The Battles of Nashville

By Mel Maurer
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2008, All Rights Reserved

Whatever hope the rebellious South had for continuing its fight until the North grew tired of the bloody struggle died – not with the surrender of Lee at Appomattox Court House in April 1865 – but rather on the hills outside of Nashville Tennessee, when Confederate General John Bell Hood and his Army of Tennessee were crushed in the last great battle of the Civil War in December 1864.

This last desperate clash of armies that December 15th and 16th, however, was just one of the battles fought in Nashville that month. Commanding Union General George Thomas, while preparing to fight Hood, also had to fight President Lincoln, Secretary of War Stanton, Army Chief of Staff Halleck and Commander in Chief U.S. Grant to retain his job and to confront the enemy according to his plan and timetable. Hood, with his ruined left arm and missing right leg, already struggling with pain, medication, and alcohol, also had to fight a crippling winter storm.

As that December began almost everything was going the Union’s way: Lincoln had been reelected, Grant still had General Robert E. Lee, and his Army of Northern Virginia, under siege at Petersburg while General William T. Sherman was about to take Savannah after his devastating march through Georgia. All was going well, except Hood’s army was marching towards Nashville with 25,000 to 30,000 men (Thomas thought he had a larger force) to take that city and then to move on to threaten Kentucky and Ohio – actions which, even if partially successful, could change the outcome of the war.

Nashville, which fell to the Union without a fight in 1862 after the fall of Ft. Donelson, had grown in importance and population during the war from 30,000 to about 100,000 as it became “a communication, transportation and supply center for Federal military operations in the west.” The South’s failure to even try to retake Nashville during the war was a measure of its inability to defend its territory.

Given Nashville’s extensive fortifications – encircled with forts and redoubts, along with the Cumberland River acting like a moat around some of it, Hood could have taken months to plan an attack with 120,000 men and still have failed. But this was Hood – and nothing would stop him from trying.

Jefferson Davis (“You must first beat him (the enemy)…and advance to the Ohio River”), in picking Hood to replace General Johnston in Atlanta that July, followed Lincoln’s example in his selection of Grant – he needed a fighter and he got one. Hood did fight – first by attacking General William T. Sherman outside Atlanta, and then by invading Tennessee to try to relieve the pressure on Lee in Virginia and the people of Georgia. Despite the great odds against him, he could have achieved some level of success had his tenacity been matched by wisdom.

Landscape

As the Army of Tennessee made its way towards Nashville, Hood, due to command failures, let General John M. Schofield’s army, sent by Sherman to reinforce Thomas, slip through his lines outside the small town of Spring Hill 30 miles south of Nashville on November 29th. The next afternoon, Hood (“We shall make the flight!”) launched a frontal assault against entrenched Union rear guard positions in Franklin, 18 miles south of Nashville, as Schofield continued his march to reinforce Thomas.

Hood’s army was badly beaten, suffering over 8,000 casualties, including 6 generals killed, in just four hours. In recent years, as the Battle of Franklin has received more attention, it has become popular to treat Nashville as almost an afterthought – a historical mistake. As one writer puts it: “Hood was knocked down at Franklin – but he was knocked out in Nashville.”

Unchallenged on their way, Hood, still dreaming of reinforcements from Texas, reached the outskirts of Nashville and began to prepare a defense for the attack he knew would be coming – but first he and his men would have to fight the weather. Thomas’ men had the same weather but their forts and redoubts were built, most were well rested, all were well clothed, shod and fed, and the delays caused by the soon to be frigid climate worked to Thomas’ advantage giving him time to refit his cavalry. It was a far different story for Hood’s bedraggled army.

The Battle of Nashville: Day 1, December 15, 1864

The relatively mild Tennessee weather in early December took a sudden turn for the worse the night of the 8th. A cold rain soon turned to snow and by the next morning the ground was frozen, covered with snow and sleet. This was followed by 6 days of rain, freezing rain and sleet – Nashville, and its environs, was encased in ice These conditions were brutal for the mostly barefooted rebels (one historian says only 25 men in the whole army had shoes or parts of shoes on their feet) already severely weakened in Franklin, without warm clothes or much in the way of food and their cannons, caissons and wagons up to their hubs in mud. Demoralized, cold, hungry troops now had to break frozen soil to try to establish defenses for the attack they knew would be coming when the weather broke. It must have seemed that even the Lord was against them. (I once lived through one of these ice storms as a resident in that area – we were paralyzed for days).

Thomas meanwhile was under attack by his superiors in Washington and Petersburg for what, in their growing panic at the advancing southern army, was their perception that he was just too slow in taking on Hood. Thomas, although not as ready as he wanted to be, gave into pressure and was going to attack on the 10th when the ice storm hit the area suspending his plans. (“A terrible storm of freezing rain has come today which will make it impossible for our men to fight.”) When Grant (“I was never so anxious during the war as at that time”) heard of further delay, he asked Halleck to draw up orders relieving Thomas, to be replaced by Schofield (who may have been behind misleading information getting to Grant). Halleck resisted (“No one here wishes General Thomas’ removal”) and these orders were never sent.

The six-day weather-related delay finally exhausted Grant’s patience and he ordered General John A. Logan sent west to assume command of Nashville. Logan got as far as Louisville when the weather cleared enough on the 15th for Thomas to finally launch his attack on Hood. Logan was recalled. It’s still uncertain whether Thomas knew how close he came to losing his job.

The battle lines shown on the two maps of the 15th and 16th tell the story of the conflict. It was, according to at least one military authority, “a perfect exemplification of the art of war.” Another authority said: “No battle of the war was better planned and none was so nearly carried out to the letter of the plan as the Battle of Nashville.” General Thomas’ battle plan in this engagement is the only one of the Civil War that is “now studied as a model in European military schools.” It was the only battle of the war that destroyed an army.

Thomas’ forces moved out under cover of an early morning fog and attacked with a diversionary action on Hood’s right, and then hit his thinly defended lines very hard on the left, while holding back reserve units to respond as needed. Hood, without reserves, could only fall back – doing so miles to the south as the first day ended with him barely avoiding a rout. It’s a tribute to the courage of the rebels that, despite their conditions and the losses they sustained the first day, they were able to mount a vigorous defense of their remaining positions the second day. But they could not hold on forever in the face of overwhelming numbers. Their lines broke on Overton Hill and what is now Shy’s Hill. It was then “every man for himself” as the battle finally turned into a rout. Pvt. Owen J. Hopkins of the 182nd Ohio Infantry called Thomas “a God of battles,” writing, “Hood’s demoralized and badly whipped Rebels are flying towards the south…the victory is complete.” The once proud Army of Tennessee would be no more.

The Battle of Nashville: Day 2, December 16, 1864

Thomas followed in pursuit of the fleeing rebels almost immediately but was hampered by more bad weather – heavy rains that made even streams impassable. Once again he would hear from Halleck stating the obvious. (“Permit me, General to urge the vast importance of a hot pursuit…if you can destroy Hood’s army Sherman can entirely crush out the rebel Military force in the Southern states.”) Finally Thomas, who would have made his life a little easier had he reported on conditions in more detail throughout December, had enough and replied with an angry telegram: “We cannot control the elements…pursuing an enemy through an exhausted country, over mud roads, completely sogged with heavy rains, is no child’s play!” Stanton got Thomas’ message in more ways than one and immediately sent him a telegram assuring him of “the most unbounded confidence in your skill, vigor and determination…to destroy the enemy.” Grant also sent congratulations on the great victory. Thomas would not be bothered again. He continued his pursuit until there was no more army left to pursue.

Mercifully, for the numbers engaged at Nashville (Blue – 50,000 vs. Gray – 23,000), the casualties on both sides were relatively modest (Blue – 3,061 vs. Gray – est. 1,500 with 4,500 captured). Hood had lost his last battle. Thomas won – against Hood and those who tried to interfere with his plans. He would later receive “The Thanks of Congress” for Franklin and Nashville, “one of only 15 army officers so honored during the entire war.” Had the war continued, it was likely that Hood would have been court-martialed for his actions at Franklin.

The North – the United States – was the biggest winner. There would now be no doubt we would remain one country. That fact made this engagement the “most decisive battle of the Civil War” according to Sir Edward Creasy in his “Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World.” Creasy defined a decisive battle as one “of which a contrary event would have essentially varied the drama of the world in all its subsequent scenes.” Other historians agree: “It was the crushing defeat of the Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Nashville that sealed the fate of the Confederacy.”


Related link:
“We Shall Make the Fight!” General John Bell Hood, CSA and the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, November 30, 1864

References (Click the book title to purchase from Amazon. Part of the proceeds from any book purchased from Amazon through the CCWRT website is returned to the CCWRT to support its education and preservation programs.)

The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War by David J. Eicher

Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant / Selected Letters, 1839-1865 (Library of America) by U. S. Grant

Advance And Retreat: Personal Experiences In The United States And Confederate States Armies by John Bell Hood

The Decisive Battle of Nashville by Stanley F. Horn

The Battle of Olustee

By Dr. Michael Dory
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2009, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a presentation made by Dr. Dory to the CCWRT in April, 2009.


Background

Quincy A. Gillmore

On December 15, 1863, Major General Q. A. Gillmore proposed certain operations in Florida to Major General H. W. Halleck, General in Chief, with the object of recovering the most valuable part of the state, cutting off supplies for the Confederacy, and the recruiting of Negro troops. General Gillmore was commanding the Department of the South of the Federal Army. His headquarters were at Hilton Head, South Carolina. The evidence indicates that the idea for these operations came from L. D. Stickney, a resident of St. Augustine. He was the Federal Tax Commissioner in Florida. Stickney knew Gillmore personally and had been in contact with him many times. Stickney had visited Washington, D.C. in late 1863 and had solicited President Lincoln for such an expedition. After returning to St. Augustine and shortly after Lincoln’s amnesty proclamation of December 8, 1863, Stickney sent Lincoln a petition signed by many Union men praying for armed occupation of Florida.

Henry W. Halleck

On December 22, Halleck informed Gillmore that the Secretary of War had given Gillmore liberty to undertake such operations in his department as he might deem best, providing that the Charleston positions be held. On January 13, 1864, President Lincoln wrote directly to Gillmore, expressing knowledge of an effort to establish a loyal state government in Florida, and urging Gillmore to aid the President’s reconstruction plans in Florida. On January 22, 1864, Halleck wrote to Gillmore that the Secretary of War had left the expedition up to Gillmore, but that the purpose had not been explained in detail. On January 31, 1864, Gillmore published the following purposes for an expedition:

  1. Procuring an outlet for the products of the state;
  2. Cut off the enemy’s source of commissary supplies;
  3. Secure recruits for colored regiments; and
  4. Inaugurate measures for the restoration of Florida to allegiance in accordance with the desires of the President.

Gillmore waited until February 4, 1864, to issue orders to his commanders. On that date, Brigadier General Truman Seymour, commanding the District of Hilton Head, was ordered to alert the following units for embarkation:

  • Col William B. Barton’s brigade which consisted of the
    7th Connecticut Infantry
    7th New Hampshire Infantry
    8th United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.)
    Col James Montgomery’s Colored Brigade which consisted of the
    2nd South Carolina Infantry (Colored)
    3rd United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.)
    54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry
    Col Guy V. Henry’s Mounted Brigade which consisted of the
    40th Massachusetts Mounted Infantry
    Massachusetts Cavalry, Independent Battalion
    Battery M, 1st U.S. Artillery (4 guns)
    Battery B, 1st U.S. Artillery (4 guns)
    James’ Rhode Island Battery (2 guns)

  • This not appearing to be enough men, the following units were added:
    47th New York Infantry
    48th New York Infantry
    115th New York Infantry

General Seymour did not know their destination before going to sea. When they arrived in Florida, certain command changes were made. Col J. R. Hawley of the 7th Connecticut Infantry was promoted to command Col Barton’s Brigade. Col Barton, who had formerly been the commander of the 48th New York Infantry, was given command of the New York Brigade.

Background of the 54th

With the expedition safely at sea, let’s look closer at the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

On July 18, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry had led the assault on Fort Wagner. In the morning they had 22 officers and 600 men prepared for battle. There were more men in the regiment, but they were either wounded, on camp guard, sick or on an 80-man fatigue detail. The commander was Col Robert Gould Shaw. The second in command was Lt Col Hallowell.

William H. Carney

The assault had taken place with much gallantry if you can believe both the Yankee and Confederate officers present. The 54th actually gained the parapet of the fort. Due to poor generalship, they were not properly followed up. When the supporting units did come up, they too were slaughtered. The next morning, the 54th had only 13 officers and 400 enlisted men. This included the 80-man fatigue detail under Lt. Higginson. For his service ‘above and beyond the call of duty,’ Sgt William H. Carney, color bearer of Company C, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was the first black man to receive the award.

After the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, the Union Army began to enlist African-American soldiers in earnest, totaling close to 180,000 troops by war’s end. This photo is of Co. E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, taken at Fort Lincoln, Washington, D.C. in 1865.

On July 21st, the 54th went into the trenches in front of Ft. Wagner on siege duty. By July 25th, all of the men had been gathered from their scattered locations. The regiment numbered 600 total including the sick. On July 26th, the 54th was relegated to fatigue duty. On August 4th, the battery named ‘The Swamp Angel’ was started. It originally had a 200-pound Parrott gun which could reach the city of Charleston 8,800 yards away. It soon burst and was replaced by two mortars of like range. On August 9th, the third parallel was started only 400 yards from Wagner. On August 21st, the fourth parallel was started only 350 yards from Wagner. Men were now working around-the-clock in shifts. On August 22nd, ‘The Swamp Angel’ opened fire on Charleston causing panic in the city. On August 23rd, the 54th pulled the first guard duty since July 21st. They had been relieved by the 3rd United States Colored Troops. On August 31st, it was back to round-the-clock fatigue duty. On September 2nd, another parallel within only 80 yards of Wagner was started. The going was very slow. The Confederates had planted ‘torpedoes’ (mines) all throughout the area. On September 7th, Fort Wagner was abandoned by the Confederates and occupied by the Yankees. During the 58-day siege, the 54th Massachusetts suffered four killed and four wounded. Ninety per cent of the work had been done under artillery and sharpshooter fire or both combined.

During October many of the sick recovered, the wounded were returned and some new officers arrived. On October 2nd, a new State Color was received. The former was lost in the assault on Ft. Wagner. Also furloughs for the men began. There had been several attempts to pay the troops since the fall of Ft. Wagner, all of which the men refused.

New recruits arrived on November 28th (73) and December 4th (22). Fatigue duty was growing easier, and larger guard details were commenced. Battalion and brigade drills were resumed. On December 12th, Major James Sturgis and Mr. E. W. Kinsley arrived to pay the troops the difference between the $10.00 the government wanted to pay them and the $13.00 the State of Massachusetts had promised them. The men flatly refused to accept the pay. Their argument was that they had enlisted as Massachusetts soldiers and were to be treated the same way as any other Massachusetts soldier by the U.S. Government, i.e., be paid $13.00 a month.

Christmas and New Years 1864 came and went. Officer promotions were absorbed. The regiment was experiencing various forms of insult and discrimination by white officers of various regiments. As they occurred, they were reported. As time went on, fewer and fewer incidents occurred. On January 20th, 112 recruits arrived. The ranks were now nearly filled. The 54th was not well clothed, fully equipped and prepared for any service. On January 28th, the 54th loaded all their equipment aboard two steamers. At 3 a.m. on January 29th, the 54th boarded the steamers J.B. Collins and Monohansett. They went to Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Hilton Head was the staging point for an army that gathered daily. On February 1st, 50 recruits arrived for the 54th. Because the companies were full, an eleventh company, Company ‘L,’ was begun. On February 4th, the officers were notified that the 54th was to embark in the morning. On February 5th, after having left some men behind, the 54th embarked on the steamers Maple Leaf, General Hunter, and the schooner R.C.A. Ward. Unknown to the men of the 54th, 28 transports were at sea with an army on the way to Florida.

On February 7th, Jacksonville, Florida was invaded.

Battle

Guy V. Henry

The battle opened on February 20, 1864, with a skirmish action beginning around 2 p.m. between the Yankee brigades of Col Guy V. Henry and Col J.R. Hawley and the Confederate cavalry under Col Carraway Smith. Smith’s Brigade contained the 4th Georgia Cavalry Regiment and the 2nd Florida Cavalry Regiment with the 64th Georgia Infantry Regiment in support. Col Smith was to draw the Yankees toward the waiting Confederate line held by Col A.H. Colquitt and the 6th, 19th and 28th Georgia Infantry Regiments and Gamble’s battery who had joined the 64th Georgia Infantry Regiment. Henry’s Brigade contained the 40th Massachusetts Mounted Infantry, the 1st Massachusetts Independent Cavalry Regiment and Battery B, 1st U.S. Artillery (Elder’s Horse Battery). Hawley’s Brigade contained the 7th Connecticut Infantry Regiment, the 7th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment, the 8th United States Colored Troops and Battery E, 3rd U.S. Artillery (Hamilton’s battery).

As the action progressed, the Confederate cavalry fell back and drew the Yankees toward Col Colquitt’s forces who formed line of battle and threw out skirmishers. The 2nd Florida Cavalry Regiment formed on the right of the battle line and the 4th Georgia Cavalry Regiment formed on the left. Col Hawley ordered his brigade into line. The 7th Connecticut Infantry Regiment was deployed as skirmishers. This was an under-strength battalion of only four companies but armed with Spencer repeating rifles. The brigade advanced on line and closed with the enemy. The 8th U.S.C.T. deployed to the left of Elder’s and Hamilton’s batteries. Col Henry deployed his cavalry on the flanks for support. The 7th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment got conflicting orders on how to deploy to the right of Hamilton’s battery. In such situations the old adage of “Order, counter order, disorder” became very valid. The 7th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment, under heavy fire, scattered and headed for the rear.

The Battle of Olustee: Confederate and Union positions on February 20, 1864

The 7th Connecticut Infantry Regiment and 8th U.S.C.T. both traded volleys with the Confederate battle line and both were forced back. The 7th Connecticut Infantry Regiment had run out of ammunition for their Spencer seven-shot repeating rifles and the 8th U.S.C.T. after taking many casualties.

Had these troops been the only ones involved, the battle might have ended with few losses to either side. However, both sides had reinforcements on the way. The Confederate reinforcements arrived first. Before moving to support the 64th Georgia Infantry Regiment in the beginning, Col Colquitt had been ordered to take command of the fighting at the crossroads. Gen Finegan then ordered additional troops to the fighting. Col George P. Harrison moved his second brigade forward. The 64th Georgia Infantry Regiment was originally part of his brigade. The 1st Georgia Regular Infantry Regiment and 32nd Georgia Infantry Regiment and the Chatham Artillery Battery from the reserve arrived and were thrown into the left of the Confederate line. The Chatham Artillery Battery was ordered to dress on Gamble’s Artillery Battery. The 6th Georgia Infantry Regiment was ordered further to the left to make room for the reinforcements. The 32nd Georgia Infantry Regiment arrived and filled in between the 6th Georgia Infantry Regiment on the far left and the 1st Georgia Regular Infantry Regiment. Bonaud’s battalion was held temporarily in reserve. Guerard’s Light Artillery Battery was ordered to the center of the Confederate line. The 6th Florida Infantry Battalion arrived and formed on the right of the 19th Georgia Infantry Regiment thus forming the far right of the Confederate battle line. Additionally, Company A of Milton’s Light Artillery Regiment. This was a 30-pound Parrott gun mounted on a railroad flat car and commanded by Lt Drury Rambo.

Col Harrison was given command of the left of the Confederate line. With the two brigades thoroughly mixed, it had been a wise move to place Col Colquitt in overall battlefield command.

Truman Seymour

Yankee General Seymour had arrived on the battlefield and was personally directing his forces. Gen Seymour had originally ordered the 7th Connecticut Infantry Regiment into skirmish order. His overall plan was a good piece of Napoleonic tactics. Pin the enemy to your front with one brigade and turn his flank with your second. Napoleon would have been proud, Col Colquitt was unimpressed. With his new troops now in line, he began a general advance.

Col William B. Barton’s Brigade now arrived. Cpt Langdon’s Battery was ordered to form with the other two batteries. The 47th, 48th and 155th New York Infantry Regiments were already deployed in line from left to right. They were ordered to advance and form on the left of the 7th Connecticut Infantry Regiment. The 48th New York Infantry Regiment was split so that the massed Yankee artillery was in their middle. The brigade was in the same position that the ill-fated 7th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment had been in before it broke.

This color lithograph, published by Kurz and Allison of Chicago in 1894, was part of a post-war series of romanticized images of Civil War battles. Here, the 8th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment is shown under fire during the battle. This illustration, while dramatic, does not accurately reflect the actual battle. The engagement at Olustee was fought in pine woods, rather than in the open as shown in this print. (Text and image from the Museum of Florida History website.)

The battle now got serious. Both sides traded volleys for three hours. The 7th Connecticut Infantry Regiment had been re-supplied with ammunition as had the Confederate regiments. The fire of the 7th Connecticut Infantry Regiment halted at least one Confederate advance and would be important later. However, the Confederates were now ordered to charge. The Yankee casualties became serious. The 8th U.S.C.T. had lost 300 casualties out of 550 effectives including Col Charles W. Fribley the 8th’s commander who was left on the field. Cpt Hamilton was wounded and lost two guns. Barton’s regimental commanders, Col Henry Moore of the 47th New York Infantry Regiment, Maj W.B. Coan of the 48th New York Infantry Regiment and Col Sammon of the 115th New York Infantry Regiment, were all wounded. Col Barton’s brigade had taken 811 casualties and was in serous trouble. The 8th U.S.C.T. was out of ammunition and was leaving the field. Gen Seymour stared defeat in the face.

Relief

The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment arrived in Jacksonville on February 7th as the lead unit of the 4th Invasion of Jacksonville. On the 10th, they marched to Camp Finegan. This had been a Confederate camp occupied by General Finegan’s forces up until February 8th. On February 12th, Major Appleton’s five complete companies of the 54th marched to Baldwin. Here entrenchments had been thrown up and the ‘town’ fortified with block houses and a stockade. Scouting parties had gone out and brought in supplies ‘on the hoof’ and further supplies were brought up from Jacksonville. Most of this work had been done by the 3rd U.S.C.T. and a company of New York engineers. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry joined in the work upon arrival.

Col Edward N. Hallowell, the commander of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, had been left in command of Jacksonville with the remaining five companies of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. On February 14th, the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment arrived at Jacksonville relieving the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. On February 18th, Col Hallowell marched his companies from Jacksonville to Baldwin reuniting his regiment after the 18-mile march. On February 19th, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was ordered to Barbers, 12 miles further down the railway. At Barbers they joined the 1st North Carolina Infantry Regiment (Colored). Around them was Gen Seymour’s army of 5,000 men.

At 7 a.m. on February 20th, the army moved west along the railroad toward Olustee. Montgomery’s Brigade, the 1st North Carolina Infantry Regiment and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment were in the rear guarding the trains. Two companies of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, A and E, were left behind as guards in Barbers.

Sanderson, nine miles down the railroad, was reached about noon by Gen Seymour’s troops. At 2:30 p.m. on February 20th, Col Montgomery’s Brigade was resting by the side of the road. They had heard musketry and cannon fire for several hours up ahead. The men had made jokes about the ‘home-made thunder.’ Some had worried about the ‘lightning’ striking them. A rider appeared calling for the commanding officer. Col Hallowell received the order to advance rapidly. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was immediately on their feet and moving at the double-quick toward the battle ahead. Some authorities quote one mile, most quote two miles as the distance needed to be covered in a hurry. The pace had been murderous. Knapsacks, blankets and even haversacks had been discarded as excess weight.

At the road junction Col Montgomery received orders to join the battle. As the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry advanced, they met the evidence of a hard-fought battle: wounded and dispirited men moving to the rear in clumps and clusters. A disabled battery leaving the field was evident. Shouts of “We’re badly whipped!” and “You’ll all get killed.” met the men. Sergeant Cezar of Company D let the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry’s battle cry, “Three cheers for Massachusetts and seven dollars a month!” The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry came past the hospital of the 8th U.S.C.T. and gave cheer to the wounded there.

Nearing the battlefield, General Seymour personally rode up to Col Hallowell and told him that the battle was lost and everything depended on the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. It was now 4:00 p.m.

The brigade deployed with the 510 men of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment on the left and the 1st North Carolina Infantry Regiment on the right. The 8th U.S.C.T. was falling back. Barton’s Brigade was shot through and losing heart. They were wavering. The Confederate line was advancing.

When they reached the battle line, the mere sight of the fresh brigade heartened the wavering New Yorkers who cheered them on. The New Yorkers were ordered to fall back. The 8th U.S.C.T. proceeded to fall back also under orders. The Confederate, line only 400 yards distant, halted.

The 7th Connecticut Infantry Regiment, low on ammunition, had been ordered to the rear. The 1st North Carolina Infantry Regiment under Lt Col William N. Reed led an attack to cover their withdrawal. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment began to volley fire with the Confederate line.

Standing and receiving fire is not easy. Men began to fall all along the line. Lt. Homans of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment ordered his part of the line to advance and capture the Chatham artillery. He was ordered back into line. The firing continued. Then Sgt Wilkins with the national flag began to advance with a color guard. They had gone 150 yards before Col Hallowell could order them back into line. With the continued firing and being heavily outnumbered, the men of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment began to speed up their firing by cutting the loading time from nine commands to six. They did this by ramming home the charge by banging their rifle butts on the ground. This eliminated the need for the ramrod operations. It worked.

After an hour and a half, the 1st North Carolina Infantry Regiment was finished. Lt. Col Reed was down. The second in command, Major Bogle, and the Adjutant, W.C. Manning, were down. Three captains and five lieutenants were casualties. The 1st North Carolina Infantry Regiment was ordered to withdraw.

The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was now alone. They were running low on ammunition. Col Hallowell later estimated that his regiment had fired over 20,000 rounds of ammunition by this time. More ammunition reached them, but it was of the wrong caliber!

Col Montgomery rode up about 5:30 p.m. and ordered the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment to disperse and fall back. Col Hallowell could not be located. Lt Col Hopper disobeyed the order. He ordered Sgt Wilkins, the standard bearer, to stand fast. After a quick conference with the nearby officers, Lt Col Hooper and all the officers began shouting “Rally.” The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was back in the action.

Lt Col Hooper ordered the regiment to fix bayonets and proceeded to exercise the regiment in the manual of arms. When they were again steadied, it was noted that the Confederates were advancing past the 54th Volunteer Infantry Regiment’s right and into their rear. Lt Col Hooper ordered the regiment to give nine loud cheers. In the darkening light it thus appeared that Yankee reinforcements had arrived. The Confederate pursuit halted.

The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment again formed line of battle and marched off the field. They halted every 200 to 300 yards to face about and check a Confederate pursuit. There was little pressure. While falling back they destroyed the wrong caliber ammunition that had been brought to them during the battle.

As they continued their withdrawal in the dark, they encountered the 7th Connecticut Infantry Regiment with their breech loaders and Col Henry’s Mounted Brigade. The 7th Connecticut Infantry Regiment had been re-supplied and was ready for action. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment joined them as the rear guard of the army. Col Hallowell, who had been with General Seymour during the battle, finally located and rejoined the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The army struggled on to Sanderson. The supplies there were destroyed and after the wounded moved, the rear guard again departed, this time for Barbers.

Retreat

Major Appleton had been assigned to defend Barbers on the morning of February 20th. He was relieved by Col Hartwell of the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment with six companies about dark on the evening of February 20th. Major Appleton departed Barbers with his two companies and a small detachment of the 8th U.S.C.T. He was heading for Sanderson. He had heard the battle all day long. As he drew closer to Sanderson, he encountered a steady stream of fugitives from the battle. He arrived within one mile of Sanderson and formed his command. His organized unit drew the disheartened unwounded who fell in with his men. His command grew to over 600 men, but he never reached Sanderson. He received orders to escort the train to Barbers. He arrived back at his starting point about 2 a.m. They were not reunited, however, for Companies A and E were immediately placed on picket duty with elements of the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

On February 21st, the wounded from Barbers were sent toward Jacksonville in horse-drawn wagons and on rail cars. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was temporarily attached to Col Hawley’s Brigade and moved out about 9 a.m. Companies A and E were attached to the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. These units formed a line of battle and covered the retreat from Barbers. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment arrived at Baldwin about 4:00 p.m. where Companies A and E rejoined it. The regiment then continued on to McGirt’s Creek where it halted for the night. They had marched 22 miles that day.

February 22nd dawned at 4 a.m. for the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. They moved out with Col Hawley’s Brigade which included the 7th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment and the 8th U.S.C.T. at 7 a.m. After marching four miles, Col Hallowell received orders from Gen Seymour to march back to 10 Mile Station and bring on the railroad train. The locomotive had broken down.

Col Hallowell arrived at 10 Mile Station with his foot-sore troops who hadn’t been fed in several days. Quartermaster Ritchie found some bread on the train and proceeded to pass it out to the troops. Ropes were then attached to the engine and cars. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment then proceeded to drag the train loaded with wounded all the way to Camp Finegan where horses were met to complete the job.

At Camp Finegan the men rested and were supplied with rations by Lt Knight of the 2nd South Carolina Infantry Regiment (Colored). The men rested. They resumed their march at 4:00 p.m. and reached Jacksonville at 8:00 p.m.. Nearly one half the regiment was without shoes; their blankets and knapsacks were sacrificed to get speedily into action; they had no rations or shelter. They had marched 22 miles that day. The Adjutant-General of Massachusetts reported that “the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment marched 120 miles in 102 hours, yet the roll call showed no stragglers.”

The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment settled down for a well-deserved rest. On February 25th, they were moved near the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. On February 26th, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment and the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiments were brigaded together. Things were settling down and more troops were pouring in. Stores were opened by sutlers and a newspaper, The Peninsula, was being printed. The muster roll for March 3rd lists 12 officers and 725 men present for duty.

Camp life was monotonous and people had time to think. Since the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment had yet to be paid for their services to the country, the officers were concerned that an incident might occur that would mar the unit’s good record.

There was movement, finally, in Washington on the pay issue. Senator Wilson of Massachusetts introduced a bill on March 2, 1864 that would finally equalize the pay of black and white soldiers. It passed the Senate on March 10th and went to the House of Representatives. Copies of this bill were received by Col Hallowell and were ordered read to each company of the regiment.

Also during March 1864, promotions were received for many people including Sgt Stephen A. Swails of Company F. A black, he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. He thus became the first black officer promoted in the Union Army.

On April 6, 1864, Confederate General Anderson sent a list of the wounded and captured Yankee troops at the Battle of Olustee. It contained the names of five men from the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

On April 17, 1864, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment boarded transports and left Jacksonville. They went back to Charleston and siege duty. Individual companies were sporadically engaged in artillery duels with the Confederate gunners during this time.

Upon promotion, Lt Swails assumed the rank and duties of an officer. The War Department in Washington balked. It refused to commission a black as an officer. Despite being ordered to resume his duties as an enlisted man, Lt Swails got help from Col Hallowell who had been promoted out of command of the regiment. Lt Swails was sent to see General Foster at Hilton Head who agreed to forward the lieutenant’s claim and recommended him for muster as an officer.

The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment waited patiently for their pay. On September 28, 1864, it finally arrived. Eighteen months pay was received by the 900 men of the regiment. It took $170,000 to pay the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Besides partying, the men sent over $100,000 home to their families. The enlisted men also contributed $15,435 to erect a monument to Col Robert Gould Shaw and those who fell with him in the assault on Fort Wagner.

Sidelights from the Battle of Olustee

LT RAMBO

  • Fired grape & cannister which was quite effective according to Federal sources (Boyd, Emilio, Nulty)
  • Noise dominated all other battle sounds (Emilio)
  • Heard as far away as Barbers and Baldwin (Boyd, Emilio, Nulty)

GEN BEAUREGARD

  • Moved troops from all over his district quickly to Florida
  • Troops came from Charleston, Savannah and along the Savannah Railroad
  • Troops came from District of Middle Florida and James Island (Boyd)

8th U.S.C.T.

  • Green unit, had never seen combat before
  • Never had practice loading and firing their rifles! (Boyd)

POLITICS

  • Restoring Florida not the major objective of the expedition (John Hay to Gillmore)
  • National elections not far distant
  • Full Republican Delegation from Florida at the Convention

MILITARY DIVERSION (Emilio)

  • Gen Schimmelfennig on John’s Island, South Carolina too early
  • Col J. B. Howell’s 85th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment on Whitmarsh Island, Georgia too late

RESOLUTION OF CONGRESS OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA:
“…for skill and gallantry displayed in achieving the signal victory of Ocean Pond, Florida, 20 February 1864.” to BGen Joseph Finegan
Approved May 17, 1864

Bibliography (Click the book title to purchase from Amazon. Part of the proceeds from any book purchased from Amazon through the CCWRT website is returned to the CCWRT to support its education and preservation programs.)

Boyd, Mark F., “The Federal Campaign of 1864 in East Florida,” Florida Historical Quarterly, July 1950, pages 3-37.

Cornish, Dudley Taylor, The Sable Arm: Black Troops in the Union Army, 1861-65, University Press of Kansas, 1987, pages 267-269.

Emilio, CPT Luis F., A Brave Black Regiment: History of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-65, Ayer Company Publishers, Salem, New Hampshire, 1990.

Nulty, William H., Confederate Florida – The Road to Olustee, The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1990.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume 12, pages 716, 717, 728 & 739 & Series II, Volume 3, page 175.

Bragg vs. Rosecrans at Stones River, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

By Dale Thomas
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2001, 2008, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Charger in the winter of 2001.


The Battle of Stones River took place between December 31, 1862 and January 2, 1863. The fighting started as it had at Shiloh, the previous spring, and the casualties were similar. On the morning of New Year’s Eve, the Confederate attack surprised the Federals who were still eating breakfast. The map shows the course of the fighting during that first, bloody day. The next day saw little significant fighting, but there was no celebrating of New Year’s Day. The two armies held their ground and tended to the wounded and dead.

William S. Rosecrans

On the third day, Thomas and McCook remained in position, while Crittenden was now across the river, occupying the high ground in front of Breckinridge. Hardee and Polk were approximately where they had been at the end of fighting on the first day. Surprised that Rosecrans had not withdrawn, Bragg ordered Breckinridge to attack Crittenden. Overwhelmed and outnumbered, Crittenden’s forces retreated back across the river, but Federal artillery, high above the western bank, fired shot, shell, and canister on the Confederates who fell back after suffering heavy losses. The three-day battle ended with the Federals reoccupying the heights on the east side of Stones River.

The Battle of Stones River
Braxton Bragg

Although tactically indecisive, the Battle of Stones River was strategically a victory for the Union. The casualties on both sides totaled over 23,000 wounded, missing, and dead. After Bragg’s withdrawal from Murfreesboro, Rosecrans’ army was now in control of middle Tennessee. In need of good news after the defeat at Fredericksburg, Lincoln wrote to Rosecrans:

“(Y)ou gave us a hard-earned victory, which had there been a defeat instead, the nation could scarcely have lived over.”

In the Preface of his book, Stones River – Bloody Winter in Tennessee, James Lee McDonough wrote: “I was born, raised, and have lived most of my life within thirty miles of Stones River. Nevertheless, I had visited many of the famous battlefields of the Civil War before I ever tramped around the lines at Murfreesboro.” An understanding of the author’s comments can be most appreciated if you visit the battlefield today. Unlike Shiloh, where the isolation from urbanization has preserved the natural terrain, the diminutive site of Stones River has lost most of its historic topography.

Stones River National Battlefield contains only 570 acres of the nearly 4,000 acres that make up the original battleground. The land within the National Park is traced on the map with broken lines. The largest area includes the National Cemetery, where nearly half of the 6,000 dead are unknown, and the site where Thomas, commanding the Federal Center, stopped the Confederate attack on the first day. To the northeast, a smaller parcel of land contains the site of the Federal artillery that was so decisive on the last day.

What remains of Fortress Rosecrans, constructed after the battle to guard supply lines, is preserved in an area in the southeastern portion of the map. It was the largest earthen fortification built during the Civil War, but today only a remnant of the 14,000-foot wall has survived.

Almost 140 years after the battle, the land immediately to the west of the National Park is gradually being developed. The region to the south is still relatively empty, but if you travel east on the Wilkinson (Manson) Pike, the “Battleground Estates” occupy the position held by Polk at the start of fighting on the first day.

Murfreesboro’s commercial and residential development has claimed a large portion of the battlefield east of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad tracks (CSX Transportation). Beneath the urban sprawl lies much of the ground where Breckinridge lost 1,800 dead and wounded soldiers to Federal artillery. The Hazen Monument, oldest intact memorial of the Civil War, stands near the Round Forest and alongside railroad tracks that divide past from the present — gas stations, car dealerships, and fast food restaurants.

The Battle of Stones River was tactically a draw. Nevertheless, in August of 2000, urbanization, the result of Yankee commercial and industrialization since Reconstruction, appears to be the clear winner as you leave the National Park and drive north to Interstate Highway 24.

Related link:
Stones River National Battlefield


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The Battle of Cedar Creek

By Dennis Keating
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2014, All Rights Reserved

This October 19 marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. It was one of the most dramatic events in the entire Civil War. Riding his horse Rienzi (memorialized in the stirring poem by Thomas Buchanan Read – “Sheridan’s Ride”) from Winchester, an inspiring Phil Sheridan re-organized and rallied his almost defeated Army of the Shenandoah in a few hours to defeat the rebel army of Jubal Early (Robert E. Lee’s “Bad Old Man”), who had launched a successful surprise attack in the fog that morning in Sheridan’s absence.

Months earlier Sheridan had been selected by Ulysses Grant, with President Lincoln’s support, to clear out the Valley following Early’s defeat of David Hunter’s army and subsequent raid all the way to threaten Washington, D.C. in order to relieve pressure on Lee’s besieged force in Petersburg. Sheridan’s army consisted of the VI Corps from the Army of the Potomac, the XIX Corps from Louisiana, and George Crook’s Army of West Virginia and cavalry commanded by Alfred T. A. Torbert (with division commanders George Custer and Wesley Merritt). Sheridan and his fellow Ohioan Crook had been close friends at West Point. In his army Sheridan had many Ohioans: the Second Brigade of the Third Division of the VI Corps included the 110th, 122nd, and 126th Ohio regiments; the First Brigade of the First Division of Crook’s small army included the 116th and 123rd Ohio regiments; the First Brigade of the Second Division (commanded by future U.S. President from Ohio Rutherford B. Hayes) included the 23rd and 36th Ohio regiments; the Second Brigade included the 34th and 91st Ohio regiments and the 1st Ohio Light Battery L. In Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps there were two Ohio regiments: 2nd and 8th.

Beginning with the third battle of Winchester on September 19 and then at Fisher’s Hill on September 22, Sheridan’s army had smashed the heavily outnumbered Confederate Valley army (despite reinforcements sent by Lee). Sheridan’s cavalry played key roles in both battles. On October 9 Custer led his cavalry against his West Point friend Tom Rosser’s Laurel cavalry brigade. Custer’s rout of Rosser at Toms Brook became known as the “Woodstock Races.” Meanwhile, Sheridan’s army carried out Grant’s order to destroy the farms that were the granary supplying Lee’s army. On October 10 Sheridan’s army encamped near Middletown around the Valley Pike and the North Branch of the Shenandoah River. Early’s defeated army remained close with a signal station atop Massanutten Mountain, overlooking the camps of Sheridan’s army. Believing that Early was decisively defeated, Sheridan went off to Washington to confer about the future role of his army.

Despite being outnumbered both in infantry and cavalry (32,000 to 21,000), at Lee’s urging, Early decided upon a bold move. Adopting a plan proposed by division commander John Gordon (aided by Stonewall Jackson’s Valley topographer Jed Hotchkiss), Early decided to make a surprise early morning attack led by Gordon. It required his troops to cross the Shenandoah in order to attack Sheridan’s left, comprised of Crook’s army and the XIXth Corps of William Emery (known as “Old Brick Top” because of his sandy hair). Gordon led his force through a thick fog along narrow trails and across the river to strike Crook’s First Division led by Joseph Thoburn (one of ranking officers killed). The surprised Federal troops were quickly overwhelmed and Crook’s army was routed. Leading a disorganized retreat was Hayes after his attempt at a stand with his division failed to stem the Confederate tide. Hayes was first injured when his horse was killed and then was stunned by a bullet to his head, but he managed to escape when ordered to surrender. The divisions of Joseph Kershaw and Dodson Ramseur then rolled over the XIXth Corps, which conducted a fighting retreat. As the Federals retreated toward the VI Corps and headquarters at the Belle Grove estate, many of Early’s solders, tattered in dress, many shoeless, and half-starved, stopped to loot the captured Federal camps and the many supplies that they contained. As to whether their looting was a major cause of Early’s defeat became a major controversy.

The VI Corps turned to repel the attack from its east instead of the south and fought stubbornly to halt the rebel advance. Its commander, Horatio Wright (in overall command in Sheridan’s absence), was wounded and his temporary replacement as commander of the VI Corps, James Ricketts, was also wounded (for the sixth time in the war). On the Valley Pike near Middletown Union cavalry arrived to prevent a further advance north by the Confederates, while many of Sheridan’s wagons and stragglers leaving the field back toward Winchester clogged the Pike. That morning Early believed that he had won a great victory, but Gordon urged him to continue the assault. Instead, Early replied: “Well, Gordon, this is glory enough for one day.” Gordon disputed that, claiming that the VI Corps could be destroyed but remembered that Early responded: “No use in that; they will all go directly.” Gordon responded: “That is the Sixth Corps, General. It will not go unless we drive it from the field.” Whether because of the state of his exhausted troops, abetted by those who dropped out to loot the captured camps, Early declined to continue the attack. Fatally, he did not realign his victorious troops into a more defensible position and left his left wing (Gordon’s division) in a very vulnerable state.

Sheridan’s Ride, chromolithograph by Thure de Thulstrup

Sheridan awakened in Winchester that morning. Being informed of firing to the south, he and others thought that this was only a reconnaissance. However, he was shortly informed that his army had been routed and was in retreat. Mounting his steed Rienzi, accompanied by his aides and a cavalry escort, Sheridan then headed south to rejoin his army. As they encountered fleeing wagons and retreating soldiers, Sheridan urged his soldiers to join him, saying “Boys, if I had been with you this morning this would not have happened.” Shouting his name, many did turn around and headed back to the battlefield. Cheers accompanied his arrival to greet George Getty, Ricketts’ replacement, and then Crook, whom he embraced. He then found the wounded Wright, who informed him that “We’ve done the best we could.” Emery then arrived and informed Sheridan that his corps was ready to cover the retreat to Winchester, to which Sheridan replied: “Retreat, hell. We’ll be back in our camps tonight.” Sheridan then set out to re-organize his army in order to counterattack Early’s army. At aide “Sandy” Forsyth’s suggestion, Sheridan rode Rienzi along the lines to the resounding cheers of his rejuvenated troops to assure them of his return to lead them. Bruce Catton reported their reaction by the historian of the Vermont Brigade: “Such a scene as his presence produced and such emotions as it awoke cannot be realized once in a century.”

By late afternoon, Sheridan was ready and ordered an attack along his whole line to the sound of blaring bugles. After initial resistance, eventually the Confederates gave way on their outflanked extreme left. This in turn led the other units to crumble and a wild retreat south began, with Sheridan’s cavalry in pursuit. Sadly, Colonel Charles R. Lowell, Jr. was killed by a sharpshooter as he led the Reserve cavalry brigade. Trying to rally his division, Dodson Ramseur had two horses shot under him before being hit himself. A new father hoping to see his newborn child, Ramseur was taken to Belle Grove, where he was visited by his friend Custer. Ramseur died the next morning.


Aftermath

  • It is generally agreed that Sheridan’s victory, after the previous Federal victories at Atlanta and Mobile, assured Lincoln’s re-election in November.

  • Sheridan’s Horse: He was renamed “Winchester.” He died in 1878 and was stuffed.

  • 21 Union soldiers received the Medal of Honor.

  • Jubal Early: Lee recalled most of Early’s surviving army. On March 2, 1865 at Waynesboro, Custer’s cavalry scattered his small remaining force. Early escaped to rejoin Lee but was in disgrace and sent home. After the war, he became a leading proponent of the “Lost Cause.” He and Gordon engaged in continued recriminations over responsibility for the defeat.

  • John B. Gordon: He became a corps commander and led the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. He later became a member of the Klu Klux Klan and then a U.S. Senator from Georgia.

  • Philip Sheridan: He won the battle of Five Forks, forcing Lee’s retreat from Petersburg and he then cornered Lee’s much reduced army at Appomattox. He and Crook engaged in a continuing dispute over credit for the victories in the Valley campaign. He became the Army commander-in-chief in 1883 following Sherman’s retirement.

  • Rutherford B. Hayes: Elected governor of Ohio, he was then elected the 19th president of the United States, following Grant, in the controversial contested election of 1876.

  • George A. Custer: He was prominent in the Appomattox campaign, was a postwar favorite of Sheridan, and gained glory/infamy with his defeat and death at the battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

  • George Crook: He too became a cavalry commander in the West. He resigned in a dispute with Sheridan and Nelson Miles over the treatment of the captured Apache chief Geronimo.

Related links:
Jubal Early: Lee’s Bad Old Man
“Sheridan’s Ride” by Thomas Buchanan Read

References

Bruce Catton. A Stillness at Appomattox. 1953. Doubleday. [Chapter 5 [4]: “No More Doubt”]

Daniel Davis. Bloody Autumn: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. 2014. Savas Beatie.

Gary Gallagher. The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. 2009. U. North Carolina Press.

Thomas Lewis. The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864. 1989. Time-Life Books.

Thomas Lewis. The Guns of Cedar Creek. 1991. Harper & Row.

Jonathan Noyalas. The Battle of Cedar Creek (VA): Victory from the Jaws of Defeat. 2009. History Press.

Jeffrey D. Wert. From Winchester to Cedar Creek: The Shenandoah Campaign of 1864. 1987. South Mountain Press.

Click on any of the book links on this page to purchase from Amazon. Part of the proceeds from any book purchased from Amazon through the CCWRT website is returned to the CCWRT to support its education and preservation programs.

The 51st Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Compiled by Dick Crews
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2008, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Charger in the spring of 2001.


The 51st Ohio Volunteer Infantry was formed from the Dover/New Philadelphia area of Ohio in October of 1861. After training, the unit was sent to Louisville, Kentucky. Their first casualty was a private who fell off the steamboat and drowned in the Ohio River. The 51st was at the Battle of Perryville but saw no action.

On November 9, 1862, the regiment and its brigade, under Colonel Stanley Mathews, were sent out on a foraging expedition, and at Dobson’s Ferry, Stones River, met and defeated Wheeler’s rebel cavalry, who had by some means got in their rear. The fight was made by five companies of the 51st Ohio, and five companies of the 35th Indiana, led by Colonel Mathews. The 51st lost thirteen men wounded, three of whom subsequently died; the 35th Indiana lost its Lieutenant-Colonel (severely wounded), its Adjutant (killed), and a number of men. Colonel Mathews, while in the thickest of the fight, was thrown from his horse and severely injured, but kept the field and command until the troops arrived safely in camp.

On December 26, 1862 the regiment moved out on the Murfreesboro Turnpike, with Brigadier-General Van Clove’s division of the Twenty-First Army Corps, marching toward Stones River. Nothing of interest occurred until the 31st of December, when the regiment, having been thrown across Stones River on a reconnaissance, found the enemy in force.

On January 1, 1863, the 51st O.V.I. again crossed Stones River and took position, four companies being thrown out as skirmishers. Advancing half a mile, they met the enemy and skirmished all that day and night, and part of the next day. On the afternoon of the 2d of January, Gen. John C. Breckinridge’s rebel division made a charge, and flanking right, swept it to the west side of Stones River. The 51st left thirty-two of its number dead on the field, one hundred and five wounded, and forty-six captured. It was at this juncture that Union General William Rosecrans massed his artillery and settled the fortunes of the day by almost literally blowing the rebel column of attack into and across Stones River.

On the morning of the 4th of January, 1863, the enemy having disappeared, the army marched into and took possession of Murfreesboro. The army lay in Murfreesboro until the 24th of June, 1863, when it moved on the Tullahoma campaign. The route of the 51st O.V.I. and its division was by way of McMinnville, crossing the Cumberland Mountains into the Sequatchie Valley, thence to Point Lookout, near Chattanooga, and from there to Ringgold. At the latter place, on September 11th, Wheeler’s rebel cavalry was met, defeated, and driven to Tunnel Hill (Chattanooga).

On the 12th the regiment marched to Lee & Gordon’s Mill. On the 13th it made a reconnaissance to Shield’s Gap, and on the 14th went into position at Crawfish Springs. From that time until the opening of the Battle of Chickamauga the members of the regiment feasted on roasting-ears and sweet potatoes.

On the evening of the 18th of September, the 51st O.V.I., being relieved by the 6th Ohio, marched back to Lee & Gordon’s Mill (Chickamauga), where it went into position, and lay upon its arms all that night. On the morning of the 10th, the regiment met the enemy and drove him back a quarter of a mile, but in doing so lost eight men killed, twenty-five wounded, and as many captured. The enemy, receiving reinforcements, in turn drove the regiment back to its former position, where it lay on its arms for the night.

On September 20th the regiment was marched to the left to reinforce General George H. Thomas’s (Chickamauga) column, and on arriving at its position it took part in the effort to stay the enemy in his attempt to get into the rear of the Federal forces, through a gap left in the lines. The regiment struck the rebel General Adams’s division, wounded and captured its commander, and drove it pell-mell. The 51st was then brought back and again formed on the extreme left of General Thomas’s command.

In this Battle of Chickamauga the 51st lost twelve men and one officer wounded, and thirty captured, including Colonel B. W. McLain (commander of the 51st), Lieutenants Rittelley, McNeil, and James Weatherbee and Assistant-Surgeon Wing.

On September 21st the Union army retired behind entrenchments to Chattanooga, and was there besieged by rebel forces until the latter part of the following November, when the siege was raised.

On November 24th of 1863 the regiment participated in the storming of Lookout Mountain, and on the 25th took part in the taking of Rossville Gap, through Missionary Ridge. Its loss in these two affairs was one killed and seven wounded.

On January 1, 1864, the 51st Ohio re-enlisted, and on February 10th arrived at Columbus on veteran furlough of thirty day, gaining the distinction of becoming the 51st Ohio Veterans Volunteer. During the Atlanta campaign, it was engaged at Resaca, and on the 20th of June at Kennesaw Mountain. At the first-named place it lost one officer and ten men wounded and one man killed. At Kennesaw Mountain it lost two officers (Captain Samuel Stephens and Lieutenant Workman) killed, and ten men killed and thirty wounded. From this time until Atlanta was taken the regiment was almost hourly engaged with the enemy.

On September 1st of 1863 the regiment was at Jonesboro, Georgia, and took part in that engagement, and on the 2d pursued the enemy to Lovejoy’s Station. Here it lost ten men wounded. It then fell back to Atlanta, and on the 8th of September entered that city.

The 51st remained in Atlanta until the 3d of October, 1864. Then it marched toward Chattanooga, passing through Cassville, Kingston, Rome, Resaca, and Snake Creek Gap. This march was made in consequence of the rebel General John Bell Hood’s movement to the rear of Atlanta, and the consequent return of General Hood’s army. At this time a series of arduous marches were made in pursuit of the enemy through Tennessee and Alabama.

The 51st O.V.V.I was falling back with General Thomas’s command to Columbia, Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville. It was engaged at Spring Hill, but in the battle of Franklin it occupied a position not involved in the fight. A number of its men were, however, engaged as skirmishers.

On December 14th and 15th of 1865 the regiment took part in the battle of Nashville, with one man killed and fifteen wounded. It joined in the pursuit of the enemy up to Alabama. This march was difficult in the extreme, the roads being almost knee-deep in mud and water.

After Nashville the 51st O.V.V.I., as with many other regiments, was so small it was combined with three other Ohio regiments. Following the conclusion of the Civil War, the 51st was sent to Texas under the command of Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan to watch the French in Mexico.

On October 3, 1865, the regiment was mustered out at Victoria, Texas by Captain Wm. Nicholas, Commissary of Musters of the Central District of Texas, and on the 4th was on its way to Victoria, Texas where it arrived on November 1, 1865. It was discharged at Camp Chase, near Columbus, Ohio after a long and faithful term of arduous service honorably performed.

A sad sidelight on the 51st was that several men captured at Chickamauga were released from Confederate prison camps at the end of the war, only to die on the Sultana steaming up the Mississippi to Ohio.

The explosion on the Sultana, resulting in the deaths of 1,600 people, remains the largest ship disaster in United States history, exceeding the death tolls of both the Titanic (1,500) and Lusitania (1,198). Note the extreme overcrowding on deck illustrated in the photo.

The Battle of Chickasaw Bayou: Grant’s First Attempt to Vanquish Vicksburg

By Daniel J. Ursu, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2019-2020, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the December 2019 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.


The “war was won in the West” – or so they say – and has been our monthly focus of these history briefs paralleling the same months in 1862. And so we come to December of 1862, which is widely known as the start of Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign.

However, we pick up where we left off in November 1862 in the wake of the “Second Battle of Corinth” which secured that major and important rail junction for the North and for Grant’s thrust toward central Mississippi, his ultimate target being the Confederate bastion of Vicksburg on a 200-foot bluff overlooking a fish hook-like bend in the Mississippi River. To capture it would fulfill the Western Theater’s role in the North’s strategic “Anaconda Plan” essentially cutting the South in two- and coupled with the seaboard blockade – strangling the heart of the Confederacy.

As mentioned last month, Vicksburg was the largest city in Mississippi by the time of the Civil War and a major port for cotton and other goods flowing north and south on the mighty river.

Grant’s initial strategy was somewhat obvious (see top map) and the most direct geographically. He would send his trusted friend General Tecumseh Sherman with several divisions south from Memphis in transports along the Mississippi River, disembark them on the marshy terrain, but very close to Vicksburg in the vicinity of the Yazoo River tributary and pressure Confederate commander Pemberton in Vicksburg, effectively pinning him in position. Meanwhile, Grant himself would lead two divisions south from the vicinity of Corinth (see map) along the Central Mississippi railroad and put Pemberston’s smaller force on the horns of a dilemma. That is: should Pemberton emerge from Vicksburg in the direction of Grant to stop him while leaving only a small garrison to hopefully keep Sherman out – or stay put and defend the fortress which would then submit Pemberton to a siege? This would put the North’s numerical and naval superiority to its optimal employment in December of 1862.

In mid December, Grant indeed headed south with two divisions along the railroad as planned using it as a line of supply; and at about the same time Sherman boarded vessels with his troops, using the Mississippi River and Union naval dominance as his line of supply.

However, on December 20th, while Grant penetrated to Oxford and beyond, Confederate General Earl Van Dorn with a mere 3,500 cavalry circled behind Grant’s advance and raided his second largest supply depot at Holly Springs (see map) destroying much of the food, horse forage and ammunition that Grant relied on to sustain his force. Not to be outdone, that Devil Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry had been ranging widely in north Mississippi and further destroyed rail and telegraph communications in that vicinity. His supply lines disrupted, Grant now begrudgingly withdrew. However, the cut telegraph lines proved critical since when Grant decided to fall back from Oxford, Sherman failed to timely learn of Grant’s retreat.

Thus, Pemberton was now off of the horns of the dilemma and could turn his full attention to Sherman’s impending assault. On December 26th, Sherman’s troops landed at “Johnson’s Plantation” (see lower map) on the banks of the Yazoo River only about a half dozen miles north of Vicksburg. With Grant in retreat, Pemberton adroitly repositioned troops he had previously sent toward Grenada to bolster the Vicksburg garrison. They rapidly occupied prepared positions along the top slopes of a long line of cliffs and ridges known as Chickasaw Bluffs, which dominated the ground that Sherman’s four divisions would have to cross.

Sherman would have to push through a tangle of lakes, swamps and bayous inundated from recent rains and move uphill before he would reach the Confederate lines. The attack began on the morning of the 29th, with Sherman’s numbers only slightly greater than Pemberton’s and violating the three to one maxim for an attacking force to carry a prepared position. The result was a Union slaughter with a loss of about 2,000 killed, wounded or missing. In stark contrast, Confederate losses in killed, wounded or missing were only about 210. Sherman accepted the defeat in his memoirs, but despite the daunting odds, pointed to the cowardice of one of his divisional commanders, George W. Morgan, for the tactical failure, asserting that Morgan did not accompany his troops to the point of advance which he told Sherman he would do. Morgan hotly disputed this, saying that Sherman rashly attacked the strongest position of the Confederate line.

Grant said of the battle in his memoirs: “The waters were high so that the bottoms were generally overflowed, leaving only narrow causeways of dry land between points of debarkation and the high bluffs. These were fortified and defended at all points. The rebel position was impregnable against any force that could be brought against its front.” And he shortly later wrote “the real work of the campaign and siege of Vicksburg now began.”

From the South’s perspective, President Davis’ controversial decision to put Confederate General Pemberton, a northern native from Philadelphia, in charge of Vicksburg now looked smartly done. Further, the North’s cavalry had shown it was still inferior to their Southern counterparts led by the likes of Nathan Bedford Forrest.

That said, U.S. Grant indicated that he learned important lessons from the defeat – such as to seek dry ground from which to stage further assaults on the fortress Vicksburg.


Related links:
This history brief is the third in a series of three.
The first in this series is: “The Civil War Was Won in the West” – or so they say.
The second in this series is: The Second Battle of Corinth and the Start of the Vicksburg Campaign.

The Decisive Battle of the Civil War: An Unlikely Nomination

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2014-2015, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the January 2015 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.


One of the topics that Civil War enthusiasts enjoy debating is the question of which Civil War battle was the decisive one. As a way of delving again into the thorny subject of the Civil War’s decisive battle, a nomination for this distinction is made herein. It is likely that no one will agree with this choice for the Civil War’s decisive battle, but if nothing else, the selection of this battle as the decisive one can be taken as an example of how a seemingly distant and unrelated occurrence can have a profound effect on subsequent events. The two Civil War battles that are most often mentioned as the war’s decisive battle are Gettysburg and Vicksburg. However, to give consideration to the nomination proposed herein, then it is necessary to accept that the decisive battle of the Civil War did not occur in 1863 in Pennsylvania or Mississippi or, for that matter, anywhere else during 1863. The decisive battle of the Civil War also did not take place in 1864 or 1865. Nor did it occur in 1861 or 1862, and it did not happen in Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, or Tennessee. The decisive battle of the Civil War happened in 1847, and it took place in Mexico. The decisive battle of the Civil War was the battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican-American War.

The battle of Buena Vista took place in February 1847. A U.S. army under the command of future president Zachary Taylor was advancing south in Mexico. Taylor received word from a scout that a much larger Mexican army under Antonio López de Santa Anna was moving to oppose him. Taylor positioned his army in a mountain pass to give his smaller force the benefit of terrain. Part of Taylor’s army was positioned on high ground on the left. Santa Anna’s battle plan was to try to move against and around this left flank, and he sent elements of his army to do so. In spite of the advantage of the high ground, the Mexicans were driving the Americans back, and the left flank of Taylor’s army was on the brink of collapse. At this point Taylor sent forward a Mississippi regiment, the Mississippi Rifles, which was under the command of Taylor’s son-in-law, Colonel Jefferson Davis. Davis’ regiment managed to hold off the Mexicans, but the battle was far from over. A renewed and fierce Mexican attack led to the American lines once more being on the verge of crumbling. To drive off the enemy force Taylor sent in an artillery unit under the command of Captain Braxton Bragg with explicit orders from Taylor to “maintain the position at every hazard.” What is remarkable about Bragg’s artillery unit rushing forward is that it was done with no infantry support. Only 50 yards from the enemy, Bragg’s unit unlimbered and drove canister into the advancing Mexicans, which brought the attack to an end.

Zachary Taylor

Several anecdotes from the battle of Buena Vista are noteworthy. For example, Zachary Taylor was reputed to be astride his horse near the front when someone shouted to him that a cannonball was heading toward him. Supposedly Taylor timed the flight of the cannonball and lifted himself off his saddle to allow the projectile to pass under him and above his horse. While it is true that Taylor remained near the front in harm’s way, it is almost certain that that incident is apocryphal. Also apocryphal is the purported admonition that Taylor made to Bragg to give the Mexicans “a little more grape, Captain Bragg.” Since Bragg’s guns were firing canister, not grapeshot, this exhortation is almost certainly inaccurate, but it was used in various forms as a slogan during Taylor’s successful 1848 campaign for the U.S. presidency. One anecdote from the battle of Buena Vista that is true, and is also relevant to the Civil War, is that Jefferson Davis witnessed Braxton Bragg’s bold and unsupported movement against the Mexican attack, and this incident colored Davis’ opinion of Bragg to the eventual detriment of the Confederate cause.

A painting depicting Zachary Taylor exhorting Braxton Bragg to use “a little more grape”

During the Civil War, when it became clear that Braxton Bragg was wholly incompetent as an army commander, Confederate President Jefferson Davis continued to leave Bragg in command of the Army of Tennessee while that army lost more and more southern territory in the western theater. It was not until the disaster at Missionary Ridge demonstrated convincingly that the men in the Army of Tennessee had lost all respect for Bragg and all willingness to follow his orders that Davis finally made the decision to remove Bragg from command. But by then Bragg’s incompetence had solidified the outcome in the western theater. A number of Civil War historians, such as Richard McMurry, have argued compellingly that the Civil War was decided not in the East, but in the West, and Jefferson Davis’ reluctance to remove Bragg was instrumental in allowing Bragg to sow disaster for the Confederacy in the western theater, which ultimately led to overall Confederate defeat. Davis’ sustaining of Bragg in the face of evidence that such support was not warranted had its genesis in 1847 at the battle of Buena Vista.

There is a short story titled “A Sound of Thunder” by science fiction writer Ray Bradbury. The premise of the story is that a futuristic and beneficent society has developed the capacity for time travel, and this is used for tourism. One type of trip is to go back in time on a safari for the thrill of killing a dinosaur. The company that operates the service is careful to select only those dinosaurs that were about to die from some other cause in order not to disrupt the future by altering the past. A participant on one safari panics at the sight of the Tyrannosaurus rex that is the target of the group, and this person jumps off of the time travel platform on which everyone is supposed to remain in order to prevent potentially disastrous contact between the people from the future and the world of the past. After this person jumps off of the platform, he steps on and kills a butterfly. When the safari group returns to its own time, the beneficent, enlightened society from which they departed has been replaced by one that is despotic and oppressive. The lesson of this short story is that a seemingly miniscule occurrence can have substantial consequences when the effects of that occurrence become amplified through the course of time.

And so it was with the battle of Buena Vista. Jefferson Davis was so struck by the bravery and daring of Braxton Bragg that Davis continued to have faith in Bragg during the Civil War, even after all the evidence indicated that Bragg was woefully ineffective as commander of the Army of Tennessee. Davis’ misplaced faith in Bragg thus played a major role in determining the outcome in the western theater and thereby in the Civil War itself. This misplaced faith grew out of Davis’ observations of Bragg at the battle of Buena Vista, and the effects of those observations and of the opinion that arose from them rippled through time and played a decisive role in the Confederacy’s defeat.

What I did on my Summer Vacation

By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2018-2019, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the September 2018 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.


The stereotypical first assignment for students who are returning to school after the summer is to write a report about what they did on their summer vacation. Since the September meeting is routinely the first meeting after the Roundtable’s summer break, this history brief is about something that I did on my summer vacation. The Roundtable’s president for 2018-2019, Dan Ursu, chose Southern invasions and raids of the North as the theme for this session. With that in mind, this history brief focuses on an invasion of the North, in fact, an invasion of that state up north, which all Ohioans know is the correct pronunciation for the state whose name is spelled M-i-c-h-i-g-a-n. The invasion that is the subject of this history brief was not a Southern invasion, but a British invasion. And not the British invasion of the 1960s that was led by the Beatles, but a British invasion that occurred during the War of 1812. However, there is a Civil War connection, which will become clear below. The subject of this history brief is the battle of the River Raisin, which took place in southeastern Michigan from January 18 to 22, 1813. Like a number of Civil War battles, the battle of the River Raisin goes by a couple of names, one for the body of water near its location and one for the town near its location. Hence, this battle is known as the battle of the River Raisin and the battle of Frenchtown.

I learned about this battle several years ago when my wife, Karen, and I were driving to visit our daughter and her family in Holland, Michigan. Our usual driving route takes us north on U.S. route 23. Just before exit 15, there is a brown sign indicating the presence of a National Park at that exit. This sign states that the park at exit 15 is the River Raisin National Battlefield Park, which is one of only four National Battlefield Parks in the U.S. Most people who are reading this are now probably thinking that that number cannot be correct, because there are certainly more than four battlefields in the National Park System. The explanation is that there are a few different designations for battlefield sites in the National Park System, including National Military Park, National Battlefield, National Battlefield Site, and National Battlefield Park. In the National Park System, there are four National Battlefield Parks: River Raisin, Manassas, Richmond (Virginia, not Kentucky), and Kennesaw Mountain. This makes River Raisin the only one of the four National Battlefield Parks that is a non-Civil War site, and it is the closest of the four to Cleveland. This past summer, after driving by that brown sign numerous times, I finally was able to visit the River Raisin battlefield.

James Winchester

The battle of the River Raisin was one of most terrible defeats in U.S. military history, in particular because of what happened in the aftermath of the battle. In August 1812, the British captured Fort Detroit, which gave them a base for invasion of the U.S. Frenchtown, which lay on the northern bank of the River Raisin, was less than 40 miles south of Fort Detroit and in the path of a British invasion into Ohio. As a prelude to an invasion, a small British force and their American Indian allies occupied Frenchtown. The U.S. army that was in that area was under the command of Major General William Henry Harrison and was at that time in northwest Ohio. Harrison’s objective was to retake Fort Detroit, and he split his army into two columns, one under his direct command and the other under his second in command, Brigadier General James Winchester. Harrison began to make preparations for a winter campaign, and he ordered Winchester to keep his column in contact with Harrison’s column. But when Winchester received a report that the British and Indians had occupied Frenchtown, Winchester sent a detachment of about 700 men under the command of Colonel William Lewis. This force, which consisted of largely untrained troops, most of whom were from Kentucky, was able to drive the smaller British and Indian force out of Frenchtown on January 18, 1813. Winchester and 300 more men arrived following this engagement, and Winchester decided to occupy Frenchtown, even though he was 30 miles from the army’s other column. The action on January 18 is usually referred to as the first battle of the River Raisin.

Map of the area around Frenchtown, which was located on the northern bank of the River Raisin
Henry Procter

Although Winchester had disobeyed his order to stay in contact with the other column of the army, Harrison was pleased when he learned that Winchester had driven the British out of Frenchtown. Accordingly, Harrison dispatched some reinforcements to Frenchtown, and also sent a messenger, Captain Nathaniel Hart, with orders to hold Frenchtown. When Hart arrived at Frenchtown, he was horrified to find that Winchester had made no preparations for a likely British counterattack. The Kentucky militia who were part of Winchester’s force were housed in various buildings in Frenchtown, and the regular army troops were camped in the open east of the town on the right flank of the American force. There were no fortifications facing north, the likely direction of a British attack, other than a picket fence that happened to be on the northern side of Frenchtown. Moreover, Winchester stayed in a house south of the River Raisin and had the army’s supply of ammunition and gunpowder kept at that house. These poor dispositions were made in spite of reports from civilians that a large British and Indian force was on the move toward Frenchtown. Winchester believed that it would be some time before the British could mount a counterattack, but at that time, a force of 600 British troops and 800 Indians, under the command of Colonel Henry Procter, was advancing toward Frenchtown.

U.S. troop reenactors at River Raisin battlefield

The British and Indian force arrived within striking distance of Frenchtown on the night of January 21, 1813 and took up positions for a dawn attack the following day. The American perimeter was so poorly guarded that reputedly the enemy force was able to move within musket range before it was detected. When the British attack was launched, the Americans were caught completely off guard. The troops on the right, who were camped in the open, were overwhelmed in 20 minutes. Although these troops returned fire, many were quickly killed or wounded, and their position soon became untenable, with artillery and musket fire from the British to their front and attack by the Indians on their right flank. The surviving troops were routed and ran across the frozen River Raisin in their rear. However, they were pursued by the Indians, and of the approximately 400 American troops on the right who fled, over 200 were killed or mortally wounded, and the remainder were captured. Among those captured was James Winchester, who had been awakened by the sounds of battle and rushed to the front.

The troops on the left, who took position behind the fence, held out longer and maintained strong musket fire and a stiff defense, and even repulsed some British attacks on their position. However, when Winchester was brought to the British commander, Henry Procter, Procter warned Winchester that if the Americans did not surrender immediately, then Procter would not guarantee their safety from the Indians once they did surrender. In light of this warning, Winchester signed a letter of surrender, which was sent under a flag of truce to the U.S. troops who were holding out on the left. After seeing the letter, these troops wanted to continue to fight rather than risk a fate at the hands of the Indians. But with their ammunition dwindling and a pledge of safe treatment from their British captors, the Americans decided to surrender. One person who was instrumental in negotiating the guarantee of safe treatment of the U.S. prisoners was an American officer who was one the troops behind the fence, a man named George Madison, who was a cousin of President James Madison. After the battle, George Madison, who was born in Virginia but moved to Kentucky sometime prior to 1784, was held as a prisoner of war in Quebec for a year until a prisoner exchange.

The fighting on January 22, 1813 is usually called the second battle of the River Raisin. The grim U.S. toll for this battle was over 300 killed, about 90 wounded, and about 500 captured. British commander Henry Procter was concerned about a U.S. counterattack and departed Frenchtown with most of his British troops and with those prisoners who could make the trek through the cold and snow. Left at Frenchtown were the Indians and some British troops. The small number of British troops were ostensibly left to protect the American wounded who, because they were too weak for the journey, remained at Frenchtown. Before Procter left, he promised to send sleighs to transport the wounded Americans. But on January 23, 1813, the day following the battle, the remaining British troops departed, and the wounded U.S. troops were left with the Indians, who were already filled with a desire for vengeance because of U.S. expansion into their lands and the losses that they had suffered in the battle. What followed was a massacre of wounded U.S. prisoners, who were helpless to defend themselves. According to accounts of survivors, the Indians tomahawked wounded men and also set fire to buildings in which wounded Americans were housed and then tomahawked men as they fled from the burning buildings. Some of the wounded men died in the flames.

Painting depicting the massacre of U.S. troops at River Raisin
Tecumseh

The Indians were under the overall command of Tecumseh, but Tecumseh was not present at the battle or the massacre. Rather, other Indian chiefs were in command of the Indians at the battle and its aftermath, and it has been surmised that had a strong commander like Tecumseh been present, he may have been able to prevent the massacre, had he been of a mind to do so. Those Americans who were not massacred at Frenchtown were led northward by the Indians to Fort Detroit. Along the way, those who were too weak to keep up were killed, and their bodies were left where they were murdered. This brutal march of wounded men, a number of whom were killed for being unable to keep up, was a War of 1812 equivalent of the Bataan Death March more than a century before the World War II atrocity. Exact numbers of American deaths in what became known as the River Raisin Massacre are not known, but estimates range from 30 to 60, which brought the total number of U.S. deaths at the battle of the River Raisin to as many as 400. Of the approximately 1,000 Americans who fought at the battle of the River Raisin, only 33 were able to avoid death or capture. The bodies at Frenchtown and along the route to Fort Detroit remained unburied for months until Frenchtown again came under U.S. control. The battle of the River Raisin was the worst U.S. defeat in the War of 1812 and had the highest number of American deaths of any battle in the war. In fact, 15% of the American combat deaths in the War of 1812 occurred at the battle of the River Raisin. The massacre that occurred after the battle led to the rallying cry “Remember the Raisin.”

Many years after the battle of the River Raisin, one survivor of the massacre and the march, a man named Thomas Dudley, wrote an account of his experiences. According to Dudley’s account, which is dated May 26, 1870, on the morning of the massacre Dudley, who had been badly wounded in the shoulder by a musket ball, was being housed in a room with three other wounded officers, who are identified in Dudley’s account as Major Graves, Captain Hart, and Captain Hickman. Hart, a Kentuckian whose sister, Lucretia, married Henry Clay in 1799, was the man who was sent by William Henry Harrison to tell James Winchester to hold Frenchtown after the engagement on January 18. The building in which these four wounded men were housed was used by the townspeople as a tavern, and Dudley wrote that the Indians entered the building, removed barrels from the cellar, broke open the barrels, and drank the contents of the barrels. Then some Indians came into the room which held the four wounded men, and Graves and Hart quickly left the room. The Indians removed Dudley’s coat, hat, and shoes, and as they were leaving the room, they tomahawked Hickman. Dudley managed to leave the building onto a porch, and from inside the building he heard Hart negotiating with an Indian for passage to a British prison in return for $600. The Indian agreed and placed Hart on a horse, but after they went only a short distance, Hart was shot off of the horse and died, although it is not clear if Hart was shot by the Indian with whom Hart had negotiated passage to the British prison or by another Indian. Hickman, the man who had been tomahawked, was then brought out of the building and thrown into the snow, where, according to Dudley’s account, “he breathed once or twice and expired.” Dudley stood in the snow for some time while Indians passed by him, which caused Dudley to wonder what fate awaited him. Then a young Indian approached Dudley, who showed the Indian his shoulder wound. The Indian put a coat around Dudley’s shoulders and led him off for the trek to Fort Detroit. When the Indian saw that Dudley lacked shoes, he gave his prisoner a spare pair of moccasins. Along the march, the Indian gave Dudley some food and also gave him a blanket at night. Dudley also wrote about seeing the Indians displaying the scalps they had taken. The following day, the Indians and their prisoners reached Detroit, where the British took charge of the prisoners. Dudley credited the young Indian who cared for him with saving his life and wrote, “Let me here say my Indian captor exhibited more the principle of the man and the soldier than all the British I had been brought in contact with.” Eventually Dudley was paroled and allowed to return to the U.S., where, as he wrote near the end of his account, “I lived to be fully avenged upon the enemies of my country in the battle of the 8th of January below New Orleans.” Dudley, of course, was referring to Andrew Jackson’s victory at the battle of New Orleans.

Richard Mentor Johnson

After the battle of the River Raisin, William Henry Harrison canceled his winter campaign against Fort Detroit and instead constructed Fort Meigs in present-day Perrysburg, Ohio to protect against invasions by the British and also to use as a base of operations for another advance into Michigan. After the battle of Lake Erie in September 1813, a U.S. force captured Frenchtown. The British army under Henry Procter retreated from Michigan into present-day Ontario, where they were defeated at the battle of the Thames by an army under William Henry Harrison. It was in the battle of the Thames that Tecumseh was killed, perhaps by Richard Mentor Johnson. Johnson never claimed to have killed Tecumseh, but the legend that he was the man who killed the famous Indian chief came to life after the battle. This legend became a campaign slogan in 1836 when Johnson was the Democratic candidate for vice president, and his slogan was “Rumpsey Dumpsey, Rumpsey Dumpsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh.” Although Johnson did not receive enough electoral votes to win the vice presidency, he became the only vice president ever elected by the Senate under the provisions of the Twelfth Amendment.

William Howard Taft and Libbie Custer at the dedication of the statue of George Armstrong Custer

Another casualty of the battle of the River Raisin was the settlement of Frenchtown. Before the Indians left Frenchtown, they set fire to all of the buildings, and the entire town was destroyed. When Frenchtown was rebuilt after the war, it was renamed Monroe after President James Monroe. Monroe, Michigan has a connection to the Civil War in that it is the place in which George Armstrong Custer spent much of his childhood. In fact, travelers who use exit 15 off of U.S. 23 to drive to Monroe go part of the way on South Custer Road. Monroe, Michigan also has the distinction of having hosted four presidential visits. The first was by Andrew Johnson on September 4, 1866 as part of a midterm campaign tour to support Congressional candidates. Johnson was accompanied on the trip by Secretary of State William Seward, Ulysses Grant, and George Armstrong Custer. Monroe was a stop for Johnson between Toledo and Detroit, but the crowd that gathered in Monroe reportedly was disappointed, because the people did not see Grant, who left the train in Cleveland. The second of Monroe’s presidential visits was on June 4, 1910 by William Howard Taft, who attended a dedication ceremony of an equestrian statue honoring George Armstrong Custer. The statue, which still stands, was unveiled by Custer’s wife, Elizabeth, and is only about a mile from the River Raisin National Battlefield Park. The third presidential visit was by Bill Clinton on August 15, 2000. This visit included both the president and the vice president. The visit was part of a campaign tour for Al Gore, and both Clinton and Gore were present. Moreover, they were accompanied by their wives, Hillary and Tipper, which made this visit particularly distinctive, and the Clintons were also accompanied by their daughter, Chelsea. The fourth presidential visit to Monroe was by the man who defeated Al Gore, George W. Bush, who visited Monroe on September 15, 2003, three years and one month after the Clinton-Gore visit. The purpose of Bush’s visit was to tour the Monroe Power Plant as a way of highlighting his policies for energy generation and energy security.

Statue of George Armstrong Custer in Monroe, Michigan

The U.S. presidents who visited Monroe, Michigan did not tour the River Raisin battlefield, but that battlefield is nevertheless worth visiting because of the historic and tragic events that took place there. Although there is a connection between the city of Monroe and the Civil War, the battle that was fought on the land which Monroe occupies was part of the War of 1812, not the Civil War, and the National Park which preserves that battlefield is quite small compared to Civil War battlefields such as Gettysburg and Antietam. Nevertheless, the River Raisin battlefield is worth a visit by Civil War enthusiasts. After all, touring battlefields is what Civil War enthusiasts do, and the River Raisin National Battlefield Park is only about a two-hour drive from Cleveland. But if Civil War enthusiasts insist on seeing something related to the Civil War when they visit a battlefield, then they can go for a look at the statue of George Armstrong Custer in downtown Monroe.