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Showing posts from October, 2021

Ambushed at Ivy Mountain

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In one of the opening moves to establish firm Federal control of eastern Kentucky, in early November 1861 General William Nelson marched a column of roughly 5,500 Federals from Prestonburg towards Piketon, Kentucky. At the head of the column were a few mounted scouts followed closely by four companies of Colonel Charles A. Marshall’s Kentucky Battalion (later the 16 th Kentucky Infantry regiment) with Captain Alexander Berryhill’s Company A of the 2 nd Ohio Infantry. Behind them were the 2 nd Ohio, 21 st Ohio, and 59 th Ohio regiments with the guns of Battery D of the 1 st Ohio Light Artillery bringing up the rear. Nelson had approximately 5,500 men in this expedition, plenty of force to disperse the enemy it was thought. Athwart their path lay the newly raised Confederate volunteers of the 5 th Kentucky Infantry under the command of Colonel John S. “Cerro Gordo” Williams. After spending the summer months enjoying “neutrality,” in early September Kentucky plunged into full-bor

Army of the Potomac-style fighting at Resaca

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       The soldiers of the newly formed 20th Army Corps took great pride in their Army of the Potomac lineage, and at the Battle of Resaca on May 14 1864, they introduced the western Confederates to "Army of the Potomac-style" fighting. The chief "educators" in this case was Colonel James S. Robinson's Third Brigade of Alpheus Williams First Division consisting of six regiments from the old 11th Corps including Robinson's own 82nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry.      As remembered by historian Albert Castel, Robinson formed the six regiments of his brigade into a column of regiments, one battle line behind the other. The whole mass advanced towards the Confederates and then started delivering regimental-sized volleys. The front rank regiment fired, then went to ground, followed by the second, third, and so forth. " “Shocked, staggered, and shredded, the Confederates turn and fled. Robinson’s troops followed, still blasting away with their devastating volleys

Captured in the Hornet's Nest at Shiloh

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       A year after being captured at the Battle of Shiloh, Frederick F. Kiner of Iowa wrote a small book detailing his experiences in the Union army. As orderly sergeant of Co. I of the 14 th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, Kiner was among the 2,200 soldiers captured when General Benjamin Prentiss surrendered his command at the Hornet’s Nest at Shiloh. “I believe it is contended by our leading generals who commanded that battle that they were not surprised and they were fully aware of the Rebel advance,” he noted. “This may all be true, but if it is I scarcely know how to apologize for the neglect to have the army fully aware of their danger. Save for having two- or three-days’ rations cooked, there was no more feeling of care about an enemy than if they were a thousand miles away.”           A cooper by trade, Kiner had just been ordained a minister in the Church of God when he chose to enlist in Co. I of the 14 th Iowa November 1861. He along with most of the regiment were captured Apr

The Western Sharpshooters at Fort Donelson

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       One of General John Fremont’s special projects during his tenure as commander of the Union army in Missouri was the formation of a dedicated regiment of sharpshooters. In the fall of 1861, nine companies of this regiment had gathered at Benton Barracks in St. Louis where Colonel John M. Birge was placed in command of “Birge’s Sharpshooters,” eventually known as the 66 th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. The sharpshooters came from throughout the midwestern states; Ohio sent three companies, Michigan sent a company, Missouri provided three companies and Illinois provided three more. The Missouri companies also had men in the ranks from neighboring states. The arrival of General Henry W. Halleck in Missouri soon put the kibosh to most of Fremont’s pet schemes, but as organization was too far advanced to abandon the effort, the "Western Sharpshooters" were mustered into service and went into the field under Birge’s command.           “The arm was the American deer and targ

Left at the Landing: A Confederate View of Fort Donelson

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       On February 21, 1862, the 450 men of the 20 th Mississippi regiment arrived at Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois as prisoners of war. “They are a dare-devil set of fellows and still full of fight,” the Chicago Tribune reported. The Mississippians, sullen and determined to fight it out to the end, didn’t like being prisoners of war but had another grudge that really ranked them. It was their former brigade commander General John B. Floyd. One soldier grumped to the Tribune reporter that “he would be perfectly content to remain forever a prisoner of the North if he could but have the pleasure of seeing Floyd strung as high as Haman.” The former Secretary of War had earned their ire through an act of perfidy during the last hours of Confederate resistance at Fort Donelson. “The 20 th Mississippi was detailed to guard the rear of Floyd’s brigade in their hegira from Fort Donelson, it being agreed that the Mississippians were to join them,” it was reported. “As soon, however, as

Campaigning with the "old tub of guts" William Nelson

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       John Purvis of the 51 st Ohio had seen his fair share of general officers during the war, but William “Bull” Nelson was a favorite. “General Nelson is well liked by all his men as he has a brave generous heart beneath his forbidding exterior,” Purvis noted in July 1862. “We were all glad to see ‘old tub of guts’ as his boys call him. The cares and trials of the war have stamped their mark upon him, making him look much older than when we saw him only five months ago. His then smooth brow is deeply furrowed and his hair, which was dark as the raven’s wing, is now quite gray. But he is substantial as ever, as caustic too, as any offending person soon finds out.”           In this letter dating from July 27, 1862, Purvis recalls a series a marches his regiment undertook under Nelson's command in middle Tennessee chasing after roving bands of Confederate cavalry. Just two weeks before, Forrest and his troopers had swooped down on Murfreesboro and captured most of the garrison

Revenge of the Tribe of Dan: A Look at Alexander McCook’s Captured Correspondence

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     On December 30, 1862 Major General Alexander McDowell McCook’s headquarters wagon and ambulance were captured by Confederate cavalrymen at LaVergne. The contents were thoroughly picked over; someone absconded off with McCook’s rather large frock coat while others took ordnance reports and other bits of intelligence that were handed over to General Braxton Bragg. One of the more interesting items found that was not turned over to General Bragg included three private letters from McCook’s father Daniel McCook. Written   in November and December 1862 in the wake of McCook’s roughing up at Perryville, the leader of the “Tribe of Dan” keeps his son informed about the perceptions of the battle of Perryville, and the actions of the Buell Commission. He also offers plenty of advice to his son as to how to deal with Army politics, but perhaps his most chilling injunction was one that touched on the murder of his son General Robert L. McCook the previous August. “You will winter in south

Shoulder Arms! How Sheridan's and Davis' Divisions were armed at Stones River

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     During Wheeler's raid around on the Federal army on December 30, 1862 , Major General Alexander M. McCook’s headquarters wagon was captured by Confederate cavalrymen and some of its contents turned over to General Bragg, including personal correspondence from McCook’s father (I’ll share that in a later post ) as well as the business papers of the army, including ordnance reports. Several of those captured ordnance reports now reside in the Braxton Bragg Papers held by the Western Reserve Historical Society here in Ohio. I'd like to highlight today two ordnance reports from that collection, one belonging to General Phil Sheridan's division and the second from General Jefferson C. Davis' division. Together, they tell a fascinating story of how a typical western Federal regiment was armed, and highlights the diversity of weapons carried by the Union army in the early days of the war.  This unidentified soldier was part of the "Norway Bear Hunters," Co. C of

“I’m shot, my God, I’m shot!” A Melancholy Event on the Way to Chickasaw Bayou

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       Gravestone of Sergeant James Dempsey, Co. C, 23rd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Vicksburg National Cemetery Section E, grave 1756      It was the evening of Tuesday, December 23 rd 1862 when Corporal Rockwell J. Flint of the 23 rd Wisconsin sat behind a desk aboard the steamer John H. Dickey and grappled with the raw emotions of loss and anger. During the overnight hours, a tragic accident had occurred that shook the young soldier to his core. “I would like to give you the details of our voyage thus far, but present feelings will not admit,” he admitted. The regiment had boarded the steamer John H. Dickey at Memphis two days previously and were now headed south along the Mississippi River as part of the Union army’s first serious effort at taking Vicksburg. “I hardly know how to place upon paper the heart-rending news I wish to tell you. I wish to break it gently, but the best expressions seem harsh and even brutal,” Flint stated. On August 6, 1862, three young printers fro

The 83rd Illinois’ Finest Hour: Holding Dover Against Wheeler and Forrest

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       Garrison duty at Dover, Tennessee had for the 83 rd Illinois Infantry amounted to months of monitoring of Federal steamboat traffic along the Cumberland River while dealing with the occasional local bushwhackers. But despite the dullness of duty, Dover was an important post as it lay right along the Army of the Cumberland’s primary wintertime supply route. In early February 1863, rumors that General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry was in the neighborhood prompted the local garrison commander Colonel Abner C. Harding to be on the alert. Located about a mile south of Fort Donelson, the Federals chose to lightly fortify the town of Dover itself rather than occupy the old Confederate works. To combat the approaching Confederate cavalry, Colonel Harding had at his command the nine companies of his own regiment, two sections of Battery C, 2 nd Illinois Light Artillery, a single 32-lb siege gun, and a company of Iowa cavalry, the whole force totaling 600-800 men. (Estimates vary)   Genera

Riding with Wheeler Through Sequatchie Valley

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     With the Army of the Cumberland hemmed in at Chattanooga after the Battle of Chickamauga, Federal supply lines stretching back over Walden’s Ridge to Bridgeport, Alabama became a target for General Joe Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry. In early October, Wheeler led his 5,000 troopers on a long raid intending to break up Federal supply traffic and compel the Federal evacuation of Chattanooga. Wheeler’s force had its greatest success early on at Anderson’s Crossroads where a huge train of 800 wagons was captured; unfortunately, the troops spent their afternoon pillaging the wagons (brandy was especially prized) such that when Union reinforcements arrived on the scene, more than a third of the mules were recaptured and the Confederates lost 270 men. The chase continued to McMinnville, Murfreesboro, Shelbyville, and Farmington, with the Confederates slashing at the railroad and burning bridges, while the Federal cavalry continued to strike the rear guard. The eight-day Sequatchie Valle

Bonebrake’s Redemption: Richmond to Chickasaw Bayou with the 69th Indiana

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     Civil War literature is rife with stories about regiments and individuals who showed the “white feather” in one engagement only to redeem themselves later; one remembers the regiments of the 1862 Harper’s Ferry garrison such as the 32 nd Ohio and 126 th New York  who were lampooned as cowards yet acquitted themselves with distinction at places like Champion’s Hill and Gettysburg the following year. Today’s blog post focuses on the redemption of a single individual, Indiana officer George Henry Bonebrake of the 69 th Indiana Volunteer Infantry.           Bonebrake, born in June 1838 near Eaton in Preble County, Ohio, attended Otterbein University and graduated just as the Civil War began. Determined to make his fortune, he traveled west to Union City, Indiana and took over as the editor of the local newspaper the Union City Eagle . Less than a year later, he pulled up stakes and moved to Winchester, Indiana where he entered into the study of law with Thomas M. Browne, but al

With the Arkansas Conscripts at Prairie Grove

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     Alexander Hawthorn was a veteran of Shiloh with the 6th Arkansas Infantry when he was given the task of the leading the 39th Arkansas Infantry; the regiment had a whole host of different names, but one thing it had in abundance was conscripts. Little was expected of men drafted into service, but Hawthorn reported with pride in the following letter to his brother that at the Battle of Prairie Grove, his "Arkansas conscripts" toed the mark just fine, thank you.     Prairie Grove was fought December 7, 1862 in northwestern Arkansas between the 12,000 men of the Trans-Mississippi army under General Thomas C. Hindman and two Federal divisions, one under General James G. Blunt and the second under General Francis Herron. As part of General James Fagan's brigade of General Francis Shoup's division, Hawthorn's regiment arrived on the field about midday and took up a good position on a ridge, prepared to hold off an expected Federal attack. Ordered to advance through

The Solemn Realities of War: A Hoosier Greenhorn Sees the Elephant at Perryville

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       The opening moments of the Battle of Perryville were both exciting and frightening for 40-year-old Private Joseph Glezen of the 80 th Indiana Infantry. The former attorney and newspaper editor had enlisted as a private in the ranks of Co. H only a month before, and now stood facing an advancing line of veteran Confederate infantry, and soon discovered a horrifying fact: his musket would not fire. “At the word fire, we all pulled trigger together and were directed to load and fire at will. Many of our guns were defective, and when I rammed down my second cartridge I discovered that my gun contained two loads. I reprimed, however, and thought I would double the dose by firing two balls at once, but my gun again refused to fire. I again retired down the hill, took off the tube, picked the powder in the touch hole, primed, advance, and made the third attempt to fire, but there was not sufficient power in the lock to burst the cap. I stood and snapped four times but in vain. I the

Rich and Racy Crumbs: A sampling of battlefield souvenirs from Stones River

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       During the Civil War, soldiers of both armies were wont to wander over the battlefields after an engagement on the hunt for relics of all kinds. For some men, they were on the hunt for practical reasons: picking over the dead to remove boots, clothing, equipment, and weapons, as replacements for their own worn-out or missing items. Others wandered to satisfy a ghoulish curiosity; this was especially true for a soldier in his first engagement but often one visit amongst the debris of a battle satisfied all desires and the scene of battle was one avoided in the future instead of sought. Among the items that usually elicited attention were letters, and today’s post shares the findings of a Mississippi soldier at the Battle of Stones River.   While walking through the cedar forest near the Wilkinson Pike in the days following the battle, he came upon the body of a dead Union private and discovered a few items of interest. After perusing them, he decided to send them home to the ed

No Victory for Us: Graphic Account of the Aftermath of Perryville

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       The following account of the aftermath of the Battle of Perryville was written by Captain Henry C. Greiner of Co. A of the 31 st Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Greiner’s regiment had witnessed the battle but played no active role in the engagement of October 8, 1862. But his account of assisting with the burial of the dead in the days following the engagement is extraordinarily detailed and emotional.      " On descending a little hill, we found two soldiers digging a grave under the shade of a tree. I halted the command at this spot and they ceased their labors to answer our oft-repeated questions as to McCook’s headquarters. They could tell us nothing definite, stating that they belonged to one of Sheridan’s new regiments. They were using the pick and shovel to bury their dead brother pointing to a small soldier who lay near another few feet away. By this time the soldiers’ feeling so overcame them that they ceased speaking of him. I stepped over to look at him. There was almo

A Sad Duty After Perryville

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One of the saddest tasks for any officer serving in the Civil War was the post-battle duty of writing home to the families of the men who had lost their lives in an engagement. Civil War regiments were, by and large, raised as companies within local communities; the men were neighbors, friends, business partners, and even rivals. They knew one another “outside of work” and this aspect made the bonds felt within the regimental home, even a new regiment like the 50 th Ohio Infantry, particularly strong. When a soldier was lost, the tragedy was not just one borne by the company but by the larger community as a whole.           Upon First Lieutenant Oscar Pratt of Co. A of the 50 th Ohio fell the sad task of informing Drusilla Topper that her 25-year-old husband had lost his life at Perryville. “Throughout William’s connection with this regiment, his conduct has been uniformly kind and obedient, never murmuring when extra duty was required or when long marches were necessary. He was un

Victory or Death: The 5th U.S. Colored Troops Receives Its Colors

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     The formation of the 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry regiment, which later became known as the 5th U.S. Colored Troops, was attended with unique difficulties not faced by any other regiments raised by the state during the war. It was the only black regiment raised solely in Ohio, and initial efforts were handicapped by the lack of formal authority to raise such a regiment. In the spring of 1863, hundreds of Ohioans left the state to join the 54th and 55th Massachusetts regiments, and Governor Tod resolved that Ohio, too, would recruit a regiment of black soldiers. He appointed Captain Lewis McCoy of the 115th Ohio to open a new camp at Delaware, Ohio for the purpose of organizing the regiment.       "The only law which gave a semblance of authority to such an organization was that known as 'The Contraband Law' which gave a colored laborer in the service of the United States $10 per month, $3 for clothing, and $7 as his pay proper," Whitelaw Reid reported. "

Gobbled by Forrest at Fallen Timbers

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     For Captain Andrew Wilson McCormick of the 77 th Ohio, the pursuit of the Confederate army the day after the battle of Shiloh proved more dangerous than the battle itself. “I was in the great fight from Sunday morning through Monday afternoon without getting injured,” he relayed to his wife in a letter written from the Tishomingo Hotel in Corinth on April 12, 1862. “On Tuesday April 8 th , the 77 th Ohio was attacked by the Texas Rangers and another battalion when I got a revolver shot from a ranger which broke my arm just below the shoulder. It was dressed at General Hardee’s headquarters by Dr. Rumbaugh, a Union surgeon. Generals Breckinridge, Ruggles, and Hardee have all been to see me. I am doing well and am very well treated. The Southern ladies are like good Samaritans and treated me like sisters would.” Captain McCormick, the former editor of the Marietta Republican, would spend six months in captivity.           On the morning of April 8, 1862, General U.S. Grant orde

On Breckinridge's Assault at Stones River

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       The sun had already started to set on Friday, January 2, 1863 before General John C. Breckinridge’s division stepped off for the final assault of the Battle of Stones River. A soldier in General Daniel Adams’ brigade remembered his brigade coming off the line west of Stones River and marching across to the east side thinking that they were being given a rest. But instead, they joined up with the rest of Breckinridge’s division and prepared to join in the attack. “As soon as we joined the line, General Breckinridge rode out in front of the line on a beautiful white horse, pulled off his hat and made a short but eloquent speech. He then said, “When I give the command ‘Forward’ I do not wish to see a man falter. All I want you to do is follow me and do as I command you to.” We then gave him three cheers. He replaced his hat, turned his horse’s head to the front, drew his sword and gave the command ‘Forward, men!’,” he remembered. The writer of this incredible account of Breckin

The 63rd Ohio and the Struggle for Battery Robinett

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     Lying in a hospital bed with a severe wound sustained while defending Battery Robinett, Captain Christopher E. Smith of the 63 rd Ohio struggled to describe the carnage he had witnessed on October 4, 1862 at the Battle of Corinth. “ Our regiment [63 rd Ohio] went into the fight with 250 men, out of which number 30 were killed and 82 wounded. Out of my company, two were killed and eleven, including myself, were wounded,” he noted. “The enemy made three distinct charges upon the battery which we were supporting and were repulsed each time; the last time, however, not until one man, more desperate than others, had succeeded in planting a Rebel flag on the battery, but it did not remain there long.”      The nature of Smith’s wound was such that the Ohioan resigned his commission December 15, 1862. The 63rd Ohio as part of Colonel John Fuller's Ohio Brigade was located within Battery Robinett during the battle and was at the epicenter of some of the most brutal fighting of the