Posts

Showing posts from June, 2021

Stout Enough Hearts for the Fray: A Buckeye Describes Chickamauga

Image
       In the aftermath of the Battle of Chickamauga, Private Augustus C. May of the 14th Ohio wrote this chatty letter back to the editor of the Toledo Daily Commercial . It gives one a good sense of the confidence (one could say over confidence) that the soldiers of the Army of the Cumberland had in the leadership of General Rosecrans, even after the defeat at Chickamauga. But what he was most proud of was his claim that the Buckeyes had thrashed Longstreet's vaunted corps, "which claimed that they were never whipped until they came down they came down here and run against some of the Western stand-stills." A bit of puffery, a bit of history, and a whole lot of attitude sums up this missive from September 1863. 

Liberty Gap as seen by the 77th Pennsylvania

Image
     A few posts ago, I discussed the charge of the 49th Ohio at Missionary Ridge and how in some measure, the victory there avenged the defeat at Chickamauga. Surgeon Franklin Irish of the 77 th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry likely felt the same way after his regiment played an important role in driving the Confederates out of Liberty Gap in one of the opening engagements of the Tullahoma campaign in June 1863.       At the Battle of Stones River, the 77th Pennsylvania, as part of General Edward N. Kirk's brigade, was one of the first regiments struck on the morning of December 31, 1862. In the confused fighting that followed, the 77th charged alone unsuccessfully on a Rebel battery before being driven back with heavy casualties, including that of Lieutenant Colonel Peter B. Housum who died after being wounded in the hip. After the battle, the regiment felt the sting of some of the criticism that was directed at the troops of the Right Wing by other portions of the army, and Li

With One of Opdycke's Tigers at Kennesaw

Image
     Continuing on the theme of looking back on the key events of the Atlanta campaign brings us to the following account of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain written by First Lieutenant Hezekiah Newton Steadman, a member of "Opdycke's Tigers" also known as the 125th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Before the war, Steadman worked as a teacher and started his military career as a corporal in Co. B in August 1862; he was successively promoted to commissary sergeant, second lieutenant, first lieutenant, and ended the war as the captain of Co. K. After the war, he went into farming and at the time of his death in 1882 was a minister.     Kennesaw Mountain was, in Steadman's words, "one of the bloodiest days in the history of the 125th Ohio," especially for its officers. The regiment lost 9 officers and 44 men in its charge upon the Rebel works which Steadman described for the readers of the Chardon Jeffersonian Democrat . Steadman's letter was written in September 18

Disaster at Second Winchester with the 122nd Ohio

Image
      The Second Battle of Winchester fought June 13-15, 1863 was among the most lop-sided victories of the Civil War. In the opening gambit of the Gettysburg campaign, General Richard S. Ewell led Jackson's former command back into its old stomping grounds of the Shenandoah Valley to confront an old adversary, General Robert Milroy. Milroy had a garrison of about 6,900 men around Winchester and after being leveraged out of town, lost roughly 4,000 of them to capture when he retreated on June 15. With Milroy's garrison knocked out of the equation, the road was open for Lee to march into Pennsylvania with a secure supply line through the Shenandoah Valley.       Among those who escaped capture at Winchester was Sergeant John M. Sawhill of Co. B of the 122nd Ohio. Shaken up at the heavy losses inflicted on his regiment in its first fight, the plucky Ohioan sent this two-part letter describing the battle home to his family who had it published in the July 9, 1863 edition of the Gu

A Dose of Lead in the Breadbasket: the 16th Wisconsin at Atlanta

Image
     After the fall of Atlanta in September 1864, General John A. Logan looked back over the events of the campaign and examined the July 22nd Battle of Atlanta as the key point. Despite the heavy casualties sustained by the Army of the Tennessee in that crucial battle (more than 3,700), the Federals ultimately held their ground and inflicted much heavier casualties on their opponents. An element of luck played into the Federal victory on several fronts (the lateness of the Confederate attack, the opportune positioning of the 16th Corps, etc.), but he stated that credit for the victory rested on "the splendid bravery and tenacity of the men and the ability and skill of the officers."      One of the brave men of the Army of the Tennessee whose name is lost to history wrote the following missive describing the battle to the editors of the New York Sunday Mercury shortly after the event; this newspaper, despite being published in far-off New York, was a popular read with the s

Watching a Battle: Behind the Lines with the 71st Pennsylvania at Seven Pines

Image
       The excitement of going into action for the first time during the Peninsula Campaign was almost too much for some in the 71 st Pennsylvania. It was the afternoon of Saturday May 31, 1862 a few miles from Richmond, Virginia and the scene as the Philadelphians arrived on the battlefield was chaos. “As we wheeled to the right into column, there seemed to be some confusion,” remembered First Lieutenant Stephen D. Beekman. “Several artillery horses had broken from their caissons and were dashing down on us at a furious rate; but they were unheeded by our men for by that time, having taken the scene in at a glance, they had in their enthusiasm became almost unmanageable and were suddenly about to dash, orders or no orders, to the front.”           Also known  as the California Regiment, the 71st Pennsylvania  took their place in support of a Massachusetts regiment which gave Beekman the rare opportunity to watch a battle. “What freak of propulsion caused one bullet to whiz not quit

Avenging Chickamauga; the 49th Ohio Storms Missionary Ridge

Image
  The smoke of battle still hung in the air in Chattanooga, Tennessee on the evening of November 25, 1863 when a correspondent of the Cincinnati Commercial saw an officer being carried down from Missionary Ridge on a stretcher. The reporter rode up and asked whom the officer was, and the wounded man answered, “Adjutant Marsh of the 21 st Michigan.”           “Where were you wounded, adjutant?”           “In the left arm,” he replied.           “Badly?” The correspondent then saw the arm hanging from the body by just a small piece of flesh.           With a smile lighting up his face, the adjutant answered, “My arm is gone, but that’s nothing. We’ve beaten them, Thank God, and the slur of the Chickamauga defeat is obliterated. Let the arm perish; such a victory is worth a thousand arms.”   Private Walker T. Cole enlisted in August 1861 in Co. G of the 49th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and had seen action at both Shiloh and Stones River. The Seneca County resident was wounded in the

Such is the misfortune of a soldier: The 2nd Wisconsin at Gettysburg

Image
By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, Captain George H. Otis had become fairly jaded as to the fortunes of the Army of the Potomac. His regiment, the 2 nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, was part of the famous Iron Brigade (First Brigade, First Division, First Army Corps) and had garnered a reputation for tight discipline and hard fighting going back to the previous summer. But regardless of the heroism of Otis and his comrades, it always seemed like the Army of the Potomac came up on the short end of the stick.   This certainly looked true following the first day’s fight at Gettysburg, July 1, 1863. The First Corps had arrived on the field that morning and promptly pushed back a portion of Henry Heth’s division and captured General James Archer in the bargain. This marked the first time that a general belonging to the Army of Northern Virginia had been captured.  But the situation changed in the afternoon when the First and Eleventh Corps were confronted with heavy Confederate r

It Was Death to Stir: The 4th Wisconsin's Fatal Charge at Port Hudson

Image
    There was a story that often made the rounds among the infantry during the Civil War, and the story was that no one ever saw a dead cavalryman. That story no doubt brought a chuckle but was not likely spoken with any seriousness by any of the troops besieging Port Hudson in the summer of 1863, at least after the actions of the 4th Wisconsin Cavalry during the June 14, 1863 assault. The parapets of Port Hudson were literally covered with the bodies of wounded and dying cavalrymen of the 4th Wisconsin Cavalry, the regiment having lost 140 of the 220 men who made the charge.     Among the survivors was Sergeant Leon C. Bartlett of Co. C, no rookie when it came to the business of being knocked around by life. A great grandson of Josiah Bartlett, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the grandson of a Revolutionary war soldier and the son of a War of 1812 veteran, Bartlett was born in 1833 in New York. His mother soon died, leaving him an orphan who was adopted by a family of rec

How the Iron Brigade was Wrought: Gainesville through Antietam with the 2nd Wisconsin

Image
     Captain George H. Otis of the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteers sat down on Sunday morning September 21, 1862 overlooking the bloody battlefield of Antietam, and struggled to convey to his father his experiences over the last month. His regiment had participated in four significant engagements since August 28th, including two of the bloodiest battles of the entire war (Second Bull Run and Antietam); his regiment and company had been decimated, yet Otis escaped without a scratch. " My lieutenants are both gone," he wrote. "I am comparatively alone with 12 or 14 men, and I assure you I feel lonesome and at times moan and pine for old Wisconsin. I have seen so much, passed through such terrible fields of strife, that my heart sickens against war. I would gladly grasp the old stick and pick the types “as of yore.” [Otis was a typesetter before the war] But I came here to perform a part and that part, whatever it may be, I shall cheerfully perform to the end."     The horror

Last Chance Defenders of Shiloh

Image
Charles Overton of the 50 th Illinois had been detailed as a hospital nurse, but upon hearing the opening sounds of battle of Shiloh, he volunteered to take his place in the ranks.   Soon thrust into action, he recalled the desperation of the fight at the end of the first day of the battle when his regiment was supporting a battery of siege guns atop Pittsburg Landing. “Here we had three good batteries in position, and we determined to make a desperate stand and drive them back or die,” he wrote. “Our place was just in the rear of the principal battery. There was a part of the regiment on the right and part of another on the left, and 10-15,000 men all in disorder between us and the river that would not budge an inch to help us. Captain King made a short speech, asking them for God’s sake, to come and help us defend that battery, our last chance. A few rallied to its support. It was now between sundown and dark. The Rebels threw a heavy force in on the left and made a desperate effo

A Rebel Surgeon at First Bull Run

Image
     In July 1861, Dr. Josiah Clark Nott of Mobile, Alabama was spending his summer with his family in Virginia. As events seemed to point to a clash of arms in northern Virginia, Dr. Nott traveled north to join the Southern army and share in its fortunes.       Besides being noted as one of the finest doctors in the state of Alabama (he was instrumental in opening the Medical College of Alabama in the late 1850s), Dr. Nott was also a staunch secessionist and defender of the institution of slavery, having written a book entitled Types of Mankind in 1854 in which Nott argued that the Bible's explanation of the creation of man was flawed and incomplete, and stated that the races originated from different regions, not a single common ancestor. This book, combined with Nott's medical reputation, made him something of a celebrity among Southerners.      Upon arriving at Manassas, Dr. Nott joined the camp of General Beauregard and offered his medical services to the army, which Beau

With the 2nd Iowa Cavalry on Grierson’s Raid

Image
  Corporal Lyman Beecher Pierce served in Co. K of the 2 nd Iowa Volunteer Cavalry during the Civil War, rising in the ranks from a private to a sergeant by the time he mustered out at Selma, Alabama in September 1865. The Kossuth, Iowa resident enlisted on August 24, 1861 and saw extensive service during the war throughout the western theater, but perhaps his most notable service was participating in Colonel Benjamin Grierson’s cavalry raid in April 1863.           In one of the opening gambits of the Vicksburg campaign, Grierson led a brigade of 1,700 Federal cavalry on a sweeping raid deep into the state of Mississippi with the intention of cutting railroad lines that supported the stronghold of Vicksburg, and causing general havoc in the Confederate rear. Grierson’s force left La Grange, Tennessee on April 17 th and marched about a hundred miles into Mississippi where Grierson detached Colonel Edward Hatch with a diversionary force that was tasked with feinting towards Columbus

The Desperate Day Before Us: The 21st Illinois at Chickamauga

Image
Abraham W. Songer was working as a carpenter in Xenia, Clay Co., Illinois when the Civil War began in April 1861. “The dark cloud of war fell upon us when Fort Sumter was fired upon and surrendered,” he wrote years later. “Then we began to look each other in the face and wonder of what was really coming; we were in the dark and could not imagine correctly what was coming or the magnitude of what was to be the outcome or what was before us. We thought it meant fight and we were not mistaken in that.” Songer chose to enlist, joining Co. G of the 21 st Illinois Volunteer Infantry and went into camp at Mattoon on the county fairgrounds. Much to Songer’s surprise, he was elected second lieutenant of the company. “To say we were a green, awkward set of men would be stating it in a mild form,” he confessed. “All were comparatively young men, but not an officer or man knew anything about drill or army life. We were quartered in stalls made for cattle and horses used during the stock fairs.

With the Jasper Greys at Gaines Mill

Image
    The 16th Mississippi Infantry mustered into service in June 1861, having been raised from several counties in southeastern Mississippi. Sent to Virginia, the regiment served with Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley campaign and then, along with the rest of Jackson's army, was sent to the environs of Richmond to assist Robert E. Lee in driving away George McClellan's Army of the Potomac.       The following letter was written by a member of the Jasper Greys (Co. F of the 16th Mississippi Infantry) to the editors of the Eastern Clarion newspaper of Paulding, Mississippi in the immediate aftermath of the Seven Days' battles. The author, only identified as "M.," felt confident that Lee's victory over McClellan would turn the tide of war in favor of the Confederacy, going so far to predict that the victory ensured European intervention and thus independence. His missive appeared on the first page of the August 1, 1862 issue.  Private Silas Andrew Shirl