They Are Planting Another One: The Death of Adjutant Hamilton of the 9th Ohio Cavalry

    While recently walking through the grounds of Florence National Cemetery in Florence, South Carolina, my son and I came across the grave of a Buckeye laid to rest long from home. It is a beautiful and quiet setting with live oaks and Spanish moss hanging down nearly to the ground. The gray and brown mockingbirds loudly chirped nearby over the graves of more than 2,000 Union soldiers buried as unknowns, most of them dying during their brief captivity at the adjacent Florence Stockade in late 1864 and early 1865. But one grave stood out, that of Lieutenant A.T. Hamilton of Ohio. The fact that he was from Ohio intrigued me, and the fact that his grave was identified when so many others were not further piqued my interest.

    It didn’t take too much digging to learn that the grave was that of Adjutant Arthur T. Hamilton of the 9th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, and it also became clear why his grave was marked while so many others were not: he didn’t die as a prisoner of war at Florence. It turns out the Hamilton died of wounds March 6, 1865 sustained during the Battle of Aiken, South Carolina; his regiment as part of General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick’s Federal cavalry got into a scrap with Joe Wheeler’s Confederate cavalrymen on February 11, 1865 in one of the opening moves of Sherman’s campaign through the Carolinas. It also turned out that one of Hamilton’s comrades, Dr. James N. McMaster of Co. C of the 9th Ohio Cavalry, left a superb account of what occurred at Aiken and wrote specifically about what happened to Adjutant Hamilton.

 

Guidon of 9th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

          Kilpatrick’s cavalry, after crossing the Savannah River, formed the left wing of Sherman’s army as we marched through South Carolina. We bivouacked about five miles from Aiken, S.C. with orders to wait a few days until the infantry came up. While resting here our General thought it would be a good idea to go up and see Aiken, which has since the war become famous as a health resort, but at that time our boys decided that there were other places healthier than that.

          Well one beautiful morning Kilpatrick with two or three regiments moved out of camp and about a mile out we encountered a company of Rebel cavalry on picket which were soon disposed of and nothing worthy of note occurred until we arrived in sight of the town. The Rebels had all disappeared and it was the intention of Kilpatrick to ride through the town and view what was to be seen. The order was given for the boys to hold up their heads and go through town in style. The band struck up “Yankee Doodle” as Kilpatrick on his fine calico horse Old Spot rode at the head of the column and all felt gay and happy.

Another of those great American scoundrels, General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick. He marched into Aiken in style with Yankee Doodle being trumpeted by the band, but narrowly escaped capture when Wheeler sprung his trap. One of my forebears in the 1st Ohio Cavalry had the "pleasure" of serving under "Kill-Cavalry" during the Atlanta campaign and likely thanked his lucky stars for choosing not to re-enlist for another three years!


          Just as Kilpatrick and his staff had entered the town came our scouts and skirmishers pell-mell, closely followed by the Rebel cavalry and before there was time to find out what was the matter, Kilpatrick was almost surrounded! The order was given to fall back, which a great many proceeded to carry out in a very irregular manner. Our regiment was formed into line on the left of the road and two companies under the command of Adjutant Hamilton charged the Rebel cavalry and drove them back across an open field. This stayed the tide for a while until the road was clear. Young Hamilton was mortally wounded in the charge. He was shot in the right knee and lived several days.

The regiment then fell back in pretty good order, closely followed by the enemy until a barricade was reached. The Rebels charged furiously on the rearguard whenever they had a good chance, capturing quite a number of our men who became unhorsed. They charged boldly on the barricade, but we gave them such a warm reception that they retired in haste. One of the funny things after all was over was to hear John Timmons cuss because Sergeant McCune had lost all our cooking utensils. He had them all tied in a sack on his saddle and in the retreat, when closely pressed by the enemy, his horse ran against a tree and brushed it off. McCune was so impressed by the sulphurous nature of the cussing that he went straightway and drew a frying pan, tins, and a camp kettle from the 92nd Illinois while they slumbered and slept.

Adjutant Arthur T. Hamilton
9th Ohio Cavalry

Adjutant Hamilton and the other severely wounded were placed in the ambulances under the care of Assistant Surgeon William McMillen of the 9th Ohio Cavalry. These were then sent to the wagon train of the 20th Army Corps. Lieutenant Alexander of Co. B conducted the ambulance train and Lieutenant Charles C. Vance with a detail of Co. C marched with them and supplied them with forage. Several days after the battle when Arthur Hamilton showed signs of sinking, Dr. McMillen sent word to Colonel William D. Hamilton of the 9th Ohio Cavalry [Arthur’s cousin], who left the regiment and stayed with him and nursed him until death relieved him of his sufferings. He was laid to rest in a little churchyard near Cheraw, S.C. In this little churchyard they found a grave covered by a marble slab supported at each of its four corners by marble pillars about a foot high and the only inscription on the slab was the following:’

My name and station, what are they to thee?

What! Whether high or low my pedigree?

Perhaps I did excel all other men.

Perhaps I fell below them all- what then?

Suffice it stranger, here thou sees’t a tomb,

Thou knowest its use;

It hides, no matter whom.

 

The death of young Hamilton cast a gloom over the regiment as he was greatly beloved by all the men.


General William Douglas Hamilton
9th O.V.C.

Colonel William D. Hamilton had his own recollections of the battle of Aiken and remembered the following about his cousin’s final days:

In the engagement the regiment suffered one of its most severe losses. My cousin, Adjutant Arthur T. Hamilton, while riding his horse on the railroad bed and directing some of the men was struck by a ball that went through his leg near the knee joint, killing his horse. He was taken up with his saddle and bridle by Hospital Steward Robert H. Moffitt. I found him among the other wounded in an old cabin. He smiled and said he was not hurt much. I told him the war would soon be over and he would be safe in the hospital out of danger till the close and we would go home together. The wounded were placed in ambulances and sent to the infantry.

Two days later I learned from the surgeon that his wound was not doing well, as signs of blood poisoning had appeared. I turned over the command to Lieutenant Colonel Stough and devoted myself to his care. I saw that his wound was carefully cared for and I held him in my arms for hours as the ambulance jolted over corduroy roads made by the pioneer corps through the swamp lands of South Carolina. During this time, blood poisoning had fully developed, and the adjutant was plainly growing weaker. After traveling this way for 175 miles, we reached the town of Cheraw where the army was crossing the Pee Dee River on a pontoon into North Carolina. During this time, I held the adjutant in my arms; in the afternoon he looked up at me and smiled faintly I saw he was dying. I had a box made and a grave dug in the town cemetery and when all was over, I washed his face and hands and wrapped him in his blanket like a soldier. We buried him at midnight by the fierce light of a burning town. I noticed General Sherman pass by with a column of his infantry as we filled the grave and I heard a soldier say, “They are planting another one.”

I left him in his grave and rode with my orderly twelve miles up the river in a dark night through a drizzling rain to find my regiment, which had crossed on a pontoon into North Carolina in advance of a column of infantry which was crossing as we arrived. We tied our horses to a tree and lay down at the roots until daylight. In the morning we found our regiment. The boys looked at me in silence as I with a heavy heart rode along the moving column and I heard them whispering to each other as we passed, “The adjutant is dead.”

I have been thus minute in my account of the death and loss to the regiment of that dear young officer, for he was loved and trusted as one of the kindest and bravest officers of the regiment. A captain’s commission had been issued to him on the day he was shot, but he died without knowing it. His body was afterwards removed by the government and now lies in the National Cemetery at Florence, South Carolina.

 

Adjutant Hamilton's grave is one of the few marked Civil War graves at Florence National Cemetery

The death of Arthur Hamilton marked the third time that the Hamilton family had lost a son to the war. The first was Arthur’s older brother Henry who died of disease December 12, 1861 at Beverly, Virginia while serving in the 32nd Ohio Infantry. Arthur’s oldest brother William died of disease contracted while a prisoner of war on January 3, 1865 at Camp Parole in Annapolis, Maryland; he had previously served in Co. E of the 135th Ohio, a 100-days regiment. And now Arthur. His bereaved parents erected two identically designed stones at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Brownsville, Licking County, Ohio, one for William and one for Arthur.

 

Arthur Hamilton's cenotaph in Brownsville, Ohio


Sources:

Find-A-Grave memorials for Arthur T. Hamilton at Florence National Cemetery and Cedar Hill Cemetery; memorials for Henry Hamilton and William Hamilton at Cedar Hill Cemetery

“Kilpatrick’s Cavalry at Aiken, S.C.” Dr. James N. McMaster, Co. C, 9th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, National Tribune, July 26, 1888, pg. 3

“A Correction,” Dr. James N. McMaster, Co. C, 9th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, National Tribune, September 13, 1888, pg. 3

Hamilton, William Douglas. Recollections of a Cavalryman of the Civil War After 50 Years. Columbus: F.J. Heer Co., 1915, pgs. 186-188


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