With a Gun in One Hand and a Rail in the Other: The 19th Ohio at Pickett’s Mill

After advancing into a pocket of Confederate fire at Pickett's Mill, Colonel Charles Manderson of the 19th Ohio quickly saw the hopeless position his regiment was in and decided to take decisive action. Salvation lay by moving forward, not by falling back as one of Manderson's men remembered. 

    "When Colonel Manderson saw that we lay under a heavy fire from the right and left and could not return it, he ordered the fence in our front to be carried out into the field and a breastwork made of the rails," he wrote. "An officer who is so well thought of as our colonel and upon whom depends the safety of the regiment need not give a command more than once, and so it was here that with gun in one hand and a rail in the other, the line advanced into the open field and put up the breastworks to lay behind. And it was here that the Rebels got some of our Lincoln pills."

          J.B.’s riveting account of his regiment’s participation in the Battle of Pickett’s Mill first saw publication in the June 30, 1864, edition of the Stark County Republican published in Canton, Ohio. During this engagement, the 19th Ohio was part of Brigadier General Samuel Beatty’s Third Brigade of General Thomas J. Wood’s Third Division of the 4th Army Corps, Army of the Cumberland. Colonel Frederick Knefler of the 79th Indiana led the brigade during the operations near Dallas as General Beatty left the army sick on May 23, 1864.

 

A breastplate featuring the state seal of Ohio like the one above was issued to many of Ohio's early war volunteers such as the 19th Ohio. First seeing action in western Virginia as a 90-day regiment in the summer of 1861, the regiment returned home and re-enlisted as a three year's organization and joined the western armies. The rattle of the 19th Ohio's muskets echoed from Shiloh to Stones River, Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge, and Atlanta to Nashville. The regiment veteranized in early 1864 and ended the war with the 4th Army Corps stationed in Texas. 

In fortifications near Dallas, Georgia

June 5, 1864

          I suppose the readers of the good loyal Republican who have friends and relatives in the 19th Ohio are anxious to hear from them, therefore I will give them a short sketch of the part we have thus far taken in this active campaign. My last letter was written on the 22nd of May evening, having marching orders at the same time.

          On the 23rd, our corps and the 20th Corps under General Joe Hooker marched to the extreme right of our line and crossed the Etowah River through a covered bridge which was saved from the fiery element by some of our cavalry.

          Our destination was Dallas with Hooker in the advance. On the afternoon of the 25th, Hooker’s skirmishers discovered a masked battery of the enemy on a hill, but it was too late to better the case for the troops in the rear of the skirmishers were already in range of the guns. They opened up, throwing grape and canister into the ranks of the advance guard. The Rebels did not hold their position long until they were driven from it, after which a running fight was commenced and lasted until dark.

          We were close enough to hear the musketry but could not go ahead for there were more troops ahead of us than could get into position. At dark, a heavy rain set in which continued until 10 p.m. and it was 1 a.m. when we were told to lie down along the road and sleep. Hooker lost pretty heavily in this short engagement.

          On the morning of the 26th, our division moved to the front and advanced about a mile when we laid on a hill facing the enemy and in the afternoon the Rebs opened up on us with two guns, throwing 10-12 shells, some exploding right over us, but luckily no one was hurt. The next morning (May 27th) the 4th Corps and 14th Corps marched four or five miles to the left where we took possession of a gap.

Adjutant Philip D. Reefy
19th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry

          Lieutenant Phil Reefy, our adjutant, rode a short distance from where we had stacked arms and captured a Rebel scout who was carrying a dispatch to some Rebel division commander stating that there was some Yankee cavalry two miles from there. After the 14th Corps got into position on our left, we advanced up the ridge.

Hazen’s brigade in the advance charged on the enemy and were repulsed after fighting until they were almost cut to pieces and not until then did they fall back. Willich’s brigade was the next to become engaged and part of it was driven back like Hazen’s. Now was our turn; while the other brigades were fighting, we laid under a heavy flank fire of Rebel artillery but the boys bore it bravely.

At last, the order came for our line to advance: the 19th Ohio, 79th Indiana, and 9th Kentucky formed the second line of our brigade under the command of Colonel Charles F. Manderson. In front of us was a steep hill we must climb. Colonel Manderson took off his hat, waved it, and gave the command “forward!” which was responded to by a cheer and up the hill we went.

What was left of the line lay behind a fence which surrounded an open field; the regiment had orders to lay down behind this fence and not expend their ammunition unless they saw the Rebs plainly. The Rebels were in the woods on the opposite side of the field and a small hill or ridge intervened between us and the rebels.

When Colonel Manderson saw that we lay under a heavy fire from the right and left and could not return it, he ordered the fence in our front to be carried out into the field and a breastwork made of the rails. An officer who is so well thought of as our colonel and upon whom depends the safety of the regiment need not give a command more than once, and so it was here that with gun in one hand and a rail in the other, the line advanced into the open field and put up the breastworks to lay behind. And it was here that the Rebels got some of our Lincoln pills. When the left of the line saw the advantage we gained, they followed suit. The firing continued until after dark and the ammunition in most of the cartridge boxes was exhausted. Some had their last shots in their trusty Springfield rifles.

Colonel Charles F. Manderson
19th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry
Later senator from Nebraska

At 10 o’clock, two men were sent out to watch the movements of the enemy. They were out but a short time when they reported the enemy marching up to our right where our line was composed of nothing but part of the 124th Ohio. A short time afterwards, the clear notes of the Rebel bugle sounded the charged and then a demon-like yell, a volley of musketry, and our weak right gave stubbornly away for a host of bloodthirsty Rebels shouting, “fool with the 7th Texas, will you?”

Now was our time to look out for breakers. After the regiment had fired three or four well-directed volleys into the Rebels in our front, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Stratton marched the regiment out from behind the breastworks by the left flank. We were relieved by part of the 14th Corps who had fortified in our rear under heavy fire from Rebel artillery.

The next morning, we were moved to the right and front and built up a breastwork of logs, stones, and dirt. There has been a continual fire kept up by the skirmishers of the two opposing armies. Last night the Rebels evacuated their stronghold under cover of a dense fog. Their works were the best that they ever made and showed their skill of engineering. To have charged these works would have been madness and the destruction of our army.

Source:

Letter from J.B., Co. I, 19th Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry, Stark County Republican (Ohio), June 30, 1864, pg. 1

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