Escorting the Rock of Chickamauga

     While in camp near Murfreesboro, Tennessee on April 21, 1863, the battle-hardened troopers from Co. L of the 1st Ohio Volunteer Cavalry were permanently assigned as the headquarters escort company to Major General George H. Thomas commanding the 14th Army Corps. “During operations, we were engaged as orderlies and couriers and in time of expected battle, as General Thomas’ personal escort on the field,” remembered Sergeant Edward P. Burlingame.

The men also served as General Thomas’ bodyguard, and in one particular instance, saved the Virginian’s life. Shortly after the conclusion of the Tullahoma campaign, General Thomas accompanied by Co. L was crossing the raging Elk River when “his horse stumbled over a stone and Thomas was thrown into the water. The current was very rapid, and the general was being carried downstream unable to reach the shore. Corporal John W. Price, without a moment’s hesitation, sprang from his horse into the water and, being over six feet high, by a few rapid strides, reached the General and caught hold of his coat tail. Setting himself against the current, he tried to check their progress down the stream, but to no purpose; at each surge the general went under. Finally, they reached the shore, the General much exhausted.”

Throughout the Chickamauga campaign, Co. L rode at the side of “The Rock of Chickamauga” and Sergeant Burlingame wrote the following memoir of the costliest battle in the western theater.


Major General George Henry Thomas of Virginia had many nicknames during the Civil War ranging from "Old Slow Trot" to "The Rock of Chickamauga" to "Pap." Among the many generals that served in the Army of the Cumberland, Thomas was perhaps the most beloved of all. 

September 18, 1863

          At dusk, General Thomas received a dispatch from General Rosecrans through the signal corps which caused orders to be issued immediately for breaking camp. We marched to Crawfish Springs where General Thomas stopped to have an interview with General Rosecrans. The company at 10 p.m. built fires and unsaddled but remained ready for marching at a few minutes’ notice. Troops and trains were passing rapidly towards Chattanooga. The fences on each side of the road are on fire and diffuse light and warmth.


September 19, 1863

          At 2 a.m., we left Crawfish Springs and proceeded towards Chattanooga. A short time after daylight, the General took a detail from the company and with his staff took a road to the right, leaving the company to escort the headquarters train to Rossville. The road taken by General Thomas ran almost parallel to the line of battle which he proceeded to form as the troops came up. To secure certain advantages, an advance was ordered  early in the day and the Rebels were driven to the creek, but soon after they advanced and drove our men, capturing some artillery. There was evidently a slight panic and the movement to the rear was being made in confusion and haste. Officers and men were mixed indiscriminately, and they rushed by the General, paying no heed to the injunction “Look behind you!” Had they done so they would have stopped for the Rebels had ceased to advance, and of those of our men who had remained to oppose them quite a good line was formed. The detail under Sergeant Daniel W. Dye made efforts to stop those who were fleeing, but it was some time ere they could be convinced that they were out of danger.

Fortunately, this was confined to but one brigade, and in the remainder of the battle it proved faithful and courageous. Another detail joined the General in the afternoon and performed whatever service was required. At night, we stood around the field headquarters, ready at a call. The General sat on a log in the woods near a dim fire, dictating dispatches to his aid. At 12 o’clock, he went to see General Rosecrans, a part of the company going as escort.


William Travis painting depicting General Rosecrans with his corps and division commanders in 1863.

September 20, 1863

          Those of the company who were with the train yesterday came to the field and those who were relieved to get rations and forage. These returned again in the afternoon. When the center was forced to give way, the escort was used to supply additional aides with orderlies, and a number of the company performed very satisfactorily the duties of staff officers. Captain John D. Barker, when returning from a distant point, whither he had gone with a message, not knowing that the center was so far driven back, came unawares upon the Rebels who fired upon him, shooting his horse through the neck. Taking a more roundabout course, he came in the rear of the left and was again fired upon. At this same place General James A. Garfield, a few minutes later, had his horse shot from under him. Captain Barker reached the General and reported; he was sent with Captain Kellogg (aide-de-camp) to conduct the loads of ammunition to General Reynolds. Here the services of the company were required.

          The Rebels were in the rear of General Reynolds’ position, and the ammunition was in some danger of being captured. A number of the company were deployed as skirmishers and with raised pistols we advanced through a piece of woods on the left supposed to be occupied by the extreme right flank of the Rebel army. This was not the case, however, until a half hour later when General Turchin with the 36th and 92nd Ohio regiments charged upon them and routed them completely. The ammunition was delivered to the proper officer and we returned to the General.

          During the afternoon a cloud of dust was seen to the rear at a distance and as it came nearer troops were discovered. General Thomas had been watching them and calling Corporal Thomas W. Prunty, he instructed him to go and ascertain whether they were Rebel or Union troops, cautioning him to be sure to return with a correct report. Rapidly galloping toward the approaching column, Corporal Prunty discovered that they carried the flag of the Reserve Corps, and getting sufficiently near to remove all doubt of their being friends, he turned back and reported the approach of General Steedman’s division of the Reserve Corps. The General himself, a few minutes later, came up and was assigned to duty on the right of the line held by General Thomas. At sunset, the divisions on the left began to retire and the General, seeing everything in order, started late in the evening for Rossville where the troops were concentrating. We lay down around the fire and being warm and weary fell asleep.

          During the entire engagement, the officers and men of the company performed valuable services. Captain Barker was on the field all the time and rendered efficient service as an aide-de-camp. Lieutenants Putnam and Reppert were alternately on the field and in command of the train guard. There was no manifestation of cowardice on the part of any member of the company. Those who witnessed the coolness of Quartermaster Sergeant John Huff will not forget it, and the quiet, determined manner in which Private Benjamin S. Turner performed his duties was admirable. He realized that there was danger, but never let it keep him from his post of duty. Others were deserving of as great praise as these, but all did not become equally prominent.



Account of Sergeant Edward P. Burlingame, Co. L, 1st Ohio Volunteer Cavalry; Williams, H.Z. & Bro. History of Washington County, Ohio with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches. Cleveland: W.W. Williams, 1881, pg. 189


  1. Wow. It is rare that I see a Chickamauga account that is new to me. But this one fits that bill. And it has some exciting details. For example, it places Thomas close to the action with Baird's division on the 19th, to the point of being nearly caught up in the rout of the Regulars and Starkweather; it also offers up a new and different version of Granger's arrival on Horseshoe Ridge. And Garfield loses a horse? Also new.

  2. This is a great article. Where did you discover the reference?

    1. Browsing around looking for trouble like usual; I came across this one while doing research for another post about the Marietta Blues. County histories run the gamut from being real gold mines to being real humdrum affairs. The History of Washington County by Williams is a gold mine and highly recommended. Lots of good stuff from the 18th, 36th, 53rd, and 77th Ohio regiments, along with Jenvey's series on service with Battery C of the 1st West Virginia Light Artillery.

  3. Absolutely fantastic!! Any NEW info is always welcomed to us hometown folks of Chickamauga. Dan keep looking for trouble because everytime you do...another precious gem from the past is unearthed.


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