Cut to the Quick: The 104th Ohio Proves Itself at Utoy Creek

     The 104th Ohio Infantry marched onto the field at Utoy Creek, Georgia on August 6th, 1864, soaked after spending the night in a drizzling rain and with the criticism of their fellow Buckeye soldiers stinging in their ears. This occurred the night before when the troops of Milo Hascall’s Second Division of the 23rd Corps were called upon to drive a line of Confederates from the front of General Jacob Cox’s Third Division to which the 104th Ohio was attached.

“In the long campaign through which we had passed, General Cox’s division of our corps frequently found the enemy in its front too strong to be readily dislodged, whereupon our division moved through its lines and drove the enemy before us so easily the wonder was why we have been called upon for assistance,” recalled Captain Wesley S. Thurstin of the 111th Ohio of Hascall’s division. “This treatment of our division had become so marked of late that when upon this movement, we marched through the entrenchments thrown up by Cox’s troops of solidity enough to sustain a siege, the situation was too ridiculous for further patience, and when one soldier shouted, “we are going out to clear Cox’s front as usual,” the cry was taken up and carried from one of the column to the other. This was the soldier protest against injustice, and it did not have to go through the circumlocution office, either. We had been imposed upon. Our soldiers knew it and while they could not resign or ask to be relieved, they could shape public opinion and make it exceedingly uncomfortable for their officers when occasion required. It burned the ears of General Cox himself as he sat among his staff a short distance away, and the gallant rank and file of his command were cut to the quick by the implied sneer at their fighting abilities. From that day forward, we were much more fairly treated. The very next day, indeed, General James W. Reilly’s brigade of that division sacrificed 300 of its men in an ineffectual attempt to carry a very strongly fortified position in their front while we were moving by the flank farther to the right.”

This image depicts the equipment carried by Private James Burson of Co. K of the 104th Ohio. Included is his musket, haversack, canteen, tin cup, cartridge box and cap pouch, his belt, bayonet, and an axe. The axe undoubtedly saw much use during the Atlanta campaign. Burson was a late 1863 recruit into the regiment and later transferred to the 183rd Ohio. 


          The 104th Ohio, along with the 100th Ohio, 112th Illinois and 8th Tennessee (U.S.) constituting Reilly’s First Brigade of the Third Division of the 23rd Corps, had spent August 5th fruitlessly waiting for the 14th Army Corps to arrive so that a combined movement could be made against John Bell Hood’s left flank, a move that was negated by “the pig-headedness of their corps commander General John Palmer who refused to take orders from General Schofield on the plea that it was beneath his dignity to receive orders from an officer of inferior rank,” Private Nelson Pinney of the 104th Ohio related. “General Sherman promptly put him under arrest and General Jefferson C. Davis took his place in command of the 14th Corps. Thus the day was consumed, and the precious time was occupied by the Rebel commander massing troops in our front and building line after line of works, getting battery after battery into position. The lines were near each other so that every now and then stray balls dropped in among us or whizzed harmlessly over our heads. In the afternoon, we moved forward again and took the Rebel front line with scarcely any loss in our division. Here we remained until morning and were pretty thoroughly drenched by a drizzling rain which lasted all night.”

          “Though the fog lay thick around us and completely shut out our vision, we were advanced early on the 6th through the woods to the right and soon came to the Sandtown road where we halted to reform our line for business. Rebel batteries off to the left had full sweep along the road and every little while a shell would come screaming along. At 9 o’clock, the First Brigade was ordered to charge with the 112th Illinois and 104th Ohio on the reserve line. [The brigade advanced with the 100th Ohio on the left, the 8th Tennessee at center, and the 112th Illinois on the right; the 104th Ohio supported the front line.] The brigade advanced obliquely across the road and charged up and over a low ridge swarming with Rebels who retired into a deep ravine and up another heavily wooded ridge to the cover of heavy fortifications. Our boys pushed on close at their heels to the foot of the second ridge when, like the bursting forth of an immense volcano, the Rebel artillery opened from the crest of the ridge and at the same instant heavy masked batteries on the right and left began pouring in a raking crossfire on the boys as they struggled up the ridge to meet only ghastly death at its crest,” Pinney continued.

 

The Battle of Utoy Creek as depicted by Marc Stewart. The 100th Ohio, 8th Tennessee, and 112th Illinois constituted the front line of General James W. Reilly's abortive assault and too heavy casualties, especially the 100th Ohio who lost 140 men out of the 250 that made the charge. In some ways, it was a small-scale Kennesaw Mountain. 

 “On the 6th, our brigade was ordered to assault a part of their works. Our men went at it cheerfully and confident. When within from 20 to 50 yards of their works, we found abatis and obstructions which no brigade, division, or corps could overcome. Being exposed to a fire from an entire brigade of Bate’s division behind their strong works, the men lay down right under their works until ordered to fall back which had to be accomplished by crawling to the edge of the woods some 100 yards, the least exposure of the body was certain death. The colors of the 8th Tennessee [U.S.] were so close to the Rebels that they killed the color sergeant and hauled the colors over their works without getting out of them.” ~ unknown officer, 104th Ohio

 

          “Under this terrible artillery fire, accompanied by the well-aimed missiles from 10,000 rifles, it was impossible to take the Rebel line, so the torn and battered fragments of the charging column fell back to the shelter of a rocky ledge at the foot of the ridge, leaving nearly 400 dead and dying comrades to fall into the enemy’s hand. A detail of eight men from each company of the 104th Ohio and 112th Illinois was now sent forward as skirmishers and advanced up through the woods they came in sight of the Rebel line where, taking shelter behind trees, for nearly two hours they maintained the unequal contest with the Rebel riflemen who swarmed in cover of the Rebel breastworks. One after another of the boys fell before the Rebel fire and soon the skirmish line began to grow thin and a second detail of four men from each company was sent forward to help them,” Pinney related.

The cornet band of the 104th Ohio poses with their instruments as well as the regimental mascot, the dog Harvey who rests at left. Harvey belonged to Lieutenant Daniel M. Stearns and wore a collar that read "I am Lieutenant D.M. Stearns' dog: whose dog are you?" Harvey accompanied the regiment throughout its service in the western theater and helped give the 104th Ohio the nickname of "The Barking Dog Regiment." (Photo courtesy of Marcus McLemore)


          “Then one after another regiments began to defile through a narrow gorge to the ridge in our rear where they formed a new line, after which the skirmishers began to retire, followed closely by a strong force by whom a few of the boys were taken prisoners while 11 of their comrades of the 104th were left on the field dead and fell into the hands of the Rebels who promptly stripped them of their clothing and left their unburied remains to the mercy of the midsummer sun. Sixteen of the boys were carried to the rear wounded; the losses of the 104th were comparatively light compared with some other regiments in the brigade, yet we lost in all of killed, wounded, and captured something over 30 men. [11 killed and 23 wounded by one report] The losses in the First Brigade  amounted to 450 men of whom 140 were lost from the 100th Ohio from a total of less than 300 men. This was the only occasion in which the 104th Ohio or the First Brigade ever made an attack and failed to get there,” Pinney remembered.

 

Harvey's owner was a lieutenant in Co. F, a company "with the disadvantage of having within its ranks an undue proportion of toughs and deadbeats," Pinney recalled. However, the company "rejoiced in the ownership of Harvey and a blue pup, both of which were adopted by the whole regiment." Harvey's collar is currently owned by the Battle of Franklin Trust. (Photo courtesy of Marcus McLemore)

“General Reilly ordered a charge; everyone regarded this as a very unwise action as there was only a skirmish line on either flank to cooperate with us and no support in the rear within a quarter of a mile. But the order must be obeyed. A signal was given and with a yell the line started forward. After penetrating the bush a few rods we came in full view of the Rebels works and were met by a murderous fire from their muskets. Many a brave soldier thus lost his life in trying to fly from danger. After the wounded were safely moved to the rear, the men of the 100th Ohio were formed into line and numbered 61 men; the regiment lost 140 out of the 250 who were engaged.” ~ Cato, Co. K, 100th Ohio

 

          “The terrible experiences of the morning of the 6th of August showed plainly that the strong and well-manned works westward of Atlanta were impregnable by direct assault. In the afternoon, our other two divisions were brought around and formed on the right of our line which was further extended by part of the 14th Corps. Under a flag of truce, a detail of our boys was on the 7th permitted to go over the battleground and bury their dead comrades. They found that the Rebels had stripped them of shoes, hats, pants, coats, and even shirts had been taken. Each was given as decent a burial as the circumstances would permit,” Pinney concluded.

 

The frayed national colors of the 104th Ohio give a battle history of the 23rd Corps including action at Knoxville, Cumberland Gap, eastern Tennessee, Resaca, Atlanta, and Utoy Creek. The regiment later played an important role in the Battle of Franklin. 

Sources:

Thurstin, Wesley S. History of the 111th Regiment, O.V.I. Toledo: Vrooman, Anderson, and Bateman, 1894, pgs. 59-60

Pinney, Nelson A. History of the 104th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry from 1862 to 1865. Akron: Werner & Lohmann, 1886, pgs. 49-51

Letter from unknown officer of the 104th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Toledo Blade (Ohio), August 18, 1864, pg. 2

Letter from Cato, Co. K, 100th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Fremont Journal (Ohio), September 2, 1864, pg. 2

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