Hot, Bloody, and Glorious: The 14th Ohio at Jonesboro

    The Federal victory at Jonesboro was the culminating event of Sherman's Atlanta campaign and was one of the primary events that prompted the Confederate evacuation of the city. One of the most dramatic scenes of that battle was the successful charge of Colonel George P. Este's brigade from the 14th Corps on September 1, 1864. Este's charge was one of the few if only occasions during the campaign when an entrenched force had been driven from their works, a feat for which the men of his brigade took tremendous pride for the rest of their lives. The brigade consisted of the 14th Ohio, 38th Ohio, 10th Kentucky, and 74th Indiana infantry regiments, several of the regiments having served together for two years or more. 
Colonel George Peabody Este, 14th Ohio

The following accounts give insight into the successful charge at Jonesboro from the perspective of the 14th Ohio.


Captain George W. Kirk, Co. B, commanding regiment
At 5:27 p.m., the regiment, consisting of 19 officers and 309 enlisted men, was in line without knapsacks and moving forward on the Rebel works. The brigade was in double line and the 14th Ohio occupied the left of the second line immediately in the rear of the 38th Ohio. The moving of the troops in the open field was slow in advancing so that when we were ready to charge, the men were in splendid line and unfatigued. The charge was a brilliant success in which we carried two lines of the enemy’s works and killed, wounded, or captured the whole Rebel line in our front. The charge was made in splendid style and with a will that could not fail of success. Every officer and every man appeared to be determined to break the Rebel line. The Rebel line of works was not completed but was near enough to be effective against infantry. Nothing but infantry was in our immediate front and they fought stubbornly and continued fighting until our lines reached the works with their bayonets. After reaching the works, the Rebels still held the left of where our line reached, protected by traverses and enfiladed our lines severely for half an hour. Of the enlisted men, I would make honorable mention of Joseph E. Werner of Co. A for deeds of bravery and noble daring, who bore the colors and was mong the first and foremost to reach the second line of Rebel works where he planted the colors on their top; but no sooner planted than he was shot and the colors fell. Corporal John Beely of Co. H of the color guard seized them immediately and was severely wounded; Corporal John S. Snook of Co. G of the color guard then caught them and planted them again upon the works and by his own hand held them there till victory was won. [George Washington Kirk (1818-1892) is buried at Forest Cemetery in Toledo, Ohio.]

Private William H. Coalwell, Co. A
“The 14th Corps ‘went in on her nerve’ in one of the most awful charges ever known. Our brigade charged the Rebels in their works on the Macon Railroad 18 miles south of Atlanta. We formed in an open field, fixed bayonets, and went for the Rebs who could see us from behind their works which were formed about 30 yards in the woods with their line of rifle pits at the edge of the field. We went for them at the double quick. Orders were given not to fire till we got in the woods and we did not. We drove them from two lines of works and their line of rifle pits. The loss of our regiment was 98. Our major [John H. Wilson] who commands the regiment had his left leg shot off and my lieutenant [Nathaniel O. Cobb] had his left leg amputated, also then next in turns comes your boy. It appears that the Rebels thought I was an officer for I was the only ‘high private’ in the 14th that lost a leg. My leg was amputated below the knee. It is my right one, too. Well, the devils thought that was not enough so they put a ball through the calf of my left leg. I can say one thing for myself, I was not very far in the rear for I fell within 20 feet of the enemy’s works and thanks to God I was not all shot to pieces while laying there, for the bullets flew so that I could lie and see them meet in the air. I lay there until the hottest was over when I hallooed to a young man to come and carry me off. He came and as it happened, he was a very strong man, and I got up and on his back. He carried me to the rear and laid me down.” [Despite losing his leg, Coalwell would live to the ripe age of 78, passing away June 21, 1923 in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was born December 31, 1844 in Aroostock Co. Maine and had moved to Genoa, Ohio with his family before the war.]


Surgeon George E. Sloat
“The regiment was formed in line of battle about 4 p.m. Our position in the brigade was the second line on the left of the 74th Indiana, our left resting on the Macon Railroad occupying the fourth line of the column. The column advanced immediately after it was formed through a dense thicket of undergrowth. After passing the thicket it emerged into an open field where it was halted. The enemy’s works were seen in the woods some 600 yards in the front. The Third Brigade of the First Division of our corps made two unsuccessful assaults on these works. Our brigade was then moved by the right flank to cover the ground occupied by the Second Brigade. Here we were ordered to fix bayonets and when all was ready, the order was given to forward. They moved steadily forward until they reached a point that brought them on a level with the enemy. Here, as the first crack of the enemy’s guns were heard, each man dropped to the ground to avoid the first volley, after which orders were given to forward at the double quick. The men rushed forward and captured the first line of works by the aid of a well-directed volley. After they had driven the enemy from the first line, they carried the second line at the point of the bayonet. This engagement last but a half hour, but it was hot, bloody, and glorious. Our regiment lost many a brave man who had borne hardships and fatigues of the past three years and many a scarred veteran fought his last battle and was buried upon the field of his last labor in the cause of our glorious country. They sleep but are not forgotten by their brave comrades. Every man did his whole duty and it would be hard to point to any man who failed in the least particular. It was in this charge that occurred the first bayonet wounds I have seen since the commencement of the war. I saw many a Rebel wounded by the bayonet which shows with what desperation they defended their works and how determined our boys were to capture them. We captured about 800 prisoners, took four pieces of artillery, three stands of colors, and several hundred stands of small arms.”

Corporal Nathan P. Eckles, Co. G
Our brigade was composed of the 14th Ohio, 38th Ohio, 10th Kentucky, and 74th Indiana. Of course, I think our regiment was the best by long odds. In the army, every fellow thinks that of his regiment, but next to it comes the other regiments of his brigade. But to show that our brigade was the best, I will have to tell what we did at Jonesboro. One of General Baird’s staff came to Colonel Este, who was commanding our brigade and said, ‘Colonel, do you think your boys can take that line of works over there in the woods?’ Colonel Este made this reply, “Yes, if there is a brigade in Sherman’s army that can, it is mine.” He ordered us to sling knapsacks, load our guns, and fix bayonets.


Then Colonel Este sang out clear and steady as a bugle signal, ‘Brigade forward, guide center, march!’ Heaven, how they let into us as we came into range. They had ten pieces of artillery and more men behind the breastworks than we had in line and they fire they poured into us was simply withering. We walked across hundreds of dead and dying of the Regular Brigade who had been repulsed and driven back but a few minutes before we started. General Baird’s horse was shot down and the General thrown far over his head, but he jumped up and ran alongside of us. Major [John] Wilson, our regimental commander, fell mortally wounded. Lieutenant Kirk was killed and also Captain Stopford, adjutant general of the brigade. Lieutenants Mitchell and Cobb fell with wounds that proved fatal. Captain Ogan lost an arm. One-third of the men fell but on we went while the grape and musketry came thicker and faster at every step until we gained the edge of the hill where we were checked for a minute by the brush which the Rebels had fixed by felling trees with the tops in front and the limbs cut at the ends and sharpened.

Just then a terrible fire from a new direction on our left swept down the line. The colonel of the 17th New York, a brave man, saw the trouble, led his men in on the run and relieved us of this, but he was mortally wounded and we got out of the entanglement of the brush. We raised a fearful yell and ran at the works which we climbed, fired down on the defenders, and then began with bayonets and swords. For a few minutes it was simply awful. On both sides men acted like infuriated devils. They dashed each other’s brains out with muskets, bayonets were driven into men’s bodies up to the muzzles, others ran their swords through their opponents, and revolvers, after being emptied into the faces of the Rebels, were thrown with desperate force into the ranks. The 38th Ohio and 74th put in some work that was simply magnificent. We had not time to look at it then, but the dead and wounded piled up after the fight told the story. We forced our way over the works, but the Rebels were game to the last and we had to make them surrender almost one at a time. This was the only successful bayonet charge of the campaign; every other time the party standing on the defense had been successful. [Eckles died March 25, 1910 and is buried at Leavenworth National Cemetery in Kansas.]
 
Ohio Veteran Medal belonging to Hy Herbert of Co. C, 14th O.V.V.I.
First Lieutenant Henry G. Neubert, Co. K
Neubert was on duty as volunteer aide-de-camp on Colonel George P. Este’s brigade staff during the battle
“At 10 a.m. on the first of September, the Third Division of the 14th Army Corps left their works and moved in the direction of Jonesboro parallel with the Macon Railroad which we destroyed as we went along. At 4:30 in the afternoon, the Third Division commanded by General Absalom Baird was confronting the enemy in front of their works surrounding Jonesboro. The Third Brigade (Colonel George Estes) of Baird’s division was drawn up in two lines of battle in the immediate rear of a Regular Brigade [General John H. King] of General Carlin’s division which had made an unsuccessful attack on the Confederate works which lay at the edge of the woods on the opposite side of a large cornfield. Colonel Este was ready for any emergency with his brigade which was composed of the 10th Kentucky, 74th Indiana, 38th Ohio, and 14th Ohio regiments, all tried veteran troops who were stand-bys of General Thomas at the critical moment in the memorable battle of Chickamauga. A charge had been decided upon for the Third Brigade. It was 5:25 p.m. when the men were ordered to strip themselves of knapsacks and all unnecessary encumbrances. General Baird and Colonel Este could not have been other than pleased with the apparent coolness of the men as they stripped for the deadly conflict. All seemed to know their danger, but no one who looked upon those brave men’s faces could help but read their determination. When Colonel Este gave the order “Battalions forward, guide center!” and General Baird waved his hand for the forward, the lines moved with a steadiness that bespoke success. When they neared the edge of the woods, such a shower of death missiles as baffles description was poured into the bosom of those unfaltering lines. 


A battery now opened on us with grape and canister, shot and balls went screeching, tearing through the air through the living mass, but the lines moved steadily on marking their way by many killed and wounded, but undaunted. They gained the edge of the timber when with a yell and a charge they gained the Rebel works about five rods [roughly 75 feet] from the edge of the open field. Now a hand to hand conflict ensued for we had more than the ordinary troops of the Confederacy before us. These were troops who had thought themselves invincible behind works, who had done the best fighting of the Confederacy under Pat Cleburne in Hardee’s corps. But this made it a more glorious contest and victory for us. Swords and bayonets were used freely along the line. Colonel Este distinguished himself and acted most gallantly in leading the charge, having his horse shot from under him and several holes shot through his boot leggings, but fortunately not reaching his person. General Baird was also in the very front of the battle, inspiring the men to many deeds of bravery. His horse was also killed under him. So stubborn were the Rebels that many were killed with the cold steel; those that surrendered filed over the works to our rear like sheep from a pen. This charge has never been equaled in this war if any other. We took nearly as many prisoners as we numbered, a battery of four guns, several stands of colors, and two lines of trenches manned to the fullest extent. I know of no other instance where two lines of troops fought as these did. The 14th Ohio had about 100 men to whom great credit is due. Their term of service having virtually expired, they went into the charge with their comrades without a murmur. Many of these have gallantly fallen, perhaps in the very hour when their mothers, sisters, and loved ones were preparing to welcome them home.
 [Henry G. Neubert (1841-1900) has a very impressive monument at Woodlawn Cemetery in Ohio with a bust and an image of him sitting upon a horse during the March to the Sea.]


Account from unknown member of Co. C
"The sun was just going down on the evening of the 1st of September, when we began to see we were in for it, sure. The Fourteenth Corps wheeled into position near the railroad, and the sound of musketry and artillery became very loud and clear on our front and left. We turned a little and marched straight toward the racket, becoming more excited every minute. We saw that Carlin's brigade of regulars, who were some distance ahead of us, pile knapsacks, form in line, fix bayonets, and dash off with arousing cheer.

"The Rebel fire beat upon them like a summer rain-storm, the ground shook with the noise, and just as we reached the edge of the cotton field, we saw the remnant of the brigade come flying back out of the awful, blasting shower of bullets. The whole slope was covered with dead and wounded."

"Yes," interrupts one of the Fourteenth; "and they made that charge right gamely, too, I can tell you. They were good soldiers, and well led. When we went over the works, I remember seeing the body of a little Major of one of the regiments lying right on the top. If he hadn't been killed he'd been inside in a half-a-dozen steps more. There's no mistake about it; those regulars will fight."

"When we saw this," resumed the narrator, "it set our fellows fairly wild; they became just crying mad; I never saw them so before. The order came to strip for the charge, and our knapsacks were piled in half a minute. A Lieutenant of our company, who was then on the staff of Gen. Baird, our division commander, rode slowly down the line and gave us our instructions to load our guns, fix bayonets, and hold fire until we were on top of the Rebel works. Then Colonel Este sang out clear and steady as a bugle signal:


"'Brigade, forward! Guide center! MARCH!!'

"and we started. Heavens, how they did let into us, as we came up into range. They had ten pieces of artillery, and more men behind the breastworks than we had in line, and the fire they poured on us was simply withering. We walked across the hundreds of dead and dying of the regular brigade, and at every step our own men fell down among them. General Baird's horse was shot down, and the General thrown far over his head, but he jumped up and ran alongside of us. Major Wilson, our regimental commander, fell mortally wounded; Lieutenant Kirk was killed, and also Captain Stopford, Adjutant General of the brigade. Lieutenants Cobb and Mitchell dropped with wounds that proved fatal in a few days. Captain Ogan lost an arm, one-third of the enlisted men fell, but we went straight ahead, the grape and the musketry becoming worse every step, until we gained the edge of the hill, where we were checked a minute by the brush, which the Rebels had fixed up in the shape of abatis. Just then a terrible fire from a new direction, our left, swept down the whole length of our line. 

The Colonel of the 17th New York--as gallant a man as ever lived saw the new trouble, took his regiment in on the run, and relieved us of this, but he was himself mortally wounded. If our boys were half-crazy before, they were frantic now, and as we got out of the entanglement of the brush, we raised a fearful yell and ran at the works. We climbed the sides, fired right down into the defenders, and then began with the bayonet and sword. For a few minutes it was simply awful. On both sides men acted like infuriated devils. They dashed each other's brains out with clubbed muskets; bayonets were driven into men's bodies up to the muzzle of the gun; officers ran their swords through their opponents, and revolvers, after being emptied into the faces of the Rebels, were thrown with desperate force into the ranks. In our regiment was a stout German butcher named Frank Fleck. He became so excited that he threw down his sword, and rushed among the Rebels with his bare fists, knocking down a swath of them. He yelled to the first Rebel he met "Py Gott, I've no patience mit you,' and knocked him sprawling. He caught hold of the commander of the Rebel Brigade, and snatched him back over the works by main strength. Wonderful to say, he escaped unhurt, but the boys will probably not soon let him hear the last of "Py Gott, I've no patience mit you.'

"The Tenth Kentucky, by the queerest luck in the world, was matched against the Rebel Ninth Kentucky. The commanders of the two regiments were brothers-in-law, and the men relatives, friends, acquaintances and schoolmates. They hated each other accordingly, and the fight between them was more bitter, if possible, than anywhere else on the line. The 38th Ohio and 74th Indiana put in some work that was just magnificent. We hadn't time to look at it then, but the dead and wounded piled up after the fight told the story.

"We gradually forced our way over the works, but the Rebels were game to the last, and we had to make them surrender almost one at a time. The artillerymen tried to fire on us when we were so close we could lay our hands on the guns.

"Finally nearly all in the works surrendered, and were disarmed and marched back. Just then an aide came dashing up with the information that we must turn the works, and get ready to receive Hardee, who was advancing to retake the position. We snatched up some shovels lying near, and began work. We had no time to remove the dead and dying Rebels on the works, and the dirt we threw covered them up. It proved a false alarm. Hardee had as much as he could do to save his own hide, and the affair ended about dark.

"When we came to count up what we had gained, we found that we had actually taken more prisoners from behind breastworks than there were in our brigade when we started the charge. We had made the only really successful bayonet charge of the campaign. Every other time since we left Chattanooga the party standing on the defensive had been successful. Here we had taken strong double lines, with ten guns, seven battle flags, and over two thousand prisoners. We had lost terribly--not less than one-third of the brigade, and many of our best men. Our regiment went into the battle with fifteen officers; nine of these were killed or wounded, and seven of the nine lost either their limbs or lives. The Thirty-Eighth Ohio, and the other regiments of the brigade lost equally heavy. We thought Chickamauga awful, but Jonesboro discounted it."
 
General Absalom Baird
General Absalom Baird issued a congratulatory order to the Third Division on September 3, 1864 and specially called out the Third Brigade for their feat at Jonesboro. “The opinion had grown prevalent that trenches well-defended by the enemy or by ourselves could not be carried by assault, and it was secured for our gallant Third Brigade in front of Jonesboro to disprove this and in so doing give the finishing stroke to the Atlanta campaign. [The Third Brigade] assaulted the works of extremely difficult approach, defended by the best fighting troops of the Rebel army, under a murderous fire of canister and musketry, and carried them with the bayonet taking one-half as many prisoners as your number. The loss you sustained (one of every three engaged being struck) shows how desperate the struggle and how magnificent your success. Comrades! I congratulate you and am proud to be your commander. So long as glory is prized or bravery honored among men, it will be the boast of your descendants that you belonged to this army.”

General William Tecumseh Sherman congratulated the men of the army in a special field order issued from Atlanta on September 8, 1864. He thanked the men for their “intelligence, fidelity, and courage,” and recounted the many battles and marches of the campaign, offering that success wrested upon their “indomitable courage and perseverance. We have beaten the enemy on every ground he has chosen, and have wrested from him his own gate city, where were located his foundries, arsenals, and workshops. In our campaign many of our noble and gallant comrades have preceded us to our common destination, the grave, but they have left the memory with deeds on which a nation can build a proud history. McPherson, Harker, McCook, and others dear to us all are now binding links in our minds that should attach more closely together the living who have to complete the task which still lays before us in the dim future.” 

For an in-depth analysis as to why Este's charge succeeded at Jonesboro, click here

Sources:
Letter from Surgeon George E. Sloat, Daily Toledo Blade (Ohio), September 17, 1864, pg. 2
Letter from First Lieutenant Henry G. Neubert, Co. K, Daily Toledo Blade (Ohio), September 16, 1864, pg. 2
Letter from Private William H. Coalwell, Co. A, Daily Toledo Blade (Ohio), September 21, 1864, pg. 3
Official Report of Captain George W. Kirk, O.R., Volume 38, series 1, part 1, pgs. 820-21
Account of Corporal Nathan P. Eckles of Co. G. “The Best Regiment: The Only Successful Charge During Sherman’s Campaign,” National Tribune, January 8, 1891, pg. 4
Account from unknown member of Co. C comes from McElroy, John. Andersonville: A Story of Rebel Military Prisons, Toledo: D.R. Locke, 1879, pgs. 439-443

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