Arming Sherman's Buckeyes at Paducah

    In the aftermath of the Federal victories at Forts Henry and Donelson, Brigadier General William Tecumseh Sherman was tasked with organizing a new division of troops being gathered at Paducah, Kentucky, an important point at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. Sherman was tasked not only with organizing and drilling these raw recruits, but he was also tasked with getting them fully equipped to take the field.

General Sherman was pleased to have a chance to lead troops again and was especially happy to have his fellow Buckeyes joining his division at Paducah. When the 53rd Ohio reported to him in Kentucky, Sherman asked "How long do you expect to remain in the service?" An officer replied "the regiment has enlisted for three years and expects to serve its time." Sherman replied "well, you have sense. Most of you fellows come down here intending to go home and go to Congress in about three weeks."

    In those early days of the Civil War, the Federal and state governments were both scrambling to secure arms for the troops which led to the purchase of all sorts of oddball and cast-off guns from Europe, everything from .72 caliber French smoothbores to Prussian guns that dated from the days of Napoleon. Once issued to the troops, it was found that the governments had been snookered into buying obsolete weapons at best, or near useless shooting irons at worst. What the troops most desired and what was in short supply was the English-made Enfield rifle musket, and failing that, the troops wanted a U.S.-made longarm such as the '61 Springfield. As a result of the shortage, most of the Buckeye troops that arrived at Paducah in late February 1862 arrived either completely or mostly unarmed.

    The troops expected to receive good arms before they took the field. "When we left Camp Dennison, we were told that upon our arrival here that our regiment would be furnished with the Enfield rifle," wrote one discontented member of the 48th Ohio. "Why such is not the case, no one seems to know. It seems to be a mistake in the government to throw her troops right in the heart of the enemy's country unarmed. Were but a small force of the enemy to come upon us well armed, we would be obliged to cave having nothing with which to defend ourselves." Not all of the regiments were completely unarmed: both the 71st and 72nd Ohio arrived at Paducah with some weapons. The 72nd Ohio had five of its ten companies equipped with Enfield rifles and expected to receive the balance once they arrived in theater, which they eventually did on March 6, 1862. The 71st Ohio under Colonel Rodney Mason had received 400 guns while at Camp Tod in Ohio, but arrived in Paducah expecting the rest of the regiment to be armed as well. 

An 1861 recruiting broadside called for prospective recruits to join Colonel Jesse Appler's "mounted riflemen" of the 53rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The southeastern Ohio regiment was never mounted and arrived at Paducah unarmed if dressed in "good uniforms."
(Ohio History Connection)

    Weapons were available to supply the raw troops at Paducah, but they were battlefield captures from Fort Donelson: largely a collection of old flintlocks, shotguns, and squirrel rifles. Private Willis Thompson of the 15th Illinois was among those troops tasked with scouring the Fort Donelson battlefield for weapons and described what he found. "At the time of their capitulation, the Rebels left their ammunition just as they were using it, apparently making no attempts at its destruction. The ammunition, both artillery and small arms ammunition, must have been worth a large sum of money. It had been left in most cases precisely as the Rebels abandoned it, to be destroyed by the mischievous Federal troops and the rain combined. Any attempt made to collect the guns thus left scattered over the ground has not been very systematically made since today [February 24, 1862], the arms are left in a large part of the field to be overhauled and knocked about by straggling soldiers who take the strap from one gun, a bayonet from another, and the rammers from nearly all. Cartridge boxes have been trampled into the mud, their tin cases taken out and spoiled; cap pouches detached from the belts and laying in confusion all over the field, most them a total loss. As though this was not enough, a boatload of citizens came up from St. Louis last week to visit the field, each man of them carrying away just what he pleased. The majority of them took the best small arms they could find upon the field, the only limit to their plunder, being their ability to convey the haul to the boat. Field pieces would no doubt have been taken could they have carried them away to the boat!" 

Private Levi Russell, Co. C, 77th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. When his company was issued old Austrian muskets at Paducah, it was reported that Russell and the other men of the company stacked their weapons and nearly mutinied. Russell did not survive the war, dying in Arkansas in 1864.
(Ohio History Connection)

    In the meantime, the newly arrived troops embarked on the regular duties of camp guard and drill either unarmed or using whatever pieces could be scrounged up at Paducah. The regimental historians of the 48th Ohio recalled that "we were still without arms and when ordered on picket were compelled to use old, worthless muskets. There was not even a sufficient supply of that kind of arms, therefore we were compelled to transfer them to each succeeding relief. Sending us into the enemy's country without arms caused considerable dissatisfaction in the regiment. Rumors came in thick that the Rebels were in strong force at Columbus, Kentucky only 30 miles distant preparing an attack on Paducah." Thomas W. Connelly of the 70th Ohio reported "not a single gun in camp. We were compelled to stand guard and do picket duty, drill, and pass in review to be inspected, and no guns. We were in a grand condition to repel an attack of the enemy had he made a sudden dash upon us. It would have been a novel scene to see soldiers in an enemy's country walking their beats around camp or standing picket guard at some important bridge or crossing, carrying at shoulder arms or right shoulder shift a long stick whittled out of pine or poplar with an old bayonet fastened on one end." 

Private Jonathan Reese, Co. I, 77th Ohio Volunteer Infantry
(Ohio History Connection)

    With thousands of unarmed troops and the urgent imperative to embark on the expedition up the Tennessee River, the decision was made to arm the Buckeyes with the battlefield pickups from Fort Donelson. A soldier of the 57th Ohio reported that on March 1st, "some of the companies took for temporary purposes a lot of Secesh guns that were taken at Fort Donelson. Most of them are flintlock muskets, though there were some very fine guns among them. The Rebels had all kinds of guns."  Commissary Sergeant Lewis Parker of the 57th was less impressed. "General Sherman yesterday armed our regiment with some of arms captured at Fort Donelson, but they are miserable things and nothing but the bayonet would be of any use to us." A soldier serving in Co. I of the 53rd Ohio reported that in the first week of March, his regiment was armed from the Fort Donelson hoard. "We were armed with old U.S. muskets, most of them flintlocks and without bayonets. They were captured at Fort Donelson and many of them loaded, some two or three times over. This shows that our Secesh friends preferred loading to shooting, the reason being that the former could be done at a safe distance." 

    But help was on the way from the state of Ohio. On March 4th, a load of Austrian .54 caliber Lorenz rifle muskets arrived from Cincinnati and these were distributed to the Buckeyes, specifically to the 48th, 53rd, 57th, and 70th regiments. John Duke of the 53rd Ohio was glad to get the guns, but grumped that "the rifles were not the best; just a makeshift until the arsenals could turn out a supply sufficient to replace the better ones stolen by President Buchanan's Secretary of War [John Floyd, a Virginian] just prior to the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln as President." Shipments in the following days brought forth a stock of Enfields and a mix of French, Belgian, and Prussian weapons which were distributed to the troops, in some cases as the men were embarking for the expedition up the Tennessee River. The 46th Ohio, commanded by Colonel Thomas Worthington a man who was already getting on Sherman's nerves, drew Enfield rifles for his flank companies but was issued .72 caliber Potsdam smoothbore muskets for the balance of his regiment. The 71st Ohio drew .69 caliber French rifle muskets. The 54th Ohio, a regiment of Zouaves, was issued .69 caliber Belgian Pondir muskets. The 70th Ohio received 264 Lorenz rifles from the Cincinnati shipment, but the balance of the regiment likewise received Belgian muskets. 


A pair of unidentified Federals armed with what has been identified as Potsdam muskets. The 46th Ohio was largely equipped with these large caliber "pumpkin throwers" at Paducah and took them into action at Shiloh a month later. The old guns were later replaced by .54 caliber Lorenz rifle muskets.  The flank companies of the 46th Ohio were armed with Enfields at Paducah. 

    The 77th Ohio was issued a stock of large caliber Model 1842 Austrian rifled muskets and were none too pleased. "Arms were not furnished to the 77th Ohio until a short time before the army started up the Tennessee River from Paducah," remembered Robert Flemming of the regiment. "The guns issued were known as Austrian rifled muskets, a gun using a large caliber bullet. They were not considered a desirable arm and there was bitter disappointment among the men in not getting the Enfield rifle which was then considered a very superior gun. They were a very heavy, awkward gun and had a very unpleasant habit of kicking back when fired. I well remember the bitter revolt of some of the companies and that Co. C stacked their guns in front of the company tents and almost mutinied." 

    Now that all of the troops were armed, in many cases not as well as the troops may have desired but armed nonetheless, Sherman's Division set out on their expedition up the Tennessee and eventual encampment at Pittsburg Landing. Within a month, Sherman's men would meet their first test of battle at Shiloh carrying the guns they had been issued at Paducah. 

The .54 caliber Lorenz rifle musket was issued to the 48th, 53rd, 57th, and part of the 70th Ohio.

Sources:

Letter from Private Willis S. Thompson, Co. F, 15th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, Woodstock Sentinel (Illinois), March 12, 1862, pg. 4

Letter from unknown member of 48th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Highland Weekly News (Ohio), March 13, 1862, pg. 1

Bering, John A. and Thomas Montgomery. History of the Forty-Eighth Ohio Vet. Vol. Inf. Hillsboro: Highland News Office, 1880, pg. 13

Connelly, Thomas W. History of the Seventieth Ohio Regiment, from its organization to its mustering out. Cincinnati: Peak Bros., 1902, pg. 13

Letter from "57th," Hancock Courier (Ohio), March 14, 1862, pg. 1

Letter from Commissary Sergeant Lewis Parker, 57th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Kalida Sentinel (Ohio), March 22, 1862, pg. 3

Letter from Caleb, Co. I, 53rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Pomeroy Weekly Telegraph (Ohio), April 4, 1862, pg. 2

Duke, John K. History of the Fifty-Third Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry During the War of the Rebellion, 1861 to 1865. Portsmouth: The Blade Printing Co., 1900, pg. 6

Robert H. Flemming, 77th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. "The Battle of Shiloh As a Private Saw It." Sketches of War History 1861-1865. MOLLUS Ohio, Vol. 6, pgs. 132-133

Comments

  1. I have a bayonet and Prussian m/1809 converted to percussion, that is marked: 13 51St ILL. Co. E., I that I purchased post "Suckers".
    Ken Baumann

    ReplyDelete

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