Giving Tone and Character to the Army: A Buckeye at Cedar Mountain

In January 1862, the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry left the state with 900 men bound for service in northern Virginia. Assigned to Erastus B. Tyler’s brigade of James Shields’ division along with the 5th and 7th Ohio regiments, the 66th Ohio campaigned for months in the Shenandoah Valley against Stonewall Jackson’s forces before taking a shellacking at the hard-fought Battle of Port Republic on June 9, 1862. Two months later, the 66th Ohio took part into another desperate struggle against Stonewall Jackson’s army at Cedar Mountain; the regiment lost 94 casualties and was so reduced that only 60 men of the regiment were left in the ranks that evening.

Two days after the defeat at Cedar Mountain, army commander General John Pope reviewed the regiment. A few weeks before, Pope had complimented the men of the regiment, stating “I want these men to give tone to my army.” The battered remnant that stood at attention before him that August morning must have presented quite the contrast from the last time Pope had seen them. “The 66th regiment being ordered to wheel by companies presented a sorrowful sight,” recalled Private William A. Brand of Co. G. “There was not over a color guard in any one company and in Company B, Private Charley Weaver wheeled alone and represented officers and men of that fine company which marched from Camp McArthur in January last.”

William Brand’s account of the Battle of Cedar Mountain was one of the numerous letters he wrote under the nom-de-plume of D.N. Arbaw (W.A. Brand spelled backwards) and had been published in the August 28, 1862 issue of the Urbana Citizen & Gazette.

Two battle-worn colors that were carried by the 66th Ohio during the Civil War. The regiment saw action at Port Republic, Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg before being sent west along with the rest of the 12th Army Corps to join the Army of the Cumberland in September 1863. There it saw action on Lookout Mountain and a few days later at Ringgold. As part of Sherman's army in 1864, it took part in numerous engagements of the Atlanta campaign, most notably at Resaca, New Hope Church, Kolb's Farm, and Peach Tree Creek. It later marched to the sea and through the Carolinas before taking part in the Grand Review in May 1865. The regiment truly made a grand loop through the Confederacy.  

Culpeper Courthouse Virginia

August 13, 1862

          The evening before we moved from Little Washington, General Erastus B. Tyler visited each regiment of the brigade, which we all still call “the Old Third” and bade the soldiers’ farewell. He spoke of the regret he felt at being ordered away from the command he loved and said he had begged General Pope to permit him to remain. At the review of our brigade, the day before, this had been asked by General Tyler but refused by General Pope. The latter General said “these men” pointing to our old brigade “are just the men I want. They look like soldiers who have seen service and can be depended upon. I want these men,” said he, “to give tone to my army.” Think of it, reader: a little band of heroes, scarcely numbering a thousand, wanted by one of our ablest generals to give tone to his army! Who seeks for compliments, look elsewhere for better. No troops received greater honor than just that demand upon us. General Tyler was ordered to Washington to organize brigades and fit them for the field. He parted from us with tears and us from him with regret, though at times his harshness galled us.

Major General John W. Geary

General John W. Geary assumed command of the brigade to which was adduced the 28th Pennsylvania, and we marched off reaching Hazel River Thursday afternoon August 7th. The next day we moved around camp rather leisurely and expected a rest of a day or two. Quartermaster Brand was sent out with a heavy escort of cavalry and infantry guards on a foraging expedition. General Geary’s instructions were just as proper as could be given. “You go for forage. Get forage under General Pope’s order if you can; if not, get it anyhow. I want it understood that my brigade shall be first in war, first in the field, and first in the heart of the country.” The quartermaster, thus instructed, procured a large amount of forage for the brigade and quite a supply of domestic rations for the regiment. He returned some three hours after the regiment had moved to Culpeper. 

Culpeper was reached about 9 o’clock Friday evening and the wagon train being some miles behind, it did not reach camp until 1 o’clock next morning. The men slept upon the dirty mulatto soil of which this country is made. At daybreak the regiment was eating breakfast. Soon thereafter it was formed in line and the arms and accoutrements were inspected by the staff officers. Arms were stacked, and the boys put up Sibley tents having been so instructed by General Geary. Hardly had tents been pitched when an orderly rode up with an order from the General to fall in. The line was soon formed, the roll called (Oh, what an affecting thing it is, this roll call before an engagement). At noon the brigade moved out through the town and took the road toward Cedar Mountain. They marched to the rear of our lines and remained until half past three when they were ordered to the front. The 28th Pennsylvania, which numbered 1,200, was ordered to the protection of a signal corps on our right and was not brought into action. This left “the old Third Brigade” in a condition to perform their duty without any drawbacks.

Map of the Battle of Cedar Mountain from my book  Army Life According to Arbaw; map by Hal Jespersen.The entire brigade suffered heavily at Cedar Mountain, the neighboring 29th Ohio being reduced to just 83 men. 

At 4 o’clock the brigade took a position in a corn field in front of six heavy batteries which had been erected on Cedar Mountain and were playing upon them with effect. They remained here half an hour, lying down, and hugging mother earth as closely as circumstances and soil would permit, some even digging holes in the ground to let their faces down. There was a stream of shells flying about them and in front a quarter of a mile distant were two lines of Rebel infantry pouring volley after volley into their ranks, sweeping them down by dozens. But they held the position for half an hour, and then advanced under a galling fire. Several times they were compelled to halt, so murderous was the fire. Still they advanced again and again until within 100 yards of the infantry and it was discovered that there were thousands upon thousands of them disposed in gullies, ravines, and behind fences. A 64-lb gun now opened upon them at a short range with grape, canister, and short pieces of railroad iron. Another halt and the enemy attempted a flank movement with overpowering numbers. This compelled the brigade to fall back beyond our first position. They retired slowly and kept up the fire all the way, the enemy keeping close to our rear.

The 3rd Maryland now reinforced us and the brigade again advanced. They had moved but a few hundred feet when the enemy confronted them with heavy volleys of musketry and checked the advance. Another attempt was made to surround the brigade and again they retired and found that the 3rd Maryland had skedaddled. And now for four hours had this brigade of 800 men been fighting and charging the enemy whose number was at the smallest estimate 12,000. No support had been given them during this time, although hosts were lying over in the rear and the force of Rebels drove them back far beyond the first position. Now they number less than 400. The 66th Ohio was counted by Colonel Charles Candy at 8:30 p.m. and numbered 60 men.

Colonel Charles Candy, 66th O.V.I.

Colonel Candy, now in command of the brigade, reported the circumstances to General Banks and was ordered by him to advance again, ordered to “give tone and character to this army.” And rallying about him the little squad, he pushed out toward the enemy, sending forward Captain Joseph Van Deman (Co. K) and twelve men as skirmishers. The Captain has not been heard from since. The brigade reached the edge of the woods and was proceeding through on a road when they heard suddenly a thousand commands, “Halt! Halt! Halt!” Immediately the enemy’s guns flashed and bang, bang came the terrific reports of their pieces. The slaughter was dreadful- 30 of our 60 fell dead or wounded, but most all were brought off. The enemy had surrounded us and under the cover of the forest, each man had now to look out for himself. They made their way back to the rear of the lines and only twelve men could be found. Friday night each company slept upon one blanket so great was our decimation.

"If true courage and pure grit will give tone to this army, the Third Brigade has set fair example which the Eastern troops have but to follow and win victories. God bless Tyler’s old brigade! But I fear it is to be pushed forward until but one man remains." ~ William A. Brand, 66th O.V.I.

One would suppose that General Pope would have been satisfied with the “tone and character” we have already given to his army, but not so. When an advance was contemplated on Tuesday morning, the Third Brigade was ordered to be prepared to march to the front at 4 a.m. and there take a position. While the Third Brigade was in this death struggle, fired upon from front and each side by infantry and heavy batteries of artillery to the right for a mile and a half at from 5-7 p.m., a terrible conflict was going on. General Samuel W. Crawford with the 28th New York, 5th Connecticut, 2nd Massachusetts, and 10th Maine, together with Bayard’s and some Pennsylvania cavalry, had charged across a very large stubble field to a wood in which the Rebels were concealed. Wherever they stopped a moment in the advance, there lay from 20-50 dead and in the wood, the hand-to-hand fight must have been one of desperation as the Rebel and Federal dead lay side by side scattered over an area of 30 acres in dense underbrush. In this charge the loss of officers was very heavy, literally leaving regiments without any officers.  

General John Pope

Under the armistice agreed upon by the two commanding Generals, many officers visited the battlefield on Monday. From our regiment, Quartermaster Joseph Brand and Adjutant Robert Murdoch took an excursion which proved to them very interesting. They report that of our dead they must have seen 500 and of the Rebels not quite so many, as they had already buried a large number and their officers all carried off. They rode around the Rebel side of the battleground and could see the great advantage of their position- meeting as they rode Rebel officers and their burying parties. In riding up near the pickets, they met General Jubal A. Early and his staff and had a very interesting conversation with the Adjutant General. The conversation turned upon the calamities of the war, it causes, its effects, and its probable duration. Currency being introduced, our party proposed exchanging Confederate notes for greenbacks or even Virginia bank paper, but all declared they had none of our paper, nor even Virginia paper. After many compliments from each party and all in social pleasantry, they separated, wishing each other a safe deliverance personally from the casualties of impending battles.

They report the track of the battle resembling that of a tornado and the struggle of the “old Third Brigade” as having torn up the very earth; the cannon balls and bomb shells had left impressions over almost the entire surface. Our dead had all been robbed, their pockets being turned inside out, and the officers had all been stripped and left naked in the broiling sun. One officer from Boston had $2,000 in his pockets, making a good haul for some Tiger of whom it is said they fight for money obtained in this way. They met with a squad of about 20 of the Louisiana Brigade who fought at Port Republic and they said that the Louisiana Brigade and Wheat’s Battalion fought us over Clark’s battery- that Wheat’s Battalion marched down in full view to draw our fire; when the brigade charged and fired as they went and took the battery. They contend that after we took it from them, they charged back again and retook it a second time, but they were told that our retreat was not from them but from the heavy reinforcements advancing from the bridge. The loss of horses, they report, was very great; they were laying strewn all over the field and especially on the right where the cavalry had charged, and at the batteries on the left many crippled horses were still hobbling about over the field.

During the armistice on Monday, Jackson fell back and it was supposed that he was in full retreat but this morning our lines all fell back to their old position and it may easily be conjectured that Jackson is again advancing and that in all probability the great battle of the war will transpire either near the old battle ground or at this place (Culpeper) in a day or two.

Private Augustus Tanner, Co. I, 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

The race between Pope and Jackson was to get possession of this place and the struggle will be to hold it. If Jackson was retreating or marching to Richmond, Pope would pursue him and hence we know that the present calm will soon be broken by the terrible long roll and the wild battle cry and many thousands of both armies will bite the dust. On Monday the brigade was reviewed, our regiment in command of Lieutenant Colonel Eugene Powell and the 66th regiment being ordered to wheel by companies, it presented a sorrowful sight.  There was not over a color guard in any one company and in Company B, Private Charley Weaver wheeled alone and represented officers and men of that fine company which marched from Camp McArthur in January last. 

General Geary commanded the brigade in the hottest of the fight and by his daring and self-possession won the confidence and admiration of our soldiers. Since the battle he has issued a circular to the “Men of Ohio” in which he compliments our old brigade highly and says we have sustained our reputation as fighting men and done honor to our state.

And now the fight is over, the terrible excitement has passed away; the wounded have been removed to the hospitals at Washington and amongst the remaining members of the old regiment, the query is “have we given tone and character to the army?” Is General Pope satisfied with the manner in which our brigade gives tone? Reader, if marching up to the mouth of the cannon, standing under the muzzles of 10,000 guns belching forth fire and iron, if charging upon a force which has just driven us back and which we know is ten times superior to our own and that without flinch or falter; if true courage and pure grit will give tone to this army, the Third Brigade has set fair example which the Eastern troops have but to follow and win victories. God bless Tyler’s old brigade! But I fear it is to be pushed forward until but one man remains.


Letter from Private William A. Brand, Co. G, 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Urbana Citizen & Gazette (Ohio), August 28, 1862, pg. 2


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