The Squirrel Game at the Battle of Camp Allegheny

In December 1861, General Robert H. Milroy led a force of roughly 2,500 men to attack the Confederate encampment of Camp Baldwin in the mountains of western Virginia. The ensuring fight known as the Battle of Camp Allegheny was fought on December 13, 1861; for the men of the 32nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, it was their first pitched battle and for First Lieutenant Charles C. Brandt of Co. F, his first time having command of the company.
32nd Ohio Infantry national colors (Ohio History Connection)

The battle was a see-saw affair with several charges and countercharges, but the weight of numbers eventually told and gave the victory to the Confederates. The Buckeyes had fought bravely, but the lack of coordination between the two scattered Union contingents that converged on Camp Baldwin doomed their noble effort. William McLain of Co. B of the 32nd Ohio acidly called it "a severe if well-deserved retreat, a regular thrashing, and one well-merited on account of the foolhardiness of the expedition." He laid the blame at Milroy's feet, stating that "monkeys in brass and blue" like Milroy "may be kept home to command Home Guards and such institutions."

Charles Brandt's account of the fight for Camp Allegheny appeared in the December 27, 1861 issue of the Cleveland Morning Leader. This was Brandt's only combat experience with the 32nd Ohio; the Ohioan resigned his commission March 29, 1862. 

Beverly, Virginia
December 16, 1861
            I shall endeavor to give you an account of a battle fought between the Union and Rebel forces at Camp Baldwin 23 miles from Cheat Mountain on Friday the 13th last. I am able to give you a correct and minute description of the whole affair happening to be through the whole and hottest of the action bearing away several marks of the fierce contest.

            The Rebels had evacuated Greenbrier several weeks ago and we knew nothing of their whereabouts until a few days ago when three of their deserters reported them encamped eight miles from Greenbrier. Our scouts soon paid them a visit and took a peep into their position and reported to General [Robert H.] Milroy who at once ordered an attack. The 9th Indiana was at Cheat Mountain, the 25th Ohio was at Huttonville, the 13th Indiana at Beverly, and our regiment, the 32nd Ohio, was on the march to Beverly. The 25th Ohio was ordered to Cheat Mountain two days previous to the attack, the 13th Indiana one day, also a few companies of the 2nd Virginia from Elkwater.

            The morning after the arrival of the 32nd Ohio in Beverly, Colonel [Thomas] Ford gave those who wished to join the expedition permission to do so. One hundred went under the command of Captain [William] Hamilton. My company (Co. F) was still at the hospital near Beverly where we had been for some weeks. Captain [Benjamin] Potts was sick so the command devolved on myself and with Lieutenant [Theobold] Yost, we selected 50 men from our company who were thirsting for a fight, left quarters at 10 a.m., joined the other hundred of the regiment at Cheat Mountain and left there at 4 p.m. where we proceeded to Greenbrier. We rested a couple of hours with the rest of our entire force which now amounted to 2,500 men.

We then separated into two divisions, each taking a different road in order to attack from two sides. We marched on during the night until we were fired on by the enemy’s pickets, killing one man of the 25th Ohio and wounded William Sharp of our company slightly on the head. We then proceeded slowly and cautiously  until daylight when we captured some of the Rebel pickets whom we forced to show us their camp which was on a hill just above us. We soon made the ascent, the 25th Ohio ahead, the 13th Indiana next, and last the 32nd Ohio- we did not stay there long once the ball opened.

Camp Allegheny sign in western Virginia 

When our front arrived on the ground, the enemy was drawn up in line of battle to receive them. They opened their fire on the 25th Ohio with good success for their shots were low and well-directed, and made more than one brave fellow kiss the earth. After that fire, both the 25th Ohio and 13th Indiana broke ranks and found shelter behind the trees. The 32nd Ohio had not yet reached the scene of the action and as quick time was too slow for us, the double quick was resorted to but many could not follow for the forced march of 32 miles in 20 hours and the greater part being at night had completely exhausted them, which broke ranks also. And now every man went for himself, companies and regiments getting completely mixed up. Our boys pushed to the front to the edge of the woods where the chance was best and the fire hottest. The bullets from both sides now flew literally as thick as hail. All this time the 9th Indiana and 2nd Virginia should have attacked the fort on the opposite hill, but they had not come up yet. For near an hour the murderous and terrific fire was kept up when our forces began to fall back. Our boys of the 32nd and especially of Co. F were the last to follow. They allowed the Rebels to come up close and then took cool aim from behind trees and let them have it with good effect. They fought like tigers and held their ground like veterans, but at last were obliged to give way to superior numbers.

Our forces fell back slowly, closely followed by the enemy for about half a mile. Having nothing but my sword and a small revolver, I could do but little good with these but seeing a wounded soldier upon the ground, orders were given to one of our company to take care of him. I took his musket, begged several cartridges and commenced firing at out pursuers. I saw several officers halting and trying to rally their men. They succeeded when we set up a yell and advanced on the double quick. The enemy gave way and we followed to the edge of the woods, killing and wounding many. At the edge of the woods many halted but the 32nd Ohio continued on, followed by 100 others until we reached the brow of the hill from which we could see the whole camp. Now the time arrived to order a bayonet charge. The 9th Indiana and 2nd Virginia had come up and attacked the fort but one gun played on us and without effect, but no command to that effect was given from the fact that we had become detached from the main body of our forces and had no field officer with us.

We called for an officer to lead us but no one responded. A thought struck me, why not lead myself? Word followed through and blow followed word for our case was desperate. I called Co. F into line and the few that were there obeyed cheerfully, and then invited all others to fall in alongside them. A few did and when we had about 20 in line, I took off and waved my cap, gave a cheer, ordered a charge, and away we went over the enemy’s rifle pits which they had left and ran clear into the enemy’s camp on a dead run driving the Rebels before us. We had been in hope that the rest of our forces would follow us and then we could have taken the camp, but for some reason they did not.

They Rebels soon saw this and taking courage from the smallness of the attacking party, opened on us a terrible fire, the fort also firing shot at us from a small cannon. We dodged behind their tent chimneys and some stumps when a regular squirrel game commenced; as soon as a head became visible on either side, bullets came by showers. I sat behind a stump and fired over it. Several balls struck it and a shower was passing over all the time until after firing my gun I stooped to reload when my knee became exposed and the result was a ball struck it. I jumped up but had to dodge again as I was again greeted by another shower of balls. I did not feel much pain, saw that my pants and drawers were cut and the place where the ball entered my knee. I had no time to examine the wound but loaded and fired away and so did the rest of the boys for about ten minutes when I was obliged to retire from pain in my knee.

An unidentified soldier wearing a Georgia state belt buckle.
The 32nd Ohio faced the 12th Georgia at Camp Allegheny
(Library of Congress)

The boys all followed me and when  we arrived at the top of the hill we looked back and resolved to try another charge. Again, I hallowed “Company F, fall in!” It did fall in, the same old crowd. Another waving of caps, another cheer, and away we went again on an improved double quick which being contagious infected the Secesh and away they went to under the cover of their camp for they began to improve our retreat by hallowing us. We were again in our old place amongst the tent chimneys and stumps. The squirrel game commenced again but I could fire but a few rounds myself on account of the wound becoming painful, and asked Lieutenant Yost to take command which he did when I retired backwards for I feared nothing but a bullet in my back. Lieutenant Yost and a few others held their ground for 10 or 15 minutes and then and there was when our brave and noble William Clark received a ball in the heart and lungs which killed him instantly. He died in the enemy’s camp; may he rest in peace. No nobler soldier ever died. He was shot after I left and the boys tell me it was impossible for so few to bring him away. I arrived in the woods, saw our troops falling back, and knew that the day was lost.

The 9th Indiana and 2nd Virginia were detained and arrived too late. The 9th fought bravely and was in the fort twice but could not hold it alone, the 2nd Virginia having broken ranks near the beginning of the attack. Let me here remark that Captain Hamilton who had charge of the 32nd Ohio fought bravely until his brother was wounded and he then accompanied him off the field. We were whipped but we did all that living men could, but it was impossible for so few to prevail against so many.


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