The Legend of Scotty: John Gray of the 5th Ohio

On March 14, 1864, the 5th Ohio Infantry had just reconvened at Camp Dennison after their 30-day veteran’s furlough and were in the process of getting organized to return to the front in March 1864. That day there was an impressive ceremony staged to honor one of the most notable characters in the regiment, Private John Gray also known as “Scotty.” The object of the ceremony was to present Scotty with the Medal of Honor for his heroism at the Battle of Port Republic 20 months earlier.

Unfortunately, not much is known about John Gray’s life before or after the war. We do know that he was born in 1836 in Dundee, Scotland and had emigrated to the U.S. prior to the war and that he was a Cincinnati, Ohio resident at the time of his enlistment. He joined Co. B of the 5th Ohio Volunteer Infantry as a private. The company arrived at camp in May 1861 attired in gaudy Highland uniforms complete with kilts; they soon traded in their tartans for regulation Army blue and went to war.

Civil War era Medal of Honor

The Highland Guards were a pre-war organization of tough Scotsmen with the enlisted men “of a miscellaneous nationality and contained some very tough characters who gave the officers much trouble. Captain Robert L. Kilpatrick, having seen service in the British Army, was a very severe disciplinarian and handled his men accordingly. Had he been, otherwise, it is a question whether he would have been successful,” remembered Quartermaster John M. Paver of the 5th Ohio. “One particular man known as “Scotty” was hard to control and a dangerous man.” Scotty was the nickname of our John Gray.

 “Scotty,” went off to war with the 5th Ohio and saw action at Kernstown, Port Republic, and Cedar Mountain where he gained distinction for his incredible bravery in combat, so much so that he became “common property” in the brigade. Scotty fought on his own hook at each of these battles, whether this was with or without his captain’s permission the historical record doesn’t state but this researcher will guess that Scotty’s exploits occurred without official sanction.

It was at Port Republic that Scotty earned his Medal of Honor. As William A. Brand of the 66th Ohio noted, “Scotty, an institution of the 5th Ohio, charged alone upon the colors of the Louisiana Tigers and shot them down three times. He pursued them for several hundred yards and finding himself unable to capture them, he suddenly turned and charged upon a Rebel battery and alone took it and brought it off the field.”

Chaplain William Parsons of the 66th Ohio interviewed Scotty after the battle and the redoubtable Scotsman offered this perhaps exaggerated explanation for his actions at Port Republic. “Going in for the colors of a regiment was my figure, but I had no sooner shot one man down than another took them up. Then keeping my eye on them, I ran along by a fence when two Rebels fired at me and I dropped upon the ground. Jumping up I took one and then the other. I was now a long distance from my regiment but seeing a Rebel gun with only two men firing it, I went up to it, shot one, and bayonetted the other then jumping across the wheelhorse, I socked the bayonet into the other and they drew it off.”

Private James Miller Guinn of Co. C of the 7th Ohio had a grandstand seat to Scotty’s heroics at Port Republic. “The Confederates when driven back had been compelled to abandon one of the guns of Poague’s Battery [Captain William T. Poague’s Rockbridge Artillery]. The gun was about halfway between their line of battle and ours. One of the lead horses had been killed but being still attached to the swing by the tugs, his body prevented the others from moving. A boyish soldier of the 5th Ohio familiarly called Scotty made a dash for the guns, detaching the living and dead swing horses, he mounted the wheelhorse, flattened himself along the back, dug in his heels into the flanks and prodding the off horse with his bayonet brought the gun into our line in fine style. The Confederates when they what he was at, concentrated their fire at him and we could not cease firing to help him.”

Minutes later the Buckeye arrived safely behind Federal lines with his prize: a brass smoothbore 6-pdr cannon and two horses, all of which he delivered to Battery H of the 1st Ohio Volunteer Light Artillery.

Scotty's original company commander was Robert L. Kilpatrick, a fellow Scotsman, who had learned war with the 42nd Regiment of Foot (Royal Highlanders) of the British Army were he saw service in both Malta and Bermuda before emigrating to the U.S. Kilpatrick was captured at Port Republic and rose to command of the regiment after his return. He is depicted above as lieutenant colonel with his right sleeve pinned to his coat as he had lost his right arm to a severe wound at Chancellorsville in May 1863. Kilpatrick continued to serve in the U.S. Army until 1870 when he retired at the rank of colonel and returned home to Cincinnati. 

William A. Brand of the 66th Ohio again noted Scotty’s exploits at Cedar Mountain in August 1862. “John Gray, alias Scotty, of the 5th Ohio is common property, I mean his fame. In all the battles in which he has been engaged, he has done wonderful deeds upon his own hook. Many were wondering what Scotty would do or had done in the late battle when suddenly he came to our headquarters where he is quite familiar and reported his own battle. When the Third Brigade fell back from the hill in the cornfield and the Rebels were advancing and were quite near, Scotty discovered about 20 guns, all loaded and lying together. He and two others of his regiment remained there alone and fired the guns rapidly at them as they advanced. He said he thought if he did not fire them that they would and that he could fire them so much faster than he could load them. The other two fell dead at his side and after his chin was nearly half shot off, he left and retreated to his regiment. He says in a few days he will be ready for another round.”

Scotty re-enlisted as a veteran on January 4, 1864 and was transferred to Co. F where he was awarded the Medal of Honor March 14, 1864 at Camp Dennison, Ohio for “extraordinary heroism on June 9, 1862 in action at Port Republic, Virginia. Private Gray mounted an artillery horse of the enemy and captured a brass 6-lb piece in the face of the enemy’s fire and brought it to the rear.” He mustered out July 22, 1865, at Columbus, Ohio.

What happened to Scotty in the afterwar years is a mystery. It was once believed that he died in 1889 and was buried at Leavenworth National Cemetery, but it has since been proven that the man buried at Leavenworth is not the right John Gray.



Paver, John M. What I Saw from 1861 to 1864: Personal Recollections of John M. Paver, 1st Lieutenant Company C and R.Q.M., 5th Ohio Vol. Infantry. Indianapolis: Scott-Miller Company, 1906, pgs. 16 and 64


Masters, Daniel A. Army Life According to Arbaw: Civil War Letters of William A. Brand of the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Perrysburg: Columbian Arsenal Press, 2019, pgs. 76 and 103


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