Fighting with Axes, Picks, and Sponges with the 6th Ohio Battery

     The 6th Ohio Battery had fought in nearly every major engagement of the Army of the Cumberland’s history, but one private recalled that what the men saw at Franklin exceeded in severity anything they had seen in three years of service.

    “The battery fired every round of ammunition it had, and every shot counted,” observed Private Daniel Hoover. “The ground for 400 yards in front of the brigade was thickly strewn with the dead and wounded. No engagement in the West ever equaled this one for severity. They charged four lines deep and pressed line after line to the very muzzles of our guns. So close were they that in order to load our pieces we had to use axes, picks, and sponge staves to beat them back.”

    Originally part of the Sherman Brigade with the 64th and 65th Ohio regiments, the 6th Ohio Battery at Franklin was detached from its normal home in the 4th Army Corps and placed in the main line to anchor the line of Colonel John Casement’s Second Brigade the Third Division of the 23rd Army Corps. The four guns of the battery were split in two sections to defend each flank of Casement’s brigade; one section found itself placed on the brigade right located just south of the Carter Cotton Gin with the 104th Ohio on the right, the 65th Indiana on the left. A second section was placed in position on the brigade left facing down the Lewisburg Pike between the 124th Indiana of Casement’s brigade and 128th Indiana of Israel Stiles’ brigade.  

Private Hoover’s descriptive letter was originally published in the December 22, 1864 edition of the Summit County Beacon.

 

Captain Aaron P. Baldwin of Akron, Ohio commanded the four bronze Napoleons of the 6th Ohio Battery at the battles of Spring Hill and Franklin. Baldwin reported that when the Confederates charged his guns at Franklin, "we stood by our guns, each of them loaded with double charges of canister and a "dummy." This was an old stocking filled with damaged infantry ammunition. At last when the enemy was within 15 feet of the works, the command was given to fire. A terrible and indescribable roar followed the belching of the guns; it sounded like the crashing of an immense forest tree which had been chopped down when its branches struck the ground. The enemy seemed to be swept out of existence with every discharge and yet they reformed their lines and repeatedly charged to the muzzles of our guns, only to be swept away by the terrible storm of canister."

Camp of 6th Ohio Battery, near Nashville, Tennessee

December 6, 1864

 

Editors Beacon,

          I wrote you some time since at Chattanooga and did not expect to again write you before Hood and Co. had been demolished. But having knocked off some of the corners of that institution at Franklin on November 30th, I will give you s sketch of our campaign to this city.

          We left Pulaski, Tennessee on November 23rd and reached Columbia on the 24th at noon. By night, our lines were established and fortified. On the 26th, the Rebs tried our lines but finding matters well prepared, they flanked us, of course. We had to fall back to meet the new program. At Spring Hill on the 29th, we had a sharp engagement with the enemy’s cavalry who were going after our wagon trains. The Second Division of the 4th Army Corps with the corps artillery kept them at bay until reinforcements came up and by 9 p.m. everything was again on the move.

          At daybreak on the 30th when within 3-1/2 miles of Franklin, the enemy’s cavalry charged the wagon trains. In an instant, the rushing commenced, everyone trying to save himself. Knapsacks and guns were thrown away on every hand. The battery having been informed long before dawn that there was a possibility of falling into the hands of the Johnnies, arrangement was made to cut down the carriages and spike the guns. The gun equipment was issued, and every man kept at his post. When the charge occurred, the column was running at a trot in double column. The battery being at the front when the charge took place was galloped to the left into position and opened fire upon the Rebs, repulsing them and driving them away double quick. The promptness of the battery on this occasion undoubtedly saved the trains. At all events, General [Thomas J.] Wood complimented the battery on the spot as did Captain Lyman Bridges, chief of artillery for the 4th Army Corps for its promptness and effectiveness.

The 6th Ohio Battery utilized four 12-pdr bronze Napoleons at Franklin. Double-charged with canister, they proved supremely deadly at close range. 

          We arrived at Franklin at 10 a.m. on the 30th with the 23rd Army Corps in advance. The lines were formed, and earthworks commenced, but before they could be completed, the Rebs made the attack. The 23rd Army Corps artillery having been crossed to the north bank of the [Harpeth] river upon their arrival, the 4th A.C. artillery was all place on the lines. The 6th Ohio Battery was assigned to General Reilly’s brigade and had the 104th Ohio and the 124th Indiana for support. The ball opened about 3:30 p.m. and kept rolling until long after dark. 

“Artillery is being placed near the gap at the pike and just a few steps away, the 6th Ohio, have placed a two-gun battery. The battery was pulled by mules which have been trained to lie down in action. The leader mule is called May-Me and wears an old felt hat with holes cut in it for her ears to stick through.” ~ Private Adam Weaver, Co. I, 104th Ohio

    They charged four lines deep and pressed line after line to the very muzzles of our guns. So close were they that in order to load our pieces we had to use axes, picks, and sponge staves to beat them back. The 104th fought gallantly and stuck to their work like men. The fact that General Reilly’s brigade alone captured 18 battle flags and several hundred prisoners shows how bloody and close was the engagement. The battery fired every round of ammunition it had, and every shot counted. The ground for 400 yards in front of the brigade was thickly strewn with the dead and wounded. No engagement in the West ever equaled this one for severity, and its but another proof to Mr. Hood of what men can do when fighting for Union and Liberty.

          The officers and men of the battery behaved splendidly, and everyone stood to his post, thus adding another laurel to the many already gathered. The battery suffered lightly considering the length and closeness of the engagement, losing four men wounded. The battery retired about 8 p.m. on the 30th and safely crossed the river, reaching Nashville on December 1st at 8 a.m. Our lines cover Nashville, and we keep pounding away at the Johnnies who have formed their lines some 1,200 yards from us. As yet no one has been hurt in the battery on our front lines.

Do you want to walk the very ground at Franklin that Private Hoover describes in this letter? Readers are encouraged to visit the Battle of Franklin Trust’s Carter House site located at 1140 Columbia Ave in Franklin, Tennessee. Two guns of the 6th Ohio Battery were placed near stop 9 on the walking tour located just east of the Columbia Pike and south of the Carter Cotton Gin. Visitors can see the foundations of the Carter Cotton Gin and walk upon the grounds where the 6th Ohio Battery fought off the surging Confederates of Cockrell’s and Govan’s brigades with “axes, picks, and sponge staves.” A second section of the 6th Ohio Battery fought on the left flank of the 124th Indiana along the Lewisburg Pike. This area is now a residential area but can be located on Lewisburg Avenue about halfway between the intersections of Adams St. and Stewart St. Check out the Battle of Franklin Trust’s website at The Battle of Franklin Trust (boft.org) for more details.

This map from the American Battlefield Trust shows the position of the two sections of the 6th Ohio Battery on either flank of Colonel John Casement's brigade between the Columbia and Lewisburg Pikes. Captain Baldwin wrote that "in all the battles of the war in which the 6th took part, no braver men than those of the 104th Ohio ever supported it or any other battery. Not a man flinched, and the fact that they captured 13 battle flags on the battery front is ample proof of their gallantry." 

Sources:

Letter from Private Daniel Hoover, 6th Ohio Battery, Summit County Beacon (Ohio), December 22, 1864, pg. 3

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