The Enemy Certainly Used Us Very Hard: The 6th Ohio and Chickamauga

     The following letter, reproduced from Ebenezer Hannaford’s regimental history of the 6th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, was written by Second Lieutenant James F. Meline of Co. H. I arrived at Meline’s authorship through a process of elimination. Hannaford simply heads this missive as “an officer’s letter” and states that it was “a private letter from one of its bravest and most intelligent subalterns” but gives no other clues. In the middle of the letter, the author mentions the wounding of Captain Tinker who is referred to as “my captain.” That would be Captain Henry H. Tinker of Co. H who badly wounded and left for dead, only to return to the regiment as a paroled man ten days later. So, the letter was written by one of Co. H’s lieutenants- a quick check of the state roster for the 6th O.V.I. shows that the company had two lieutenants at that time- First Lieutenant Joseph L. Antram and Second Lieutenant James F. Meline. There were no other clues as to the author’s identity within the body of the letter, so how to determine which of these two men wrote it?

One clue lay in the heading of the letter. It was written in Chattanooga, Tennessee on November 6, 1863. Studying the state roster a bit more, Lieutenant Antram resigned his commission shortly after Chickamauga, October 29, 1863, to be exact. In theory, Antram should have been back on the road to Ohio a week before this letter was written, which means he shouldn’t have been in Chattanooga on November 6th. However, it’s possible the date in the roster indicates the date his resignation was dated; it doesn’t necessarily mean that is the day he left the army. Lieutenant Meline’s record shows, however, that he remained with the regiment until it mustered out in June 1864. That said, Meline was the more likely of the two officers to have been in Chattanooga on November 6th, so a point in favor of Meline.

It turns out the decisive clue lay in the very first line of the letter: “Dear Father.” A quick check of Find-A-Grave led me to Joseph L. Antram, who was born in February 1842 in Clinton Co., Ohio and died May 7, 1914, at the Old Soldiers’ Home in Leavenworth, Kansas. His mother Hester is listed as moving with Antram to Kansas by 1870, so clicking on her name revealed the fact that her husband Joseph Antram died on May 30, 1862, in Clinton County, Ohio at the age of 66 years. This made it very unlikely that the author was Antram as his father was deceased by November 1863 and it does not appear that his mother remarried. To confirm that it was Meline, I checked to find that Meline’s father, James Florant Meline, didn’t pass away until 1873. Since Meline’s father was the only one alive in November 1863, that fact firmly establishes Meline’s authorship.

Now that you understand how I arrived at Meline’s authorship, it gives me great pleasure to present his superb account of the Battle of Chickamauga. Special thanks to Dave Powell for his exceptional book Maps of Chickamauga which made it possible for me to trace the fortunes of the 6th Ohio in that very confusing battle.

 

The foundation of the 6th Ohio was the pre-war militia unit the Guthrie Gray Battalion of Cincinnati. Many of the 6th Ohio's officers served with the Guthrie Grays and when the men went to war in the spring of 1861, they wore their sharp-looking gray and black militia uniforms topped with gray and black shakos. By the time of Chickamauga, the fancy uniforms were long gone replaced by the standard blue uniform of a western Federal, but the regiment still had the nickname of the Guthrie Grays. This set of regimental colors belonging to the 6th Ohio Volunteer Infantry resides today with the Ohio History Connection in Columbus. 

Camp at Chattanooga, Tennessee

November 6, 1863

My dear father,

          Now for a description of our part in the Battle of Chickamauga. On the 18th of September, our regiment had a severe skirmish with the enemy near Crawfish Springs, losing one man killed and another wounded, but holding our ground until reinforcements came up. About 12 o’clock that night we started and marched until morning when we reached a position to the left of Wood’s division on the Chickamauga. Here we made coffee and got a few minutes’ rest, after which our brigade was ordered to make a reconnaissance, which was done but without finding the Rebels in force very near us.

          About 9 a.m., we came across Baird’s division and were about to return when a heavy musketry fire was opened in the direction of his advanced brigade then attacking and driving a detachment of the enemy which had crossed the Chickamauga a short distance above Reed’s bridge. Our brigade was formed in line, ready to assist him if needed; but the firing subsiding, we retraced our steps toward our own division. On our way back, we met great numbers of Thomas’ troops going to the left and wondered what it meant. We had scarcely retaken our places with the division when we were ordered to the left. Our brigade was formed in two lines- our right resting on Reynolds’ division and our left on Cruft’s brigade; the 24th Ohio and 36th Indiana forming the first line, the 23rd Kentucky and 84th Illinois the second, and our regiment as reserve behind the battery.

          The first line had been engaged but a few minutes when the Rebels began flanking us on the right and the 6th Ohio with the battery was ordered to extend the front line in that direction. As soon as we were formed, as indicated with the 36th Indiana on our left and the battery upon our right, the Rebels made their appearance advancing against us in two columns.  The battery promptly opened with canister; at the same time our regiment met them with such deadly volleys that they were soon driven from the field. They returned, but with no better success than before. The regiment remained some time after all its ammunition was expended and, on being relieved by another one, was complimented by General Palmer for its gallantry and steadiness. By him, we were ordered to a position in the rear of the 19th Indiana Battery where we could get ammunition and, having refilled our cartridge boxes, were again ready for action. [This first engagement would have been with the right flank regiments of General John C. Brown’s brigade including the 18th and 45th Tennessee regiments in the woods just east/southeast of Brotherton Field; the 6th Ohio would have deployed to the left of the 36th Indiana just south of Brotherton Road.]

General Joseph J. Reynolds

          General Reynolds was at the battery and as Colonel Anderson moved our regiment to reoccupy its original position, he asked the colonel to remain and support it, but Anderson replied that his orders required him to report again to General Palmer and we kept on. Reynolds said he feared we would lose the battery as it was entirely unsupported, and all his own regiments were in action. We had just entered the woods on our way back to the first line when we saw our troops giving way [likely the 75th Indiana] and one of Reynolds’ aides just then galloping up the colonel and begging him to come and save the battery, the regiment about-faced and double-quicked back. Before we fairly got into position, the battery became engaged and I saw the Rebels advancing upon it in four columns. The men at the guns worked well but fired somewhat too high. I watched the cannoneers and horses fall, picked off one by one by the unerring shots of Rebel sharpshooters, and saw that, as the regiments on our right were broken, there was nothing to prevent us from being flanked. [The action Meline is describing occurred in Brotherton Field around 3:45 p.m. on September 19th. The two Federal brigades on the right of the 6th Ohio, Colonel Edward King’s, and Colonel George Dick’s, had been broken by a flank attack staged by two brigades of General Bushrod Johnson’s division, that of General John Gregg and Colonel John Fulton’s brigade. See “Mighty Tempest of War” for a view of the action in Dick’s brigade from Captain James Carnahan of the 86th Indiana. Also see “This Dreadful Carnage” for a view of the action near Brotherton Field written by a Confederate soldier with the 58th Alabama.] 

          The last round of shot was fired and we heard the command, “Limber to the front,” but still we lay there, determined to save those guns. The Rebels had nearly surrounded us, but the battery, all except one piece, was safely retreating, when we received the order to raise and fire. We did so, and checked the charging enemy for a short minute, and then “changed front to the rear on the tenth company” and fired a volley in that direction. We were now flanked on both sides while the Rebels were bearing down upon us in front. Things looked desperate, and I began to think of Libby. Reynolds, who still remained with us, had his horse shot under him and at last ordered us to retreat double quick.

          As soon as we got out of this box, we reformed behind a rail fence and soon afterward were joined by the 9th Indiana, a splendid fighting regiment, from our own division. Reynolds then ordered us forward and forward we went in fine style, assisted by the 9th Indiana. Our advance was short, however, for we no sooner cleared a little stretch of woodland than we were met by a most murderous fire from both flank and front and were obliged to fall back in some confusion. Rallying, however, as soon as we could, we fell back slowly, firing at every step. Here our loss was heavy- many privates killed and wounded. Colonel Nicholas Anderson, Captain Henry Tinker (my captain), and Captain Jules Montagnier wounded, and Lieutenant Jonathan Holmes captured. It was now nearly dark. We were relieved by Jefferson C. Davis’ division which had arrived not long before and received General Reynolds thanks for what we had done, and by his orders then reported to our own division which we found badly used up. How we suffered that night no one knows. Water could not be found; the Rebels had possession of the Chickamauga and we had to do without. Few of us had blankets, and the night was very cold. All looked with anxiety for the coming of dawn, for although we had given the enemy a rough handling, he had certainly used us very hard. [This final engagement for the 6th Ohio on the 19th occurred between 4:30-5:00 o’clock along Dyer’s Road north of Brotherton Field. It was a confusing fight against a portion of William Bate’s brigade, Fulton’s Tennesseans, and Alabama troops from Colonel James Sheffield’s brigade.]

"Fight today as well as you did yesterday and we shall whip them!" By the morning of September 20th, Rosecrans had been driving himself hard for weeks and was on the verge of physical collapse. "I did not like the way he looked," Lieutenant Meline recalled, "but of course felt cheered and did not allow myself to think of any such thing as defeat."


          At last morning came and found us all standing to arms, ready for whatever might happen. About 6 o’clock, Rosecrans made his appearance riding along the line and looking worn and very weary. “Fight today,” he said, “as well as you did yesterday and we shall whip them!” I did not like the way he looked, but of course felt cheered, and did not allow myself to think of any such thing as defeat. About half an hour later, our brigade was moved a little to the right and front of the position we had occupied during the night and ordered to throw up log breastworks as quick as possible, which we did, with heavy skirmishing close in front and an occasional shell to remind us of our danger. By dint of an hour and a half of hard work, we had succeeded in throwing up very nice works when we were superseded by another brigade and ordered out into an open field on our left. [Kelly Field] Being intended as a reserve, we formed on the second line but alas, we were hardly in position before the Rebels recommenced the attack and we were ordered still further to the left where we formed under a hot fire of musketry in the rear of the 18th U.S. Regulars.

          The Rebels came on in four columns in splendid style, though our artillery was doing terrible execution upon them. But as one gray line would go down, another would be thrown forward in its place so that, notwithstanding they fought well, the Regulars were overpowered. Our brigade was then ordered to advance and simultaneously, a battery of Napoleons got a crossfire on the Rebels and poured such a storm of canister into their ranks that they had to fall back, badly cut up.

Colonel William Grose
36th Indiana

          Our brigade was again moved and formed a little to the right of a wooded hill and somewhat in advance of it with the Lafayette road between us and it. There were woods on most of our front, and through them the 84th Illinois was deployed in line of battle; their right connecting with the line formed by the 18th U.S. and Cruft’s and Hazen’s brigades, which line was almost at right angles with ours. Being the left of the regiment, my company was placed at the road. I walked forward a little to reconnoiter our surroundings and to my astonishment saw the Rebels forming scarcely 200 yards from us on our immediate front. I counted four columns of them and saw two generals riding along the lines encouraging the men. I immediately returned, found our brigade commander [Colonel William Grose], and reported the condition of affairs, but he said they were our troops and I could not convince him to the contrary; he said they must be our troops, because there was at least one line ahead of ours.

          I went back to my company and detailed two men, splendid shots both of them, to go forward and if possible, pick off the officers that I had seen riding up and down the Rebel lines. About ten minutes afterward, Colonel Grose ordered two of Lieutenant Cushing’s guns to the road on the left of our regiment and the Rebels, opening a battery on us simultaneously, the firing became brisk. Another battery to the rear of our line got excited, and began playing upon us with canister, apparently mistaking us for the enemy. We were thus under a heavy fire from both front and rear, and naturally hugged Mother Earth very closely. This was the hottest place your humble servant was ever in. The battery continued to play on us, notwithstanding our color bearers bravely rose up and waved our flags to show the artillerists who we were, and it was not until Major Erwin sent back one of the men upon his horse that the firing ceased. During this cannonading we lost a number of men and officers, including Captain James Bense and Lieutenant George Cormany wounded. Our regiment was much demoralized by this; they said they could stand the Rebel fire, but when it came to being shot by our own men, it was played out.

          After this we were again moved, this time nearer the breastworks and another regiment took our place. It was now about half an hour since I had seen the Rebels forming in our front and I expected every minute to see them come on a charge through the woods; and as we got into position, sure enough they began the advance, coming up furiously four lines deep. The regulars were driven back pell-mell and we waited for the troops said to be in front of us to fall back, but in vain, there were none there. Tramp, tramp, tramp, we heard a heavy body of troops come marching through the underbrush and leaves, but nothing could be seen until suddenly a gray line burst into view, and, before we were aware of it, fired into us a terrific volley. Fortunately, we were lying down at the time so that few were hurt. Then began the game in real earnest, the two lines scarcely 50 yards apart, and each firing as fast as possible. But how long could our single weak line stand against four solid columns? We were compelled to fall back and did so in some confusion. [The engagement occurred just north of Kelly Field along the Lafayette Road where Grose’s brigade was attacked by two Confederate brigades around 10:30 on the morning of the 20th. The two brigades from Breckinridge’s division included Marcus Stovall’s and Daniel W. Adams; please see “A Rebel View of Chickamauga” to read an account from an officer of the 47th Georgia of Stovall’s brigade which describes this action.] 

Colonel Louis H. Waters, 84th Illinois


       It was now after 12 o’clock. In falling back, my company became separated from the others, but as soon as we were out of range, I formed what I had left and started to find the regiment. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack- nothing was known of it. However, I found Colonel Louis Waters [84th Illinois] who had been cut off from the brigade with a fragment of his regiment and reported to him, forming my company on the left of his detachment which comprised about 50 men. Colonel Waters formed with a brigade which had not yet been engaged; the Rebels were still driving our men, and in a short time we were again in action. We fought for a few minutes and yet, were holding our own, when up came a brigade of the Reserve Corps and relieved us, whereupon we were ordered to fall back and soon joined the retreating columns of what seemed to be our whole army. By this time, it was nearly 4 o’clock. We had not eaten anything since early in the morning and had been without water all day. The Rebels drew off about the same time we did. If this Sunday evening, we had only had two divisions of fresh troops, what a splendid victory would have been won!

          We retired to Rossville that night where I rejoined what was left of the regiment- about 150 men- and with the army, remained in line of battle on Mission Ridge all next day and on Monday night fell back within our lines at Chattanooga. Among those who fought with great gallantry, I noticed several Negroes belonging to various regiments of our brigade who were at the front continually. On Saturday I captured two Rebels who were reeling drunk. In fact, I believe all the Rebels had whiskey in their canteens. I have given you a rather crudely digested description of the battle, I know, but we are so very busy that I have to write at nights and piecemeal at that. Please excuse mistakes.

 

Source:

Hannaford, Ebenezer. The Story of a Regiment: A History of the Campaigns and Associations in the Field of the Sixth Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Cincinnati: Ebenezer Hannaford, 1868, pgs. 462-468

Comments

  1. G'Day Dan,
    Many thanks for your excellent "Civil War Chronicles." I am thoroughly enjoying every word and image.

    My GG Grandfather Francis "Pa" Seibert served with the 36th Indiana at Chickamauga. Francis' extensive National Archives pension file of over 100 pages has several handwritten notes describing the lead up to and the battle itself.

    Another gg grandfather served with the 8th Indiana. My gg grandmother's first husband served with the 47th Ohio and collected a fatal mini ball at the battle of the railway cutting, Atlanta, Georgia on July 22, 1864.

    Cheers,

    Rob Grant

    Far North Queensland, Australia

    ReplyDelete

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