Lost from the O.R. Volume I: The Berryville Wagon Raid

The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, the massive 128 volume postwar work issued by the War Department, serves as the cornerstone of our understanding of the military history of the Civil War. Within its thousands of pages reside after action reports, correspondence, court martial proceedings, charts, maps, a veritable mountain and gold mine of information that has delighted (and infuriated) historians since its publication in the 19th century. But even then, it was recognized that not every report made it into the O.R., some were, in a phrase, "lost to history."

A superb attempt was made to address this deficiency during the 1980s and 1990s when Broadfoot Publishing printed 100 more volumes of material in the Supplement to the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion which is available here. Amazingly, even with 228 volumes of reports, once in a while something new is discovered that was missed. I'm proud to present one of those missing after action reports: that of Lieutenant Colonel Frederick R. Miller of the 144th Ohio Infantry regarding the Berryville Wagon Raid of 1864.

Colonel Miller resided in my hometown of Perrysburg, Ohio and was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 144th Ohio upon its formation in May 1864. For the first two months of its service, the regiment was scattered in detachments all over Maryland and Delaware. Three companies of the regiment fought at the Battle of Monocacy (see post here) in a desperate attempt to stem Jubal Early's invasion of Maryland. In the wake of Early's offensive, 8 of the 10 companies of the regiment were reunited and followed Horatio G. Wright into Virginia and for the remainder of the regiment's service, they served in the Shenandoah Valley. 
Berryville Wagon Raid, August 13, 1864

In August 1864, General Phil Sheridan took command of this new army and moved up the Shenandoah Valley with his front line troops. The 144th Ohio drew the assignment of escorting a wagon train from Harper's Ferry to Winchester. The regiment, about 300 strong, left Harper's Ferry on August 12th and had stopped to rest at a small creek outside of Berryville, Virginia at dawn when Colonel John Singleton Mosby's cavalry attacked the train. 

Colonel Miller's report was published in the September 2, 1864 issue of the Wyandot Pioneer

Headquarters, 144th Regiment O.N.G
Bolivar Heights
Aug. 17th, 1864

W.M. Ambrose, Capt. & A.A.A. Gen.
Sir- I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by the 144th Regiment, O.N.G. in guarding the wagon train from Halltown to Winchester, and in the action with Mosby’s guerillas, near Berryville, Va., Saturday Aug. 13th, 1864.

            Pursuant to instructions from Brigade Headquarters, the 144th O.N.G. was ordered to guard the rear of the train, with two companies in the extreme rear and counting from the rear to place one company between 20 wagons. Brigadier General John R. Kenly’s Brigade was to bring up the rear of the train. The wagons of several corps arriving indiscriminately, it was very difficult to ascertain what was the rear of the train, but when the brigade teams began to move, we fell in their rear. When we had marched but a very few miles, I met Colonel Allison Brown of the 149th O.N.G. who informed me that he had not got through distributing the companies yet, as per order, and that the Cavalry train had not passed. I informed General Kenly of this fact by Colonel Brown. I halted my command to await the cavalry train, which finally made its appearance, waiting for 120 to 140 wagons to pass, I was informed by the officer in charge that was the rear of the Cavalry train and accordingly fell in and ordered my Adjutant to distribute the companies among the wagons as per order, and I found them distributed exactly in the manner ordered, this brought it nearly dark before arriving at Charlestown.
Colonel Allison Brown
149th Ohio
            It was extremely difficult to regulate the movement of the train, the rear being late in starting, hurried to catch up with the advance, consequently forcing my men to speed up in pace entirely, some riding along on horseback and on wagons.

            Three miles north of Berryville, I was detained for some time by the breaking of a bridge. Moving on within a half mile of Berryville, I was surprised to see the train had been ordered parked by the Major, this I thought a very strange proceeding. In coming up to the place, he mentioned the dangerous position we were in, in case of attack. Soon, after meeting Captain Mann, with his assistance made every effort to move the train, in which we finally succeeded. Captain Mann rendered valuable service and did all in his power to move the train after finding it parked.

While the train was getting ready to be moved, the train of another Cavalry Brigade came up guarded by some cavalry and drove past without halting, thereby escaping the affray. This was the first information I had of another train being in our rear. At 4 o’clock a.m., the train was under way with the exception of from 30 to 40 wagons which were getting ready to move. I had distributed the companies of my command in the following order: Co. C, Lieutenant Samuel J. Lamb in the advance followed by Captain Asa Brayton Co. D, next was Captain Henry H. Ragon with Co. A, Lieutenant James S. Leith with Co. H, intending to bring up the rear with Companies B and K. I had sent Adjutant Jonathan Ayres in advance to see the proper distribution of companies among the wagons at this time and before the rear of the train got under way, a simultaneous attack was made upon the front, center, and rear part of this train (at and between Berryville and the extreme rear) by about 200 of Mosby’s cavalry with two light pieces of artillery. Meeting with Captain Mann at this time, I ordered to regulate and hurry on the wagons and carry the news to the front of the train as fast as possible. The companies did try successfully to check the attacking Rebels. The companies under Captains Ragon and Brayton forming lines with Cos. C and H. and with Adjutant Ayres finally drove the Rebels through and out of town.
Unknown soldier of 144th Ohio from an image likely made in camp in Maryland by a visiting photographer. Note the  painted camp scene backdrop. This soldier is in entirely typical garb for the Federalized Ohio National Guard: four button sack coat, forage cap, Springfield rifle.

            The companies in the rear of my immediate command (drinking their coffee while waiting for the train to move) were cut off at once from the balance of the command, were overpowered and after making all resistance possible, were compelled to yield to superior numbers Many were made prisoners and others made their escape, some of whom joined other companies. The officers and men, considering their exhausted condition in which they were, did nobly, thereby saving much property, especial credit is due to Captain Ragon, of Co. A, and Captain Brayton of Co. D, together with the officers and men of Cos. C and H for coolness and bravery.

            My command left Halltown with about 300 men but the severity of the march made many fall out during the night. I don’t think we had more than 280 men, all told, in the action. Our casualties are heavy considering the numbers engaged, 5 killed, 6 wounded, and 60 prisoners and missing. Captain Luther Black, Lieutenant Edwin R. Sage, and Lieutenant Samuel H. White are supposed to be taken prisoners. Several are coming in, however, and it is to be hoped the list of missing will be greatly diminished.
Captain Luther Black, Co. B, 144th Ohio
Black served in the 21st, 144th, and 185th Ohio regiments
            The disaster in my opinion is due to some extent on the tardiness of the train of the Cavalry Corps in moving from Bolivar, the detention at the breaking of the bridge three miles north of Berryville, and finally the parking of the train near Berryville. But for these causes the train could have been moved with more regularity and would have been miles beyond that place before daylight of the 13th. The scattering cavalry did not render the slightest assistance, if anything they added with the frightened teamsters and wagon masters, to the confusion and panic.

Very respectfully your obedient servant,
F.R. Miller
Lieut. Col. Commanding


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Unfortunately not. Images of the 144th Ohio in uniform have proven to be quite scarce over the years. I can think of only a handful of images that I've ever seen.


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