterly contested portion of the field known as the Slaughter Pen. Among the batteries that held this ground on December 31, 1862 was Battery G of the 1st Ohio Light Artillery commanded by First Lieutenant Alexander Marshall of Cleveland. This battery was an experienced one having been the only battery in Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio that participated in the Battle of Shiloh. Lieutenant Marshall had assumed command of the battery in place of Captain Joseph Bartlett who was suffering from poor health; Bartlett would resign his commission in January 1863 opening the way for Marshall’s promotion to captain.
Guidon of Battery G, 1st Ohio Light Artillery
It was a well-equipped battery, if a ‘weird’ one in that four of its six guns were Wiard rifled pieces: two 6-pdr rifles and two 12-pdr rifles. The remaining two guns were M1841 12-pdr smoothbore howitzers. The Wiard rifles were relatively rare and the unique design of the carriage allowed the guns to be elevated such that they could also serve as mortars. The Wiard rifles generally fired Hotchkiss-type shells, and Marshall’s after-action report mentions the frequent use of canister.

Battery G was attached to Colonel John Franklin Miller’s brigade of General James Negley’s Second Division of General George H. Thomas’ Center Corps. Miller’s brigade consisted of the 37th Indiana, 78th Pennsylvania, and two Ohio regiments, the 21st from northwestern Ohio and the 74th from southwestern Ohio. It proved to be a hard fighting unit that gained much notice for its steadfastness in the cedars at Stones River, and Battery G fit in well with its brigade mates. The gunners hailed from the Cleveland area although a small contingent also resided in my home of Wood County, Ohio, the same home to many members of their brigade mates the 21st Ohio Infantry. Indeed, the ranks of Battery G were sprinkled with men from the infantry regiments of the brigade who were temporarily transferred before the battle.
Period photograph of a 6-pdr Wiard rifle; Battery G had two of these and two 12-pdr
rifles of the same design. Only one of the 6-pdr guns made it out of the cedars. 

Battery G’s fight in the cedars was desperate, deadly and costly. Four of its six guns were lost due to enemy action and the battery suffered five men killed, five wounded (although a private offered that nearly three-quarters of the men of the battery had scratches or holes in their clothes from enemy bullets), and 14 men captured. The horses of the battery were decimated as 34 of them were killed and another dozen captured, making it impossible to drag the guns off the field.

Captain Alexander Marshall of Battery G

Lieutenant Marshall’s report of what occurred in the cedars eloquently captures the chaos of the battle in this sector and is, in my opinion, one of the key documents that explain what happened in that very confusing portion of the battle. The portion of his report relating to the battle of December 31st follows, after which I will give a few incidents of the battle as related by other members of the battery. “At daylight of the 31st, opened with the four guns, stationed in the corn-field, shelling the woods to the right and the battery and rifle-pit in front, as the night before. About 8 a.m., moved the center section down to the left about 40 rods, taking position near two log-houses in rear of the corn-field, a dense thicket across the corn-field directly in front, open country to the left and front, where the enemy was in position. Remained in this position about thirty minutes without firing; then moved this section up and took position in center of the battery; worked the battery till about 11 a.m. The enemy up to this time fired but few rounds from their batteries in our front, firing being mostly from their skirmishers in the woods, when, in obedience to Colonel Miller’s order, moved to the right; partially changed front. The batteries of the enemy opened over the advancing infantry a heavy fire before we had fairly got into position. Ordered caissons under shelter a short distance in the rear, and opened upon the rapidly advancing enemy with canister. As our support advanced, we moved our pieces forward by hand and worked them as rapidly as possible.

One of our 12-pounder howitzers being disabled, the trail having been cut nearly off by a shot, ordered it to the rear. Went to work with canister, the enemy advancing in the woods close upon us. As our infantry support advanced we advanced our pieces by hand to the fence close to the woods, that we might hold an interval in their lines, and continued firing canister as fast as possible. During this time our horses were suffering severely from fire from the enemy; had them replaced by the teams from battery and forge wagon 1 ½ miles in the rear, in charge of artificers. All of my spare horses were soon used up and several taken from the caissons. Had 3 men killed and several wounded.
A  12-pdr howitzer; Battery G was equipped with two of these guns and left one on the field at Stones River.

    Saw the enemy moving down the open field in masses on our left flank, and firing extending far to our rear on our right flank, and one of our 12-pounder rifles having a shot wedged and but three horses remaining, I ordered First Lieutenant John Crable to take the two disabled pieces and caissons to the rear through the cedar swamp, and ordered the remaining four pieces to fix prolonge, to fire retiring. The enemy had already been twice repulsed, when they moved upon both our flanks and front with renewed ranks and vigor, which caused our support to give way. I ordered the battery to retire to the woods in our rear, two pieces having but three horses and two four horses each.

My own, Second Lieutenant Robert D. Whittlesey’s, and one sergeant’s horse were killed; three of the guns moved off as ordered; prolonge of the left piece, 12-pounder Wiard, broken; at the same time the lead rider was shot; the gunner mounted his team, when the off wheel horse was killed and the off lead horse wounded, which prevented us from using the limber. I then ordered a limber of one of the pieces already in the woods out, to draw the remaining 12-pounder off the field into the woods.
Map showing the position of Miller's and Stanley's brigades during the crucial fight for the cedars. Battery G is located between the 78th Pennsylvania and 37th Indiana on the southern flank (the right) of Miller's brigade. Note also the pioneer road on the left which provided the means by which the battery was placed into position on December 30th. Access to the road was cut off when Confederate forces pried loose Timothy Stanley's brigade on the Battery's right and forced the gunners to retreat through the cedar swamp directly to their rear. (Map courtesy of Lanny Smith)

We had no sooner started back when I found the right and center of the brigade had fallen back, and the left (21st Ohio) was coming in, leaving the pieces about 40 yards outside of our lines, between us and the enemy, which was fast closing in on us, with a heavy fire. Saw that it was impossible to reach the gun. I ordered the limber back and gun limbered up; moved back through the cedar swamp in rear of brigade. There being no road, I was considerably bothered to work my way through. As the brigade was moving rapidly and the enemy pressing close upon us, two more of my wheel horses were shot and one rider, when I was obliged to leave two more guns, having but one wheel and middle horse on each piece. Sergeant Henry J. Farewell, together with Sergeant George W. Bills, took the remaining piece, passed the pieces left, and worked their way through and took position on the right of Captain James H. Stokes’ battery (Board of Trade battery), where I found them and went to work, using up the balance of our ammunition-about 40 rounds."

National colors of Battery G highlighted the battery's participation at Shiloh and Stones River. 

I’d like to highlight a couple of incidents that supplement Marshall’s after action report. On January 20, 1863 while camped in Murfreesboro, Lieutenant Marshall wrote in a letter home “we had a rather tough time in the battle before this place. We lost five men killed, four guns, two caissons, and 46 horses lost. I had four men killed, eight wounded, and 34 horses killed in 20 minutes time all by musketry. Thirty-two horses out of 36 were killed on the guns alone, the caissons being under cover of a thicket to the rear. We drew five of the guns off the field but were obliged to leave them in a cedar swamp. There was no road and the brigade traveled at quick and double quick time about one mile in disorder through this dense growth of cedars sustaining a heavy fire from both flanks and rear. They finally cut their way through the enemy who had completely surrounded us and saved Sergeant Farwell’s and Sergeant Edwards’ guns. Our heaviest loss was on the 31st of December. Then I had my horse shot through the hips, neck, and forelegs before he had time to fall.” (Cleveland Morning Leader, February 16, 1863)

Private John Woodworth was wounded while trying to recover one of the guns from the field during the retreat. “The musket balls and canister were coming in very thick. Two of our pieces were disabled and sent a short distance to the rear and I was with them. The Rebels were preparing a third charge on the guns remaining in line and their horses had nearly all been killed and the guns were getting short of ammunition. Sergeant [Frank] Edgarton called for volunteers to go with our team and limber thinking he could save another of the guns from being captured. Fred Vrooman, Jim Gaffney, and I went with Sergeant Edgarton leading the way. We had just reached the team when our lead team was killed and our captain gave the order to fix prolonge and fire retiring, but the prolong broke without moving the gun. We then tried to make a left about to limber up, but the wheel team was killed and I was wounded, shot through the mouth, the bullet coming out under the right ear. Our infantry support had fallen back but the battery could not on account of the loss of horses.”

Private Franklin Spooner
Battery G

“When I was wounded, I was taken to the rear by Private Franklin Spooner and Private William Ransbottom. They took me back only a short distance in the cedars where there were a lot of wounded collected. I was strangling with blood and they had to stop with me. There was a surgeon at this place and they had a [yellow] hospital flag up. Ransbottom started back to the battery. Spooner said I was badly wounded and he would stay with me, but in a few minutes he saw the Rebels coming and knowing we could not be permitted to stay together and could not take me with him, he left me and I was soon in the hands of the enemy. There were about 150 prisoners taken at this place, the surgeon being taken with us.” (Account courtesy of Lanny Smith)

Sergeant Clarence Riddle was in charge of one of the guns that were lost, and related the following in a letter written to his father dated Murfreesboro, Tennessee, January 8, 1863. “On Wednesday, we got up, ate a few hard tacks, and took our position in a cornfield where we shelled out a battery that was playing on us. After this we changed our front to the opposite side of the cornfield and commenced throwing canister into the enemy who had broken our lines and surrounded our division. They were marching on us in solid columns, pouring volley after volley into our ranks. When our guns were playing on them, we could see the canister sweep a space ten feet wide through their ranks, piling them up in winnows, but they would close up in a moment and press speedily upon us.

“The infantry supporting us broke and ran, and the Rebels then charged upon our battery. The gun under my charge threw 37 rounds of canister and the other guns the same, yet the Rebels pressed upon us and we were compelled to leave two of our pieces. My gun we succeeding in partially getting off when the horses were shot and we were compelled to leave it. It was a pretty tough fight. I went in with eight cannoneers and came out with but three. My horse was shot out from under me in the fore part of the fight, but it was no place to flinch and when the cannoneers were shot, I took their places. I acted in three men’s places. The balls came thick and fast about my head and I could see men fall all around me and expected every moment to take my turn. When we left my piece, the Rebels were so close that they ordered us to halt, but we couldn’t see it and rushing forward, we cut our way through them.”  (Chardon Jeffersonian Democrat, January 23, 1863)

Private Clarence Marsh attributed the escape of the battery to reinforcements from Rousseau’s division. “They gave it to us from three sides- right, rear, and front, and at one time they had Negley’s division completely surrounded. I thought then that we would all be killed or taken prisoners. Never did bullets come thicker. Shells would come screaming through the air and they couldn’t burst without killing some of us for they had us all in a huddle in a cedar wood. But we were soon reinforced from our left who made a hole for us to get out of. Our men fell back to the open field and then held their ground.” (Chardon Jeffersonian Democrat, February 6, 1863)


  1. Dan: Great work on Stones River. Happy New Year! John Banks

  2. Dan, Thanks so much for this posting. I've learned recently that my family has connections to Battery G. My 3rd great grandfather, Corp. James Lloyd Sr., emigrated from Wales to Cleveland in 1832 and enlisted, at age 52, and fought at Shiloh and the Siege of Corinth. His son, Corp. James Lloyd Jr., served with the same unit in 1864 during the Battle of Franklin and died from wounds he received during a "sharp artillery duel" at Rutherford's Creek. I then learned I'm related to Clarence L Riddle referenced in your excellent piece. He is the stepson of my 3rd great-grandaunt. His father was raised in a cabin that was located across the street from my boyhood home in Newbury, Ohio.

    Bob Evans
    Cleveland, Ohio

    1. Bob, Clarence Riddle wrote a superb account of Stones River which can be found in the January 23, 1863 issue of the Jeffersonian Democrat from Chardon, Ohio. Here's the link to the issue:


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