All the Fury of Demons: The 65th Ohio at Stones River

I recently acquired a first-edition copy of Wilbur Hinman’s classic tome The Sherman Brigade, a regimental history of the 64th & 65th Ohio Infantry regiments and Captain Cullen Bradley’s 6th Ohio Battery. It is a superb book and even better, inside the front cover is an inscription that the book was once the property of John H. Sentel who served as a corporal in Co. I of the 65th Ohio with his younger brother Samuel.

Veterans badge that belonged to George Vaughn
Co. F, 65th OVI

John Henry Sentel was born in 1840 in Pennsylvania to Martin and Mary Sentel and moved to Loudonville, Ashland Co., Ohio prior to the Civil War. John was the first of three brothers to enlist in the Union army, signing his name to the roll of Co. I on November 8, 1861; Samuel signed up with the same company three days later and another brother, Daniel, signed up with Co. F of the 82nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry about a month after his brothers. All three brothers survived the war, John and Daniel both re-enlisting as veterans in 1864 and serving through 1865. This is quite remarkable given that both the 65th Ohio and 82nd Ohio saw extensive action during the war.

Perusing Hinman’s text and knowing who the owner was made me think about what John Sentel’s experience during the Civil War might have been like, fighting and marching with his younger brother at his side. The 65th Ohio had been in service for more than a year before it was heavily engaged in a battle, even though it had been present at both Shiloh and Perryville and had tramped through four states of the Confederacy.

Colonel Charles G. Harker
65th OVI

But on December 31, 1862, the regiment lay on picket duty along the north shore of Stones River outside of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. A total of 40 men stood in the ranks of Co. I at roll call that morning, and the Sentel brothers among them. Captain Jacob Christofel of Co. I had the men up early as it was expected that the 65th Ohio as part of Colonel Charles Harker’s brigade would be spearheading the Union attack upon the Confederate right that morning. But already far to the south, the men could hear the heavy crash of musketry and rolling thunder of artillery as Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee slammed into the Union right wing led by General Alexander McCook.

Corporal John Sowash of Co. F wrote “Wednesday morning we received orders to cross the river within about 200 yards of the enemy’s entrenchments. This I did not exactly like. It was a hazardous undertaking and I knew it would be certain death for some of us. We made preparations to perform it, however, when orders came for us to move to the assistance of the right wing which was then engaged and hard pressed. Just as we started to perform this last order, the enemy opened their batteries on us, killing one and wounding four in our regiment,” he wrote. A single shell exploded amongst the ranks of Co. B which wreaked the carnage Sowash described.

Collapse of the Federal Right Wing at Stones River as depicted by William Travis

What happened next is perhaps best explained in the following letter from Captain Orlow Smith of Co. G. “By the time our five regiments got over to the right, our whole army seemed to be in the greatest consternation, for regiment after regiment broke before the enemy, teamsters soon were seized with the panic and were driving through the ranks pell-mell and the day seemed almost lost to us. Our brigade moved rapidly amid the bursting of the enemy’s shells and met them coming down on us with all the fury of demons. Our brigade formed on the right of General Van Cleve’s division and gave the enemy a sharp encounter.

Captain Orlow Smith
Co. G 65th OVI

Soon, however, Van Cleve’s men gave way and left the 65th Ohio exposed to a front of five regiments and three lines deep. The enemy crossfire hurt us terribly. We gave them the best we had for some time when we were ordered to fall back as the enemy was about to entirely flank us. Our men fought nobly and were not willing to fall back until they were ordered the third time. The 73rd Indiana now came up and our regiment formed and made another attack on the Rebel front to the left of the 73rd. Here was a dreadful encounter and many of our noble ones fell in this bloody strife. The 13th Michigan and 64th Ohio were soon on the right and gave the Rebels a tremendous fire which caused them to stagger. Our 6th Ohio Battery now played on them with grape and canister which did great execution, causing the enemy to fall back and give up the contest for the day.

Colonel Charles Harker who commanded the brigade was cool and displayed much judgment and bravery on this occasion. Lieutenant Colonel [Alexander] Cassil had his horse shot which fell on him rendering him unfit for duty. Major [Horatio] Whitbeck was slightly wounded in the neck. In this contest, Captain [Jacob] Christofel, Second Lieutenant [Dolsen] Van Kirk, fell along with many of the men. All the companies suffered more or less, and Co. B was severely cut up. [The regiment lost 173 out of the roughly 400 officers and men who went into action on the morning of December 31, 1862.]

The 65th Ohio remained in line and under fire for three more days, but its major engagement was in the fight of December 31, 1862. A few days later, the men of the regiment went back to the battle site to look for their dead and wounded comrades. Wilbur Hinman, then a lieutenant in Co. E of the 65th Ohio, recalled what they discovered. “Soon after breakfast we marched to a spot near the scene of our engagement on Wednesday and large details with picks and shovels were sent from every regiment to bury its dead. It was done in this way in order that the bodies, which had lain for four days, might be identified. It was the mournful duty to gather up the mangled remains of loved comrades and messmates with whom we had enjoyed around so many camp fires. Those were not unmanly tears that moistened the eyes of the men engaged in this sad task. For the dead of each regiment a long trench seven feet wide was dug and the bodies, each tenderly wrapped in a blanket, were laid in side by side and covered from sight,” he wrote.
Two unknown Ohio soldiers sporting early war O.V.M. belt buckles

It is possible that the Sentel brothers were part of this detail, in part because they were two of the few uninjured men left in Co. I. Of the 40 men who answered the roll December 31st, ten of them lay slain and another 16 of them were wounded. The body of their company commander Captain Jacob Christofel was found among the slain. Lieutenant Hinman recalled that Christofel “was found in the posture in which he died- sitting upon the ground with his back against a tree. He appeared so natural that it was difficult for a moment to believe he was dead. A musket ball had passed through his leg, evidently severing an artery. He had tied his suspenders around the limb in an effort to stanch the flow of blood.” Lieutenant L.B. Eaton of Co. I wrote to the captain’s wife that “if he could have been taken off the field and cared for, we could not but think he would have lived. If he had remained within Rebel lines, they would doubtless have tried to save him, and we had hoped it would prove so. The poor man crept as far as he could out on the ground between the lines that no one dared look for him. The Rebels took his sword and equipment, shoulder straps, and rifled his pockets. This picture of his wife and child which he always carried with him could not be found.”
65th Ohio National Colors (Ohio History Connection)

“The Death of Capt. Christofel,” Ashland Times, January 22, 1863, pg. 1
“Letter from Captain Orlow Smith,” Ashland Times, January 22, 1863, pg. 1
“Letter from the 65th Regiment,” Holmes County Farmer, February 12, 1863, pg. 3
“65th Ohio,” Stark County Democrat, February 11, 1863, pg. 3
Hinman, Wilbur. The Story of the Sherman Brigade


  1. Very interesting, thank you for this. I am a descendant of Joseph Boley who served in Company I of the 65th OVI. - Aaron Yoder


Post a Comment

Most Popular Posts

Arming the Buckeyes: Longarms of the Ohio Infantry Regiments

Dressing the Rebels: How to Dye Butternut Jeans Cloth

Bullets for the Union: Manufacturing Small Arms Ammunition During the Civil War

The Cannons are Now Silent: The Field of Death of Tupelo

The Vaunted Enfield Rifle Musket

Straw Already Threshed: Sherman on Shiloh

Federal Arms in the Stones River Campaign

Escape of Captain Henry H. Alban of the 21st Ohio Infantry

Knapsack Compression: Wilbur Hinman recalls the first step of becoming a veteran

Federal Arms in the Chickamauga Campaign