By Daniel J. Ursu
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2017, All Rights Reserved
Not only did the abolitionist John Brown, the “Meteor of the Civil War” as proffered by poet Walt Whitman, live part of his life in the northeastern Ohio Village of Hudson, but did another military leader of the Civil War actually hail from Hudson – that being Andrew Hickenlooper, Captain of the 5th Independent Battery Ohio Light Artillery.
At the time of the war’s outbreak, Hickenlooper was working in Cincinnati, Ohio. The battery was recruited in southwestern Ohio and organized by Hickenlooper at St. Louis, Missouri in August 1861. Over time, the battery was attached to Brigadier General Prentiss’s 6th division which was part of then Major General U.S. Grant’s Union Army of the Tennessee at the Battle of Shiloh, on April 6th &7th, 1862.
It was Hickenlooper’s battery, along with another from Minnesota, that anchored the center of the Union line at what became known as the “Hornet’s Nest.” Positioned on a small knoll with good lines of sight, especially considering the heavily wooded terrain of most of the battlefield, effective fire from his battery arguably saved the line and perhaps the battle from an even worse disaster that befell the Union on the first of two days of horrendous fighting.
There were many Ohio-born soldiers in General Grant’s army at the battle of Shiloh. Indeed, Grant was joined late in the evening of the first day by Major General John Carlos Buell’s Union Army of the Ohio, which included numerous Ohio infantry regiments. At Shiloh, Ohio Artillery batteries on the field were Battery G, 1st Ohio Light Artillery (OLA), 3rd OLA, 5th OLA, 8th OLA, 13th OLA and 14th OLA.
Hickenlooper’s 5th OLA battery consisted of two smoothbore and four rifled 6-pound cannons. By the time they took position on the Hornet’s Nest line by midday of the first day of the battle, this was down to four guns, two of which were placed slightly in front a nearby Iowa regiment.
As the Confederates attempted to capitalize on their stunning successes of the morning, their advance by the afternoon on the sunken road that made the Hornet’s Nest position so effective as a rallying point was in full swing. Hickenlooper’s battery was superbly positioned at a salient in the line joining the divisions of Wallace and Hurlburt. Throughout the assault on the Hornet’s Nest, multiple accounts, including his own, describe the effectiveness of the 5th Ohio artillery in helping to repulse the Confederate onrush. Hickenlooper wrote afterwards: “Soon the shells gave warning, and the skirmish fire grew stronger and deeper. Then came long triple lines of bristling steel whose sternface bearers, protected and yet impeded by the heavy undergrowth, came pressing on, until our cannon’s loud acceptance of their challenge and the infantry’s crashing volleys caused the assailants to hesitate, break in confusion and hastily retire.” Adroitly mixing shell, canister and double canister, Hickenlooper’s battery laid down a debilitating fire on the advancing rebels disrupting their valiant charges time after time on the Hornet’s Nest.
But by about 4:30 or 5:30 PM other positions on the end of either flank of the Union line were giving way and a general rout similar to that of the morning ensued. Divisional commander Prentiss, wanting to at least save his artillery from the chaotic scene, ordered Hickenlooper’s guns to the rear. Controversially, Prentiss ended up surrendering the majority of his remaining troops as the flanks had folded on either side. But for Hickenlooper’s Ohio artillery contribution to holding back the butternut gray Confederate tide, the Hornet’s Nest position might have begun to collapse earlier depriving General Grant the time that he needed to piece together a final defensive line at Dill Branch Creek to ultimately halt the Confederates prior to dusk.
In a famous nighttime exchange between two other prominent Ohioans, then Brigadier General William T. Sherman and Grant, Sherman mused “Well Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Grant replied, “Yes,” puffing on his glowing cigar in the darkness, “Lick ’em tomorrow, though.” With Buell’s fresh troops finally on hand that was exactly the result.
Before and after the war, Hickenlooper was a noted civil engineer. After the war, returning to Cincinnati, Hickenlooper was instrumental in the development and use of modern street lighting. Later he served three years as Lieutenant Governor of Ohio. A stone monument of a cannon with stacked ammunition on the Shiloh Battlefield marks and memorializes the position held by Hickenlooper’s 5th Ohio Light Artillery on the Hornet’s Nest line.
Lastly, if the Hickenlooper name sounds familiar to you for other reasons, it might be that you visited Denver, Colorado and enjoyed a beer at the Wynkoop Brewing Company, a brew pub co-founded in the late 1980’s by Hickenlooper’s great-grandson, John W. Hickenlooper. Or, perhaps you recognize it from an interest in government as John W. Hickenlooper was then also later elected Mayor of Denver in 2003 and Governor of Colorado in 2010. He served two terms as governor from 2011 to 2019.
Books (Click on any of the book links 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.)
Mark Grimsley and Steven E. Woodworth, Shiloh – A Battlefield Guide, 2006; Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.
Timothy T. Isbell, Shiloh and Corinth – Sentinels of Stone, 2007; University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, MS.
James Lee McDonough, Shiloh – In Hell before Night, 1977; University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, TN.
Wiley Sword, Shiloh: Bloody April, 1974, reprinted 1983; Morningside House, Inc., Dayton, OH.
Time-Life Books, Shiloh – Voices of the Civil War, 1996; Time Life Education, Alexandria, Virginia.