A Flag Bearer's End: With the 34th Ohio Zouaves in the Shenandoah Valley

This image depicts a member of the 34th Ohio, also known as the First Ohio Zouaves, with the tricorn hat carrying a M1855 pistol carbine and a Bacon revolver. This image may date from 1863 or 1864 when the 34th Ohio was serving as mounted infantry. (Minnesota Historical Society)

     The 34th Ohio Volunteer Infantry was raised in the summer of 1861 primarily in the western half of the state and has the distinction of being the first Zouave regiment to enter service in Ohio. Zouave regiments are a rare breed in the Buckeye state, the only other one being the 54th Ohio which was raised a little later in 1861 primarily from the eastern half of the state. That said, the 34th Ohio, raised in the western half of the state, served entirely in the eastern theater while the 54th Ohio, raised in the eastern half of the state, served entirely in the western theater with the Army of the Tennessee. Now that we are square on our directions, we can proceed with the story.

    The regiment, styling themselves as Piatt's Zouaves, went into Camp Dennison on September 1, 1861 and adopted "a light blue Zouave dress." Based on the photographs throughout this article, the regiment adopted a mild variation of the standard Army uniform with standard sky blue wool kersey trousers with a red stripe down the legs. The key difference lay in the jacket and headgear: a nine-button shell jacket trimmed in red while the hats were either tricorns or fezzes. The look was certainly distinctive and in the 34th Ohio's future realm of operation (western Virginia) well-nigh unique. The regiment was armed while at Camp Dennison with Miles Greenwood modified .69 U.S. M1842 muskets and departed for west Virginia on September 15, 1861.

    Piatt's Zouaves enjoyed a very active service during their four years wearing the tricorn. Only ten days after arriving in theater, they took part in their first engagement at Chapmanville in Logan County losing one man killed and eight wounded. They later took part in the Battles of Princeton (May 17-18, 1862), Fayetteville (September 10, 1862), Charleston (September 12, 1862), and Wytheville (July 18, 1863), the last engagement while the regiment was serving as mounted infantry. But of particular interest today is the regiment's service in the 1864 campaigns in the Shenandoah Valley.

    The year 1864 began with the men re-enlisting as veterans and returning home on veteran furlough. At the outset of the spring campaign, the regiment was separated into two detachments, one mounted, the other as infantry. They took part in General George Crook's operations in southwestern Virginia (Cloyd's Mountain) and General David Hunter's disastrous Lynchburg campaign which had the impact effect of sending the regiment out of the valley altogether. "Charleston was reached on the 1st of July where the exhausted, ragged, and starved troops were permitted to rest," noted Whitelaw Reid. "This ended this most disastrous expedition. The constant skirmishing, the starved bodies, and blistered feet of those who participated in it made Hunter's retreat from Lynchburg an event long to be remembered."

    In one of the boldest moves of the war, General Jubal Early's army, after brushing Hunter's force aside at Lynchburg, had swiftly marched down the Valley, crossed the Potomac, and invaded the North. Early's legions were on the road to Washington before they were met by General Lew Wallace's band of 100-day men and a division of the VI Corps at Monocacy; Early eventually drove Wallace's men aside but the one day delay gave time for reinforcements to arrive at the capital before Early and thus saved the city. Early crossed back into Virginia shortly thereafter and returned to the Shenandoah Valley where the 34th Ohio would meet him.

    While recuperating at Charleston, the decision was made to reunite the two detachments of the regiment and consequently the horses and equipment were turned over to the cavalry. The 34th Ohio would fight the rest of the war as infantry, and on July 10th left on transports for Parkersburg, then by rail to Martinsburg.  With Federal forces pushing west from Washington, the 34th Ohio marched south with the intent of gaining the town of Winchester before Early's men arrived. 

A pair of unidentified veterans of the 34th Ohio, also known as Piatt's Zouaves. The tricorn hats speak more Revolutionary War than traditional fezzes normally worn by Zouaves, although pictures exists showing men of the regiment wearing fezzes as well. Ohio only sent two Zouave regiments to the field, the 34th Ohio and 54th Ohio, but several other infantry companies throughout the state went out as Zouaves early in the war. Both men are carrying .69 caliber U.S. Model 1842 muskets. (Library of Congress)

    Captain Hiram Peck of Co. G of the 34th Ohio recalled the clash with General Stephen D. Ramseur's division of Early's army which occurred near Winchester on July 20, 1864. "The whole force moved on from Bunker Hill and at noon met some skirmishers of the Rebels and preparations were made for a fight; the cavalry out of the flanks and the infantry in columns of companies marching by the flank to the front and the artillery massed in the center on the main road, in which position we advanced about five miles. The enemy opened on us with artillery quite briskly. Our infantry was then formed in line of battle and advanced slowly, our skirmishers meeting a good deal of resistance. One of our batteries opened on them and silenced their artillery. Our line was again advanced and we met the enemy advantageously posted in a wood and in heavy force, but as defeat was almost tantamount to annihilation, we continued to advance and vigorously attacked them, and after a determined struggle, drove them from the field. We captured four splendid brass 12-pounder Napoleon guns, the horses and caissons, hundreds of prisoners with the loss of 200 killed and wounded on our side," he wrote. The 34th Ohio lost ten men killed and twenty wounded.

    After Ramseur's retreat, the 34th Ohio moved through Winchester and camped south of town in a fine wooded grove. It was still there on Sunday July 24, 1864, resting and recuperating from the battle. The men were immensely proud of the victory, coming as it did after the disappointments of Hunter's last campaign. "There has not been a neater victory since the war commenced," bragged Second Lieutenant James K. Agnew of Co. H  to his wife. "We are in the Second Infantry brigade now, but cannot say how long we will stay. We have been in seven brigades in the past three months so I do not know how long we will remain here, what we will do next, where we will be tomorrow, whether we will fight today, tomorrow, or not. General Crook tries to respect the Sabbath, hence we will not attack today. I hear the church bells ringing in Winchester, but cannot attend for fear that we may be attacked."

    In camp with Lieutenant Agnew and perhaps within his sight was color Corporal Horace N. Martin of Bucyrus. Martin had been promoted to the rank of corporal back in May and had carried the flag of the regiment through numerous engagements, but the last fight was perhaps the most desperate of all as he recalled in this letter to his parents:

Winchester, Virginia
July 24, 1864

My dear parents,
    Horace is yet in the land of the living, though many of our brave boys have within the last two or three days bit the dust. You will have a full account of our doings here before this reaches you. We have fought one of the best divisions of the Rebel army with one brigade and made them fly before us. I have enclosed a sketch of the battleground showing how our line of battle was formed and the positions and entrenchments of the enemy. Our brigade charged on them; they had two lines of battle and we had but one. When we got within 20 or 30 feet of their first line, they broke and our whole brigade gave them a volley and rushed after them. Their second line broke and fled but not before we had got within striking distance of them. We captured 143 prisoners and four pieces of artillery. We would have taken more prisoners but were too tired to run after them. We charged so sudden on their cannon that they had not time to hitch their horses on them to take them off.

    You see on the sketch that the 34th Ohio was on the extreme left except for a cavalry squadron. As we charged up, the enemy's cavalry wheeled right in our rear and drove our cavalry and if the enemy had held his position in front a quarter of an hour, the 34th would have been in an ugly place. 

    I carried the colors through unhurt. I chose to share the danger with none though five out of the eight of my color guard were killed and wounded. I hope you won't think I want to boast, but I wish you could have heard the cheer the boys have for our old battle flag or what was left of it after the storm of battle had passed over. There were twelve more rents made by bullets in it and one cannon shot tore through its folds during the engagement. William Crossan was the only one killed that you were acquainted with. 

    When you write, tell me if you got my pocket album. I mailed it the last thing before I left Martinsburg. I did not know what might happen or in whose hands it might fall. I am loathe to part with the familiar faces of the dear loved ones at home but I hated the thought they should ever be made the subject or a brutal jest or exhibited as a trophy.

From your affectionate son.
Horace N. Martin

    Jubal Early was no respecter of the Sabbath. By noon, the Sunday quiet of the camp of the 34th Ohio was broken by the increasing sounds of skirmish fire to the south. "Skirmishing began early well out in front with our cavalry which was reinforced at different times until the whole force was engaged," recalled Captain Peck. "At 4 p.m. our brigade was attacked and at 5 was driven from the field. Colonel [John W.] Shaw was mortally wounded and died during the night. Our brigade was in the rear and marched in line of battle some seven or eight miles on the left of the Martinsburg Road. We marched all night, reaching Martinsburg at 8 a.m."

    "On July 25th, we formed line of battle outside of town and had some brisk skirmishing in the forenoon when our forces fell back about a half mile towards Hagerstown. In the afternoon, General Crook formed nearly his whole force, the cavalry on the flanks, and stormed the town, driving the Rebels in confusion to their former position. The Union forces were again withdrawn and the retreat commenced. Our regiment was the last regiment in line of battle, the others having retired by the flank. In the fight, we lost Sergeant Martin (color sergeant) and one or two more killed and five or six wounded. We reached the ford near Williamsport at 2 a.m. on the 26th and forded the river as soon as we could see to do so safely. We marched to Sharpsburg and camped for the night." 

    Horace N. Martin was reported to have died upon the field on July 25, 1864; but the regimental record and his gravestone indicate that he died September 18, 1864 in Martinsburg. I believe that he died in July; when the Bucyrus Journal ran his letter on August 13, 1864, they reported that Martin's letter was written "the day before or morning of the day on which he was killed. It will be seen that he seems to have had a premonition of his approaching fate and manfully and cheerfully prepared to meet it. His body fell into the enemy's hands at at last accounts had not been recovered."

    The flag that Martin gave his life to defend left the field in the hands of another soldier. But it would be lost to the enemy on January 11, 1865 when the 34th Ohio was surprised and captured at Beverly, West Virginia. Colonel John W. DePeyster of New York discovered the flag in Richmond, Virginia at the end of the war and "preserved the silken treasure for many years." On April 27, 1900 in a banquet hosted at Delmonicos in New York, Colonel DePyester presented the flag to Captain Alvin T. Miller of the 34th Ohio. "The flag was carried through 41 battles before it was captured by the enemy and was tattered and bullet-riddled," it was reported. Captain Miller turned the flag over to the adjutant general of the state of Ohio in November 1900.

    In August 1915, the state started moving the flags from the relic room in the state house to the Capitol Rotunda and the 34th Ohio flag gained special notice due to its fragile condition. "This emblem is no longer a flag. It is just a tattered remnant. Nine color bearers went to their death with it in their grasp and 41 battles were fought around it," it was reported. "Much the greater part of it was shot away. In its very last fight, the famous emblem was taken by the Confederates." The state had appropriated $15,000 to seal the flags in cases as "in the present relic room, the flags exposed to the atmosphere are rapidly disintegrating."

"The 34th Ohio: A Hard Campaign in which the Regiment was conspicuously engaged," Captain Hiram Peck, Co. G, 34th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, National Tribune, August 8, 1901, pg. 3
Letter from Second Lieutenant James K. Agnew, Co. H, 34th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Wyandot Pioneer (Ohio), August 12, 1864, pg. 2
Letter from Corporal Horace N. Martin, Co. E, 34th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Bucyrus Journal (Ohio), August 13, 1864, pg. 3
Whitelaw Reid, Ohio in the War Volume II, pgs. 223-227


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