Avenging Chickamauga; the 49th Ohio Storms Missionary Ridge

 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 21st 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 ferocious fighting of September 20, 1863 at Chickamauga and was never seen again by his comrades. The memory of lost comrades was a powerful motivating force for the Army of the Cumberland during the November battles that lifted the siege of Chattanooga. (Ohio History Connection)

   I think Adjutant Marsh's sentiments were shared by many of the Army of the Cumberland. The defeat at Chickamauga stung their pride; living on half rations (or less) for more than two months gave them a gnawing hunger that only a victory could satisfy.  Among those most prominent in the Battle of Missionary Ridge was General August Willich's brigade, comprised of nine regiments including the 49th Ohio. Private George P. Ogg from Co. K of the 49th Ohio wrote the following letter after the victory at Missionary Ridge to a comrade who had been wounded at Chickamauga and was recuperating at home in Wyandot County. Ogg himself would be wounded at the Battle of Pickett's Mill the following May but would survive the war, rising to the rank of corporal. 

    Where he dates this letter requires a bit of explanation. Despite the magnitude of the victory at Chattanooga, in the immediate aftermath the 49th Ohio was put on the road to Knoxville to help relieve General Burnside's army, hardly having time to savor their victory. His letter saw publication on page two of the January 2, 1864 edition of the Wyandot Pioneer. 

Camp near Knoxville, Tennessee

December 12, 1863

Friend Hiram,

          After so long a time, I will attempt to answer your very welcome letter bearing the date of November 12th. I was glad to hear from you but was sorry to learn that you wound had proved to be so serious. Your letter found me as this leaves me- well. I received it while on a forced march from Chattanooga to Knoxville and now if the first time that I have had an opportunity to answer it, so I hope that this is sufficient apology for my delay.

          Hiram, on the 25th of November we of the Army of the Cumberland won one of the most brilliant victories of the war. American history can’t produce any account of such a charge as was made up Missionary Ridge on the afternoon of the 25th. The Rebels had all advantage of us in positions, the hill is nearly 400 feet in height and an ascent of 45 degrees and in shape it resembles a semi-circle.



          The Rebels had 64 pieces of artillery placed around the circle in such a position as to rake us with a flanking crossfire from the time we came in range of their guns until we reached the foot of the hill. The signal was given for the whole corps to charges by firing six guns from our brigade battery. We had a mile and a quarter to charge over an open cornfield before we reached the foot of the ridge, then they opened on us with the infantry.

Hiram, I thought we would never make it. I looked for every man of us to be killed or wounded. Hiram, just imagine you can see 64 pieces of artillery pointed at you and you can see them all belching forth their iron hail every ten seconds at you, but the line moved steadily onward and not a man flinched. The Rebels stuck behind their breastworks until we pushed them out with our bayonets then I tell you, they skedaddled. We took a great many prisoners in their works; a great many threw their guns away and came over right through our fire. Our corps took 34 pieces of artillery and about 2,500 prisoners.

Brigadier General August Willich

          We were ordered to take their first breastworks, but we paid no attention to orders but took the hill. Old General Willich I thought would go up. Says he, you disobeyed orders, but you shall not be court-martialed for it. The next day we started for Knoxville with three days’ rations. They ran out and we have subsisted off of the country ever since. We have not drawn anything from the Government for a long time; we have not drawn full rations since before the Battle of Chickamauga. Lots of the boys are barefooted and we are all as ragged and dirty as beggars, but I hope we won’t be so always. There is talk of us going back to Chattanooga.

          Since the Battle of Chattanooga, this army has seen the hardest of times it ever has since it was organized. I should like to be at home a little while and have some gay old times with you, but I don’t think I will come home until my time expires for all the boys that have been home are as homesick as they can be. I passed those tickets around to the Wyandot boys that you sent me. They are all just like me. They don’t think it constitutional for the soldiers to vote, for it will keep the Berry family out of office and that won’t do, you know.

          The city of Knoxville is a splendid place. I was in town the other day and saw Parson Brownlow’s residence and printing office, and took dinner with a Union lady. I was in town all day and a good part of the night; stayed and attended the theater. The people of this country are principally for the Union and they stand almost everything from the soldiers. They divide everything with us they have.

The bullet-riddled and shell-torn colors of the 49th Ohio. (Ohio History Connection)


Sources:

Story of Adjutant Marsh, 21st Michigan, “How a Brave Man Speaks,” Delaware Gazette (Ohio), December 25, 1863, pg. 2

Letter from Private George P. Ogg, Co. K, 49th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Wyandot Pioneer (Ohio), January 2, 1864, pg. 2

 

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