Blue Times: The 104th Illinois After Hartsville

First Lieutenant Moses Osman of the 104th Illinois missed the Battle of Hartsville by a fortunate accident of timing. “On the 2nd day of December, I received the appointment of brigade quartermaster and on Saturday the 5th took active possession of the department,” he relayed in a letter to his brother, Ottawa Free Trader editor William Osman. “We started for Gallatin with a train of wagons and about 60 head of horses and mules which we had purchased for the government at Hartsville.” The detachment of 180 men arrived in Gallatin on the evening of December 6, 1862; the following morning, as the men were getting the teams together, word reached them of trouble at Hartsville. The town was soon “full of rumors about the battle, but they all agreed that the brigade had been gobbled up by the Rebels, but as we had received no order to stop the train from moving, we had our teams hitched and were getting ready to start about 12 o’clock. While at dinner, I received an order from General [Ebenezer] Dumont to stop the train until further orders and was about the same time officially informed that the whole brigade was captured.”

Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Hapeman of the 104th Illinois was captured at Hartsville and held captive until exchanged April 23, 1863. According to the Adjutant General's history of the 104th Illinois, "Lieutenant Colonel Hapeman and Major Widmer, who, with eleven other field officers, were held as hostages for General McNeill, who the rebels charged with having had 13 guerrillas shot at Palmyra, Mo. These officers were held, by order of General Bragg, in solitary confinement, until the 23d day of April 1863, when they were exchanged and joined the Regiment at Brentwood, Tenn." Following his exchange, Hapeman returned to the 104th Illinois and led it for the rest of the war, earning a Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Peach Tree Creek, Ga. in July 1864

          The Federal defeat at Hartsville on December 7, 1862 was viewed as acute embarrassment to General William S. Rosecrans’ new command. Three regiments of infantry, Osman’s 104th Illinois along with two Ohio regiments (the 106th and 108th) along with a detachment of the 2nd Indiana Cavalry formed the 39th Brigade, totaling roughly 1,900 men under the command of Colonel Absalom B. Moore, had been stationed at Hartsville to garrison the town and maintain a vigilant watch over two important fords of the Cumberland River. Located 40 miles east of Nashville on the northern bank of the Cumberland River, Hartsville formed the left flank of the Union army which was based in Nashville. “It is Morgan’s favorite rendezvous, and the rich valley of the Cumberland furnishes any amount of forage,” Lieutenant Osman noted.

Colonel John H. Morgan, under orders from General Braxton Bragg to utilize his cavalry against Rosecrans’s line of communications (specifically the railroad line running into Kentucky), led 1,300 troopers across the Cumberland River at an unguarded ford during the early morning of hours of darkness. Dressed in captured light blue Federal overcoats, Morgan’s troopers swiftly captured most of the Federal pickets and launched their attack upon the town. Surprised, confused, and under fire for the first time, the three infantry regiments made a poor showing and within an hour and a half, Colonel Moore surrendered the garrison.  Colonel Morgan had another feather in his cap, more than 1,800 Federal prisoners in hand along with a lengthy wagon train loaded with captured war materials. Morgan paroled the men shortly thereafter, and the prisoners sullenly marched into Nashville where Lieutenant Osman found them a few days later.

“I found them quartered in a large, unfinished building in the center of the city,” Osman wrote. “The weather was quite cold and fuel scarce. But there were fireplaces in every room and piles of dressed flooring stood around in different parts of the building. This was soon appropriated, and the poor fellows gathered around the hearthstones in dense groups, each endeavoring to catch a few warming rays from the glowing embers. They were truly a forlorn-looking set. They had just got through with a 75-mile march through the land of Dixie, a delightful tour they performed in the course of three days with empty stomachs and sore feet.

Their faces and hands had the appearance of smoked bacon and their clothes had become entirely estranged to brushes and soap. The Rebels had kindly relived them of their blankets and overcoats in order that they might be better able to come the double-quick while in the sunny South and make them more anxious to get back North where they could get new ones. Generally speaking, they were mad, cold, hungry, and dirty. Full rations, however, were soon issued to them, and after a vigorous application of soap and Cumberland River water, hot coffee, bacon, beans, and white oak crackers, it was quite pleasing to see an occasional smile glittering upon their suddenly blanched countenances. After a voracious repast, many sought repose and it was an interesting scene to witness with what degree of satisfaction and comfort they stowed themselves away amid saw bucks, nail kegs, and work benches to enjoy a few hours of sweet sleep. I remained with them all day and up to 9 o’clock at night.

I noticed that all the Illinois boys felt satisfied that they had done all that was in their power to save them at Hartsville, while the Ohio troops skulked around, struck with shame and guilt- shunning the gaze and scrutiny of the hundreds of spectators who crowded around them. It was generally admitted by those who knew anything of the affair that had the Ohio regiments only done half their duty, the Rebels would have been held at bay long enough to have enabled the reinforcements which were sent from Castilian Springs to the relief of the brigade to have come up and saved them from captured. But they acted the coward in the most disgraceful way. The 106th Ohio never formed in line at all and hundreds of them, both officers and men, left their arms in their tents and rushed from the field in wild confusion even before the fight began, while others cast their arms aside during the fight. The 108th Ohio did but little better. They were ordered to support our battery and were got into a sort of line, fired one or two rounds, and then scattered entirely panic-stricken.

Captain John Doty, Co. E
Doty led Co. E at Hartsville and was killed in action at Peach Tree Creek 

The 104th Illinois, reduced by the absence of three companies, was left alone with two guns from Nicklin’s battery and about 300 cavalry to withstand the deadly fire of over five times their number. This they did for nearly an hour and a half, notwithstanding the Rebels had outflanked them on both sides and were pouring into them a raking fire from both flanks and a galling fire of artillery and musketry in the front and rear. As long as there seemed to be a shadow of hope, they held out and when they surrendered the two contending columns were within 20 feet of each other.

That our troops were taken by surprise there can be no doubt, but it was not the fault of Colonel Moore. Pickets had been extended out over a mile in almost every direction from the camp and every other precaution had been taken to prevent a surprise or night attack. But the difficulty is here: there is a large proportion of the Rebel cavalry who wear U.S. overcoats that have captured from our troops and trains before. The pickets therefore cannot distinguish between our cavalry and the Rebels until they approach so close as to place the picket entirely within their power. Owing to this fact, the Rebels were enabled to easily capture our outpost pickets and after taking them without any alarm, the next ones of course supposed that they were our own cavalry and allowed them to come up near enough to receive the countersign which was given in the shape of a dozen revolvers and carbines presented at their heads with an imperative order to surrender. In this way all the pickets were gobbled up on the west side of the camp and the road left free for them to work their way through to within a few hundred yards of our lines and when the morning dawned, they had entirely surrounded the camp.


~Letter from First Lieutenant Moses Osman, Co. A, 104th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, Ottawa Free Trader (Illinois), January 3, 1863, pg. 1


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