With the Stigma of a Paroled Prisoner: A 3rd Ohio Cavalryman Remembers Ashland
It was a week after the Battle of Perryville and with General Braxton Bragg’s army well on the road back to Tennessee, the troopers of the 3rd Ohio and 4th Ohio little thought they had much to worry about as they went into camp in a woodlot on the grounds of Henry Clay’s estate, Ashland near Lexington, Kentucky. The Federal pursuit of Bragg’s army had been a leisurely affair, and it was believed that Bragg wanted nothing more than to get back to Tennessee unmolested.
But at dawn on October 18, 1862, the Ohioans learned, much to their chagrin, that an aggressive force of Confederate cavalry under John Hunt Morgan wasn’t interested in slipping quietly back to Tennessee quite yet. Morgan commanded a small force consisting of the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry regiment, two cavalry battalions, and a pair of guns and was determined to operate in the Federal rear and cause mayhem. His scouts had reported that the Ohioans were isolated and divided, so Morgan resolved to attack them at dawn. Two cavalry battalions and the cannon approached the Federal encampment along the Richmond road while Morgan led Basil Duke’s 2nd Kentucky around to swoop down from the South. The plan worked: the cavalry battalions under Gano and Breckenridge opened fire and once fully engaged, Duke’s men appeared in the Federal rear and added their fire. The Buckeyes folded quickly, and eventually over 290 Federals were captured in this action then just as quickly paroled as Morgan headed back to Tennessee.
First Lieutenant Oliver M. Brown of Co. B of the 3rd Ohio Cavalry was among the paroled prisoners, and provided this account of the action at Ashland to the Daily Toledo Blade.
Henry Clay made his fortune growing hemp on a 600 acre plantation that he named Ashland, at one time employing as many as 60 slaves. He built the main house in the early 1800s but by the time of the Civil War, his son James Brown Clay owned the house and was living here with his family at the time of the battle. What exists today is actually James' rebuilt 1857 version of the house as the original structure, damaged by the 1811 New Madrid earthquake and suffering from shoddy brickwork, had proved to be an unstable structure. The rebuild utilized features from the original Federal-style structure but included Italianate elements that were more fashionable in the 1850s. The home is now a National Historic Landmark and is operated by the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation.
Camp Lew Wallace, Columbus, Kentucky
October 23, 1862
How changing are the events of a soldier’s life. When I last wrote to you from West Point, the 3rd Ohio Cavalry was marching with all the pride of success through Kentucky in pursuit of the enemy. Since that time this noble regiment has suffered severe losses. Then your humble servant was with his regiment, proud to bear some humble part in the honors it had already won; now, with the stigma of a paroled prisoner attached to his name, he is laying on his oars at Camp Lew Wallace.
On the 16th day of October while in camp at Danville, Kentucky, the Third Battalion (Companies C, G, I, and K) of the 3rd Ohio and the First Battalion of the 4th Ohio Cavalry were ordered, under the command of Major Charles B. Seidel, to Camp Dick Robinson to take charge of some commissary stores that Bragg, in his hasty retreat, had left behind. We arrived at that place about 5 p.m. During the succeeding night, two officers of General Alexander McCook’s staff came into camp and early the next morning we started for Lexington with them, arriving there about 4 o’clock of the same day. The people of Lexington received us with demonstrations of joy, crowds thronging through the streets and shouts for the Ohio boys rang from one portion of the city to the other. That night we camped on the grounds of Ashland.
|Major Oliver May Brown|
At daybreak the next morning [October 18th], we were ordered to saddle our horses and head out immediately. This order was scarcely obeyed when the pickets came dashing in and told the Major that the enemy was advancing in force. He immediately asked Captain Henry B. Gaylord of Co. I to advance and attack the enemy. This the captain did most gallantly, pouring a deadly fire into their charging columns, causing them to halt. The enemy’s mounted infantry (who had previously dismounted) now made their appearance in line of battle about 40 rods from where our command was already in line. Captain Gaylord was now ordered to fall back on a line with the balance of the force, and the men were ordered to dismount and open fire on the enemy. Foremost in the ranks was Edwin A. Carr, gallantly urging on his comrades; but scarcely had the battle commenced when that noble youth fell, shot through the lungs, and died in a few minutes.
Our men resolutely maintained their ground for 15 or 20 minutes against a force more than three times their number. Major Seidel then gave the order to fall back and form a new line about 200 yards to the rear. In doing this, we were met by a large force of the enemy’s cavalry who had succeeded in turning our right flank and had formed a line in an angular direction across the field. Most of them had our blue overcoats on and at first sight I supposed that we had reinforcements and should be able to repulse the enemy. But I was soon undeceived.
About this time, another column of the enemy’s cavalry came charging up the road and formed a junction with the last force mentioned, this making their triumph complete. Thus, our little handful of brave men was completely surrounded by an overwhelming force and within easy pistol range of the two last mentioned ranks. Further resistance would be in vain, and the Major reluctantly gave the order to surrender. As soon as the men had laid down their arms, the Rebels commenced pouring in upon them a deadly crossfire from both of their ranks and the wonder is that any of them escaped alive. When we afterwards remonstrated with them for this brutal act, their only excuse was that one of our officers was seen still holding his pistol. No sooner had the firing commenced than Private Lafayette Wise of Company G seized his carbine which still lay at his feet, and shot a Rebel officer, who stood near him, mortally wounding him; but he was in turn shot through the heart by a Rebel captain. Noble man! He undoubtedly thought he was shooting the Rebel chief Morgan, and that he would rid the country of him though it should cost him his life. Long may his memory live in the hearts of his countrymen. The wounded Rebel proved to be Major George Washington Morgan, a cousin of General Morgan.
Captain Horace Newton Howland, Co. C, 3rd O.V.C. was among the troopers captured at Ashland.
After the fight was over, we were marched up to the house of James B. Clay, and the work of paroling commenced, and in less than three hours after we were taken, all were paroled. Our whole force in Lexington did not exceed 240, and 40 of these had been stationed in the courthouse as provost guards under the command of Lieutenant Shoemaker. Fifteen more under the command of Lieutenant James R. Hall of Co. K were out patrolling the roads. So, it will be seen that the force engaged in the fight did not exceed 185. The Rebel force according to their adjutant general was 3,500. Our loss was four killed and eight wounded. The Rebel loss, according to their brigade surgeon’s statement, was eleven killed and 15 wounded.
3rd Ohio Veteran Volunteer Cavalry reunion ribbon from 1885.
Oliver May Brown was born September 25, 1826 in Genesee County, New York and prior to the war had moved to Ohio where he owned a blacksmith shop. He married Celia Burrall in 1847 and had two sons, the oldest (Charles) serving with Oliver through the war and became known the “boy bugler” of Sherman’s army. Oliver was a man of deep religious convictions and worked as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. When the war broke out, he was convinced that it was a God-given opportunity “to free the slaves and save the Union.” He was commissioned second lieutenant of Co. C of the 3rd Ohio Volunteer Cavalry on August 16, 1861 and had a very active career with the regiment. He was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant of Co. B on July 20, 1862, was transferred to Co. K April 24, 1863, then promoted to captain of Co. C August 19, 1863. He was shot in the shoulder during the engagement near Lexington, Kentucky and among Brown’s notable wartime experiences was commanding the rear guard during the cavalry fight at Lovejoy Station in August 1864. At the end of the war, he was promoted to the rank of major but was never mustered at than rank. He mustered out with the regiment August 4, 1865 and returned to Ohio. He founded the Faith Missionary Society and was one of the fathers of the Christian Alliance Church. Brown lived in Cleveland for many years. He died November 25, 1910 at the Ohio Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home in Sandusky, Ohio and is buried at Westwood Cemetery in Oberlin, Ohio.
Letter from First Lieutenant Oliver M. Brown, Co. B, 3rd Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, Daily Toledo Blade (Ohio), October 27, 1862, pg. 2
 Captain Horace Howland of Co. C, 3rd Ohio Cavalry reported that Private Wise was gunned down by a Captain McFarlin. Corporal Thomas Croft wrote that the Confederates, under General John Hunt Morgan, paroled the men “at once, and we started for this place in the afternoon about 4 o’clock and got here noon the next day. It was 24 miles and it tired us a good deal for we are not used to walking. The Rebels took everything from us, canteens, haversacks, and blankets.” Daily Toledo Blade, October 23, 1862, pg. 2 and October 25, 1862, pg. 2
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