Summoning Hell's Half Acre: The 41st Ohio in the Round Forest

    The most crucial piece of real estate during the first day of the Battle of Stones River was a small patch of woods near the intersection of the Nashville Pike and the railroad about two miles northwest of Murfreesboro. Later named the Round Forest, the area is within the park boundaries of the Stones River National Battlefield and is marked not only by ample signage from the Park Service, but the Hazen Brigade monument, constructed during the war, is located adjacent to the railroad. During the course of the first day of the battle, multiple Union regiments from several brigades fought in and around the Round Forest, fending off five determined assaults by Confederate troops. The ground to the south of the Round Forest lay so heavily carpeted with Confederate dead and wounded that it became known as the Mississippian’s Half-Acre or Hell’s Half-Acre. In the way that the Miller Cornfield and Burnside’s Bridge stand as sacred ground at Antietam, the Round Forest at Stones River is its “most hallowed ground.”

Today’s blog post focuses on the account of one of the first regiments to defend the Round Forest, the 41st Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The 41st Ohio hailed from northeastern Ohio, with most of the companies from the Cleveland area although recruits from as far west as Ottawa County also joined the regiment. Originally led by a tough career regular officer named William Babcock Hazen, the 41st Ohio’s character was stamped by Hazen’s hard hand of discipline and became known as one of the crack units of the Army of the Cumberland. Up until the Battle of Stones River, the 41st Ohio had participated in only one pitched battle (Shiloh) despite being in service since the summer of 1861. Stones River was, by one officer’s reckoning, the most severe test the 41st Ohio saw during its entire service in the Civil War.

First Lieutenant Elias Allen Ford, Co. B, 41st Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Photo courtesy of Jake Wiedemann

The account below was written by First Lieutenant Elias Allen Ford of Co. B. Ford, a nephew of a former governor of Ohio, was the commanding officer of a pre-war militia unit known as the Geauga Grays, and leveraged his experience into a leading role in forming the 41st Ohio. Colonel Hazen remembered that Ford, with two other men, really were the nucleus around which the 41st Ohio grew. “They went from village to village, from neighborhood to neighborhood, with the old flag flying to the step of the fife and drum, and the first company was soon enrolled as the result of their good work,” he wrote. Ford was mustered into service as the first sergeant of Co. B August 20, 1861. He gained promotion to second lieutenant of Co. E to date February 3, 1862, and to first lieutenant September 17, 1862. Ford was then transferred back to Co. B. Lieutenant Ford’s account of Stones River originally was published in the Cleveland Herald, but was republished in both the Cleveland Morning Leader and the Jeffersonian Democrat of Chardon, Ohio. This version is from page one of the February 6, 1863 issue of the Jeffersonian Democrat.

          By the nightfall of the 30th, McCook had advanced to a line with us, having driven the enemy back a mile or more. Night again threw her sable mantle o’er the earth and we moved back to the cedar thicket that our camp fires might be masked. Supper over, we called the roll early and lay down to sleep and dream once more.

          But this pleasant bivouac was doomed to be disturbed for about 9 p.m. the order came for the 19th Brigade to move out and relieve the 10th Brigade (Colonel William Grose’s brigade) on the front picket line. It had been raining more or less all day and our loaded arms were in a bad condition. Balls were soon drawn, however, and our old muskets put in shooting order. [The 41st Ohio was armed like many early war regiments from Ohio- the flank companies (A and B) had Enfield rifles as they were specially trained for skirmish duty, while the remainder of the regiment had .69 caliber Miles Greenwood altered flintlock smoothbore muskets. The muskets had been issued to regiment by the state of Ohio when it went into service in August 1861 and after more than a year in the field, were considerably worse for the wear. An unnamed regimental officer complained that the guns were “miserable things, not fit to be in the hands of troops.” Regardless, the guns did good execution at Stones River. 

The deadly arms used by the 41st Ohio in their defense of the Round Forest: A Miles Greenwood altered M1822 rifled musket at top and and an imported Enfield musket dating from 1861 below. The flank companies of the 41st Ohio (Companies A and B) were armed with the Enfield rifles while the balance of the regiment utilized the altered flintlock rifles.
(Rifles and photo courtesy of Phil Spaugy)

    We reloaded and in an hour or more found ourselves within gunshot of the enemy’s picket lines. It was bitter cold and the night wind wailed mournfully through the cedars. Seemingly regardless of the hostility between the two armies, each picket kindled his fire and slept except the lone sentinel who stood faithfully at his post keeping the vigils of the night. Companies A and F took the picket line a little in our advance and the rest of the regiment lay in reserve. [Colonel Aquilla Wiley reported that Companies D and I took over this duty just before dawn on December 31.]

The Round Forest at Stones River with the Nashville Pike to the right, the railroad off to the left. The Cowan House ruins lay just behind the highway overpass at the top left of the photo. 

Our brigade was disposed as follows: 41st Ohio and 6th Kentucky in the front line, the 6th Kentucky on our right. We were supported by the 110th Illinois with the 9th Indiana supporting the 6th Kentucky. Cockerill’s Battery F, 1st Ohio Artillery occupied a little rise of ground on our extreme right. [The 41st Ohio entered the fight with 19 officers and 394 enlisted men.] We wrapped our blankets around us, lay down, but it was too cold to sleep. Long before daybreak of the 31st we were in line, arms in hand, ready for any emergency. As the first gray streak of dawn broke in the east, we began a bird’s eye view reconnaissance of our position. Gradually the darkness lifted and we saw before us a large open cotton field to our front and right, of gradually descending ground towards us, its crest appearing to terminate in a skirt of wood to our front about one half mile.

To the left of the Nashville Pike and yet to our front was an open pasture or common skirted on either side by timber and a prolongation of this ridge, behind which it was evident the enemy was lying in strong force, their batteries plainly visible from our position. At early dawn the skirmishers opened upon each other, each maintaining his position without material injury, being out of musket range. The Rebel outposts were stationed in the cotton field to our front, but they kept themselves behind earthworks they had thrown up. Their position was only developed by the smoke of their rifles. Still we stood in line expecting to move forward every moment, well knowing the day of carnage and battle was before us. Soon the skirmishing on the right increased, and ere long nothing saluted our ears save the incessant rattle of musketry and deafening roar of artillery. Presently the news came that our right had been surprised and was being rapidly driven back. Our eyes and ears soon convinced us of the truth of the statement. But the left wing stood fast.

Pathway leading to the Hazen Brigade monument in the distance. The railroad lies just behind the monument. 

It was now 8:30. Presently the bugle sounded ‘attention’ and our colors were thrown to the breeze, muskets firmly grasped, and sabers rang their steel as they were unsheathed. But what is appearing above yonder crest to our front? Look again and you see the ensign of the rebellion, with its long line of battle on either side flaunting in the breeze and moving down upon us. On they come steadily, firmly, in three lines of battle, connecting with their lines on our right and their left, the intervals between the battalions filled with artillery. As they approached our brigade was faced to the left and ordered to take position just on the left of the pike (between the pike and the railroad) in the edge of a little wood. This we did and then the 41st Ohio changed front to rear on the tenth company with as much coolness and precision as upon the drill ground. This brought us face to face with the enemy. Cockerill’s battery on the keen run took its position and wheeled into line on a crest just to the left of our regiment.

The 6th Kentucky was on a line with us to our right, the 110th Illinois and 9th Indiana in reserve. Our line was formed and every officer and soldier at his post. On they came, banners flying, while the demonic yells of powdered whiskey rent the air and their officers urged them on, but not to victory. Now it is 9 o’clock. We withheld our fire until they were within 40 rods of us [40 rods equals 220 yards or 660 feet], when Colonel Wiley, coolly but in stentorian tones, gave the order ‘Fire by battalion! Battalion, ready, aim, fire!’ We fired a volley into their ranks that halted them and told them we were ready. [The 41st Ohio engaged in this fight the 9th and 44th Mississippi regiments of General James R. Chalmers’ “High Pressure Brigade.”] Not a man flinched. Each stood at his post while shells and balls and leaden hail fell thick and fast about him. ‘Load and fire at will!’ came from the Colonel, and with a will the gallant 41sters executed the order. On every side beloved comrades are falling killed and wounded, but it is no time now to shed tears and express regrets. Here it was the noble Lieutenant Calvin C. Hart (Co. A) fell, struck by a ball in the hip. From association he was to me a brother almost, and the tear of regret over his untimely fate has filled the eye of many a soldier friend.

"Soldiers of the 41st Ohio, you are the bravest set of men
God ever let live!"
Lieutenant Colonel Aquilla Wiley
41st Ohio Infantry

The battle raged but the 19th Brigade wavered not. Twenty rounds of our ammunition had been exhausted when it was discovered the enemy was faltering. Colonel Wiley, who during the whole action sat coolly on his horse close to the center of the regiment, the missile of death flying all around him, noticed the enemy faltering and swinging his hat in the air, started a cheer which his regiment took up and repeated until the rattle of musketry was drowned in the shouts that filled the air. To the work of death fell the 41st and until we had consumed 50 rounds of cartridges (we had but 60) we held our position without wavering an iota. Our ammunition about exhausted, Colonel William B. Hazen ordered up the 9th Indiana to relieve us. As this gallant regiment moved up and passed over us (we lay down), again the patriotic shout and vociferous cheers resounded through the air. In good order we retired about ten rods, lay down, and replenished our boxes with cartridges. Just as we lay down, proud of what we had done, Colonel Wiley waved his hat in the air while a glow of earnestness and enthusiasm tinged his cheek, and shouted, ‘Soldiers of the 41st Ohio, you are the bravest set of men God ever let live! If we get close upon the enemy and are ordered to charge, I want you to charge as though you were the very demons of hell!’ Said he, ‘I’d not ask you to go where I dare not lead you,’ and he did not, and again cheers went up that expressed more fully than words can do how proud were we of our commander.

Detail of an Enfield rifle like those used by Co. B at Stones River
(Photo courtesy of Phil Spaugy)

In this position we lay for about half an hour, when the order was sent for Colonel Wiley to move his regiment to the right across the pike as our line there was falling back. As Colonel Wiley received the order, he raised himself in his stirrups and shouted ‘Forty-First, rise up!’ There was magic in his words that came from a heart of desperate yet cool determination, and with a bound each one sprang to his feet and upon each animated countenance was pictured resolution to avenge the death of fallen comrades or die in the attempt. We moved by the flank to the right, lying down with our left resting near the pike.

A heavy battery lay to our right and it was evident the conflict was changing into an artillery fight. Our shot, shell, grape, and canister were too much for infantry and they fell back. Thick and fast came the shot and shell pouring in upon our battery until every regiment had been ordered back to a new position out of artillery range and to avoid the ricocheting balls bounding. We lay in our position saluted only by a few scattering musket shots but under a terrible artillery fire. Presently we heard ‘in retreat, march!’ and then it was the 41st Ohio rose up and there was a wailing and gnashing of teeth for this order cut to the quick. But it was necessary to fall back or to be cut to pieces, and the order must be obeyed. We had faced about and were falling back in good order when, just as I stepped upon the pike, and ounce musket ball struck me in the back near the right shoulder, passing through my right ling and lodging in my breast. I was helped to the hospital and the regiment moved to its new position. But it was impossible to avoid the shots of the enemy’s artillery who were pouring in a galling and tremendous fire upon our batteries.

Struggle for the Round Forest map marker at Stones River

Again the regiment lay down but in front of a section of our artillery, with a section on its right and left. Here they were exposed to a murderous fire and here it was a cannon ball mercilessly tore off the left foot of our gallant friend Second Lieutenant Harlan P. Wolcott (Co. K), the same ball cutting off both legs of Sergeant John Orr of Co. K who died shortly afterwards. Lieutenant Wolcott did his duty nobly. His (left) foot has been amputated and he is here doing well. While in this same position a shell burst in Co. H, killing one and wounding six or seven and five of Co. E. The regiment has been under fire for five hours and in obedience to orders from General Palmer, was taken out of action. The casualties of the regiment in this battle all occurred upon the 31st. [Casualties totaled 14 killed, 104 wounded, and 6 missing.] So far as my observation extended, officers and soldiers did their duty and stood up nobly to the work.

Too much praise cannot be bestowed upon the gallant conduct of the 9th Indiana and its officers. Wherever posted they held their ground and fought like veterans, adding new laurels to their already well-established reputation. The 6th Kentucky and 110th Illinois did their duty well. Cockerill’s Battery was handled with skill and did good execution. The gallant captain now lies in the hospital suffering from a wound in the foot.

Colonel Wiley was ever-present in the thickest of the fight, cheering us on by his presence and words. He seemed to have a charmed life, and passed through the battle unharmed. Colonel Hazen commanding the brigade was ever on the alert, watching his regiment with the most intense interest. Riding from one point to another through the storm of leaden hail, shot, and shell, he gave his orders with the utmost coolness and again exhibited his capacity to command and control a large body of troops under the most trying circumstances. During the engagement, his horse was shot from under him and his coat torn and set on fire by a shell. But thanks to the Fates, he passed the fiery ordeal unscathed and is spared to his command, whose full esteem he has completely won.

Such was the part taken by the 19th Brigade and the 41st Ohio in the bloodiest and most sanguinary conflict of the war, a battle won by the unflinching and unwavering confidence of General Rosecrans in his men.

The regimental history of the 41st Ohio summed up the fight at Stones River as follows: “Stones River was the first sustained action in which the 41st took part. At Shiloh, the whole fighting was in a single headlong charge- severe in its losses, it is true, but very quickly over. At Corinth there was nothing more than skirmish or picket firing, and the same at Perryville. At Stones River, it was a stand up fight almost from daylight on and a fight wholly on the defensive with the fortune of the day steadily unfavorable- a very severe test although the regiment was no longer considered raw soldiery.”

Stones River essentially ended Elias Ford’s war. Severely wounded in the right lung (as described above), Lieutenant Ford returned home to Ohio and on April 15, 1863 married Lucy Jeffery. Lieutenant Ford had to resign his commission due to this wound on June 3, 1863. He became a passenger agent for the Pennsylvania Railroad and later moved to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.  Ford and his family later moved to California where he died in Pasadena January 20, 1912 at the age of 71. (See gravesite here)

Hazen Brigade Monument

The fight of Hazen’s Brigade was considered the most crucial defensive action at Stones River, and was considered by many of the participants to be the hardest fighting of the war. Consequently, the Hazen Brigade monument was built before the summer campaign of 1863 commenced and I’ve come across an account from a soldier of the 41st Ohio who participated in its construction. His description of how the men were buried and how the monument looked when first built are interesting, as well as some details he provides as to the orientation of the dead. He gave his initials as J.H.W. and could be any one of three men from Co. B; his letter was dated April 2, 1863 and he writes the following: 
"I returned from Murfreesboro Sunday evening, being one of a detail of 25 men from the brigade sent to enclose the graves of those who died upon the battlefield. S. Miller, Co. A, carpenter, Sergeant Renner, Co. F, in charge, Lieutenant Edward Crebbin of the 9th Indiana in command. We took spades, picks, guns, accouterments, haversacks, and canteens, and took passage in two government wagons. After a tedious ride of 13 miles we arrived upon the field. On finding that but a few of the party had more than one day’s rations and that it would take three days to accomplish our work, we concluded to visit our several friends in the Pioneer brigade, composed of two men detached from every company in Rosecrans’ army. The railroad, passing the burial place, run east-southeast close to their final resting place. The enclosure is 94 feet long and 19 wide and parallel to the railroad. At the east lies A. Dous of Battery F, 1st O.V.L.A., Captain Cockerill. Dous’ head is to the south. Those of the 41st are at the east end, their heads to the east. Next to them the 6th Kentucky, then the 9th Indiana, and lastly the 110th Illinois. 

Those of the 41st who died upon the field and now remain there are E. Troutman, J.K. Snider of Co. I, John Lenhart of Co. H, J.R. Strong and Harrison T. Hewes, Co. G, Sergeant Henry Simmons and Drummer S. Winchester, Co. E, and A. McFarland, Co. A. The fence consists of cedar posts set close together 4-1/2 feet high. In the center of the enclosure stands a cedar 40 feet high. Beside it we built a pyramid of 65 12-pound shot, built a stile over the side of the fence next to the pike, filled the mound for each grave, and at the head of each, planted a cedar. There are ten graves of the 41st and six of each of the other regiments, 28 graves in all. When at leisure, I wandered over the field. Shells of various descriptions lay scattered harmlessly about, and here and there a pile of rails marked the abode of death. I could not stay the trembling tear when so forcibly reminded of my departed comrade who shared with me our blankets and pillow, Joel Strong, who breathed his last amid the roar of battle. His last words were ‘Tell my friends that I die for my country, and trusting in God.’ I hope to never again be called to witness such soul-sickening scenes as I was obliged to view at night upon that awful field. Upon reviewing the ground and the shattered trees, it seems hardly possible that a living thing could survive amid such iron hail. Upon one tree eight inches in diameter, I counted the effects of 64 shots.” (Jeffersonian Democrat, May 15, 1863, pg. 2)

41st Ohio graves within the walls of the Hazen Brigade Monument


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