Glory and Honor Stamped on the Stump of My Leg: A Voice from the 26th Ohio

          Sand.

          Reading this letter written by Private Ashbel G. Beer of the 26th Ohio reminds one of a quality that Civil War soldiers prized greatly in their fellow soldiers, the quality of having “sand” or grit. A firmness of purpose, and the pluck to withstand any challenge sent your way. Bear’s letter displays that quality in spades.

The Ashland County, Ohio native was struck in the left leg at the Battle of Stones River after firing just one round at the enemy. “I had raised myself partially up for the purpose of getting on my back so that I could load when the ball passed through my right pant and boot leg and struck my left leg some distance above the ankle, shattering the bone all to atoms,” he wrote. “Next day, Dr. Stimmel took off my leg below the knee. That was the unkindest cut of all not because it hurt me, for I did not feel the operation in the least, but then, you see, it makes it so devilish unhandy getting about. People here tell me it is glorious to have a leg taken off when done in the country’s cause. Some of them preach up glory and honor to me sometimes till I almost fancy I see the words stamped on the poor stump of a leg left. But be that as it may, glory or no glory, my leg is off and I must be content. I look forward with anxiety to the time when I can stand on the street corner with my basket of peanuts at 5 cents a glass and apples five for a dime. Won’t you buy?”

Ashbel Beer would be honorably discharged August 9, 1863 and would survive the war, becoming the first vice president of the 26th Ohio regimental reunion association. His missive written home to his friend Rod first appeared the third page of the March 12, 1863 edition of the Ashland Times.

 

This unidentified Union veteran posed for the photographer after losing his right leg to amputation. Private Ashable Bear lost his left leg but within seven weeks was walking around the hospital wards at Covington with crutches. The prospect of being able to make a living in an age where manual labor was a necessity for nearly everyone must have been daunting for our wounded veterans, North or South. 


Covington, Kentucky

February 18, 1863

          Here goes again for another letter although I have not received an answer to my last written before we left Nashville for Murfreesboro. Since then, I have been engaged somewhat in the art of war, war in reality and in earnest. Yes sir, I have been in a battle, one of the hardest fought and most desperately contested as well as one of the most disastrous of the whole war; disastrous to me at any rate as well as thousands of others. The Rebs got a big joke off on my left leg. I like jokes as well as any man can, but this suits me a little too well.

I was wounded quite early in the fight and just after I had fired my first and only round. I had raised myself partially up for the purpose of getting on my back so that I could load when the ball passed through my right pant and boot leg and struck my left leg some distance above the ankle, shattering the bone all to atoms. The boys (Washington Burgett and France) carried me back to a hospital across the river. The Rebels commenced shelling the hospital soon after, doing no damage except to a horse which was rendered unsaleable by having his head blown off and being otherwise badly damaged. They then charged us, taking us all prisoners (about 200) but our artillery drove them off without giving them time to parole us. They took with them all that were able to walk. I laid on the ground all night.

Next day, Dr. Stimmel took off my leg below the knee. That was the unkindest cut of all not because it hurt me, for I did not feel the operation in the least, but then, you see, it makes it so devilish unhandy getting about. People here tell me it is glorious to have a leg taken off when done in the country’s cause. Some of them preach up glory and honor to me sometimes till I almost fancy I see the words stamped on the poor stump of a leg left. But be that as it may, glory or no glory, my leg is off and I must be content. I look forward with anxiety to the time when I can stand on the street corner with my basket of peanuts at 5 cents a glass and apples five for a dime. Won’t you buy?

Two unidentified Union veterans from Columbus, Ohio pose years after the war with their G.A.R. hats, ribbons, and regalia. The soldier at left is wearing a ladder badge denoting his regiment upon his right breast while the soldier at right wears a star-shaped Grand Army of the Republic badge.


Well, there is one thing I am proud of and that is that my brigade was the only one of that vast army that did not fall back an inch. Our division saved the most disastrous defeat to the whole army. The troops of General Wood’s division covered themselves with glory. I saw one of our doctors at Nashville before I came away and he told me that the loss of the regiment was 110 killed and wounded, besides 18 we lost at LaVergne four days before. The loss of the division was 1,199.

It is seven weeks today since the battle and I find myself getting along finely; leg nearly healed, can just walk across the floor on crutches. The government furnishes limbs to those who lose them in the service. That is an advantage we have over the brave men who fought the Revolution. Then just to see what perfect limbs. They are nicer to look at than one’s natural limb, but I have a notion that the same amount of confidence cannot be placed in them as in our own, but I have seen a man dance with one.

We have a good hospital here. It is the best I have ever seen- clean, well-arranged, and well-ventilated. We have iron bedsteads, good mattresses, and plenty of good clean clothing and good doctors withal.

Private John W. January of the 14th Illinois Cavalry displays the stumps of his two legs and the prosthetic legs that replaced them. "The government furnishes limbs to those who lose them in the service," Ashable Bear wrote. "They are nicer to look at than one's natural limb, but I have a notion that the same amount of confidence cannot be placed in them as in our own." 


How is Oliversburgh? What kind of times do you have, and what kind don’t you have? Where is Captain Seaton? Have you heard from Company D lately? I have not heard from them since the battle. What do you think of the war and the Negro? If it had not been for General Johnson acting the traitor or coward or both, we would have gained a most glorious victory at Murfreesboro. General Rosecrans is the man for the position he occupied. There is a not a man in his command but has the fullest confidence in him. He walked around among the men on the day of the fight just like some old pap. He never dodged a ball. His chief of staff Colonel Garesche was killed immediately in the rear of our brigade and just in sight.

 

Yours,

A.G. Bear

Co. D, 26th Regiment, O.V.I.

 

Source:

Letter from Private Ashable G. Bear, Co. D, 26th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Ashland Times (Ohio), March 12, 1863, pg. 3

Comments

  1. If ever there was a proud name for a citizen soldier, it is Ashable Bear.

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