With the 1st Ohio at Missionary Ridge
"The reverse at Chickamauga is retrieved with interest compounded."
Harry Comer of Lancaster, Ohio made no bones of being an exceptional soldier; reading his correspondence one gets the sense that Comer was just "one of the guys." When describing heroic actions on the battlefield, Comer took pains to notice the deeds of other men and never called for himself any special claim to fame. Indeed, Comer was wont to loaf on duty and in the summer of 1863 took French Leave (he returned home to visit with his dying father) and then spent several weeks in a Tullahoma guardhouse for his infraction.
|Missionary Ridge, Tennessee, November 25, 1863|
One particular talent that Comer possessed was his ability to write, and we are fortunate that his nimble pen survived the carnage of the storming of Missionary Ridge such that we have his account of that charge. During the course of the war, Comer wrote a lengthy series of letters to the editor of the Lancaster Gazette describing the service of his beloved 1st Ohio Infantry; Comer was working as a typographer in the office of the Gazette when he enlisted in Co. A of the 1st Ohio Volunteer Infantry in April 1861 and served with the regiment through the summer of 1864. I published his wartime letters several years ago as Bull Run to Atlanta which is available here.
Today's post features Comer's account of the storming of Missionary Ridge and was published in the December 10, 1863 issue of the Lancaster Gazette. The capture of Missionary Ridge was an instance of sweet revenge for the soldiers of the Army of the Cumberland. Chastened after defeat at Chickamauga in September and penned up in Chattanooga since that time, Comer savored the victory but lamented the cost. "God grant we may have no more Missionary Ridges to capture but many more as brilliant victories," he wrote.
Missionary Ridge, around Chattanooga, Tennessee
November 27, 1863
Since last I wrote you very important movements have taken place in this department. This opening of the railroad and river communication to Chattanooga from Bridgeport, the junction effected with Hooker, the arrival of Sherman, the passage of the pontoon fleet past the rebel batteries studded the grim and rugged sides of Lookout Mountain, the flank movement which compelled the evacuation of the northern slope, the many skirmishes on the Wauhatchie, and the thousand other little items of note, the minutiae which in themselves comparatively insignificant nevertheless were component parts of one grand whole, brilliant in conception, admirable in execution, and gloriously successful beyond the hopes of the most sanguine- the taking of Lookout Mountain and the storming of the heights of Mission Ridge.
When the history of this war shall be written, when the account of deeds done is rendered up to the God of War, when the balance has been stricken and impartial judgment announced, the storming of Missionary Ridge will stand forth as the grandest, greatest, and most desperate achievement of the present war and one to which other climes and other wars can produce no parallel.
Housed up in the great prison house of Chattanooga, dangerous almost to poke our noses over the breastworks, with our communications constantly threatened, a bold move was necessary and that move has been made. On Monday morning the 21st, we were ordered out with 100 rounds of cartridges per man and two days’ rations. The left center became engaged almost immediately, our picket line being in our then front a distance of not more than a half mile. Then came in plain view the rebel picket line, the picket reserve, a line of rifle pits, scattering woods tolerably thick with underbrush then an open space of a short quarter strewn with branches of trees to impede our progress; right beyond a long line of bouldered embankments with rifle pits and all these obstructions only brings us to the foot of Missionary Ridge. The left and center gained the ground on the 21st after many and very severe encounters up to the open space spoken of with but few casualties in the 1st Ohio, we being the second line- the 5th Kentucky, 41st Ohio, and 93rd Ohio being the principal losers in our brigade.
|General William B. Hazen led the Second Brigade of the Third Division|
of the 4th Army Corps at Missionary Ridge. The 1st Ohio was part
of his brigade.
On the 22nd, a comparative calm ensued and but a few sanguinary skirmishes added their mite of blood to the wide and deep pool already curdling at the ridge’s base. The 23rd was the day of military strategy displayed in the capture of Lookout Mountain by the forces on our right by an attack in front and flank, the flankers marching around, the attacking party up. Loud and long boomed the mountain cannon, fiercely screamed the shell from Moccasin Point, incessantly rattled the musketry, even in the damp, dark night, but by the bright light of the morning’s sun, not a solitary rebel stood; not a soldier stood near the key to Chattanooga’s position which according to Braxton Bragg’s official dispatches to Richmond was ‘impregnable to any assault, flank or front.’ On the 24th, Sherman’s forces were massed on our left and a struggle commenced for a foothold on Missionary Ridge. Slow but sure progress was made by the heroes of Vicksburg and the series of brilliant engagements that preceded its siege and downfall, the rest of the mammoth line dressing up with the left’s advance.
Temporary breastworks had been thrown up all along the line and on the 25th, as the golden orb of day shone forth in all its magnificent splendor, two long blue lines stretching from the river on the left around Chattanooga to Lookout Mountain and the river and railroad on our right presented a magnificent spectacle, and their glittering bayonets as they danced in the sunlight looked more as a gorgeous panoramic than an armed hose preparing for the work of death and carnage. At twenty minutes past 1 o’clock, a battery volley was fired, the shrill notes of the brigade bugles sounded forward, we dashed over the ramparts and steadily at quick step wounded our way through the tangled mass of brush and stumps, over the clearing, and up to the bouldered embankments at the base of the ridge.
|Map showing the Union assault at Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863. Hazen's brigade was right in the center of the Union line which placed Comer right in the center of the action.|
(Map by Hal Jespersen)
Here we breathed; here we took a hasty glance towards heaven, breathed the silent prayer, and then riveted our eyes on the summit of the ridge. It was all well so far. We had driven in the pickets, passed over two lines of works, routed the enemy from his fortifications, drive him out of his rifle pits and up the hill where he joined, we knew not how many thousands more of those bent on desperate resistance to our advance-bent on dealing death and destruction to the devoted band below who were now too far advanced to retreat and who neither had the thought of doing so or the inclination. At least twenty pieces of artillery had played upon our one brigade whilst coming over the open space, but the massed dogs of war let loose their wrath, their reserved wrath. The moment or second we attempted the ascent, showers of shell, grape, and canister, solid iron and shrapnel, leaden hail from thousands of small arms sent their death dealing missiles thick and fast into our ranks, but on and up through fire and smoke, on through the iron sleet, up to the summit of the ridge of death, the goal of victory.
Within twenty feet of the rebel fortifications on the top, there was a pause, a slight rest taken, right over these fortifications, rebel bullets whistled, Rebels’ rifles gleamed. Their batteries were powerless now, they were too near the range of their own men. Their men behind the works dared not show their heads or else a Federal bullet went crashing through their brain. Forward again, over the works, down in the ditches. Away flew the Rebels; after them the Yankees and each one, elated beyond measure at their brilliant success, took his own road after confused Secessia, slaying and maiming, taking prisoners and capturing cannon far after nightfall. Wilder’s mounted men started in pursuit on the morning of the 26th and the dull echoes of cannon in the distance shows that he is close on the track of the flying chivalry and Hooker and Sherman who have taken the advance in order to be in at the death, send ever and anon, a leaden pill along the flight towards Atlanta.
A Union sentinel stands guard over the captured Confederate guns lined
up hub to hub after the battle. Its entirely possible that among these guns were pieces
captured from the Army of the Cumberland at Stones River and Chickamauga.
The reverse at Chickamauga is retrieved with interest compounded. Sixteen pieces of cannon with an indefinite quantity of small arms are the trophies of our (Hazen’s) brigade; also 1,300 prisoners (about 250 of them wounded), three stand of colors, and seven baggage wagons. The 1st was in Hazen’s (2nd) Brigade of Wood’s (3rd) Division of Granger’s (4th) Corps and as usual maintained its old renown and acquired a bright fame. Our wounded is large, but not so large either when we take into consideration the hazardousness of the enterprise without the aid of either cavalry or artillery. The loss in the 1st Ohio is as follows; many of the wounded will die.
Killed-commissioned officers: 1
Wounded- commissioned officers: 4
Killed- enlisted men: 11
Wounded- enlisted men: 57
Fairfield County can claim her full share in the recent engagements. Gen. Sherman, Col. Moore, Majors Stafford, Butterfield, and Giesy, six companies of the 17th Ohio, two of the 46th Ohio, one of the 52nd Ohio, and one of the 1st Ohio. Color Corporal Ewing of Co. I was shot down with the colors; Private McLaughlin of Co. I picked them up and was in a short time killed; Corporal Tommy Bowles of Co. A then took the colors and was wounded twice; Captain Trapp seized them and bore them until he too was wounded and they then passed from another’s hands to that of Major Joab Stafford’s who, with a squad of about a dozen, charged successfully four times their numbers many times during the evening.
|Major Joab A Stafford, 1st Ohio Volunteer Infantry. After four color bearers were shot down, Major Stafford grabbed the colors and carried them over the crest of Missionary Ridge.|
Official reports will give you all the needful particulars to enable you to award honor where honor is due, and I shall close for the present as we have just received marching orders for some place- destination unknown. But three days before the storming of the ridge, Freeman Wolfe had been promoted to sergeant, Thomas Bowles, Mathias Dilger, and Milton Hunter to corporals- their good conduct shone none the less conspicuously in battle, a fact fully attested on many a sanguinary field of blood. Henry Bowers is one or was one of the best soldiers in the army and the loss of either the one or the others would be deeply felt in the company [all men mentioned here had been wounded]. God grant we may have no more Missionary Ridges to capture but many more as brilliant victories.
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