Cheney and the 21st OVI

By Dennis Keating
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2023, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Charger in January 2023.

At the final hearing of the Congressional Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection, Congresswoman Liz Cheney began by invoking the memory of her great-great-grandfather, who joined the 21st Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment to save the Union. At the end of the war, Captain Samuel Fletcher Cheney commanded the regiment.

The 21st OVI was recruited from Northwest Ohio. It fought in the battle of Stones River, served in the Tullahoma, Chattanooga (including the assault on Missionary Ridge), Atlanta, and Carolina Campaigns. It fought at Chickamauga and finally at the battle of Bentonville, North Carolina. Overall, it lost 172 killed and another 220 dead from disease and other causes. During its service, two events particularly stand out.

The 21st OVI being mustered in, September 1861

First, on April 12, 1862, a band of volunteer undercover Union soldiers, including nine from the 21st OVI, hijacked the General train at the Kennesaw station at Big Shanty, Georgia, with the aim of taking it north to assist in a Union assault on Chattanooga. Unfortunately, the raid (known as the “Great Locomotive Chase”) led by James Andrews failed, and most of the raiders were captured and tried as spies. Andrews and seven other raiders (including one from the 21st OVI) were hung. All of the nine volunteers from the 21st OVI received the Medal of Honor.

A depiction of the Great Locomotive Chase

Second, at the battle of Chickamauga on September 20, 1863, the 21st OVI retreated after the Confederate breakthrough to join George Thomas’ left wing of the Army of the Cumberland on Snodgrass Hill. There it joined the stubborn resistance against numerous Confederate assaults and helped to save that part of the army. Running out of ammunition, the 21st OVI was among the last of the defenders to retreat. Its commander was mortally wounded and his successor and 120 men were captured, among the regiment’s 205 casualties.

Snodgrass House

Notably, two of its members served in the postwar 7th Cavalry regiment commanded by Ohioan George Armstrong Custer. His brother, Tom Custer, a two-time Medal of Honor winner, died with him at the 1876 battle of Little Bighorn. Edward Godfrey, who became a brigadier general and also won the Medal of Honor, survived that battle.

References (Click on the book link below 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.)

Cozzens, Peter. This Terrible Sound: The Battle of Chickamauga (1992: University of Illinois Press)

Rowland, Tim. “The Great Train Chase of 1862”; HistoryNet (September 5, 2017;

Ursu, Daniel J. “The Battle of Chickamauga: The 21st Ohio at Snodgrass Hill”; History Brief, Cleveland Civil War Roundtable (November 3, 2021)