Enough to worry the patience of a Wooden Man: The 126th Ohio at Mine Run
The Battle of Mine Run may have been short on action but it certainly was long on misery as remembered by Sergeant Barkley Cooper of the 126th Ohio of the Third Army Corps. After spending a long night in the bitter cold without his beloved hardtack, Cooper woke up on the morning of Saturday November 28, 1863 with the ear-piercing shrieks and groans of a wounded man weltering in agony out in the nearby woods.
"Early in the morning it commenced raining which continued the better part of the day; occasional cannonading was heard at different times during the day," he wrote. "We marched three or four miles during the day and would march a few rods, stop and stack arms, then in five or ten minutes we would take arms and march a few rods further, and so on all day enough to worry the patience of a wooden man. It was full 10 o’clock at night before we got in our position in line on Mine River. I have heard of mud knee deep, but I never realized the fact until Saturday the 28th. We made our dinner on fried beef and our supper had to be made on beef. Out of crackers and so were nearly all the rest. Ten cents apiece were offered but they could not be got as there was none to be had."
Sergeant Cooper would be promoted to the rank of Orderly Sergeant on the cusp of Grant's Overland Campaign but would be captured on May 6, 1864 during the Battle of the Wilderness. The 25-year-old would be paroled and return to the 126th later that year and would be successively promoted to second and first lieutenant, but was never mustered at either rank. He mustered out with his regiment in 1865 and passed away in Wheeling, West Virginia on September 13, 1908.
Cooper's letter regarding the Mine Run campaign originally saw publication in the December 24, 1863 edition of the Belmont Chronicle published in St. Clairsville, Ohio.
|The 126th Ohio would see its hardest service with the Sixth Army Corps in 1864, but during the Mine Run campaign it was attached to the Third Brigade of the Third Division of the Third Army Corps under the overall command of Major General William H. French. In March 1864, the regiment would transfer to the Sixth Army Corps as part of the general reorganization of the Army of the Potomac. The 126th would see action at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, Monocacy, and Opequon and would remain in the Sixth Corps for the rest of the war. . The above corps badge for the Third Division of the Third Army Corps was made by the Schuylkill Arsenal in Philadelphia.|
Camp near Brandy Station, Virginia
December 6, 1863
I wrote a note yesterday that you might know that we still lived. In it we acknowledged the receipt of your letters of the 24th and 29th ultimo, and also of the gloves. On Wednesday November 25th, our company went out on picket expecting to remain out 48 hours, but early on the morning of the 26th, we were ordered to report to camp and that the army was moving. When we got to camp, our regiment had gone but by hard marching in about two hours. We arrived at the ford at Jacobs Mills about the middle of the afternoon; here we expected to encounter considerable resistance to our crossing, but the Johnnies had nothing there but a picket and they fled in the firing of s single volley. We then crossed over on a pontoon brigade and advanced about two miles out from the river and went into camp for the night. The object of making that march was to feel for the enemy. It was about 9 o’clock when we got into camp. After we crossed the river, we proceeded very cautiously, hardly moved at all. The night was cold and fuel scarce, but we got enough gathered to cook up supper with and then we lay down to freeze.
|Major General William H. French|
III Army Corps
The next morning, Friday, we proceeded very cautiously and had gone but a short distance when the advance of our corps commenced skirmishing with the enemy. The Second Division was in front, the Third Division next, and the First was in the rear. Our company was out as flankers. About 2 o’clock, the musketry firing grew pretty severe and about half an hour later the flankers of our division were ordered in to join their respective regiments. Our division was thrown into line on the left of the Second Division, our brigade on the extreme left. Our brigade was formed in a hollow on a line nearly at right angles to the rest of our line, the object in giving us that position was to flank the Johnnies while taking our position. The bullets flew over and around us as thick as hail. Our line was barely formed when Beal H. Bryan of our company was struck by a ball in the leg. The wound was pretty severe but not serious.
As soon as the line was formed, our skirmishers advanced up the bank and became briskly engaged. The line was immediately ordered to follow, but just on reaching the top of the bank and before we had fired a single shot it was discovered that the Johnnies were flanking us. The order was given to fall back which we did in good order considering the kind of ground we had to fall back over. The whole country was one dense wilderness except little cleared patches here and there. The object was in one of these patches, the Johnnies occupied the woods on one side, our forces the woods on the opposite side, except our brigade which was posted as before described. When it was ascertained that we were being flanked, the object was to about face us and our brigade, and wheel us around until we would reach the prolongation of the line formed by the Second Division and the First and Second Brigades of our division, but such a move was impossible in such a place as the underbrush was so tangled and knolled together that troops could not possibly move together; they could not even keep in sight of each other. When we came out into one of those little patches, our company and the two on the right of it (K and G) were all that could be seen of our regiment. The other part of the regiment had come across a path and marched off by the flank but the two parts of the regiment were but a short distance apart and we were soon together. As soon as all things were righted, our brigade took position again, but this time where no bullets flew and by the time we got formed the second time, it was growing dark, too dark to see objects distinctly at any distance.
All the time we were engaged in the above described movements, the fighting was terrific. It was all musketry or very nearly all as very few shots were fired with artillery. It could not be done as the pieces could not be gotten into position. It must have been full 6 o’clock when the firing ceased; our artillery fired a few shots about dark. Just after we had taken our second position, a 12-lb ball came over our regiment. Major Aaron Ebright was sitting on his horse about eight paces in the rear of the center of the regiment when the ball broke the tree of his saddle, broke it badly and tore his bundle of blankets that he had tied behind all to pieces. In falling back through the woods, the adjutant of our regiment [Lewis W. Sutherland] and the second lieutenant of Co. G [Simon B. Petree] were either killed or captured; the general supposition is that they were killed as the Johnnies poured in volley after volley. I was expecting every moment to see a score or more fall. [Both Sutherland and Petree were captured and would survive their lengthy imprisonment.]
When the Rebels came down on our flank, they made a noise just like a flock of geese jumping up and prancing more like a pack of devils than like human beings, demanding of us to surrender, but for my part I could not see it although our situation was pretty critical, our company particularly which was one the extreme left and the Johnnies coming up in solid line at right angles to it. It was late in the night before we got orders to make down our beds, the night was not as cold as the previous one and we got a very good night’s sleep. Our pickets were posted out about 200 yards in front to prevent a surprise. Before we laid down, we could hear some poor soul crying out in the top of his voice away out in the dark wilderness. He had been wounded I suppose so badly that he was not able to get off the field himself and through neglect had been left there. We were up early the next morning before 4 o’clock and the first sound which greeted my ears were the cries of that poor wounded wretch.
|Captain Richard M. Lyons|
Co. C, 126th O.V.I.
Killed in the Wilderness
We moved off before light on Saturday morning; the Johnnies had fallen back, leaving their dead and badly wounded on the field. Early in the morning it commenced raining which continued the better part of the day; occasional cannonading was heard at different times during the day. We marched three or four miles during the day and would march a few rods, stop and stack arms, then in five or ten minutes we would take arms and march a few rods further, and so on all day enough to worry the patience of a wooden man. It was full 10 o’clock at night before we got in our position in line on Mine River. I have heard of mud knee deep, but I never realized the fact until Saturday the 28th. We made our dinner on fried beef and our supper had to be made on beef. Out of crackers and so were nearly all the rest. Ten cents apiece were offered but they could not be got as there was none to be had.
Sunday it was still worse as all were offering 50 cents for three crackers, but very few were to be had even at those figures. Sunday evening it was announced to the different commanders and by them to the men that the Rebel works were to be taken by assault. We were put in line at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and there we stood till dark, every minute expecting to be ordered forward to the bloody task; those were exciting moments to us, but we had nerved ourselves for the contest.
30,000 men were to charge without firing a musket. A company from each regiment was picked out to be deployed in front of its own regiment and the skirmishers were to advance and bring on the engagement. As soon as that was done, the charging columns were to advance with fixed bayonets while the skirmishers assembled on the flanks of their respective regiments. A space of 22 paces is left between regiments in line of battle. At dark we got orders that we would remain where we were for the night and this was glorious news for we had stood out until we were nearly frozen. We soon had huge fires burning and the wagons came up with three days’ rations. I thought I never ate anything half so good in my life as those hard crackers. The weather had changed to very cold in the evening, but with our fires and our bellies filled with hardtack, we passed a very comfortable night.
At 2 o’clock in the morning we were aroused. Twenty more rounds of cartridges were issued to each man and we were moved about three miles further up the line. At 8 a.m. Monday was the hour set for the grand charge to come off. The charging column consisted of the Second Corps, and the Second and Third Division of our Sixth Corps, all under the command of Major General Warren of the Second Corps. We patiently awaited the arrival of the appointed time; the time came but still not a gun was to be heard; we could think the quiet was nothing more than the calm which precedes the storm.
|Captain Jonathan S. McReady of Co. H of the 126th O.V.I. lost his left arm to a severe wound inflicted May 6, 1864 during the Battle of the Wilderness and would die from the wound September 7, 1864.|
About a quarter past 8 o’clock, the report of a cannon was heard away on the extreme right. Following one after another, the batteries along our line followed in succession towards the left. Just before the cannonading commenced, the pickets in our front were brought in but when the cannonading commenced, our skirmishers advanced but they advanced but a few rods into the woods in front of our line when brisk skirmishing commenced. The Rebel pickets on seeing our pickets brought had advanced and occupied their old position, thus our skirmishers came upon them sooner than expected and of course were not exercising sufficient caution. The consequence was that three were badly wounded and one killed, all from the 87th Pennsylvania. The mistake was in bringing in the pickets before the skirmishers were ready to go out.
Everyone confidently believed the great charge had to be made and believing so, all appeared anxious for the awful moment to arrive that the fearful agony and suspense of mind might be over with. In great anxiety did we await the command forward when to our great astonishment and our still greater delight, the First Division of the Second Corps relieved us and we were taken back and put into camp within a few rods of the spot where we had bivouacked the night before. Even if it had been nothing more than a change of position in the line, we would have had reason to rejoice for exercise had almost become necessary to keep from freezing. We had stood in line almost motionless from before daylight to 2 p.m. and the day was one of the coldest I ever saw.
|General Joseph B. Carr|
Third Division, III Army Corps
The following night was extremely cold. We were camped in the woods which was quite an advantage as we were enabled to provide ourselves with mammoth fires, but even then after making down my bed so close to the fire that I got my blankets scorched and burnt the pocket out of my coattail, I almost shook to pieces with the cold. About noon on Tuesday the 1st it was rumored that the army was going to recross the river about 3 p.m. Our division got marching orders and as soon as we started, we saw that we were going directly away from the line we had occupied. Our line of battle faced west with the flank a little back giving the line something the shape of a horseshoe. We marched some five miles east and went into camp about 3-1/2 miles from Ely’s Ford and a little east of south from the ford.
During the whole night troops, the Reserve Artillery, and what teams had not been previously sent over the river kept up an uproar passing by. We were called up at 2 a.m. but did not move off until daylight when everything had passed except one brigade of cavalry. They covered the retreat on that road and we were their support. Our company was the last one of infantry that crossed on the pontoons. Our company was not entirely over when the engineers commenced tearing up the bridge. We were thrown in line on this side until they were loaded when we moved off; but before we left, the Rebel cavalry showed themselves in considerable numbers. A few shells from our batteries on this side kept them at a respectful distance, but they established a picket line about half a mile south of the river.
We marched some six miles that Wednesday evening and at midnight we started again and reached Brandy Station at daybreak. The roads were awfully cut up with mud and most of the way the road was through the woods and as it was generally crowded with the trains, the troops had to go stumbling along through the woods grown up thick with underbrush thereby greatly jeopardizing our eyes and the cuticle covering of the face. Our supply of crackers had failed the morning before and we were living again on a meat diet. Owing to our heavy marches, exposure to the cold, loss of sleep, and scarcity of grub we felt a lankiness about the stomach and a very perceptible loss of strength. On our return, we occupied our old camp until Friday morning when we took quarters in the “Rebel” camp. We live very comfortably in their log shanties as they spent considerable time and labor building them, no doubt intending to occupy them this winter.
The croakers no doubt will make a big fuss because Meade did not attack Lee south of the Rapidan, but let all such leave their comfortable homes and come out and share a soldier’s fare with all its exposure and fatigue and my word for it, their mouths will be shut without it be opened top curse all such.
|This stand of regimental colors belonging to the 126th O.V.I. are preserved at the Ohio History Connection in Columbus, Ohio.|
Letter from Sergeant Barkley Cooper, Co. B, 126th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Belmont Chronicle (Ohio), December 24, 1863, pg. 2
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