The 15th Ohio at Shiloh
The rumble of artillery could be heard ominously in the distance as the steamer, John J. Roe, headed along the Tennessee River toward Pittsburg Landing. On board was the brigade of Col. William Gibson, consisting of the 15th & 49th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and the 32nd & 39th Indiana Volunteer Infantry regiments. It was near mid-morning of April 7, 1862 when the steamer neared the confusion and chaos at the landing.
The Union Army had been hit by a massive assault the day before. The Confederate Army of Albert S. Johnston had driven back Grant's army from its camps along the Tennessee River and as night fell, the bluecoats teetered on the brink of disaster. Andrew Gleason, of the 15th Ohio's Company G, recorded the scene in his diary. "The river bank and the sides of the road through the bluff were crowded with panic-stricken cowards who had drifted back from various regiments of Grant's army and could only be restrained from leaping on the boats by a strong line of guards with fixed bayonets at hte landing." The arriving 15th Ohio was part of General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio. Buell's troops began arriving in the early morning hours of April 7th, as Grant massed his troops for a counter attack. Pushing toward the battlefield, the horrors of battle were everywhere evident.
"We had not gone far before the terrible effects of a desperate battle were visible on either side of the road," wrote Captain Chandler Carroll of Co. K to his wife. "Dead Federals, dead Sesech and dead horses and mules lay thick on the ground and the wounded could be heard groaning even above the noise and confusion of the battle." Captain Askew of Co. E voiced similar feelings in a letter to his father, "...the scene was truly horrible. The ground was thickly strewn with dead men and horses killed in almost every conceivable way."
The brigade advanced toward the center of the Union Line near the Corinth and Purdy road angle, in wooded terrain stopping about twenty-five yards in the rear of Rousseau's Brigade of their own division, being Alexander McCook's. Rousseau's men were hard pressed and were nearly out of ammunition. After a brief halt, the brigade moved forward to take Rousseau's place in line. The 15th deployed on the right, the 49th Ohio on the left and the 39th Indiana took the center. (The 32nd Indiana being detached on its arrival.) The brigade opened their ranks to allow Rousseau's men to fall back and then they advanced through a storm of shot and shell.
The first causulties taken were all wounded in the legs showing that the Rebels were purposely firing low. A Confederate battery got the range of the 15th early in the action and one of its shells did cruel damage when it hit between companies E and H. As the brigade reached its positions, the order was given to lie down and open fire. Colonel Gibson described the action in his report. "The enemy's infantry...opened a terrific fire on our whole line simultaneously. The fire of the enemy's infantry was promptly responded to along our whole line. Our volleys were delivered with rapidity, regularity and effect." As both sides held steady, the Confederates attempted to turn the left of Gibson's line held by the 49th Ohio. Gibson changed front and repulsed the effort, only to have the Southerners re-form and try again, this time with a much larger force. As they launched their second attack, Capatin Bouton, with two guns from his Chicago Battery, (officially designated as Battery I, 1st Illinois Light Artillery), arrived and quickly sillenced the enemy's guns. Gibson was then able to straighten his line as the Rebel assualt ground to a halt. With this threat removed, Captain Bouton took his guns to the left of the 15th's line, which was suffering much from an enemy battery that had been hammering them since they arrived. Skillfully manning his guns, Bouton put the enemy guns out of commission.
Major WIllam Wallace, commanding the 15th in the absence of Colonel Moses Dickey, described the afternoon action. "...we were under the most galling fire from the rebel forces. During the entire time, no inch of ground was yielded but twice we advanced our lines until we were in close proximity to the rebel forces. No language can do justice to the brave officers and men under my command. They poured a most deadly fire into the enemy's ranks amid a raking charge of musketry and artillery which was fast thinning my ranks but nothing could move the gallant Fifteenth."
DISASTER AT STONE RIVER
By late December, with a great deal of prodding from Washington, Army Commander William Rosecrans began to move his army south towards Murfreesboro, Tennessee where Bragg had his Confederate army quartered. McCook's corps headed south out of Nashville past Nolensville where they made camp. After a cold and fireless night, the march continued on the morning of December 30, with Willich's brigade stopping on the extreme right of the Federal Army near the intersection of Franklin Road and Gresham Lane just a few miles short of Murfreesboro. Here, the order went out to make camp and build fires. The brigade even mad fires hundreds of yards beyond the end of the line to try and deceive Bragg as to the strength of that part of the line.
Willich's Brigade was fronted by the 39th and 32nd Indiana with the 49th Ohio placed to the right rear, all facing south. To their rear was the 89th Illinois. The 15th Ohio anchored the line, facing west, thus puting their backs to the enemy. That's if the enemy were still there. General Willich was sure the Rebels had fled. So sure was he of this fact, that he let the men pitch their shelter tents. Colonel Wallace was worried. "I felt uneasy all night...I felt that they might be attacked very early in the moring and their shelter would be in the way."
R. B. Stewart describes the events. "In front were heavy woods, dark with cedar underbruch and full of we knew not what. But we had some reason for thinking that there was nothing there worse than the silent gloom. Night came on clear, cold and frosty, almost too cold for sleep and we were allowed no fires. We made our beds among the rocks and under the cedar branches. Though everything was quiet and our sleep undisturbed, we were glad when morning came."
"The morning of December 31, 1862, came on wiht a cloudless sky and a ringing, frosty air. With the first streak of dawn we were up and lively, with fires kindled, coffee boiling and meat frying on the coals. THe night had passed without any alarm and the early light revealed no signs of an approaching storm. The pickets were all at their posts, thinking only of the coming relief. The battery horses were away to watering. General Willich, who commanded our brigade, alone seemed uneasy and was out inspecting the picket line. Just as I had taken my meat and coffee from the fire and was sitting down on a cold rock to eat my breakfast, a few shots rang through the woods in front. We had hardly time to be alarmed before others followed and we heard bullets rushing in, followed by a line of gray, yelling and shooting like demons. There was no need nor time for any order to "fall in." We just tumbled over each other to get in. Dropping our pots and pans, leaving our haversacks and blankets, we snatched up our cartridge boxes and rushed for our guns, only to find ourselves in ranks with our backs to the foe."
Colonel Wallace described the events in a letter to his wife. "In the meantime, Col. Gibson of the 49th, rode over to me in a great hurry, telling me the enemy was on us-to move out and form line of battle. When I had formed the regiment, the balance of the brigade and the two brigades on the left of the road came rushing past us. When they got past, the Rebels in all their force were on us. I opened fire on them when they were not twenty yards from us. We gave them about six rounds. I found we were being surrounded and gave the order to fall back. Before us then and about 50 ysrds from us, was a high fence, which must be crossed. We losr heavily crossing the fence."
Stewart continues--"At the lower side of the field was a high rail-fence. No fence ever stood so much in my way. I could not get to it for the crowd was ahead of me. We all wanted to get over it first. But many never got over it at all."
The right flank of Rosecrans army had been hit hard by the attacking Confederates of Braxton Bragg. The whole line began to collapse. Willich's BRigade was swept from the field with General Willich himself being captured. Colonel Gibson of the 49th Ohio assumed command, was captured, escaped and remained in command.
As the 15th Ohio tried to get past the before mentioned fence, over 100 were captured and Colonel Askew was badly wounded. Writing years later, Regimental Adjutant Alex Cope was disgusted. "A high rail fence was close in our reat, while a little to our right was a gap leading to some negro auarters on a plantation. Many of the men went through the gap instead of climbing the fence and got too far to the right, while those who got over the fence necessarily lost their formation and the result was an indiscriminate retreat to the rear..."
After retreating some distance, Lt. Carroll of Company E tried to rally the men on the colors and succeeded in stopping the regiment's retreat. Cope noted that as evening fell, the regiment was but a sorry remnant of the fine body of men which had faced the enemy at daybreak. Over 100 of the men were captured at the fence. For the next two days, what was left of the regiment were actively engaged in the fight. Many fine first person accounts of the BAttle of Stone River are included in the Regimental History by Alex Cope. Included is an excellent account by Morris Cope of what became of the prisoners after their capture.
Colonel Gibson, of the 49th Ohio, took command of the brigade after the capture of General Willich. In a report apparently written for an official report on January 6, 1863, Colonel Gibson wrote of the 15th Ohio----"...the greatest of courage and many of it's officers deserve special mention. Col. Wallace, always prudent, energetic and brave, fully sustained his high reputation as a soldier and won the admiration of all those who witnessed the conflict. Lt. Col. Askew fell early on the 31st, whilst heroically cheering his men. Capt. Dawson was especially distinguished for thrilling heroism and persistent courage. The office so conspicuous in so many battles and so fully qualified, merits and should receive honorable promotion. Adj. Dubois of the same regiment deserves special mention for gallantry and good conduct".
An unfortunate incident occurred within the regiment following the battle. Major McClenahan had been wounded on the morning of December 31, 1862, just as the battle was starting. When Col. Gibson was captured, Col. Wallace of the 15th took temporary command of the brigade and went to Major McClenahan in order to turn over command of the regiment to him. McClenahan declined, saying he was wounded but would remain on the field. Wallace was furious and soon after the battle, he requested a Court Martial for McClenahan. A transcript of the trial, over 100 pages in length, provides an interesting insight inot a feud between Wallace and McClenahan that had apparently been going on for some time.
Writing in his diary, Capt. Amos Glover noted, "After the fight, the old combination pursued its persecution of Maj. McClenahan which was done in so mean a way as almost to cause the pages of this dirty old book to blush with shame."
Colonel Askew was wounded in the hip and taken prisoner but was left behind when Bragg's Army retreated. It was reported in the Belmont County Newspapers that Askew had been killed. His father traveled to Tennessee to try and retrieve his son's body and was greatly surprised and relieved to find his son alive. By April, Col. Askew was in command of the regiment with Col. Wallace on leave. This suited Amos Glover just fine. When Moses Dickey, the first commander of the 15th, resigned, Glover noted, "...Col. Dickey resigned and left--a deserving victim of an unprincipled conspiracy to which he gave countenance and was its either too willing instrument or gullible dupe." On Col. Wallace, Glover makes repeated mention of drunkeness and noted that when Col. Askew took command, Wallace was on leave for the sixth time.
Colonel William Wallace
Colonel William Wallace commanded the 15th Ohio at Shiloh and Stone River before returning to Ohio on recruiting duty. While there, he assumed command of Camp Chase prison camp. He returned to the regiment in time to start the Atlanta Campaign. He fell and severely injured his back at Pickett's Mill in 1864. He left the regiment soon thereafter.
THE AFFAIR IN HOLMES COUNTY
In June of 1863, a group of Southern Sympathizers in Holmes Co., Ohio began threatening local citizens. When the provost marshall of the county arrested three of the ringleaders, he was confronted by a group of armed men, some sixty or seventy in number, who demanded their friends release. The provost marshall, Captain J.S. Drake, had no choice but to surrender his captives. The men, all members of local "Copperhead" groups such as the Golden Circle, forced Capt. Drake to kneel and attempted to get him to renounce his oath of allegiance or be shot. He refused. After a bad half hour or so, he was released and warned never to come into the area again.
The Provost Marshall General in Columbus could not let the prevention of an officer of the Federal Government from carrying out his duties stand. He Ordered Col. William Wallace, then detached from the 15th Ohio Volunteer Infantry at Camp Chase, to subdue the "uprising" in Holmes County. Takin 420 men from various regiments with him, Col. Wallace arrived in Holmes Co. on June 17th, 1863 and by mid-afternoon had located the suspected "rebels" and advanced on them. "Upon reaching that place about 4 P.M., he advanced his entire force in the direction of the "rebels" positions. When about a mile and half from town, the advance guard of the troops was fired upon by bushwackers from behind logs and stones. The soldiers fired in return and charged upon the ambushing party, whereupon about twenty men sprang from the brush and ran. Two of these were captured. A few minutes later, the main body of troops under Col. Wallace, came up near the stone house where they too were fired upon from the ambush and immediately returned the fire and charged in the direction of the firing. Some fifty men fled toward the woods, of which several were captured, three were wounded, and two were killed and carried off by their friends. Several patrolling parties were then sent out and returned with the information that the rebels were fleeing in all directions.The soldiers then encamped for the night on the site of the rebel encampment to await developments. On the morning of the 18th, a committee of citizens of the county came to the camp and had an interview with Col. Wallace." 1
Col. Wallace agreed to end hostilities only if certain "rebels" were delivered to him. The citizens committee had 24 hours to bring these men in, or action would resume. That evening, the citizens returned with the requested prisoners. Col. Wallace and the main body of troops left the next day, having put down the rebel advances in Holmes Co.
(1-A Historical Study of Holmes County, Ohio by Fred W. Almendinger)