The Heavy Work is Done: Mustering Out the 21st Ohio Infantry

    One can only imagine the thoughts of Captain Jacob L. Keller of the 21st Ohio as he and his comrades steamed placidly down the Ohio River on June 12, 1865. It was the second time the Buckeye officer had taken a steamboat ride upon the Ohio River with the regiment; the first time was in November of 1861. “The trip down the river was much more pleasant than the one from Catlettsburg, Kentucky in the winter of 1861,” he later wrote. “Then it was stormy and cold- now it was splendid summer weather. Then the heavy work was before us- now it was done. It seemed as though all in nature conspired to make our return trip home pleasant. The sight of the hills of our dear Ohio cheered us, and steamboat captains did what they could to make the trip downriver pleasant.”

Captain Jacob L. Keller, Co. A, 21st O.V.V.I.
"Then the heavy work was before us- now it was done."

          The “heavy work” of four years’ service included playing key roles in some of the most crucial battles of the western theater, including the regiment’s steadfast defense of Snodgrass Hill at Chickamauga and its ferocious fight in the Slaughter Pen at Stones River. The tracks of the regiment’s marches and battles were marked with the dead: 172 of them killed or mortally wounded in battle while another 220 died of disease. They were buried in the numerous states of the old Confederacy and from New York in the east to Iowa in the west. Dozens of the men lost their lives in the Confederate prison camps and some were tragically lost aboard the Sultana when it exploded on the Mississippi River in April 1865. There were nearly 1,000 men on that first trip on the Ohio River in 1861; now barely 300 remained in the ranks and a large number of those were recruits who joined up when the regiment went home on veteran’s furlough in early 1864.

The sharp rasp of the 21st Ohio’s .69 caliber Greenwood-altered U.S. Model 1842 rifle muskets first resounded at Ivy Mountain in November 1861, then later barked with a deafening roar in the Cedars at Stones River. In the spring of 1863, the regiment traded in their trusty Greenwood’s for more modern hardware, the .56 caliber Colt Revolving Rifle which they used with such deadly effect at Chickamauga, firing more than 43,000 rounds of ammunition on that memorable September 20th of 1863. Later that fall, the deadly if tricky Colt’s were traded in for a complete allotment of superb English-made Enfield rifle muskets that the regiment carried for the rest of the war.

Colt Revolving Rifle like one carried by eight companies of the 21st Ohio at Chickamauga. It was reported that the guns became so hot that the men resorted to urinating on them to cool them down. As the cylinder became fouled with black powder, it became more and more difficult to reload and fire the weapons. Some even resorted to using .577 caliber ammunition when .56 caliber stocks ran low in the latter stages of the defense. At the close of the battle as the men were being surrounded, they removed the cylinder from the rifle and chucked them into the surrounding woods, rendering the weapons useless. 

The regiment participated in many a battlefield of the Atlanta campaign but perhaps most memorably at Vining’s Station where the regiment suffered its highest losses of the campaign, including my own great-great-great-great uncle who suffered the second wound of his army career, this one ending his active service. The March to the Sea followed the capture of Atlanta then the march through the Carolinas which culminated in the regiment’s final battle at Bentonville, North Carolina in March 1865. Then the march through Virginia and participation in the Grand Review in Washington, D.C.

The regiment’s leadership featured some of the most memorable characters the state produced during the war. Their first colonel Jesse S. Norton was severely wounded and captured at Scary Creek in July 1861 but got a little too cozy with Alabama secessionists in the summer of 1862 and embroiled himself in the ugly high command politics of the Buell era, and ultimately left the regiment a forgotten and misunderstood man.

Colonel James Neilbing, 21st O.V.I.
The beloved "Colonel Jim"

The regiment’s next commander, the courageous, high-spirited and freewheeling James Neibling of Findlay, familiarly known as “Colonel Jim,” led the 21st Ohio to glory at Stones River by commanding the men to “give them hell by the acre, boys, hell by the acre.” Neibling’s lax discipline led to scads of trouble for the regiment in the spring and summer of 1863. Colonel Jim was home in Ohio when the more disciplined Dwella Stoughton, who the men nicknamed “Roll Call” for his propensity to frequently call the roll to keep the men in line, took the regiment up Snodgrass Hill that late September afternoon and helped write the regiment’s name into the annals of history. Riding behind the lines wearing a yellow cloak and encouraging his men to fight, a Confederate sharpshooter’s bullet cut into his left arm near the shoulder joint which prompted Stoughton to pronounce, “I think this will use me up.” And it did, two months later in Findlay.

This gave the command to Major Arnold McMahan of Perrysburg. A disciplinarian and fierce fighter, McMahan led the defense of Snodgrass for the rest of the afternoon and was there at the end when the Confederates closed in and captured the 135 survivors near nightfall. Doc Jones of Co. I saw McMahan the next morning “sitting with his head bowed and resting on his hand, a perfect picture of despondency. ‘Major, how does this strike you?’ he asked. ‘Isn’t this hell,” McMahan responded sadly. And for the next six months McMahan lived the hell of life in the Confederate prisoner of war camps leaving command of the regiment for a time in the hands of Captain Charles Vantine of Co. I.

Lieutenant Colonel Arnold McMahan, 21st O.V.I. 

By the spring of 1864, Colonel Neibling had returned to the regiment but he didn’t stay long before he was lost his right arm to a cannon ball at Pickett’s Mill on May 28, 1864, which again gave the command to now Lieutenant Colonel McMahan. McMahan would lead the regiment for nearly the entire rest of the war and was the commanding officer of the regiment when it mustered out of service July 25, 1865, at Louisville, Kentucky.

Private Jacob Adams of Co. F, who was with the regiment from pillar to post, recorded the events of the regiment’s final days of service in his diary. “Monday, July 24th. Our muster rolls completed, we struck tents and bid good-bye to camp life and headed for Columbus, Ohio where we were to receive our final pay and discharge. Our regiment marched down to the boat landing at Louisville where at 2 p.m. we boarded the steamboat America and moved up the Ohio River for Cincinnati where we arrived Tuesday at noon. We marched up to the Cincinnati depot where after waiting an hour we boarded the ever-ready stock cars, though we were not so crowded as we were from Washington. We had pretty clean straw to lie down on and yet we did think our own state might have furnished better accommodations for us after serving so long. We arrived at Columbus at 8 p.m. and put up for our stay at Tod Barracks.”

Three days later, the regiment gathered into line one last time to hear Colonel McMahan’s final orders.


General Orders No. 16

Headquarters, 21st Regiment, O.V.I., Columbus, Ohio

July 25, 1865



          Our services are no longer required. Through the Providence of God, our efforts to sustain the government and to perpetuate it have been successful. We have humbled a proud, cruel, and vindictive foe. Thank God we are free, and have the power to demonstrate for all whom it may concern that all men are born free, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

          The pillars of our popular government are strengthened and adorned by the blood of our honored and lamented dead. The bones of our comrades are upon the fields or more than 31 well-contested battles. We will remember them kindly and extend to their families and friends the hand of a brother and true friend.

In parting with you, my comrades, I congratulate you that you have escaped the casualties of war to behold the splendor of your achievements. As my military family is dispersed, my best wishes will follow you to your quiet homes.


Arnold McMahan,

Lieutenant Colonel, commanding


Official: Geo. Scheets, 1st Lieut. And Adjutant


          As the men stood in line, they could only mark the contrast of how they looked back in September 1861 when 1,000 of northwest Ohio’s sturdy pioneers presented their company flags and took the oath at Camp Vance in Findlay. Those original colors were long gone, either sent home as frayed and scarred relics of war or captured by their enemies at Chickamauga. There were only 286 of them in the ranks now; the companies which once numbered 100 men had been shaken and dwindled down to the point that Companies H and I only mustered 21 men apiece while lucky Co. F mustered all of 41. The missing spots in the ranks emphasized the cost of war to everyone present, the brothers of the regiment feeling it perhaps most poignantly of all. In my own family, Fred McLargin stood in the ranks of Co. C carrying two Confederate bullets but he made it out alive. His older brother James, shot through the head at Stones River while Fred was in parole camp in Ohio, died of his wounds in 1863. Fred’s story, sad as it is, was hardly unique in the 21st Ohio.

Adjutant George Scheets, 21st O.V.I. 

          George Scheets, then serving as McMahan’s adjutant, had to chuckle to think back on how it all started back in September 1861. Scheets was clerking for W.I. Hitchcock’s store in Perrysburg when McMahan came back from the 90-day service with the 21st Ohio in western Virginia aiming to recruit a company of three-years’ volunteers. “That night I didn't go to sleep very easy and was debating in my mind "what of the morrow." When the morning came and I saw the boys gathering at the Baird House, my mind was made up, and leaving a hastily written note on my desk for my employer (he hadn't come to the store yet), bade the other clerks good-bye and joined the boys at the hotel.” A few weeks later, the regiment was standing in line for examination by Captain E. Morgan Wood when Wood spotted Scheets and “objected to me on account of size and muscle (I weighed 120 pounds), but Captain McMahan assured him that I was all right, as he had a special place for me. (I wondered what position he would give me.) I assisted the captain as his secretary in making the original muster roll of his company at the Reid House and was consulted to a certain extent in the selection of his non-commissioned officers. The selection proceeded. First the sergeants, then the corporals, keeping right on until the number was complete. My name was placed in alphabetical order among the high privates.” Little did either man know that when the chance came, McMahan would indeed have a special place for George Scheets. Upon the mustering out of the able Edward Baird in late 1864, Colonel McMahan chose Scheets to serve as his adjutant, and it was Scheets who set in type and distributed the final General Order for the regiment as noted above.

          With McMahan’s words of parting ringing out, the men fell out to receive their final pay and release to return to their homes. “At 1 p.m., the paymaster commenced paying off our regiment and by 2 p.m. I had my money and my discharge in my pocket and felt some like a white man,” Jacob Adams recalled. “The next morning at 7 a.m., I took the train for Findlay, Ohio changing cars at Urbana. After waiting some three hours, I took the 12:40 train for Carey where we arrived at 3 p.m. and was from that time to sundown running (or rather poking) from there to Findlay. I soon started on foot for home, walking eight miles, and by 11:30 p.m. I arrived at Father Dorsey’s two miles west of Van Buren.”

          The Hancock Jeffersonian newspaper which had for years so dutifully reported the news of their “boys” in the 21st Ohio, scarcely noted the regiment’s return home. “The 21st no longer exists,” it reported on August 4, 1865. “The good old regiment has been mustered out and the boys belonging to this county, about 200 in number, have all arrived at home. There was an immense crowd at the depot to greet them. All honor to the surviving 21sters.”


Private James A. McLargin of Co. C of the 21st O.V.I. is my great-great-great-great uncle on my mother's side. He sustained a mortal head wound at Stones River and died in Nashville soon thereafter. His grave is at Nashville National Cemetery where he suffers the eternal indignity of having his name misspelled as "Joseph" McLargin (Jas. and Jos. can be easily mistaken). Regimental records from this period were so sketchy that we don't even know for sure which day he died; its been variously listed as January 11th, January 20th, and June 20th. His younger brother Frederick missed Stones River having been captured by Confederate cavalry in May 1862 and was languishing at Camp Chase. He returned to the regiment in March 1863 in time to be wounded at Chickamauga in September 1863 and severely at Vining's Station in July 1864. 

Below is the roster of all of the men who mustered out with the regiment at Louisville on July 25, 1865. The regiment was paid and officially released from all duties on the afternoon of July 28th at Tod Barracks in Columbus, Ohio. Ironically, the regiment was mustered in by an officer of the 15th U.S. Infantry in 1861 and mustered out by another officer of the 15th U.S. in July 1865. The regiment was no doubt familiar with the 15th U.S. as they served in the same corps for much of the war.



The original 21st Ohio musters in front of the Hancock County Courthouse in September 1861 still attired in their citizen's dress. They would soon don the blue suit and serve nearly four years in the western theater. 392 of the men who served in the 21st Ohio would give their lives to win the war. 

Field & Staff (5)

Lieutenant Colonel Arnold McMahan

Surgeon Daniel S. Young

Adjutant George Scheets

Quartermaster Sergeant Joseph Power

Commissary Sergeant Henry H. Van Camp


Sergeant Erastus Biggs, Co. A, 21st O.V.I.
Died of wounds at Stones River

Company A (27)

Captain Jacob L. Keller

First Lieutenant David McClintock

First Sergeant Squire J. Carlin

Sergeant John Ward

Sergeant Samuel Pickett

Sergeant Lycurgus Williams

Sergeant Abraham Brown

Corporal James Mertz

Corporal Philip Newman

Corporal Stephen Leonard

Corporal Russell Kinion

Corporal Solomon Wells

Corporal Asa Babcock

Corporal James B. Morrison

Private David Beard

Private Jacob A. Coons

Private Perry O. Drake

Private George Ernst

Private Rufus Fellers

Private Sylvester Hawkins

Private John Helms

Private Ambrose J. Marvin

Private George R. Marvin

Private John J. Nusser

Private Thomas Stroub

Private Thomas Twining

Private Frederick G. Worsley


Private Abraham Courtwright, Co. B, 21st O.V.I.

Company B (28)

Captain Samuel F. Cheney

Sergeant Philip Willich

Sergeant Washington Swank

Sergeant Valentine Hardy

Corporal Rufus Crossley

Corporal John Godfrey

Corporal Jacob Krouse

Corporal Wilson S. Swank

Corporal Robert Tinneman

Private George W. Bushong

Private Benjamin Davis

Private Henry Folk

Private Perry Fellers

Private Stephen George

Private John C. Hall

Private John C. Helt

Private Absalom Keel

Private Martin Kibler

Private Wellington Krouse

Private John H. Lamb

Private Alpheus Morgan

Private George Mull

Private John Mull

Private Charles Shine

Private Henry Vannatta

Private Jacob Walters, Jr.

Private John Watt

Private John C. Wickham


Sergeant (later Private) Reason Bates, Co. C, 21st O.V.V.I. 

Company C (27)

First Sergeant Henry Grahlman

Sergeant Thomas Crooks

Sergeant Oramill Forbes

Sergeant Lewis Kingfield

Sergeant Lyman Wilson

Corporal Edgar Price Clough

Corporal Samuel Cooley

Corporal Nicholas Dienst

Corporal Henry H. Houston

Corporal Frederick Nevinberger

Corporal David Plemon

Private Reason Bates

Private John Finkbeiner

Private John F. Harman

Private John Helpman

Private George Havil

Private Robert Litbrick

Private Isaac Longbrick

Private James Lundy

Private Frederick McLargin

Private William Norris
Private William Nurnberger

Private John D. Price

Private Christopher Scheets

Private John Shaw

Private John C. Webb

Private John A. Woods


This late war 35-star set of national colors lists the numerous engagements in which the 21st Ohio participated during the Civil War, starting with Ivy Mountain in November 1861 and wrapping up with Bentonville in March 1865. 

Company D (32)

First Lieutenant Christian B. Sholty

First Sergeant Celestine Crochard

Sergeant Quincy A. Randalls

Sergeant Myron Washington

Corporal William Bunne

Corporal Aaron Gingery
Corporal David H. Randalls

Corporal Lewis Weber

Private Elisha Buckley

Private Thomas Bunn

Private Joseph Bushong

Private Daniel Carr

Private Spencer Croshaw

Private Madison Darron

Private Daniel H. Dunham

Private Joseph Dunham

Private Perry Erb

Private William Folk

Private Edward Kelsey

Private John F.H. Klinefelter

Private John Nelson

Private Awrista Perry

Private Aaron Rice

Private Levi A. Rice

Private Seth Rice

Private Anson Rosecrans

Private David R. Rouston

Private William T. Strother

Private Jacob Thuston

Private Daniel Wagoner

Private Edmund P. Williams


Lieutenant John Mercer, Co. E, 21st O.V.I. atop Lookout Mountain

Company E (34)

Captain William B. Wicker

First Sergeant William J. Henry

Sergeant Finlay Britton

Sergeant Horace Ginter

Corporal Marion Cox

Corporal Jacob W. Dowell

Corporal Peter Foust

Corporal Peter Huffman

Corporal Charles C. McConkey

Corporal Hiram Sweet

Private Joseph Beerbower

Private George W. Boyles

Private Chester Bronson

Private Anson Christie

Private William Coulter

Private Edward Crawford

Private George Ferry

Private Simon W. Fish

Private William Forian

Private William Freedline

Private Alfred Ginter

Private William Ginter

Private Charles Godfrey

Private Appleton Hopkins

Private Anthony W. Miller

Private Lafayette Miller

Private George W. Moore

Private William C. Powell

Private John Saltzman

Private William A. Shatto

Private Milton Sheen

Private David Spindler

Private John R. Spindler

Private Jesse D. Tracy


Private Christian D. Bare, Co. F, 21st O.V.V.I. 

Company F (41)

First Sergeant Robert F. Bonham

Sergeant Eli W.L. Alspach

Sergeant Alfred Larkins

Sergeant John Lamott

Sergeant Jeremiah E. Milhuf

Corporal John B. De Haven

Corporal Andrew S. Kelley

Corporal George Kelley

Corporal William B. Morehead

Corporal Jesse Walters

Corporal Ralph C. Watson

Musician Maion F. Beals

Musician William W. Latham

Private Jacob Adams

Private Christian D. Bare

Private Jeremiah Bolten

Private George Carr

Private Henry Davis

Private Philip Dietz

Private Charles Edwards

Private Noah Fellers

Private George Fenstermaker

Private Nathan Greer

Private George F. Hammond

Private John F. Hampton

Private Eli Hook

Private David Huffman

Private George Kibler

Private James M. Latham

Private Jacob Oman

Private Napoleon B. Plotner

Private Gideon Powell

Private John H. Powell

Private Peter F. Powell

Private John T. Reed

Private James E. Scott

Private George W. Shoemaker

Private Robert Smalley

Private Joseph Vaughn

Private John Wolf

Private Jackson Yates


Lieutenant John Bolton, Co. F, 21st O.V.V.I. 

Company G (28)

First Sergeant Robert F. McDonald

Sergeant Samuel L. Burman

Sergeant Jonathan Fast

Sergeant Henry B. Thomas

Corporal Uriah E. Bearse

Corporal John A. Davis

Corporal Joseph McKinsey

Corporal Jeremiah Shoemaker

Private William G. Bond

Private John H. Copus

Private James Crosser

Private Joseph W. Cumerine

Private William W. Davis

Private Henry J. Daymeger

Private Christian Diehl

Private Charles W. Doolittle

Private John C. Fackey

Private Isaiah Frick

Private David Green

Private Solomon Hicks

Private Laz Hockenberger

Private Ephraim Kelley

Private John P. Leiter

Private William Pohner

Private Samuel Seitz

Private Collins Shilling

Private Seth W. Shoemaker

Private Eli C. Thomas


This late war set of 21st Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry colors was carried at the regiment's mustering out in July 1865. An earlier set of regimental and national colors had been captured atop Snodgrass Hill on September 20, 1863. This replacement flag denoted the regiment as having "veteranized" in early 1864. 

Company H (21)

First Lieutenant Augustus Besanson

First Sergeant Christopher Grundy

Sergeant Eugene Brisbin

Sergeant Lafayette Hale

Sergeant Henry R. Skinner

Corporal George W. Barber

Corporal Jonas W. Daish

Corporal Silas S. Daish

Corporal Edward Knifer

Corporal William Middleton

Corporal Jacob Swartwout

Corporal Isaac Van Valkenberg

Private William Brookman

Private Daniel M. Brown

Private Edson G. Daish

Private Sylvester T. Everett

Private William H. Long

Private Reuben G. Pepple

Private Samuel F. Pepple

Private Freeman Rigg

Private Reuben Van Tassel


Gravestone for James and Maxwell Reynolds of Co. I of the 21st O.V.I. at Harrington Cemetery in Elmore, Ohio, hometown of Co. I. Both brothers were killed during the battle of Stones River; Maxwell's body was never recovered and it was believed that the Confederates mistakenly buried him with their own dead. 

Company I (21)

First Lieutenant John H. Bolton

First Sergeant Matthew P. Culican

Sergeant Martin Bowland

Sergeant Logan Mezener

Sergeant Preston Rice

Corporal William H. Cheney

Corporal George Smith

Corporal Washington D. Smith

Corporal William Willey

Private George D. Chase

Private Adam Cosner

Private George W. Hays

Private John F. Hissong

Private Gottlieb Klump

Private George D. Lee

Private Volney A. Markle

Private James Morrills

Private John F. Peet

Private William Rhinehart

Private Henry Ryer

Private Sylvanus W. Trout


First Lieutenant Robert S. Dilworth, Co. I, 21st O.V.V.I.
Killed in action at Kennesaw Mountain 

Company K (22)

First Sergeant John W. Pember

Sergeant Jesse Walker

Corporal Hiram Augustine

Corporal Robert Forrest

Corporal George W. Hathaway

Corporal Adam Hinds

Corporal Charles Myers

Corporal George W. Wright

Corporal Daniel Zimmerman

Private Thomas Finlay

Private Alexander Forrest

Private Henry A. Fox

Private Henry Heckman

Private Samuel Hutchison

Private George Keller

Private John D. Kelly

Private Henry Lightfoot

Private George Mitchell

Private Stillwell Pember

Private Byron Rockwood

Private James Stewart

Private David Talbott


Nine remaining veterans of the 21st Ohio gathered in front of their regimental reunion flag in the 1920s. 

F&S: 5

A: 27

B: 28

C: 27

D: 32

E: 34

F: 41

G: 28

H: 21

I: 21

K: 22


Total: 286

10 officers, 276 enlisted men


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