Battling for the Blockhouses with the 115th Ohio

     The war experience of the 115th Ohio stood in marked contrast with most Ohio regiments. The regiment, mustered into service in September 1862, participated in very few battles and never was in a fight as an entire organization. The war for the 115th Ohio consisted of garrison and guard duty along the railroad lines in middle Tennessee for the last two years of the war. A portion of the regiment was mounted and sent out to combat bushwhackers while detachments of roughly 30 men were stationed in the blockhouses guarding points on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad between Nashville and Murfreesboro, Tennessee. It was generally dull duty, until December 1864…

Horace Redfield, a teenaged New Yorker living in Jasper, Tennessee during the Civil War, had ample opportunity to study the manner of fortifications that either army erected along the Nashville & Chattanooga railroad. “For about a year and a half, one end of the Nashville and Chattanooga road was in possession of one army and the other end held by the other,” he remembered. “So far as each side could hold possession, they erected stockades at the important stations and bridges to protect them from raids. These stockades were usually made of oak logs, set endwise in the ground, covered with heavy timber and with loopholes cut out for defense. Without artillery, they could hardly be reduced. The superiority of the stockades built by the Union troops over those built by the Confederates on the same line of road was striking. The Union troops bestowed an immense amount of labor on theirs, making them of square timber, massive, and enduring, and perfect in every particular.”

The strength of those stockades and blockhouses along the Nashville & Chattanooga were put under their strongest test during the first two weeks of December 1864. General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee, marching north from Alabama, had crossed into the state of Tennessee and was pursuing the Federal army to the outskirts of Nashville. A Federal garrison remained in Murfreesboro, and the various blockhouses along the railroad between Nashville and Murfreesboro were guarded by companies of the 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. General Nathan Bedford Forrest soon set out to systematically reduce and capture each one of the seven blockhouses guarding the railroad, eventually taking 200 men from the regiment.

The following accounts of the “fight for the blockhouses” were published in the Summit County Beacon from Akron, Ohio.

 

Typical blockhouse and army encampment in Tennessee.

Nashville, Tennessee

December 14, 1864

          As your paper has an extensive circulation in the military district from which the 115th Ohio was raised, I send you the following particulars concerning the capture of a portion of that regiment stationed in blockhouses along the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad thinking they will be of interest to the numerous readers of your paper who have friends among the prisoners and are anxiously awaiting tidings of them.

          On the morning of the 2nd of this month, the enemy attacked blockhouses No. 1 and No. 2 commanded by Lieutenants Jacob N. Shaffer and George D. Harter (Co. F) of our regiment and garrisoned by 30 men each from Co. F of our regiment. After firing a few shots from their 12-pdr pieces (of which they had six), they directed their entire attention to Blockhouse No. 2 commanded by Lieutenant Harter. About this time, a train of some eleven cars having on board some 250 men of the 44th U.S. Colored Troops commanded by Colonel Lewis Johnson was fired into while crossing the bridge adjacent to Lieutenant Harter’s blockhouse, killing two of Colonel Johnson’s men and injuring the locomotive so much as to prevent further progress. The colonel unloaded his men and stationed them about the blockhouse, there not being room within the enclosure for them. Here they remained during the day, protecting themselves from the enemy’s fire as best they could.

          Lieutenant Harter fought them some eight hours, killing and wounding several of the enemy while losing one man killed and three wounded from his own command. The enemy shelled him continuously, shattering his blockhouse fearfully, many of their shells passing through the walls of the enclosure and bursting within. They kept up a heavy fire on Harter’s blockhouse until dark when they ceased. Lieutenant Harter’s ammunition being now nearly exhausted, it was deemed advisable to evacuate the blockhouse and cut their way through the enemy’s line to this place six miles distant.

Regimental colors of the 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

By 3 o’clock on the morning of the 3rd, the entire garrison together with the remainder of the Negro troops had marched through their lines and reached this place in safety. The wounded of both commands were left in the blockhouse in charge of the surgeon and chaplain of the 44th U.S.C.T. who remained behind to care for them. Nothing further was heard from them until this morning when the surgeon escaped and came into our lines. He escaped as follows: on the morning of the 3rd, the enemy again began shelling the blockhouse and the surgeon immediately raised a flag of truce which the enemy respected and ceased firing. They came in and were very angry when they found the entire garrison had escaped. They now turned their attention to Blockhouse No. 3 commanded by Captain Deming N. Lowry (Co. G) and garrisoned by 30 men of his company. After shelling the blockhouse for some time, injuring it seriously, he, too, was forced to surrender his entire command.

“We were detailed to guard a bridge nine miles from Nashville. At 3 p.m., they sent in a demand for surrender which was, of course, refused. They began to use some artillery on our position but without effect. Unfortunately for us, however, we failed to burn a log house only 300 yards away and under cover of a hill just back of it they succeeded in planting some 12 lb guns in that log house. The move cost them a number of men, but once in it they had the advantage and from then on hammered 77 shots into one wing of our building, tearing away the outer casement and sending in an occasional splinter and bursting shell. This had a tendency to appreciatively lower our erstwhile exuberant spirits and confidence in the position we occupied.” ~ Private Harvey Hogue, Co. G, 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on the fight at Blockhouse No. 3

Blockhouse No. 1 was surrendered only after Nos. 2 and 3 had gone under sometime during the afternoon of the 3rd. Concerning the troops beyond this, we know nothing positively having nothing but the words of the Rebels concerning them. They claim, however, to have captured Blockhouse No. 4 command by Sergeant John Kinney of Co. G and garrisoned by some 30 men of that company. The garrison at La Vergne commanded by Captain Lewis F. Hake (Co. B) having with him Lieutenant John Eadie (Co. C) and some 60 men from Cos. B and C of our regiment. Also, Blockhouse Nos. 5 and 6 commanded by Lieutenant John S. Orr (Co. B) and Captain William M. McClure (Co. E) respectively and garrisoned by 30 men of each company.

“Blockhouse No. 4 and the fort at La Vergne were attacked on the morning of the 5th. Captain Hake, the commander of the post, had only an hour before received an order from General Thomas to vacate and fall back on Murfreesboro and was in the act of loading up when Forrest’s cavalry closed in upon them from all directions. Co. C skirmished with them for two hours then Forrest sent in a flag of truce commanding the surrender which was rejected. But while our men respected the flag of truce, Forrest took advantage of it and planted his artillery in close range where he could demolish our garrison in half an hour. Forrest then came in with the flag a second time and made a similar demand. Captain Hake and Lieutenant Eadie, seeing that it would be the sacrificing of the whole garrison without accomplishing anything, surrendered with a written guarantee that they should retain their personal property. The same deception was practiced upon Blockhouse No. 4- planting their batteries commanding the door of the blockhouse which was without protection, the blockhouse being unfinished, and the garrison surrendered deeming it folly to try and resisted a force which numbered at least a hundred to one.” ~ Captain John A. Means, Co. C, 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Blockhouse No. 7, the nearest to Murfreesboro and commanded by Lieutenant Henry H. Glosser (Co. E), they claim to be still standing which I think in all probability is correct. As I said before, we know nothing positively of the fate of our troops beyond Blockhouse No. 3 having simply their own reports which in instances of this kind should always be received with a broad margin. But such as they are, you have them, and by publishing them will confer a great favor upon an officer of that regiment.

          A sad fate awaited the approximately 200 men that went into Confederate captivity. “On April 27, 1865, the battalion of the 115th Ohio captured at Blockhouses 1, 3, and 4 in December 1864 were aboard the ill-fated steamer Sultana which exploded on the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee and Captain Lowry, Lieutenant Eadie, Lieutenant John C. Ely and 80 men were lost. These unfortunate men from Companies B, C, F, and G were on their way to Columbus, Ohio having been paroled for that purpose,” Whitelaw Reid wrote.

 To read more about the services of the 115th Ohio, readers are recommended to check out "War Behind the Lines: The Civil War History of the 115th Ohio Infantry Regiment 1862-1865" by Rexford G. Wiggers. 

Sources:

“Characteristics of the Armies,” by Horace V.E. Redfield, as published in Annals of the War Written by Leading Participants North and South. Philadelphia: The Times Publishing Co., 1879, pgs. 368-369

Letter from J., 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Summit County Beacon (Ohio), December 29, 1864, pg. 2

Civil War Reflections 1862-1865 of Corporal Harvey Hogue, Co. G, 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, link here

Letter from Captain John A. Means, Co. C, 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Summit County Beacon (Ohio), January 5, 1865, pg. 2

Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War: Her Statesmen, Generals, and Soldiers. Volume II: The History of Her Regiments and Other Military Organizations. Cincinnati: The Robert Clarke Company, 1895, pgs. 602-603

Comments

Most Popular Posts

Arming the Buckeyes: Longarms of the Ohio Infantry Regiments

Dressing the Rebels: How to Dye Butternut Jeans Cloth

Bullets for the Union: Manufacturing Small Arms Ammunition During the Civil War

The Vaunted Enfield Rifle Musket

Straw Already Threshed: Sherman on Shiloh

Charging Battery Robinett: An Alabama Soldier Recalls the Vicious Fighting at Corinth

A Fight for Corn: Eight Medals of Honor Awarded at Nolensville

In front of Atlanta with the 68th Ohio

The Legend of Leatherbreeches: Hubert Dilger in the Atlanta Campaign

Federal Arms in the Stones River Campaign