Atop Snodgrass Hill: The Second Day at Chickamauga with the 89th Ohio

    Through a historical coincidence, I had two members of my family among the defenders of Snodgrass Hill during the battle of Chickamauga. Private Joseph H. Carter who was serving in Co. H of the 89th Ohio Volunteer Infantry is my great-great-great grandfather on my father’s side while Private Frederick McLargin of Co. C of the 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry is my great-great-great-great uncle on my mother’s side. Both of them survived the battle and escaped being captured, although Uncle Fred was wounded during the fighting on September 20, 1863.


           Much has been written about the services of the 21st Ohio on Snodgrass Hill, and rightfully so, but today’s blog post will feature an account from another of those gallant defenders of the Hill, the 89th Ohio. Captain David M. Barrett was commanding officer of Co. I and was captured along with most of the regiment during the evening of September 20, 1863 atop Snodgrass Hill. He wrote the following account to his wife while at imprisoned at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia which was published in the December 24, 1863 issue of the Highland Weekly News of Hillsboro, Ohio.


Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia

November 15, 1863

          I recovered from my camp sickness and when I joined the regiment at Bridgeport, Alabama, the doctor and colonel both said I had better stay back. I told the colonel I was going with him if he would let me. He said he expected we would have pretty hard times. I improved and felt well for several days but was sick again on the 15th. When the regiment went out to Ringgold about 14 miles on a reconnaissance with General [James B.] Steedman, who was in command of six regiments, I rode in the ambulance until we nearly arrived at the rebel pickets and then took command of my company and remained with it during the engagement which was only a skirmish and returned to the ambulance. I was always determined my company should not go into a fight without me if I was possibly able to be with them. We returned to camp all safe and right the next day.


We were ordered out early on Saturday morning the 19th and all knew it was a fight then. We knew Rosecrans had telegraphed to Chattanooga the night before that the fight would commence that day. We went out with 339 men and were engaged about two hours that evening in a skirmish and partial engagement, making it, what we thought, tolerably hot about half the time. I had only one man wounded in my company that evening.

We lay on our arms in line of battle during the night until about 8 o’clock in the morning when we fell back about a mile and reformed our line in an advantageous position and lay down to receive the attack of the momentarily expected enemy. In a very short time our wagon came up and issued two days’ rations of coffee, sugar, bread, and meat. The boys were very hungry and began to put them in haversacks as fast as possible but before we could possibly get them all in we were ordered to fall in and march to the rear a short distance and then crossed at once to the right of General Thomas’ corps, a distance of nearly five miles. With the brave General Gordon Granger and General Steedman at our head, we were at once ordered forward to gain a certain elevated point on Missionary Ridge and hold it at all hazards. This we did, going forward on double quick time. A good part of the time we could not see the men for the dust. For the last mile we were shelled on both sides by the Rebels but went on the double-quick step, dodging occasionally as the shells came closer, until we gained the point to which we were ordered; the 22nd Michigan was in front of us and the 115th Illinois in front of them.


Very soon, however after our line halted, the 22nd Michigan fell back under a heavy fire to our left and formed on it. Another moment and here came the 115th Illinois, wounded, straggling, running, and line broken. At this moment, our men began to prick up their ears as they heard the yells of the Rebels as they followed closely after the Michigan and Illinois troops, pouring into their broken ranks a very heavy fire. General Steedman rode along the line in front of them and tried in vain to rally them as they approached our line. Colonel [Caleb] Carlton ordered our regiment to lie down, which we did, and they [115th Illinois] passed over us, trampling a good many of our men as they went over the line, some with and some without guns, some carrying wounded, others limping on one leg and so on.


Map from the Atlas of the O.R. showing the position atop Horseshoe Ridge (Snodgrass Hill) on the afternoon of September 20, 1863. The 89th Ohio was on the right flank of the position labeled as Stoughton facing south. 

It was at this moment our regiment was to be tried, the Rebel lines following up with a yell, as if their victory was complete. As the balls began to reach our line, I shall never forget the command of our gallant little colonel, who knew we were not accustomed to such a fire as was coming. He sat on his horse within a few rods of where General Steedman’s horse had been shot under him, and where a few minutes after, his own horse suffered the same fate, but he sat as cool as a preacher in a pulpit and commanded, “Steady, steady, steady!” Then we opened a terrific fire of volley after volley into their ranks for the space of three-quarters of an hour, their line waving to and fro, while ours was a steady as a clock, and by this time they went back, leaving the ground literally strewn with their dead and wounded.


89th Ohio Volunteer Infantry national colors (Ohio History Connection)

We had no orders to go forward and did not follow them but had not long to wait till they come again with fresh troops to dislodge us from our position, but we again sent them back howling as before and so on until nearly dark. They made charge after charge against our single line only to be as often repulsed with great slaughter each time to them and comparatively small loss on our side.

    It was now nearly night when the lines having given way on both right and left of us, we were subjected to an enfilading fire of shot, shell, and musketry thus flanking us so that we were forced to turn our line, but we rallied again and charged again, driving them back. By this time our ammunition was gone, having fired 60 rounds, besides all we could gather from the dead and wounded. The firing having ceased, we selected a spot to lie down and await the darkness of night to work our way back, knowing the Rebels were three or four lines deep in our rear. We had sent back an hour before sundown that our ammunition was nearly gone, but the order came back as before, to hold the point.

    Soon after dark, the Rebels knowing we were there, so disposed their forces as to open fire and charge us from three sides, having a brigade on the fourth or front to renew the attack while the others closed in and surrounded us, and thus we were sacrificed to save the other part of the army and prevent a complete rout of our whole line and the Rebel occupation of Chattanooga. All the accounts of the great battle admit that for the timely aid of General Granger, Thomas would have been overwhelmed and ruined after the falling to pieces of Crittenden’s and McCook’s corps. It was when we were flanked and forced to turn our line that our regiment suffered severely. I had 29 men in the fight and two were killed and 18 taken prisoners. About three or four ran away during the fight- their names I forbear to mention.
Reunion photo of veterans from the 89th Ohio Volunteer Infantry from a reunion held at Washington Courthouse, Ohio in the early 1900s. I wonder if my great-great-great grandfather is pictured here?


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