A Victory Promptly and Gloriously Won: The 36th Ohio at Lewisburg

     All through the winter of 1861 and 1862, Colonel George Crook of the 36th Ohio drilled his men incessantly, aiming to make his boys the crack regiment of the Kanawha Division. To facilitate drill in the frequently inclement weather of the western Virginia mountains, Crook had a large drill hall built (over 700 feet long!) in Summerville, Virginia, and the work began to mold these citizens into soldiers.

    In May of 1862, the work would pay off as the 36th Ohio, along with the 44th Ohio, emerged the victors at the Battle of Lewisburg. “On May 12, 1862, the regiment started south via Cold Knob and Frankfort for Lewisburg in Greenbrier County. At that place was met the 44th Ohio Volunteer Infantry under Colonel Sam Gilbert and a battalion of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry under the command of Colonel Bolles, all constituting a brigade under Colonel Crook,” Whitelaw Reid reported.

    “In the early morning of May 23rd, General Henry Heth with a force of 2,500 Rebels drove in the national pickets and from a strong position on the hill east of town began to shell the camp. The 36th Ohio under Lieutenant Colonel Melvin Clarke and the 44th Ohio, containing in the aggregate not more than 1,200 effective men, were ordered to repel the attack. Disappearing for a few moments among the houses and streets of the town, the National force suddenly emerged upon the open field occupied by the Rebels. In 20 minutes, the Rebels were driven back over the summit of the hill and utterly routed with a loss of 60 killed left upon the field, 175 prisoners, four pieces of artillery [captured by the 44th Ohio], 300 stand of small arms, besides a large number of wounded. The victory was promptly and gloriously won. This was a fair stand up fight on open ground, the enemy having the great advantage in numbers, position, and in the morale of the attack.”

    Among those soldiers who “saw the elephant” at Lewisburg was Sergeant Wesley Martindale of Co. I of the 36th Ohio who proudly reported on the role his regiment played in the battle in this letter published in the June 4, 1862 edition of the Gallipolis Dispatch.

Colonel George Crook came to the 36th Ohio from the regular army and definitely put his stamp upon the regiment during the year in which he was closely connected with it. The 36th became known as "Crook's Regulars" and the regiment saw service in both eastern and western theaters including Antietam, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, then back east for the 1864 campaigns in their old stomping grounds in western Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. Crook would be commissioned a brigadier general in September 1862 and see extensive service during and after the war, gaining his greatest fame as an Indian fighter. 


Lewisburg, Virginia

May 24, 1862

    I will endeavor to give you a true and complete history of our battle at this place, which occurred yesterday morning at 5 o’clock, which I suppose you have heard of ere this. Our pickets brought word to camp at daylight that they were fired on and the Rebels were advancing on us rapidly- the pickets had been placed at Greenbrier Bridge, some three miles from town, some infantry and some cavalry. We had breakfast just ready and were ordered to fall in and had to go and leave it, which of course we hated to do. The 36th Ohio and the 44th Ohio were in line of battle in a few minutes- the two regiments numbering about 1,200 men and 200 cavalry marched through town and flanked to the right and left and advanced in line of battle. By this time the enemy had taken position and planted their artillery at the best advantage. They had eight pieces, heavy ones at that. We had four howitzers but no order to fire and never fired a single shot with them. As we were marching through town they first opened on us with their artillery. I tell you it made things jingle, the bombs flying over our heads, through our ranks, and bursting all around us, you can have no idea of anything about it.

 

“Our boys were shouting happy and said they were spoiling all winter for a fight. The enemy had the 22nd Virginia, their brag regiment, against the 36th Ohio. The prisoners say the 22nd Virginia had been in four fights and never whipped, but they woke up the wrong passengers this time. They say they never saw such fighting before. Our men never gave back an inch but kept pressing on steadily with such expressions as ‘Forward my brave boys’ and ‘Remember Ohio’ and ‘Go it, my bullies’ and occasionally ‘Give ‘em hell’ until the Rebels broke.” ~ Quartermaster Levi Barbour, 36th Ohio

 

    The enemy numbered about 3,500, nearly three times our number, but that made no difference, we walked right into them, and drove them off the field. The bullets fell in our ranks like rain. They whistled around my ears like wind, cutting the clothes on several of our boys. I don’t see how we escaped, but we never thought of danger- in fact, we did not want to know it, although we were facing a large force. The cavalry never fired, they could not get to them, being in the rear, leaving us only 1,200 men.

This damaged image of Private Joshua Haught of Co. F of the 36th Ohio shows him in campaign dress complete with a porkpie hat, pegged trousers, and his rifle. Upon enlistment, the 36th Ohio had been issued Enfield rifles for the flank companies and .69 caliber rifles for the balance of the companies. Colonel Crook later pushed to get the regiment entirely armed with Enfields. 


    Our loss in the whole brigade was 13 killed, 67 wounded, and 12 missing. I suppose the missing were all taken prisoners; most were on guard at the bridge. The enemy’s loss was at least 100 killed and 100 taken prisoner, if not over; the wounded I have no account of, but of course it is large, from the number killed. We captured four pieces of cannon, two 10-pounders and two 12-pounders and they spiked three and threw them in the Greenbrier River. We took several horses and a large amount of arms; I can’t tell you the number, but you will see it in the papers.

 

“The first thing after the Rebels were helped out of town was to pick up our dead and wounded. The ambulances were soon in full play and whole wagon loads of dead bodies passed by. The first house I entered there lay on the floor 12 wounded Rebels and one of our men shot through the heart. I looked at the wounded as they lay on the floor. The first one I saw was wounded through the stomach and his shirt was saturated with his blood. He was on the eve of passing into a better or worse land as his face clearly indicated. He was suffering intense pain and was supplicating God to have mercy on his soul. The others were mostly wounded in the same place, the balls going clean through them. There the poor fellows lay writhing and groaning in terrible agony. The spectacle was so sickening that I was compelled to get into the open air.” ~ Bugler George Jenvey, Co. F, 2nd Virginia Cavalry

 

    The engagement lasted one hour and fifteen minutes from the time the first round was fired till we ceased firing. This statement may not be exactly correct, but it is as near a report as I can make it. There were none of our boys from that neighborhood hurt. John Wright was merely marked with a ball on the ankle, but you could not say it hurt him. Three others of our company were wounded but not mortally. I came out unharmed. I suppose we fought as bravely as any men ever fought in the world, at least that is what our field officers say.

 

These late war regimental colors bear testimony to the extensive action the 36th Ohio saw during the war; the missing portions on the right indicate their 1863 western theater participation in Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge. After veteran's furlough, the 36th Ohio returned to Virginia where, as part of Sheridan's Army of the Shenandoah, they burnished their already enviable record by taking part in the battles of Berryville, Opequan, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek. An earlier set of regimental colors exist in private hands. 

Headquarters, Third Brigade, Lewisburg, Virginia

May 25, 1862

 

Order No. 5

 

          It affords the undersigned great pleasure in congratulating the troops of his command on their brilliant success on the 23rd inst. We were attacked by a greatly superior force who not only had their choice of position but had the morale of attack. The 36th and 44th regiments formed line of battle under fire, a movement that veteran troops find difficult to make. They then advanced in good order, driving the enemy before them, dealing death and destruction as they went until the enemy fled in great confusion, leaving over 100 of their killed and wounded on the field. We captured four pieces of artillery, 300 stand of arms, and 100 prisoners. The 44th captured their battery and the 36th advanced under their heaviest infantry fire.

          The result fully justifies the high standard these regiments were expected to maintain. To make particular mention would be invidious since they behaved so nobly. The artillery, by a misunderstanding, was not brought into action. The 2nd Virginia, being held in reserve, had the most difficult part to perform, that of being exposed to the enemy’s fire without being able to participate. The medical and quartermaster’s departments deserve great credit for their energy and zeal in carrying the wounded and dead from the field. The surveyors and assistant surveyors deserve particular attention for their skill and untiring attention to the wounded.

 

Colonel George Crook, commanding brigade

 

 

Sources:

Letter from Sergeant Wesley Martindale, Co. I, 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Gallipolis Dispatch (Ohio), June 4, 1862, pg. 2

Letter from Quartermaster Levi Barbour, 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Marietta Home News (Ohio), June 13, 1862, pg. 1

Letter from Bugler George Jenvey, Co. F, 2nd Virginia Volunteer Cavalry, Marietta Home News (Ohio), June 6, 1862, pg. 1

Order No. 5 from Colonel George Crook, Gallipolis Journal (Ohio), June 5, 1862, pg. 2

Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War Volume 2, pg. 234

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