It is the Fate of War: The 26th Ohio at Chickamauga

     For the 26th Ohio, the two days of battle at Chickamauga subjected the regiment to more of the misfortunes of war that they had seen in nearly two years of service. As part of Colonel George P. Buell’s brigade, the regiment arrived on the Union right flank around 3:30 the afternoon of September 19th and stumbled into a supremely confusing situation. Union troops were surging back and forth over the Viniard Farm and the 26th Ohio soon was caught up the maelstrom as attack followed counterattack in this sector of the field. At the end of the day, the Groundhog Regiment had been badly mauled, some companies losing three-quarters of their numbers in the see-saw action that evening.

          The following day, the 26th Ohio again found itself thrust into the furnace when the regiment was caught marching north as part of General Thomas J. Wood’s movement at just the moment that General James Longstreet launched his devastating assault on the Union center. The regiment was caught in marching column with their right flank totally exposed; the 26th Ohio gamely turned from column into battle line and in a few minutes of furious fighting tried to stem the tide before being driven from the field.

          Th impact on the regiment was devastating. “They took into the fight 335 guns and at this time can muster but 128,” Professor J.A. Porter noted a few days after the battle. “They lost twelve officers and 195 men. Co. H went in the fight with 24 guns and you will observe by referring to the list of casualties that but two came our unhurt. What are left of the men of the regiment are in excellent spirits notwithstanding the terrible ordeal through which they have passed.”

          Today’s post dives into the 26th Ohio’s experiences at Chickamauga through the words of three of its soldiers. Corporal James A. Trehearne of Co. K of the 26th Ohio had left the regiment at 8 o’clock on the morning of the 20th and did not know of the disaster that overtook the regiment a mere three hours later. Upon arriving in Chattanooga, Trehearne wrote the following letter to Major William H. Squires who was home in Ohio on recruiting duty at the time of Chickamauga and as such, missed out on the battle. Treahearne only knew of the fighting on the 19th, but that was tale enough to tell. His letter was originally published in the October 8, 1863 edition of the Madison County Democrat from London, Ohio.

Further details of the September 19th battle are shared in the second section which discusses the death of Captain William H. Ross of Co. C with quotes from Lieutenant Colonel William H. Young who commanded the 26th Ohio during the battle.

          The final letter featured was written by Captain William Baldwin of Co. G who, like Corporal Trehearne, wrote this letter to his commanding officer Colonel Edward P. Fyffe who was home in Urbana, Ohio and missed Chickamauga. Baldwin’s letter provides a fine description of the chaos that enveloped the regiment on September 20, 1863. Baldwin’s letter first saw publication in the October 14, 1863 edition of the Urbana Union.

 

The tattered fragment of the 26th Ohio's flag in an image dating from about 1880 attests to the ferocity of numerous battles in which the men of the Groundhog Regiment fought during the war. The two days at Chickamauga, however, were the worst of the regiment's lengthy service. 

Corporal James A. Trehearne, Co. K

Chattanooga, Tennessee

September 20, 1863

          Knowing that you are deeply interested in the old 26th and anxious to hear how they conducted themselves in the battle of yesterday, I will try and give you the particulars so far as I have learned them. I was out to the front this morning until 8 o’clock and was much hurried consequently and could not learn all of the particulars. General Wood’s division was engaged about an hour during the afternoon [of September 19th] and our regiment lost 185 men.

          The fighting was terrible. The Rebels captured our battery but the 26th retook it after a severe hand to hand fight. The boys clubbed their guns of the Rebels and fought like mad men. Once our brigade was confused. General Wood in endeavoring to rally them had a horse shot beneath him. He sprang from his saddle and with hat in one hand and sword in the other called on them to follow. With a loud huzza, they obeyed and such was their impetuosity that the enemy have way. The fight at Stones River was light in comparison to yesterday.

The recipient of Trehearne's letter: Major William H. Squires, 26th Ohio

          Longstreet’s corps was engaged. They did their best to win, but our boys held their ground this morning when I left. They were cheerful and seemed confident of success. They said if we whip them here, the war is soon over; if they whip us, it lasts twelve months longer. The company mustered eleven men last evening, but I suppose that several of the absent ones are only lost. There was scarcely any straggling yesterday. The boys fought in squads independently when they could not find their commands.

          Captain James R. Warner has just returned from the front and reports we are losing ground; hope it is untrue. The wagons are crossing the river and every precaution is being taken for the worst if it should come, but I still think we will be victorious.

 

The death of Captain William H. Ross of Company C struck at the hearts of many within the regiment. “One of the very best officers in the command and one of those firm, reliable men always ready for any duty,” Captain Ross had the previous fall received the news of the death of his son while the 26th Ohio was on the march from Alabama to Louisville, Kentucky during Bragg’s Kentucky campaign. The regiment was at a halt on the road and mail being distributed when Captain Ross received a letter which gave details of the Battle of Cedar Mountain, Virginia which had been fought on August 9, 1862. The letter included he casualty lists for the 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in which his son Joseph Ross was a lieutenant. “The writer well remembers the iron composure with which he received the news of the death of his son,” a comrade remembered. “The first name on the list was his son. His only words were, “It is the fate of war; the fate of war,” often repeated. He little thought, perhaps, that the same fate would soon be his.”

26th Ohio reunion in 1875

Captain Ross was shot through the lungs on September 19th and died on the afternoon of the 20th.  Lieutenant Colonel William H. Young shared with Captain Ross’ widow the circumstances of his end.

“For many long hours, the battle raged with varying success over the sanguinary field. Captain Ross’ company, the color company, had lost 27 out of 38 men, but the fortunes of the day were desperate and one more charge must be made. My own and two or three badly shattered regiments were called upon for the perilous undertaking. We were to charge across an open field upon the Rebels lines posted under the complete cover of heavy timber. The charge was gallantly made, though under a murderous fire. Captain Ross was by my side, conspicuous among the host, cheering on his men and contributing not a little to the enthusiasm of the moment. As the Rebel line wavered, they gave a parting volley and fled. Your husband’s sword was high up and his voice joining the cheer of victory when the messenger of death reached him and his life’s blood made scared another spot of Southern soil.”

 

Captain William Baldwin, Co. G

Headquarters First Brigade, First Division, 21st Army Corps

September 27, 1863

          All that I can tell you about the late battle of Chickamauga is that our brigade was engaged at about 3 o’clock on Saturday afternoon the 19th instant and fighting in an open field, we held our ground the balance of the day and all night, sustaining two desperate bayonet charges and one night attack during that time. Our position on Saturday afternoon was on the right.

From the time we first went into action until the fighting ceased in the night, the roll was musketry was incessant, the enemy killing and wounding fully one of our officers and men. If we may rely on the reports of the prisoners we captured, the effect of our firing was still more deadly to the enemy. They were partially covered by timber so that we could not estimate accurately the number of their killed and wounded. Once during the afternoon, we were compelled by a heavy charge on our front and by a terrible enfilading fire from the right where we had no support whatsoever to fall back in some confusion. In doing so, three of Estep’s guns were captured but this state of affairs did not last long for our boys rallied promptly and retook the ground and the guns.

The recipient of Captain Baldwin's letter: Colonel Edward P. Fyffe, 26th Ohio


About 3 o’clock in the morning, we were ordered to move to the left which we did for about two miles and occupied a position near the center of the line. When the battle opened at about 9 o’clock Sunday morning, our front lines were about 300 yards from those of the enemy. While our brigade was making a movement by the left flank in order to make room on our right for a division of McCook’s corps and before that division could move up to the ground we were leaving, the enemy charged on our line.

Our troops fired on them with tremendous effect, but their numbers were so superior to ours that they were not checked, but came on yelling like so many devils, filling up the space we had just vacated. Of course, we were compelled to fall back to prevent our flank from being turned. There was no time to make new dispositions of the troops, and the enemy having so skillfully and rapidly massed his men so as to have at least double our number on our front, the retreat became general. It was, however, executed in good order so far as the First Brigade was concerned. We fell back to Missionary Ridge five miles from the battleground and held the enemy at bay until Monday night when we silently fell back to our present position in front of Chattanooga.

 

Sources:

Letter from Corporal James Albert Trehearne, Co. K, 26th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Madison County Democrat (Ohio), October 8, 1863, pg. 2

Letter from Lieutenant Colonel William H. Young, 26th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Mahoning Register (Ohio), October 22, 1863, pg. 3

Letter from Captain William Baldwin, Co. G, 26th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Urbana Union (Ohio), October 14, 1863, pg. 2

Letter from Professor J.A. Porter, Urbana Union (Ohio), October 7, 1863, pg. 3

“The Twenty-Sixth Ohio,” Urbana Union (Ohio), September 30, 1863, pg. 2

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