The 44th Ohio and the Fight for Lewisburg

    The men of the 36th and 44th Ohio regiments were just settling down to breakfast in their camp at Lewisburg, Virginia on the morning of May 23, 1862, when a clattering of musketry from the picket line accompanied by the booming of cannon announced that Henry Heth’s Confederates were on the attack.

    Our men immediately formed in line of battle and the work now began in earnest, which continued for nearly one hour and of as hard fighting as was ever done in so short a space of time,” Chaplain Thomas P. Childs of the 44th Ohio recalled. “The enemy opened with rifled cannon, aiming at some companies who were pressing over to the line of battle, in which one noble boy was killed, directly in the rear of our wagon yard. But most of their shots appeared to be aimed at our commissary and the wagon train which was being put in order. The shells buzzed over our heads and burst all around us for 15-20 minutes in a manner somewhat new to most of us. but no damage was done to the train except one mule killed belonging to the 36th Ohio and a shell passed through the stable, tearing the commissary clerk’s saddle to pieces, and a piece of it lodged in the feed trough while he was putting the bridle on his horse.”

The band of the 44th Ohio posed for this studio shot in early 1862 while the regiment was in western Virginia. In the fall of 1862, the regiment pulled out of the region and was reassigned to Kentucky where on October 20, 1862 the entire band was mustered out of service on orders of the War Department.  The rest of the 44th Ohio remained in Kentucky and eventually took part in Burnside's campaign into eastern Tennessee in the summer of 1863. The following January, the regiment re-enlisted and converted to cavalry. 

    Thomas Perry Childs was born January 8, 1817 in Woodstock, Connecticut. Reverend Childs moved to Troy, Ohio and in 1840 he married Altazera Eaton with whom he had six children. At the outbreak of the war, he was serving as a Baptist clergyman. He was appointed chaplain of the 44th Ohio Infantry October 10, 1861 and was discharged November 6, 1862. After his wartime service, Reverend Childs returned to Troy where he continued to serve in ministry until the mid-1870s when continued health problems led him to resign his pastorate. In 1878, he was awarded a patent for his remedy for catarrh known as Childs’ Catarrh Specific, a remedy he developed to cure his own struggles with the disease. He died June 19, 1901, at Troy, Ohio and is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Troy.

    His letter describing the Battle of Lewisburg was originally published in the June 5, 1862 edition of the Troy Times.

 

This postwar veterans badge for the 44th Ohio Infantry/8th Ohio Cavalry isn't a unique piece; the 44th Ohio Infantry converted to cavalry in late 1862 and re-enlisted as the 8th Ohio Cavalry in early 1864. The 44th Ohio originally left the state in 1861 armed with a mix of .69 caliber U.S. rifle muskets and Enfields for the flank companies; it was later rearmed with all Enfields. The 44th Ohio was the only Ohio infantry regiment to convert to cavalry during the war. 

Lewisburg, Virginia

May 24, 1862

    If you received my last letter you have, ere this can reach you, laid before your readers a description of our march from Gauley Bridge to this place, 62 miles, and within nine miles of White Sulphur Springs. We have received no Troy papers since we left Gauley and consequently are ignorant about our own communications, also locals at home. Yesterday morning we were attacked between five and six in the morning while our breakfasts were being cooked or smoking on the table, the Rebels expecting no doubt to create a panic, get up a stampede, walk in and help themselves to a warm breakfast which they probably needed very much.

    But in an incredibly short time, our division of Cox’s brigade, or two regiments of it, the 44th Ohio and 36th Ohio, under command of Colonel George Crook were ready, marched down through town, met the enemy 3,000 strong with eleven pieces of artillery and a reserve of one regiment. Our men immediately formed in line of battle, or that part of them who had reached the scene and the work now began in earnest, which continued for nearly one hour and of as hard fighting as was ever done in so short a space of time.

    The enemy opened with rifled cannon, aiming at some companies who were pressing over to the line of battle, in which one noble boy was killed, directly in the rear of our wagon yard. But most of their shots appeared to be aimed at our commissary and the wagon train which was being put in order. The shells buzzed over our heads and burst all around us for 15-20 minutes in a manner somewhat new to most of us, but no damage was done to the train except one mule killed belonging to the 36th Ohio and a shell passed through the stable, tearing the commissary clerk’s saddle to pieces, and a piece of it lodged in the feed trough while he was putting the bridle on his horse.

Chaplain Thomas P. Childs, 44th O.V.I.

    The battle was now raging in a most terrible manner all along the line and the dead and wounded were being brought back. Many of us began to think that our men must certainly fall back, as we could see a vast multitude coming over the hill upon them. But during the entire engagement not a man or a company faltered, and at the expiration of 45 minutes the enemy began to fall back.

    The 44th Ohio boys who had the right wing had just before charged bayonets and taken four pieces of the enemy’s battery, and then they drove everything in haste before them, their Minie balls making terrible havoc among the Rebels. The retreating foe was pursued to Green River Bridge, which the flying Rebels had fired, and it was now in flames. There they found two more cannon tumbled into the river, making six pieces captured, four of them 12 pounders. [One of those captured pieces was sent home to Springfield by the 44th Ohio and is now on display at Springfield Heritage Center.]

    The killed and wounded of the Union forces, considering the circumstances, is exceedingly small, yet it will be a morning and a day never to be forgotten by us here, the citizens of Lewisburg, but especially to several families at home who had husbands, sons, and brothers in the 44th and 36th Ohio regiments. I have only the time and strength to write out the casualties in our regiment. The 36th Ohio regiment had six killed, one dead since, 29 wounded and six missing. We suppose the missing of both regiments are taken prisoners, as they were out on picket duty the night previous. Colonel Crook of the 36th Ohio Regiment, acting brigadier general, was slightly wounded in the foot, but did not stop him a moment. None but just such officers and men as were engaged this morning are at all adequate to the work they have to do.

    It was a big job with less than half the force they had to meet, but they went in most splendid order and accomplished the work in a very short time, only occupying a short space before breakfast. It is said that two of our men were shot dead as they were coming back through town to find the surgeons to have their wounds dressed. Of one thing I can speak positively, while riding about town and into tents looking after the wounded and dying, I heard three or four shots that must have been fired in town. About this I shall be able to speak more definitely soon, as an investigation is going on.

Adjutant John Gilmer Telford, 44th O.V.I.

    The Rebels suffered most terribly. Already 73 dead have been brought in and over 100 wounded, and a large portion of the wounded are, according to the statement of our surgeons who have spent much of the day in dressing their wounds, so badly injured that but little hope is entertained for their recovery. I counted 35 of their dead brought in and laid on the floor of the Presbyterian Church and still they are coming in and dying every hour or two in the hospital and private houses. It is a most terrible sight and of course the field of battle, after the struggle was over, presented scenes new and horrible beyond all description to many of us.

    One thing attracted my attention with peculiar force and interest. Not a man of the Union force, however badly wounded or even in dying agony, did I hear complain or murmur, but great lamentation and bitter curses on the leaders of the rebellion greeted my ear from a large number of the dying Rebels on the field of battle, as I gently remonstrated with them and advised them to pray for themselves, and told them that “vengeance belonged to God,” and that he would in due time attend to their leaders, one poor fellow of noble countenance turned over his head and said, “Sir, can you pray for men in arms against this good government?” Certainly, sir, certainly! As I knelt with him in prayer, he appeared very much affected and in a moment after, he died.

    We have just obtained the information that the battery taken in the fight here is the identical one brought to bear against General Cox’s men at Giles Court House. Our sick and wounded and the prisoners taken, together, with guns, plunder, etc. are now about starting for Gauley Bridge. They are a motley looking crowd with here and there a fine-looking man. There was one lieutenant colonel and a number of captains and noncommissioned officers. The major of the famous 22nd Virginia Regiment was fatally wounded and died yesterday.

    This is a strong Secesh town. When we first entered it, there was only one man of property and influence who dared openly and constantly to stand up for the Union. But two things saved him from being mobbed and his property destroyed. His own staunch integrity and Christian character, but most of all, his wife went strong for secession. Otherwise, his house would have been burned long ago and he either sent in irons to Richmond or forced into the Rebel service. But the kind treatment bestowed upon the citizens by our troops had a most beneficial and soothing effect. This, in connection with the barbarity of General Henry Heth planting his cannon in town and bringing on a battle without giving the citizens notice, has opened many eyes to the diabolical nature of this rebellion. The women and children were frightened almost to death, but they have become a little calmer and many of them with tears pray for protection.

 

The regimental colors of the 44th Ohio Volunteer Infantry proudly displays their battle honors with the fight at Lewisburg prominently displayed. It wasn't the regiment's first time under fire, but it marked the regiment's first significant engagement during the war. 

Source:

Letter from Chaplain Thomas Perry Childs, 44th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Troy Times (Ohio), June 5, 1862, pg. 2


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