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.