Facing the Iron Hail: The 74th Ohio at Stones River

 "Fight for your country and your God-aim low!" 

Sergeant John William Baldwin of Co. C of the 74th Ohio poses in this 1862 image taken in Nashville, Tennessee in his Hardee hat cradling his non-commissioned officer's sword, a revolver tucked into his belt. The Hardee hat is complete with an ostrich plume and full hat brass indicating his branch of service (infantry), regimental number, and company. The 74th Ohio went into action on December 31st 1862 with 18 officers and 381 enlisted men in the ranks and lost 12 men killed, 71 wounded, and 85 missing. Co. C was led by Second Lieutenant Robert Stevenson during the Battle of Stones River and suffered 10 men wounded, two of them mortally. Baldwin would be commissioned a second lieutenant on March 19, 1864 but would decline promotion to first lieutenant in October, turning in his resignation on November 5, 1864. He lived until 1896 and is buried at Woodland Cemetery in Xenia, Ohio. 

    In the aftermath of the Battle of Stones River, the 74th Ohio gained some notoriety for two reasons: the Buckeyes had fought hard and well during Negley's stand in the cedars on December 31st, and for the colorful actions of their Colonel Granville Moody who was soon dubbed the "Fighting Parson."

    Colonel Moody had been born in Portland, Maine 50 years earlier and gained prominence in Ohio as a stern-talking Methodist preacher; to be sure, he was an avowed enemy of "Calvinism, Universalism, Socinianism, Radicalism, intemperance, and disloyalty." The pastor took an especially dim view of Southern sympathizers stating that the only rights they possessed were the "rights to be hanged in this world and damned in the next."

    In the fall of 1861, he was commissioned colonel of the 74th Ohio (despite having zero military experience) and would command the regiment for the next 18 months. At six feet four inches tall and a robust frame with a voice that could cut across a battlefield like Thor's hammer, Moody certainly possessed a commanding presence. But it would be more than a year before the 74th Ohio had the chance to test their mettle in battle. Colonel Moody later wrote about his experiences leading his regiment into the fight on December 31st and how the men purposely misconstrued his words.

    "When my regiment was standing in double columns massed on the two center companies on the reserve line waiting orders, a staff officers from General George H. Thomas' headquarters in the field rode up to me and said hurriedly, 'Colonel, I have orders for you.' The regiment in your front has been nearly annihilated. Hold your men in hand while I go on the line and clear off what is left; watch me, and when ready, I will wave my sword three times for you and you come on, advancing on the line of battle firing.'

    "I turned to my regiment and said, 'Comrades, we go into action in a few minutes. Off caps, and say your prayers!' Whilst we were all praying, I watched as we prayed. The sign was given, and I interrupted their devotions with 'Battalion, attention! Order arms! Shoulder arms! Right shoulder shift! Forward, quick time, march!' Approaching the battle line, I gave the order, 'Battalion, by right and left companies, outward face; by right and left half wheel, forward into line, advance firing, march!' And then I added, 'Now men, resume your praying; fight for your God, your country, and your kind; aim low and give them Hail Columbia!"

    "The two center companies opened fire just as I had uttered the word hail, and the simultaneous fire of 120 rifles drowned the word Columbia and all the regiments heard was give them hell! After the battle, the boys stuck to it that I shouted 'give them hell!' 

    General Negley good-naturedly gave Moody "hell" for his language after the battle. "Is it a fact colonel that you told the boys to give them hell?" Moody replied reproachfully, "Now, there's some more of the boys' mischief. I told them to give the Rebels Hail Columbia and they have perverted my language." The parson, however, explained this with a sly twinkle in his eyes which left me in considerable doubt," a New York Tribune reporter noted. 

    Another soldier of the 74th Ohio recalled a second instance of Moody's booming voice causing a chuckle in the ranks. The Confederates were making another push to crack the Union line, and Moody spied them coming through the smoke. "The Colonel braced himself for the shock. Seeing his line in fine order, he thought he would exhort them briefly. Glancing first at the foe, then at the lads, he said quietly, "Now my boys, fight for your country and your God," and raising his voice to thunder tones, he bellowed in the same breath, "aim low!" And day now you may hear the lads of the 74th roaring "Fight for your country and your God-aim low!" 

    Colonel Moody stories took on a life of their own. One story shared in the Toledo Daily Commercial recalled another incident during Stones River when the 74th Ohio was digging field works and Colonel Moody pressed 30 Negroes from a nearby plantation into shoveling with his men. "The master, a Baptist minister formerly from Vermont, came to his headquarters and demanded to know why the Negroes were taken. The colonel coolly replied that he "had need of them" and thought that the master had no particular use for them just then. The men began to make a great deal of noise, so much in fact, that the colonel ordered him out of his lines! At this the valiant preacher declared he wasn't accustomed to being talked to that way and immediately drew a pistol. Before he got the instrument in range, Colonel Moody planted his large fist between his eyes with a force that lifted him from his feet and laid him on his back at the distance of several rods. When he came to, he picked himself up and left, having not another word to offer on the subject of his Negroes." 

    The story of the 74th Ohio at Stones River isn't all about Granville Moody as is explained by Lieutenant Thomas McElravy of Co. G of the 74th who provided the following account to the Cadiz Democratic Sentinel which first saw publication in their January 28, 1863 edition.


 

Reenactors take position in the limestone outcroppings held by Colonel John F. Miller's men in their fight for the Cedars on the morning of December 31, 1862. These woods once echoed with the roar of musketry, artillery, and Colonel Moody's booming voice.

  

Murfreesboro, Tennessee

January 10, 1863

          Having nothing to do, I will employ myself in giving your readers a small sketch of the fight before Murfreesboro in which I took an active part. On the morning of the 30th of December 1862, the 8th Division was ordered to take their position in the center of the Army of the Cumberland. This division consists of the 29th Brigade and the 7th Brigade, the latter was commanded by Colonel John F. Miller, the 29th by Colonel Stanley.

          These two brigades took their position in a dense thicket of cedars where we remained till the morning of the 31st when Colonel Miller was ordered out to take his position for the day. We remained still until the Rebels drove back General McCook on our right. The heavy cannonading commenced all along the lines. The artillery that the 7th Brigade supported ran out of ammunition. The brigade stood up to it like brave men, never flinching, but alas, the Rebels were rather too strong for us at that point, so we were ordered to retreat. This we did through a dense thicket of cedars, the Rebels after us yelling “Bull Run, Bull Run!”

 

“Colonel Moody’s horse was shot from under him and he narrowly escaped with his life as his clothes were cut in several places. A ball struck his pistol which no doubt saved his life. But at all times he was cool, not appearing the least excited, and giving his orders with great firmness.” Private Ira S. Owens, Co. C, 74th Ohio 

 

50-year-old Colonel Granville Moody of Piqua led the 74th Ohio and earned the sobriquet of "The Fighting Parson" due to his actions during the Battle of Stones River, his first battle. As he was maneuvering the regiment into line of battle, he told the men to "fight for your God, your country and your kind, aim low and give them 'Hail Columbia!' As Moody said "hail" two companies opened fire drowning out his last words and the boys of the regiment swore that their good colonel told them to give the Rebels hell! They never let him live that down. 



    But the run soon changed when we got out of the thicket, so that our men could see the stars and stripes. They soon were rallied and fit for duty, except some stragglers that broke for Nashville. Then came our time to cheer. The Rebels fell on our right and left as we throwed their ranks into confusion, and there were forced to retreat as best they could. Night came on and all was quiet once more. We then built small fires, made some coffee, and ate a few pieces of hard tack and retired to our muddy couches for it had rained the principal part of the day.

          The next morning, we were aroused by the roaring of cannon and the rattling of musketry. We were soon under arms and ready to meet the foe, being anxious to put an end to the contest and rest our wearied limbs in this desolated and uninhabited town once called Murfreesboro. The cannonading soon ceased and nothing of importance transpired through the day except some heavy skirmishing along the lines. Night again came on and all was still. So, we spent our New Year’s Day.

          The next morning, all was calm-nothing apparently going on. We learned afterwards that the Rebels had been viewing our lines to find our weakest point, but alas for them instead of finding a weak place in our lines they found one that was doubly strong. They attacked our left and drove it back some distance, but General Rosecrans attacked with General Negley’s division. His command was promptly obeyed and we drove the Rebels howling before us, taking three pieces of artillery and a large number of prisoners.

 “We were pushed to the top of a hill and there laid down in the mud, the artillery firing over us and the Rebel shells and bullets falling all around us. At last we were ordered to rise and fire. We let loose one volley when we fell back, the fire being too hot for us. The rest of our division now rose and poured in a volley.” ~ Orderly Sergeant Perry A. Weaver, Co. B, 74th Ohio

          The friends of Co. G may be anxious to know how we fared in the contest. We had none killed and but eight wounded. None of these wounds are supposed to be dangerous.

 

Sources:

"Colonel Moody," Perrysburg Journal (Ohio), February 18, 1863, pg. 1

"Good Anecdote of Col. Moody," Toledo Daily Commercial (Ohio), March 12, 1863, pg. 3

Letter from First Lieutenant Thomas C. McElravy, Co. G, 74th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Cadiz Democratic Sentinel (Ohio), January 28, 1863, pg. 3

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