Thumping Morgan at Vaught's Hill

    It's been said that the Civil War was fought in 10,000 places, and it stands to reason that thousands of those engagements had little effect on the ultimate outcome of the war. The Battle of Vaught's Hill, Tennessee numbers as one of those engagements remembered only by those who directly took part in the fight. The engagement pitted Colonel Albert S. Hall's Federal brigade of four regiments against 3,500 Confederate cavalry under General John H. Morgan. The engagement occurred on the outskirts of the little town of Milton, Tennessee about a dozen miles northeast of Murfreesboro on March 20, 1863. Hall's brigade had departed Murfreesboro a few days before to forage, and while out had a brush with Morgan's cavalry. Convinced he was outnumbered, Colonel Hall marched his men back towards Murfreesboro but near the town of Milton, Morgan pounced, his troopers flying around both flanks of the plodding infantrymen with the aim of surrounding the Federals and forcing their surrender. 

Three lieutenants of the 105th Ohio attired for the campaign.

    But Colonel Hall and his infantry had no intention of surrendering, and setting up a perimeter defense around nearby Vaught's Hill, Hall's men hunkered down and put up a tough fight. "My line encircling the hillock enclosing about five acres of space was entirely surrounded by the enemy, and every reachable spot was showered with shot, shell, grape, and canister," Colonel Hall later reported. The Confederates dismounted, and charged Hall's lines repeatedly, but Hall's two cannon bolstered by 1,200 determined infantrymen drove them back with heavy casualties, Morgan himself sustaining a wound in the action. After about five hours, Colonel Hall employed a "stratagem" as relayed in the following letter written by Corporal Edwin R. More of Co. F of the 105th Ohio Infantry.

    "Colonel Hall, seeing his ammunition run low, concluded to try the effect of a little stratagem upon the wily Morgan. He sent his orderlies to the rear among the teamsters, ordering them to remount every mule and horse, get them in column, and ride in from the rear upon a gallop, cheering with all their might. The thing was nicely done. In came the doughty teamsters, yelling at the loudest key of their brazen throats. The infantry, supposing reinforcements had really arrived, joined in the chorus. The artillery fired with more vigor, and with all combined, the most unearthly din was created that caused consternation in the ranks of the fighting Rebels. Panic seized upon them and men, who but a moment before were fighting so severely, skedaddled like sheep," More stated. This broke the Confederate hold on Vaught's Hill, and heavy Union reinforcements that arrived later that evening ended any chance of a rematch the following day.

    Corporal More's letter saw publication in the March 30, 1863 edition of the Cleveland Morning Leader.

Camp near Murfreesboro, Tennessee

March 21, 1863

    Colonel Albert S. Hall's brigade left camp on Wednesday morning March 18th for a four day scout, his force constituted of 1,500 infantry, one company of cavalry, and two guns of Harris' Battery [10th Indiana]. We marched 14 miles to Cainsville and camped, but soon after camping our pickets captured two Rebels. On Thursday, we marched by a round-about way to Auburn and camped. During the day we had two skirmishes, killed one Rebel, wounded some, and captured three without loss on our side. We also captured several horses. On Friday, we marched towards camp six miles and were halted for a rest with guns stacked in the road. The men had hardly got settled by the roadside for a rest of 10 or 15 minutes before they were brought to their feet by the discharge of a cannon in our rear.

Colonel Albert S. Hall of the 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry died of disease at Murfreesboro, Tennessee July 10, 1863, just four months after his victory at Vaught's Hill. 

    The Rebels had attacked us in the rear and by a flank movement were trying to surround the brigade. Colonel Hall immediately ordered his men to take possession of a hill [Vaught's Hill] to the left covered with timber and broken rocks. This was naturally a good position and Colonel Hall soon had his men so arranged as to defend it most advantageously. Now was an exciting time. Colonel Hall, riding from point to point, personally seeing that every position was properly manned and speaking words of cheer to all. The men were confident and eager; so much so that the Colonel thought best to caution them not to throw away a single charge but to "take sure aim and keep cool."

"This little fight was in plain sight of us all. They struck the 101st Indiana, great big, stout, slouchy fellows armed with Belgian rifles with muzzles like railroad tunnels and heavy saber bayonets. If you could have heard those fellows giving their first hearty greeting to our would be guests. Those big-throated old rifles roared  till they fairly made the rocks jingle with their welcome." ~ First Lieutenant John C. Hartzell, Co. H, 105th Ohio

    Part of the 105th was deployed as skirmishers and the rest were ordered to support our battery of two guns. The skirmishers engaged the enemy with ardor and much boldness, many manifesting coolness and courage far beyond what was expected. All did their whole duty nobly. Our fire became so galling to the Rebels that their fire was returned with shells and canister, which was thrown after a few shots were received. All fear seemed to leave the men, and they fought with a coolness seldom exhibited. Thus, with an occasional shift in position, the battle continued from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

"We had but a few minutes to wait until they came rushing suddenly upon the 101st Indiana which was on our left and causing some confusion, but the 101st boys fell in with ours and soon drove the enemy back to the cedars. Another charge came upon our front and we drove them back; again they charged on the left but by that time the 101st Indiana was reformed and they punished the enemy terribly." ~ Major James A. Connolly, 123rd Illinois

    The 80th and 123rd Illinois and 101st Indiana fought with a deliberate energy. They repulsed charge after charge, and sent the enemy reeling back from the murderous volleys they received. The Rebels fought with reckless bravery, fighting like very devils. Generals Morgan and Wheeler, in person, led charges against us, but their presence and daring did not save them from defeat. 

Unidentified Confederate wearing a greatcoat. 
(Library of Congress)

    Colonel Hall, seeing his ammunition run low, concluded to try the effect of a little stratagem upon the wily Morgan. He sent his orderlies to the rear among the teamsters, ordering them to remount every mule and horse, get them in column, and ride in from the rear upon a gallop, cheering with all their might. The thing was nicely done. In came the doughty teamsters, yelling at the loudest key of their brazen throats. The infantry, supposing reinforcements had really arrived, joined in the chorus. The artillery fired with more vigor, and with all combined, the most unearthly din was created that caused consternation in the ranks of the fighting Rebels. Panic seized upon them and men, who but a moment before were fighting so severely, skedaddled like sheep. Colonel Hall could not pursue them for the want of cavalry.

    We remained in possession of the battlefield until noon the next day collecting the dead and wounded. The killed on our side belonged to the 101st Indiana and 123rd Illinois, being three in each regiment. Our wounded numbered 33. Only two men in the 105th Ohio were wounded they just slightly. It seems almost a miracle that we should come out of so hot a fair of shells, canister, and musket balls with so little harm. Every regiment in the brigade is proud of the others. The brigade is proud of its commander and he is pleased with us. Satisfaction is on every man's face from Colonel Hall down to the high private in the rear rank. Promotions will follow; Colonel Hall deserves and will get a star. Lieutenant Colonel Tolles will most assuredly don the eagle. He did honor to the men in the brave 31st Ohio, has worn the oak leaf with credit in the 105th, and the eagle will never be disgraced on his shoulders.

    Shoulder straps will be conferred upon the worthy in the ranks. Many anecdotes might be told of the battle but space forbids. Colonel Hall had marched and counter marched many a weary mile to fight the shrewd Morgan and has now whipped him upon ground of Morgan's own choosing. Morgan, according to the reports of his own men, had a force of 4,000 men in the fight and a battery of four guns. Colonel Hall with one-fourth as many routed him completely, killed over 50, wounded a little over 250, and captured 13 prisoners. Do our friends at home think we deserve a banner now?

"The battle was of no great consequence either in numbers or results, but it was a very gratifying incident to the brigade but especially to the 105th Ohio and our colonel. It was not only a defeat of an old elusive enemy, and a victory against overwhelming numbers, but it was one secured by the skill of the commander and the quiet confidence of his men. In all its elements, this little affair was peculiarly picturesque and romantic." First Lieutenant Albion W. Tourgee, Co. G, 105th Ohio

Sources:

Letter from Corporal Edwin R. More, Co. F, 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Cleveland Morning Leader (Ohio), March 30, 1863, pg. 4

Connolly, James A., edited by Paul M. Angle. Three Years in the Army of the Cumberland. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987, pg. 44

Switzer, Charles I., editor. Ohio Volunteer: The Childhood and Civil War Memoirs of John Calvin Hartzell, O.V.I. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005, pgs. 110-111

Tourgee, Albion W. The Story of a Thousand: A History of the 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Kent: Kent State University Press, 2011, pgs. 192-196


    

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