"He Died Like a True Soldier": A Tale of Perryville

     The 3rd Ohio Infantry was a regiment in search of a battle. Mustered into the three year service in June 1861, the 3rd Ohio has served in both western Virginia and throughout the western theater since that time and had barely burnt any powder while doing so. All of that changed on October 8, 1862 as the regiment found itself in a very tough fight at Perryville, Kentucky. 

    In August 1862, the regiment was camped at Decherd Station in southern Tennessee, but as news of the Confederate invasion of Tennessee spread, the regiment was quickly put on the road. As recalled by Whitelaw Reid, the march north "was severe in the extreme. The weather was intensely warm, the roads dry and covered inches thick with stifling dust. The water courses were dried up and what water there was to be had was often very filthy and loathsome. All these disabilities, combined with scant rations, made the march one of particular hardship and toil to the soldiers."

    The 3rd Ohio was assigned to Colonel William H. Lytle's brigade and at the outset of the battle was positioned in an open field behind a rail fence to the right of the Mackville road. The Confederate attack that afternoon was ferocious, but the 3rd Ohio stood its ground. General Lovell H. Rousseau later praised the regiment, stating that they "stood in that withering fire like men of iron." Casualties were heavy; five color bearers were killed successively before David C. Walker of Co. C lifted them and survived the engagement. The regiment, relieved by the 15th Kentucky, fell back but left a trail of dead and wounded men. All told, the 3rd Ohio lost 215 officers and men killed or wounded at Perryville.

    Among those casualties was First Lieutenant Calvin L. Starr of Co. K who was killed as the regiment retreated from its first position. It fell to Second Lieutenant Thomas Stevenson to write the following letter to Calvin's father (Thomas Starr) telling the story of his son's demise. Lieutenant Stevenson's account was published in the November 4, 1862 issue of the Wellsville Patriot.

Battle of Perryville Civil War Reenactment

Camp three miles from Danville, Kentucky

October 13, 1862 

          Mr. Starr, my dear sir:

          It is with great regret that I inform you of the death of your son, Lieutenant Calvin L. Starr. He was killed on the battlefield before Perryville. While I regret his death, I am proud to say and you may be proud to know that he died like a true soldier. I noticed him several times in the hottest of the fire; he was perfectly cool and performed his duty admirably. We were under fire from 1 o’clock p.m. until 7. There was only one man in the company who saw him when he fell, and he was a recruit who had only been in the company a few days. I suppose he was much frightened, as he did not say anything about it nor tell it to anybody; consequently, he was left on the field overnight.

During the first hour of the engagement, we were supporting a battery. We were in a small hollow behind the battery, and the shot and shell fell very thick around us; and during the time we were there, Calvin made a very narrow escape. He was laying on his left side, talking to a man by the name of Robb, one of General Lytle’s clerks who was also laying in the same position facing Calvin and the two not being more than 18 inches apart, when a cannon ball passed over Calvin and killed Mr. Robb. Almost instantly our battery silenced the Rebel battery, ours then fell back and we were ordered to advance. We moved forward about 50 yards to the rise of the hill, where two batteries opened out upon us. Here we lay down behind a fence, the Rebel infantry advancing toward us; and as soon as they got within gunshot of us, they fired on us. We raised and returned the fire and continued to lie down and load and raise and fire until we ran out of ammunition. We were then relieved by the 15th Kentucky. It must have been, from where we found Calvin, and from what the boys told me when we were falling back, about that time he was killed.

After we had fallen back, we rallied to the hollow where we had previously been. The 15th Kentucky did not hold its ground but a few moments and fell back on us. By this time, they had a battery planted on our right; they opened on us with grape and canister; the fire was very destructive; we then fell back about a quarter of a mile where we got a new supply of ammunition, and it was then that I missed Calvin. I inquired and no person knew anything about him, all thinking that they had seen him just a few minutes before. Just then one of Co. G came and asked if we had got him off the field; it was then getting pretty dark and the Rebels were between us and where he was, and where we had just got our ammunition. When the Rebels opened on us again, we were ordered to fire a few rounds and then we were ordered to retire. We fell back a short way where we laid down without any supper and almost dying for water. We suffered very much for water as it was very scarce and half mud when we got it.

The location of the 3rd Ohio was on the right flank of the Federal position near the Squire Bottom farm on the western bank of Doctor's Creek. (Map by Hal Jespersen, www.cwmaps.com)

The Rebels held the field in front of us during the night but left it before day in the morning. Lieutenant James M. Imbrie [Co. K] was sent with a squad of men to get the dead and wounded off the field; he got them all but one boy who was wounded; he had been taken by the Rebels and has since been paroled. They had taken Calvin’s watch, sword, and revolver. When Imbrie came back, I asked the colonel to let me go and see to burying Calvin, but he replied that he had orders to be ready to move at any moment and that he would send the chaplain to see to it.

"He was laid between two walnut trees on the farm of Henry P. Bottom, one mile northwest of Perryville."

        We then sent Sergeant John Dever and two men to bury him; they made a box and buried him as well as circumstances would permit. I saw him before he was buried. He was laid between two walnut trees on the farm of Henry P. Bottom, one mile northwest of Perryville. The four that were killed of our company were laid by his side. Calvin had been acting in Company F for some time; but about an hour before we went into the engagement, he came into our company. Calvin’s clothes are in a trunk with mine, but I don’t know where it is as I have not seen it since we left Bowling Green, and it is doubtful whether I shall ever see it again.

We have no tents and no clothes, only what we have on our backs. When I get time, I will have everything straightened up but it is out of the question now. I am sorry I cannot write you more; I am now under a tree writing by firelight and my eyes are almost out; and this is the first chance I have had to write at all. We are getting rations tonight, and I expect we will move to the front tomorrow. You may expect to hear from me as soon as we get settled. Here I will close for the present, hoping these lines may find you all well for as such they leave me.

Calvin's father decided to have Lieutenant Starr's body removed from its temporary grave on Henry Bottom's farm, and it was buried in Wellsville, Ohio. A marker for Lieutenant Starr rests at Lisbon Cemetery in Lisbon, Ohio but the stone specifically states that Starr is buried in Wellsville. The war would take both of Thomas Starr's son: Calvin's younger brother Thomas Clinton Starr was killed in action June 15, 1864 near Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia while serving as a sergeant in Co. I of the 78th Ohio Infantry. 

Thomas B. Stevenson was born March 12, 1839 in Wellsville, Ohio and after gaining his education worked as a machinist. He enlisted as the first sergeant of Co. K of the 3rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry on June 15, 1861. He was commissioned second lieutenant of the company April 9, 1862 and promoted to first lieutenant October 8, 1862 due to the death of Lieutenant Starr.  Stevenson was captured May 3, 1863 at Cedar Bluff, Georgia during Streight’s Raid and was discharged August 12, 1864. He returned to Wellsville following his wartime service and was one of the founders of the Stevenson Foundry & Machine Works. Stevenson died of paralysis March 29, 1911 in Wellsville and is buried at Yellow Creek Presbyterian Church Cemetery in that locality.


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