FRANKLIN TO NASHVILLE--NOVEMBER / DECEMBER 1864
Following the Atlanta Campaign, the 4th Army Corps, under the command of General David Stanley, was sent back to Tennessee to join with General George Thomas. The Rebel General John B. Hood marched his Army of Tennessee toward Spring Hill, Tennessee where he missed a chance to capture a large part of the Union army. On the evening of November 29, 1864 found the 15th Ohio on the march. Alex Cope remembers the scene. "At length after all the troops there assembled moved out, we followed them. We were fairly well on the road when we noticed a red glare in the sky to the north, and Colonel Askew said to the adjutant who was riding beside him: "Cope, I am not an alarmist, but I think that light is from the enemy's camp fires." The situation was in fact even more critical than we then imagined." "We did not know the real condition of affairs and it is perhaps as well that we did not. We marched on over a weary and difficult road, hurrying up the laggards, and trying to keep the men from straggling." Withdrawing toward Nashville, the 4th Army Corps found itself in a defensive position at the small town of Franklin.
FRANKLIN---(Photo-Ft. Granger Today)
November 30th, 1864 found the 15th Ohio on the left of the line in reserve at Fort Granger on the banks of the Harpeth River. The day was mild and the air still as the men rested from the long overnight march. By late afternoon, two and half miles in front, the Battle of Franklin raged. At Fort Granger, through some quirk in the atmosphere, the battle could not be heard. The men bathed in the river while others chased down hogs to add to the meat rations. Off in the distance, shell could be seen bursting but nothing could be heard. However, Colonel Askew stood on top of the ramparts watching intently. As darkness began to fall, the regiment moved out down the hill to the bridge at Franklin to cover the withdrawl of the army. It wasn't until they began to move toward the bridge that the men heard the roar of battle. Holding the left of the line, the brigade, now under the command of Abel Streight, watched as a fire began to break out across the river in Franklin. A detail of 100 men were sent across the river to put the fire out. For the next three hours, the army moved across the river heading for Nashville. By 3am, all were across and the bridge was fired. The 4th Corps took up the march, having been spared the terrible Battle of Franklin. It was a great victory for the Union Army as the Rebel General Hood charged his army straight into the middle of a slaughter.
NASHVILLE---DECEMBER 15 & 16, 1864
On the morning of December 16, 1864, two officers from the 15th Ohio Volunteer Infantry rode out to the front of their lines to look over the enemy's position. The Rebel infantry was solidly entrenched on Overton Hill. Col. Frank Askew, commander of the 15th Ohio and his adjutant, Capt. Alex Cope, didn't like the looks of what they saw. They remarked to each other on the strength of the Rebel line.
Standing near them was the acting Corps Commander, General Wood. Wood had taken over command of the IV Corps when General David Stanley was wounded at the Battle of Franklin. He had something to prove. Wood was the man who had followed a direct order from the army commander at Chickamaga back in September of 1863 and by doing so, had left a hugh gap in the Federal line which was soon hit by the Rebel Infantry of James Longstreet. While he had only followed orders, he still bore the scars of what following those orders had resulted in. The defeat of the Army of the Cumberland. Wood was determined to erase all talk of that action by his actions at Nashville.
The action of the day before was hardly one to win accolades. Wood was prepared to attack Montgomery Hill. A heavy fog had held up his planned assault. As the fog began to lift, R. B. Stewart of the 15th's Co. E described the scene. "As we watch with all our eyes, the scene grows more and more interesting and the situation somewhat reveals itself. Our position is a pivot upon which the whole right wing of our army is turning. The bugles upon the extreme right of the infantry sound "Forward," and the command passes down the line. One by one the regiments and the brigades join the movement and we can see the enemy's line crumbling and breaking to pieces before the sweep of that mighty arm. Impatiently, we wait our time. At last the bugle sounds and at the first note we leap over the breastworks, then with a wild rush and shout down the gentle slope of the hill and across the narrow strip of neutral ground, we reach the Confederate line only to find it deserted excepted by those who were willing to fight no more and the guns of a battery that they were unable to get away. These were soon turned upon their retreating owners and added noise and interest to the occasion. We were not expecting any serious resistance but were surprised at the weakness of the enemy and the heartlessness of his defence."
Early in the morning of the 16th, in a meeting with Army Commander George Thomas, Wood was told to keep the Rebels in his front busy and if any opportunity presented itself, to attack the Rebel lines. It wouldn't take much to convince Wood to attack despite the strength of the enemy lines. He would soon get his reason to attack.
Col. Sidney Post, a IV Corps Brigade Commander with high ambitions to receive a General's star, rode up to Wood in the early afternoon and sought permission to attack. Post had been puching all morning for an assault. He was noted as being a very aggressive brigade commander. Too aggressive in the opinion of his men. They had suffered from his actions and were becoming very skeptical of him.
Wood told Post to look over the rebel works and see what he thought. Post rode off but soon returned with the remark that he could take the works without a problem. Askew and Cope looked at each other in disbelief! Post couldn't be serious! These works were among the strongest they had ever seen. Despite this, Wood gave the order to attack. Col. Askew returned to his regiment and ordered the men to leave their knapsacks behind. They needed to be as light as possible for this action.
Abel Streight, the new brigade commander, gave the word for the coming attack. Teh 15th and 49th Ohio would form the first line. The 8th Kansas and the 89th Illinois would form the second. Streight was new to brigade command. His 51st Indiana was added to the brigade in a bit of political string pulling in order to give him a brigade to command. Col. Martin of the 8th Kansas was senior Colonel and rightfully should have been given the brigade. Streight was not popular with the men. He was vain and very profane. The men didn't trust him the way they did Colonel Martin but orders were orders.
Col. Askew and Major Strong certainly talked things over as they prepared for the assault. Strong, commanding the 49th Ohio, had had a strong premonition the day before that he would be shot. However, he came through the previous days battle without a scratch. Now, the same fear returned.
On the left of the line, R.B. Stewart was on the picket line. He watched as the assault went forward. "When all was ready, or supposed to be, the word was given and the line moved steadily forward until they were lost to view in the fog and smoke of battle. The grapshot began to rattle uncomfortably close to the lookers-on and we retired to a safer, if not a better, place of observation. It soon became evident that the charge was a failure".
Before the brigade could reach the enemy's works, it was already obvious that the attack had failed. Post's Brigade came stumbling back through the smoke. Post himself was severely wounded early in the attack. Col. Askew, while standing in the middle of his line, was hit in the chest with a spent minie ball. Luckily, it hit his coat button and resulted only in a bad bruise. The Colonel, while trying to keep his men together, soon became very sick from the shot and sent to the skirmish line for Col. McClenahan, his second in command. Askew turned command of the regiment over to him but remained nearby in case he was needed.
The two Ohio regiments had to fall back unable to reach the main Rebel line. Major Strong of the 49th Ohio went down severely wounded, his premonition coming true.
No one had to tell the men what to do. They fell back on their own, which allowed the corps artillery a chance to open up again on the enemy's position. They also were given a chance to see a sight they had never seen before. Off to their left, General Steedman had launched his attack belatedly. Many of his troops were blacks who were fighting for the first time. Their assault was replused with heavy losses but the valor of the black troops left a lasting impression on the veterans in Streight's brigade.
The battered brigades pulled themselves together quickly and prepared for another assault. Luckily, by the time they were ready, the right of the Rebel line had began to collapse from the other assaults. The brigade moved forward just as the Rebels began their retreat.
Sgt. William Richey, in a letter to his hometown paper, described the action and the death of Captain Hanson. "He was caught in the crossfire of the enemy which was one of the most devastating I ever witnessed, and so poor were our chances for shelter that we were exposed on every foot of ground we occupied. Notwithstanding our great disadvantage, our assault was continued until almost every yard was occupied by our killed and wounded. While falling back, I saw, lying by a tree near the Pike, Captain Hanson, out Company Commander, with whom I had only a few moments before been near the abbatis. He had been shot through the breast and I was the only one who conversed with him. After talking with him for some moments, he grasped my hand and said, "Farewell, Richey," and expired."
Pvt. Joel Chambers of the 89th Illinois described the scene. "Shortly after their line gave way on our right, we were again ordered forward. The rebs left their works in a perfect rout, leaving their artillery, many small arms and a large number of prisoners. Our loss today was considerably heavier than yesterday. Our Brigade had about one hundred killed and wounded. Our regiment had two killed and seventeen wounded."
Casualties had been heavy. And possibly unwarranted. The Rebel position was very strong. Wood's orders were to keep the enemy occupied and look for a chance to assault but it was never intended for the IV Corps to attack Overton Hill head on. Had the assault been delayed one hour, it is possible that Hood's Army would have been forced to retreat because of the hugely successful assaults ont he left of the Rebel line. Many fine men in General Willich's old brigade were lost that day. Many veterans officers were killed. The one positive note was that the assault may have drawn enemy troops to the right against the IV Corps which weakened the rest of the Rebel line and helped to pave the way for the rout of Hood's army.
"Land for an hour or two at a plantation said to belong to a Rebel Gen. Kemp. The boys got hold of an overseer and fetch him up to the boat. He is charged with being cruel to the Negros. He is badly scared."......Chaplain Randall Ross 15th Ohio Vol. Inf.
With Lee's surrender, there was jubilation among the men of the regiment. After four years of war, they would be going home. However, it was not to be. With French forces in Mexico, the U.S. Government deemed this a direct threat to the country. As a result, they ordered Gen, Phil Sheridan to take his troops to Texas to deal with this foreign threat. Sheridan chose to take the 4th Corps. The men of the 15th Ohio, along with every other regiment in the Brigade, were outraged. They had been in service for almost four years. Other units that had much less time were being mustered out. Their protests were to no avail.
General David Stanley, writing in his memoirs, agreed it was unfair. "Orders soon came to send home the regiments mustered into the service in 1862, and to prepare the remainder of the Corps,viz.: the veteran regiments raised in 1861, to move to Texas. This appeared like a very unjust order, as the veteran regiments, composed of men who had re-enlisted for the war, seemed entitled to first favor and the favor the men desired was to be mustered out. But the 4th Corps was now an organization of disciplined soldiers, and, with sighs and some grumbling, they submitted and soon the remainder of the Corps was off to Jonesville by rail and thence by steamboat for New Orleans. The men felt badly and especially as they took it to be unjust that the veteran regiments were selected."
Sergeant Major Thomas McGann of the 49th Ohio summed up his feelings in his diary entry for Tuesday, June 6, 1865. "The injustice of the government or the administration towards a part of the troops that have fought so valiantly to preserve our nations honor who have stood as a living wall of fire between the ravages of war and our peaceful homes. I say the injustice of the government in threatening to send the Corps to Texas is causing them to commit acts which in the future they will regret. ____meetings are becoming frequent. I will not pen anymore as it is too disgracful."
On June 17th, the 15th Ohio boarded the steamer Peytona to begin the long and ardeous journey to Texas.A five boat floatilla moved slowly down river. At Paducah, Kentucky, a strong guard was placed around the ships in order to prevent the men from leaving. Alex Cope writes, "Many of the men were in ugly temper because they were being taken to the far south in midsummer, and every additional regulation looking to their closer confinement to the boats was resented. The boats were crowded and the men slept on the floors of the decks, and in such parts of the cabins as were not occupied by the officers."
On June 22, the Peytona arrived at Vicksburg, Mississippi. General Willich and his staff took their horses ashore and spent a couple of hours looking over the battlefield there.
Following a brief stop at Baton Rouge, the five boat flotilla put ashore on the left bank of the river to give the men some excerise. The men soon returned to the boat with an overseer from a nearby plantation and reported that he was mis-treating the negro workers. He was very frightened because of the threats being made by the men and he was kept in close guard until the ships moved on. He was warned to treat the negroes better.
On the morning of June 24, the flotilla arrived at New Orleans. Major DuBois went ashore and soon reported back with the news that the brigade was to camp seven miles below the city. The campground turned out to be alive with vermin and no shade was available. It turned out that this was the old Chalmette battlefield from 1814 when Andrew Jackson defeated the British. Many of the men were able to sneak out and go into the city. Soon, they were in the city jail and returned to camp with orders for extra duty and other such punishments. General Willich would have none of it and ordered the men back to camp. When he found that some of his men had been ordered to carry logs as punishment, he confronted the Provost Marshall and made it clear to him that this kind of punishment was unacceptable.
On the morning of July 5, 1865, the men packed up their belongings and began the long trip to Texas. On the morning of July 8, the little fleet carrying the men across the gulf to Texas came within sight of land but couldn't put ashore until the next day at Indianola. What followed next was nothing more than a nightmare. An 18 mile march to Green Lake across a scorching prairie. Swarms of insects greeted the veterans of the 4th Corps. Water was insufficient and rations were running out. Alex Cope returned to the coast for supplies and to warn the following troops of what lay ahead. The brigade remained at Green Lake for a month.
The men continued to grumble about being there at all. Colonel Askew was doing all he could to try and get the regiment discharged, to no avail. General Willich, in order to keep the men occupied, ordered daily regimental drills. He also went around to the various camps and had supper with the men. But the feelings of discontent among the men continued. A paper was sent around and signed by many members of the Brigade saying they would refuse to march or obey orders. Colonel Askew and General Willich personally appealed to the men and urged them not to disgrace their record by such an action. The men agreed and on August 9, the march to Victoria and then San Antonio began. For the next two weeks, the men endured the worst march of their service. General Willich became very ill during the march and spent several weeks in the hospital. The corps remained in San Antonio until November 24, 1865 when they were finally discharged from service and began the journey home.
The 15th Ohio Volunteer Infantry arrived in Columbus at daylight of Christmas Day, 1865. There was no public reception. They spent the next two days at Camp Chase filling out the muster rolls and on December 27, 1865, the 15th Ohio disbanded and headed for home. It's gallant leader, Col. Frank Askew, arrived too late to see his men off. He had been left behind to finish the paper work and tried to catch up to the regiment in Columbus before they disbanded but arrived a day late. The Gallant Regiment was no more.
THE SULTANA DISASTER
In April of 1865, the Steamboat Sultana headed north on the Mississippi vastly overloaded with soldiers trying to get home. Just past Memphis, the boilers blew up, killing a hugh number of people. Four members of the 15th Ohio Volunteer Infantry were onboard. Simon Hamilton of Co. H, Martin Etzler of Co. E, Charles Myers of Co. G and Francis Carter of Co. D. Carter and Myers, both captured at Chickamauga and imprisoned at Andersonville, were killed.