Prelude to an Awful Finale: A Buckeye Sergeant at Chickamauga

A few weeks ago, I shared a letter from a gunner with Battery H of the 5th U.S. Light Artillery that described how his battery was overrun at the Battle of Chickamauga. (see post here) Today’s blog post features an account from Orderly Sergeant Samuel Berryhill Price who served in Co. A of the 2nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and who was caught up in that same Confederate attack on the morning of September 19, 1863.
Lieutenant Colonel Obediah C. Maxwell, 2nd Ohio Infantry
Wounded at Chickamauga and discharged for wounds in February 1864
The 2nd Ohio as part of Colonel Benjamin Scribner’s First Brigade of Absalom Baird’s First Division of the 14th Army Corps was in the same part of the field as Battery H and likewise was driven from their position by Govan and Walthall’s assault. During the vicious fighting at Chickamauga, the 2nd Ohio lost Lieutenant Colonel Obadiah Maxwell wounded, then Major William T. Beatty was wounded and captured leaving the regiment under command of Captain James Warnock. All told, the 2nd Ohio lost 183 men at Chickamauga, 36 of whom were captured and sent into the prisoner of war camps of the South.
Sergeant Price’s account, written to his mother one month after the battle, was published in the November 20, 1863 issue of the Urbana Citizen & Gazette.

Chattanooga, Tennessee
October 19, 1863
          My dear mother,
          I received your kind letter of the 5th of October yesterday but as I was busy with writing appertaining to the company, I could not answer sooner. Well mother, as you have asked me several times in former letters to write more about the movements of the army and especially our own regiment, I will give you a history of the Battle of Chickamauga as I saw it. I will not be as voluminous nor as vivid probably as a regular newspaper correspondent, for they have better chances of seeing than I have and that is their business.

          I will commence with September 18th, the day previous to the first day’s fight. On the evening of that day we were lying on the banks of the Chickamauga some 18 miles from this place. About dark we had orders to draw 60 rounds of ammunition per man and prepare for a march. This we did but we had no idea that we were on the eve of a terrible battle. About dark our whole corps commenced moving towards Chattanooga. We marched slowly all night and at dawn arrived at the memorable battleground of Chickamauga. We were filed off the road and drawn up in a line of battle facing southeast and our backs on Chattanooga. About 7:30 a.m. we heard sharp skirmishing on the left apparently about a mile from us. In the course of half an hour, there was a rumor that Brigadier General [Edward M.] McCook had sent a dispatch to General [George H.] Thomas stating that there were two Rebel brigades on our side of Chickamauga Creek, and that he had burnt the bridge to their rear and asked General Thomas to send a division of infantry down to capture them. General [John M.] Brannan happening to be at headquarters at that time asked permission to take his division down and engaged them, which was granted.

Presently that splendid division marched past us towards the left. It was the largest division in the army and most of its men had never smelt powder but in it was the gallant 9th Ohio and 10th Indiana (of Mill Springs renown). They soon got into action and the heavy volleys of musketry and frequent discharges of artillery which soon increased to an uninterrupted roar attested that they were hotly engaged. In the course of 15 minutes, orders came for our division (Baird’s) to go down at support Brannan. We marched down in line of battle, cautiously feeling our way along, intending to take position on Brannan’s right flank. The ground we moved over was dense woods sloping to the southeast. Our company was thrown out as skirmishers about 150 yards in front of the regiment.
Chickamauga, September 19, 1863, morning
Map by Hal Jespersen (

Pretty soon we came on to the Rebel skirmishers and a sharp fire commenced between our company and their skirmish line. We were ordered to rally on the battalion and it was ordered forward at the double quick. We killed several of the Rebels, wounded several, and captured a great many- they seeming to be glad of a chance to get to surrender. By this time, we had emerged into an open corn field and the steady firing on our left told us that we were advanced far enough. Up to this time we had met with very little resistance. We took our position on the crest of a little hill and laid down.

We could plainly see a Rebel cannon not 150 yards in front of us which presently began to scatter shell, grape, and canister among us and over our heads in wanton profusion. I heard one of the officers say, “Why in the name of God don’t we take that piece?” It was well enough that we did not as the sequel will prove. After firing a few rounds at us and finding that they could not provoke us to charge, they ceased firing and a dead calm prevailed unbroken by even a whispering. Something told me this was only a prelude to some awful finale. I could not imagine what and most of the men seemed impressed with an unknown and undefinable dread.
Major Anson McCook
2nd Ohio Infantry

Five minutes had perhaps passed in this way when the fury of battle burst forth like long pent up thunder to the right and rear of us. We immediately changed front to the right and had just got into position when the Rebels came down upon our single line like a whirlwind. Our fire checked them some, but presently on they came, making the Minie balls whistle over us (we were laying down behind a fence). We stood our ground until the regiments on our right gave way and then every man for himself was the order of the day. Loomis’ splendid [Battery A] 1st Michigan Battery was captured. Our company lost 14 men in ten minutes.  We rallied about 400 yards from the scene of the disaster and marched back to the rear as there was no more need of us at that time as Reynolds and his brave boys came down upon the Rebs like an avalanche, recapturing Loomis’ battery and hurling the enemy back as ruthlessly as they had us.   We did not participate in the fight any more that day until about night when just before dusk we had a little brush with the enemy, but it did not amount to much. That night we slept supper less and cold.

About 3 o’clock the next morning we were silently called up and take to the left center of a new line we had formed. Here we got our breakfast and then carried rails, logs, and stones to build temporary breastworks. That saved many a life that day. We were in hopes that the enemy would not attack us that day as most of us had conscientious scruples about fighting on the Sabbath day. But we were doomed to be disappointed for about 9 a.m. the rattle of musketry on the left told us that the ball was opened. The tide of battle soon engulfed us.

We were laying behind our breastworks two regiments deep and the rebel columns soon appeared over the hill. On they came amid the showers of musket balls, grape, and canister pouring from our lines. Oh, I could not but admire their bravery although they were my deadly enemies. [This attack was made by Benjamin Hardin Helm’s brigade, the famous Orphan Brigade of Kentuckians. Helm, the brother-in law of President Abraham Lincoln, was mortally wounded during this assault and died the following day.] They came within 75 yards, but no troops could stand our fire and finally they broke and fled in wild confusion. O the cheer that we sent up, you should have heard it. Twice more they advanced and twice more were driven back the same way. We captured hundreds of their men and sent them to the rear.
Chickamauga and Chattanooga Battlefield Booklet
National Park Service, 1956

About noon, General Rosecrans commenced withdrawing his army to Chattanooga a division at a time and sent orders to all the brigades and divisions to fall back slowly and in good order. Colonel Benjamin Scribner, commanding our brigade, received orders twice to retreat but concluded to hold his ground as long as possible. About 4 o’clock, the Rebels came for us again. [This final assault was undertaken by General William H. T. Walker’s and General John C. Breckinridge’s divisions.] They brought a battery to within 175 yards of us and opened on us with double-shotted canister, grape, and musketry. It seemed to me that the canister was coming over us in sheets and so close that it knocked rotten wood and dirt all over us. I shall never forget that terrible hour as long as I live. Such a roar of firearms and artillery never greeted near ears before and I hope never will again. Presently the colonel gave the order to retreat which we did in a rather hasty manner. [The brigade retreated towards McFarland’s Gap.] The Rebels did not follow us, and we fell back gradually to this place which we reached on the 22nd without further fighting.

Sergeant Price would be severely wounded in the left leg May 14, 1864 during the battle of Resaca and would have that leg amputated twice, once upon the battlefield near the ankle and a month later in Nashville just below the knee. That ended the war for Price, who returned home to Urbana and lived until 1915. 

To read more about the 2nd Ohio Infantry, I strongly recommend Rick Baumgartner's The Bully Boys which can be purchased here


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