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.

Cleveland Fights the Civil War

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 winter of 2002.

Cleveland and Cuyahoga County contributed a large percentage of its manpower to the American Civil War. The federal census of 1860 showed Cleveland’s population to be 43,838. The total Cuyahoga County population was approximately 50,000. The records on the walls of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Public Square, the official record of the county, contain the names of 10,000 residents of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County who fought in the Civil War.

The Cleveland Grays Armory, Cleveland, Ohio

The Cleveland Grays, which has a history back to 1838, provided some of first troops to answer the call of the governor. The Grays were on there way within sixty hours of the governor’s call. They became Company E of the First Ohio Infantry.

A Cleveland battery fired the first shot for the Union. That shot was fired by the First Ohio Light Artillery which went to the front on only two days’ notice. It was commanded by Colonel, later General, James Barnett. It was at Philippi, West Virginia, that the historic first Union cannon was fired in battle. There was the 9th Independent Battery, of which Edwin Cowles, the founder of the Leader (an old Cleveland newspaper), was sergeant and afterwards a second lieutenant. The firing was done by the 19th Battery, familiarly known as Shields’ Battery, and the 20th. Both of these batteries owed most of their members to Cleveland.

7th Ohio Monument, Woodland Cemetery,
Cleveland, Ohio

Early in the Civil War, area men were mustered into the famous 7th Ohio Regiment. Cleveland and Cuyahoga County furnished the 7th Ohio with eleven field and staff officers and three complete companies. In three years 1800 men served in the 7th. However, following 3-year enlistment expiration, only 300 men remained to bring home the colors.

It is of the 7th regiment that a war historian wrote, “All in all, considering the number of its battles, its marches, its losses, its conduct in action, it may be safely said that not a single regiment in the United States gained more lasting honor or deserved better of its country than the Seventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry.”

The 8th Ohio kept up Cleveland’s reputation by showing exceptional courage at Gettysburg. The gallant 23rd Ohio, containing two future U. S. Presidents and 250 men from the Cleveland area, helped defeat the rebels at the battle of Cedar Creek after Sheridan’s famous ride from Winchester.

Fifteen black men also enlisted from Cleveland. They were members of the 5th United States Colored Infantry, which had the terrible loss of 302 killed and wounded out of a total force of 559.

Even after the disaster of the first battle of Bull Run, Cleveland raised a new regiment, the Ohio 41st. The command was given to Captain Will Hazen. This regiment was followed by the Ohio 24th, the 37th, 58th, 103rd, 107th, and the 42nd, which included future President Garfield as a colonel. The 124th was also from the Western Reserve, and many Clevelanders were with it as officers and privates. Its work at Lookout Mountain was especially noteworthy. Clevelanders also served in the 128th regiment, which guarded Confederate prisoners at Johnson’s Island.

The 115th and the 169th regiments, which garrisoned Washington in 1864, were also made largely of Cleveland men. Cleveland also contributed largely to the independent companies of sharpshooters which Governor Tod recruited. The 2nd Cavalry, which was made up almost exclusively from Cleveland and the Western Reserve and was noted for the social prominence of its members, had a most picturesque career. It fought Choctaws in Indian Territory, Quantrell’s guerillas in Missouri, and was a large factor in the chase and capture of John Hunt Morgan, the raider. It followed him for twelve hundred miles through three states, marching twenty-four hours a day.

In fact, so pervasive was a strong Civil War spirit in Cleveland that there was not a regiment mustered in the state which did not contain men from the banks of the Cuyahoga.

Related links:
The Cuyahoga County Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument
The Last Civil War Veterans From Cuyahoga County
Whatever Happened to Camp Cleveland?
The 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry