John K. Duke.

History of the Fifty-third regiment Ohio volunteer infantry, during the war of the rebellion, 1861 to 1865. Together with more than thirty personal sketches of officers and men online

. (page 8 of 24)
Online LibraryJohn K. DukeHistory of the Fifty-third regiment Ohio volunteer infantry, during the war of the rebellion, 1861 to 1865. Together with more than thirty personal sketches of officers and men → online text (page 8 of 24)
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left and center. While the left of Sherman's position escaped in a
great measure the oncoming Confederate rush, it descended on
Hildebrand in all its energy, and in a comparatively short time
his brigade, says General Sherman, had substantially disappeared.
It is due to that gallant officer to say that he remained, however,
bravely seconding the exertions of his chief ; and it must be said,
also that if General Sherman's conduct previous to the battle in
anywise invites criticism, his bearing after it opened was invulner-
able to all reproach. The furious torrent of attack poured down
like some mountain stream swollen by a sudden storm, and over-
flowing the lowlands. The rolling, ridgy flood, crusted with sheeny
steel and preceded by a constant billow of fire, came roaring on like
the plunging waves of an inundation. It overwhelmed Hilde-
brand, streamed into the interval between him and Prentiss, sap-
ping the flanks of both, and leaped with full, crushing force on
Prentiss' front, striking it fairly from end to end, and whirling, as
the tide whirls, beyond and around its left. The ' rebel yell ' rose
wild and high from 10,000 throats ; a fiery confidence thrilled the
heart of each man in the Confederate host, for with the quick in-
stinct of American soldiers all perceived their advantage ; the
spirit of battle was upon them, and the nerve and ardor of that
magnificent onset was matchless save by the marvelous pluck and
undaunted resolution with which it was received.

" No courage, however, can overcome the ill effects of sur-
prise, or supply lack of tactical preparation. It was impossible
that the hastily arrayed and ragged Federal line, although the
ground on which it was posted was well adapted for defense, could
long withstand an assault so skillfully ordered and energetically
directed. Under the persistent, furious hammering it was getting,
Prentiss' division ere long began to shake ; gaps opened here and
there, and at length it reeled back, stunned and bleeding, to rally


between the divisions of Hurlbut and Wallace, then advancing, at
Sherman's request, to furnish support most sorely needed. Here
Prentiss was reenforced by two fresh regiments, and obtained a
brief respite. Stuart's brigade, which had been posted on the ex-
treme Federal left, watching the forces of Lick Creek, was aligned
on Prentiss' left flank, about the time that he began falling back ;
this brigade, reenforced by another sent forward by Wallace, main-
tained itself for a short time, but was driven back until it formed
on Hurlbut's left. In the meantime, three regiments were dis-
patched in hot haste to Sherman's aid by McClernand, and de-
ployed in the space whence Hildebrand's brigade had melted away.
They arrived just in time to encounter the vigorous, electric dash
of the two brigades under Hindman, which had already swept this
part of the field, as with the besom of destruction. Hindman's
martial ire, but half expressed on Hildebrand, was turned instantly
on those who took his place. While these three regiments were
gallantly struggling with the foe which had assailed them in front.
Shaver's brigade burst in on their left flank, and they, too, were
forced to recede. Instantly there was a concentration of all the
Confederate troops which had pressed into the long interval left
vacant by the giving back of Prentiss on McClernand. Blow after
blow ; hard, quick and stinging, was delivered him on front and
flank as the successive Confederate lines hurled their battalions
forward, and in his turn McClernand took ground to the rear.

'' While McDowell and Buckland's brigades of Sherman's
division had not been fiercely assailed at the inception of the Con-
federate advance, they very soon received their full share of atten-
tion. The ground which they occupied, however, was, perhaps,
altogether the strongest position on the line. Every demonstra-
tion made against it was repulsed ; artillery was used in vain
against it ; some of the best brigades of the army moved on it, only
to be hurled back and strew the morass in its front with their
dead. The Confederate loss at this point was frightful. At last,
after having held the position from 7 or 7:30 a. m. until after 10 a.


m., everything upon its right having been driven back, and the
Confederate artillery having reached a point where the guns could
play upon its rear, it was abandoned as no longer tenable. The
tenacious defense of this position, and the fact that, by massing on
his own right, General Johnston turned it, when it proved impreg-
nable to direct assault, ought to be of itself a sufficient explanation
of the correctness of his plan of battle. Sherman falling back
formed on McClernand's right, the same relative position he had
previously held.

"An entirely new line was now presented by the Federal
forces, a mile, or nearly so, in rear of Shiloh Church. While one
part of it was as formidable as the position so long successfully
maintained by Sherman, its general strength was perhaps greater.
It was formed on a series of low wooded ridges with steep and
difficult ravines in its front, and was shorter and more regular and
compact than the first. In shape, it was an obtuse angle. Stuart,
still on the extreme left, closely approached the river, while Sher-
man's right rested near Owl Creek. Here, after a short lull, the
battle was renewed about half past ten, with, if possible, increased
fury, and was waged with scarcely perceptible slackening for six
hours. While the right and left wings were both gradually pushed
back, the center, or apex of the angle which they formed, was im-
movable. One terrible spot is thus described by Col. Johnston :

" ' This position of the Federals was occupied by Wallace's
division and perhaps by the remains of Prentiss' and other com-
mands. Here, behind a dense thicket on the crest of a hill, was
posted a strong body of as hardy troops as ever fought, almost per-
fectly protected by the conformation of the ground and by logs
and other rude and hastily prepared defenses. To assail it an open
field had to be passed, enfiladed by the fire of the batteries. It was
nicknamed by the Confederates, by a very mild metaphor, ' The
Hornet's Nest.' No figure of speech would be too strong to ex-
press the deadly peril of assault upon this natural fortress, whose
inaccessible barriers blazed for six hours with sheets of flame, and


whose infernal gates poured forth a murderous storm of shot and
shell and musket fire which no living thing could quell or even

" The apex held by Wallace and Hurlburt was recognized by
General Johnston as the key, not only to that position, but to the
final Federal resistance, and when he witnessed its determined
maintenance he knew that the crisis had arrived if he would de-
stroy Grant that day, he must force that position long ere sunset.
The only troops he had remaining which were at all fresh and had
not yet been engaged were Breckenridge's reserves. The time had
evidently come for their employment. They were ordered in, and
one of the bloody combats of that day ensued. Two ridges about
200 yards apart were occupied by the respective combatants. Upon
one the Federals posted in two lines of battle swept the other and
all the intervening space with their fire. On the other the bravest
troops of the Confederate army stood for many minutes dropping
under the murderous musketry, unwilling to retire and yet irreso-
lute to advance. Breckenridge, Harris, and others of the best be-
loved of the Confederate leaders, exposed themselves with reckless
daring, but no answering cheer and springing charge came, as us-
ual, at their bidding.

" General Johnston realized that it was one of those moments
when the commander must furnish an example of absolute indiffer-
ence to death ; when the general must give way to the soldier ;
when the thrilling, magnetic influence of the presence and person-
al leadership of the chief must be used to achieve victory. He
rode slowly out in front of, and then down the line. He was a
man of wonderfully majestic and imposing presence. His tower-
ing form caught all eyes at once, and his flashing glance and in-
spiring gesture could be neither misunderstood nor resisted. In-
stantly that hitherto hesitating line rushed forward and followed
him with rapid feet. In vain the grim cannon sent their angry
glut among them, and the withering infantry fire blazed in their
faces. Their dead covered every step of the way, but they never


paused or faltered. Right to the crest they went, wrested it from
the foe, and that hard day's work was virtually done. The recoil
of the Federals from this position was the signal for a general re-
treat along their whole line, and they fell back to the ground im-
mediately about the landing, only desultory fighting occurred dur-
ing this retrograde movement.

" It may be stated with little fear of contradiction that had
the Confederate forces been gathered up for one more such concert-
ed, sustained, and vigorous effort as any of those they had already
made, General Grant's entire army would have succumbed under
it and have been captured, or utterly dispersed. The almost con-
current testimony of Federal writers, who have spoken of the con-
dition of the army that evening, incontestably proves this. Had
General Johnston survived, such another assault would certainly
have been made. But just at the close of the decisive charge,
which he led in person, he fell mortally wounded, and in a few
minutes died. Let his son tell the disastrous incident. ' As Gen-
eral Johnston, on horseback, sat there, knowing that he had
crushed in the arch which had so long resisted the pressure of his
forces, and waiting until they should collect sufficiently to give the
final stroke, he received a mortal wound. It came in the moment
of victory and triumph, from a flying foe. It smote him at the
very instant when he felt the full conviction that the day was
won. '

" I have intimated that the fighting after this date was not
nearly so severe as previously ; that the Confederate advance was
unchecked, and every successive stand made by the Federals was
less stubbornly maintained. One exception, perhaps, must be
made to this general remark, and a most important one. When it
appeared that the army was about to be driven sheer back to the
river, Wallace and Prentiss united the remnants of their respective
commands for a last and heroic struggle to prevent it. They were
at once pressed on all sides by assailants. Then Prentiss formed
the gallant resolve to charge and drive back the attacking forces.


But just at that moment an overwhelming rush swept Wallace's
command away, killing that brave and devoted officer, and Pren-
tiss, surrounded on all sides, was forced to surrender with more
than 3,000 men. Of this division it has been said that it ' had
received the first blow in the morning and made the last organized
resistance in the evening.'

" Prentiss surrendered about 5 p. m. The battle may be said
to have then closed. The relics of the Federal army had placed
themselves practically under the protection of gunboats, which
commenced firing about that hour in the afternoon, and continued
to do so until late in the night.

" General Johnston fell at the very hour when the loss of the
Commander in Chief can not be supplied ; that is to say, when the
time has arrived to convert success into victory, and a weary army,
partially disorganized by its very progress, must be compacted for
the supreme and finishing stroke. General Beauregard, next in
rank, could not, in the brief time allowed him, sufficiently famil-
iarize himself with the situation to make the necessary dispositions
and give the proper orders. So those last two hours of daylight,
which might have been worth all the rest, were left unemployed.
The desperate resistance of any army outgeneraled and surprised,
and the caprice of fortune, had made of no avail a strategic and
tactical skill which has seldom been equaled.

" The rest of the story is well known and need not be told.
That night Buell and Lew. Wallace arrived with 28,000 fresh
troops. Morning saw this force, united with what was left of
Grant's, confront 25,000 wearied Confederates, and the greater part
of the lost ground was that day regained.

" We cannot now even say whether Shiloh was lost or won.
Both sides may, and do, claim it as a victory. But all may do
just honor to the valor and devotion of the contending soldiery ;
and a deathless memory will crown, like flowers on Decoration
Day, the graves of the heroes who sleep there."




Immediately following the battle of Pittsburg Landing, or
upon April 8th, General Sherman with a part of his division start-
ed from the old Shiloh Church, where Hildebrand's brigade had
lain through the night, to pursue the retreating rebel army. At a
point some four or five miles from Shiloh, on the road to Corinth,
he came upon the rear of Beauregard's army, whose retreat was
being protected by General Forest's cavalry. He ordered Colonel
Hildebrand to move forward one regiment of his brigade. The
77th Ohio, which was the advance regiment, attacked the rebel
cavalry, deploying a large number of men as skirmishers. They
had scarcely formed in line of battle and thrown out their skir-
mishers when they were charged upon and ridden down by the
cavalry. The 53rd Ohio, being the next regiment on the line of
march, was ordered forward into the line of battle on the double-
quick, which movement they made with great promptness, fixing
bayonets as they came into line. They gallantly charged the rebel
cavalry, driving it before them, rescuing many of the 77th Ohio
who would otherwise have been carried off as prisoners. The 57th
formed immediately on our left and helped to make complete the
splendid achievement of the 53rd. We pursued the cavalry a
short distance.

On a large portion of the battle-field over which we fought
the trees seemed to have been deadened, for the purpose of killing
them to clear the ground for cultivation ; and many of them had
fallen down and lay upon the ground, and that is why this partic-
ular engagement is called the ' Battle of Fallen Timber. '


The 53rd, 57th, and the remnant of the 77th not killed,
wounded or captured, followed Forest's cavalry some distance in
the direction of Monterey, but night coming on the pursuit was
abandoned. We retraced our march, and spent the night in our
old camp, from which we had .been driven on the morning of the
Gth. General Forest, the fearless rebel cavalry leader, was wound-
ed in this action immediately in front of the 53rd regiment.

General Sherman, who was with Hildebrand when the 77th
was charged by Forest, would doubtless have been captured but
for the prompt and heroic action of the 53rd.

After some delay and doing routine duty, including burying
the dead, caring for the wounded, and the like, we started April
29th upon what has passed into history as the Seige of Corinth,
Mississippi, under command of Major-General Halleck. General
Grant was the superior officer but, for reasons best known to him-
self, had little or no supervision of this campaign. Just prior to
starting upon it, April, 1862, Colonel Jesse J. Appier was relieved
from the command of the 53rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The
colonel returned to his home in Ohio. Major H. S. Cox was also
relieved, but presumably on account of ill-health.

Upon the same date, Captain Wells S. Jones, of Co. A, re-
ceived notification of his appointment as Colonel, and Adjutant E.
C. Dawes of his as Major; Lieutenant-Colonel Robert A. Fulton
remaining in the same rank as at organization of regiment. Our
brigade at this time was composed of the 53rd, 57th and 77th
Ohio regiments, commanded by Colonel Jesse Hildebrand. Captain
Jones had been recommended by a majority of the officers of his
regiment for the promotion to Colonel. His notification of ap-
pointment came to him under rather peculiar circumstances. He
had been out as a captain in command of the regiment to support
the skirmishers, and had remained on the skirmish line all night.
In the morning it had rained, and General Morgan L. Smith came
out with his brigade to relieve us. The men, after a rain, liked to
fire their guns and clean them out. The 53rd was in line of battle


in the works. The regiment was coming ont of the woods and
was met by Colonel Jones. The men commenced to fire for the
above reason. Colonel Cockerill and Jones were in command.
General Smith asked Colonel Cockerill : " What regiment is that
firing their guns in the woods, and who is in command ? " Colonel
Cockerill said : " It is the 53rd, and it has no Colonel ; Captain
Jones is in command." Captain Jones overheard this conversation
and forgot that he was going to be a devout Methodist upon his
return to Ohio if spared, and he too violated the fourth command-
ment and made some not very complimentary remarks to both
General Smith and Colonel Cockerill, and in all of which he was
defending his own " boys." Captain Jones was somewhat surprised
when he had cooled down, that he had not been placed under
arrest. We camped at night in line of battle ready for an attack.
An orderly rode up and said : " Captain Jones, General Sherman
presents his compliments and desires to see you at Russell House
immediately." Then it was that Captain Jones thought вАФ some-
thing, and remarked : " I am up against an arrest now." The
Captain on the way over to Russell House met General Sherman,
and he said : " I have a telegram appointing you Colonel of the
53rd Ohio regiment, and congratulate you." The newly appointed
Colonel was told to take command at once. He returned to the
regiment agreeably surprised, and received the congratulations of
both officers and men.

It being the spring of the year, the rains and the frost had
made the roads well nigh impassable, delaying our trains and sub-
jecting us to hunger. We were frequently called into line of bat-
tle and had to fight for nearly every mile of ground up to the cap-
ture of Corinth. The first few days principally were consumed in
the repair of roads and bridges, cutting timber and obstructing
highways. Our regiment had at this time been reduced to 400

Captain Galloway, in command of two companies, E and K,
was ordered to Owl Creek, but under no circumstances to cross


the creek. He and his command were annoyed by the enemy's
picket line to such an extent that he felt constrained to return the
fire, and what was intended for a picket fire, or at most a skirmish,
almost resulted in an engagement. Oiders were received to re-
treat in good order, and none too soon.

" May 15th, 1862, we changed brigade commanders, Brigadier-
General J. W. Denver assuming charge. Many of our boys were
dying. Small hillocks were dotting this section of Mississippi.
During the twenty-mile approach to Corinth we constructed eight
or nine complete sets of fortifications. The last camp, or line of
works, occupied prior to the evacuation of Corinth, on the morning
of May 29th, General Sherman rode up, just before the break of
day, and inquired if that was the 53rd Ohio. Colonel Jones re-
sponded, but had on the insignia of captain. General Sherman,
in his stern way, inquired : Colonel, why have you not colonel's
straps on?" The Colonel answered: "I have no time to go
after them." The General said : " I will send you a pair of mine."
That day about noon an orderly rode up, and, with General Sher-
man's compliments, presented a pair of colonel's shoulder straps.
It is fair to presume, in the absence of any explanation to the con-
trary, that the straps presented to the Colonel were those General
Sherman wore at Bull Run, as he was a colonel at that time.

The first line of battle commanded by Colonel Jones as a full-
fledged colonel was on the 22nd of May, when nearing Corinth.
It is fair to think that with the unpleasant Appier odor in his nos-
trils he was a little bit nervous. Captain Starkey was in command
of the skirmish line. Colonel Jones remarked to him and
Major Dawes : "This regiment must go across this field." Then
he remarked : ''I would rather be killed than have anything hap-
pen. It must go across." The colonel rode at the head of the
column and we went across in line of battle. During the charge
we were met with a heavy artillery fire, and were ordered to halt.
We had driven their battery and line of skirmishers back. The
colonel gave the command to lie down and be protected. At this


juncture of the battle a nameless officer saluted the colonel and
asked to be granted permission to go to the rear, saying, "I am
sick." He was met with an emphatic "No, it is no time to be sick.
I will have you killed in fifteen minutes."

After this particular charge and until the final muster out of
the regiment, August, 1865, Colonel Jones upon more than one
occasion remarked : "After that day at Corinth in crossing the
field, I never had any solicitude about the regiment going any
where. They always went willingly where commanded to go, and
had all the courage needed, and did everything that could be asked
of them."

Captain Galloway had a queer experience here of having
some one hand him a part of his company books which had fal-
len into the hands of the enemy at the battle of Pittsburg Land-

On May 30th, 1862, we moved out of our line of fortifications
and were soon in plain view of the enemy's works. It did not re-
quire much time to ascertain that the "Johnnies" were in full re-
treat, and had been for at least twenty-four hours. Our column
was pushed on to Corinth and through the town, our banners fly-
ing and bands playing. Buildings used for arsenals, stores, and
military purposes were burned to the ground by the retreating foe.
Corinth was of recent growth and of modern architecture. The
wealthier people had taken a trip southward with the army and
had left everything to the mercy of those remaining and to the
Union army. The day was exceedingly warm and the roads were
dusty. At about four p. m. we were ordered back some distance
and camped for the night.

On June 1st, we started on a forced march through the rain
and mud, and marched until such intense darkness overtook us
that it was dangerous to proceed further, so we camped in the rain,
mud, and woods, minus any shelter for the night. The country
through which we were passing had been robbed of its male pop-


ulation, and we found the women and girls ploughing and planting
the fields. Although the war had been in progress but a few
months, in exchanging commodities the citizens would gladly give
us $100.00 of their money for $5.00 of our greenbacks.

When daylight came to our rescue, we took up our line of
march and soon came to Chewallah, upon the Memphis and
Charleston Railroad. It was a small village. June 12th, 1862,
we left Chewallah, and for three days took to the railroad. Owing
to the heat and want of water, the boys fell faint and sick by the
wayside, but nearly always found our camp during the night. We
passed through Grand Junction and found the bridges and depot
in ashes. Preparations were at once made for the rebuilding of
the bridge and in a very few days the cars with army stores were
up to this point, that is, fifty miles beyond Corinth. The rapidity
with which work was done told the soldiers that the pledge of the
nation to care for those who were caring for it, was being re-

Our next capture upon the M. & C. R. R. was La Grange,
Tennessee, but a few miles from Grand Junction. La Grange is a
city of wealth, and the surrounding country rich. The aristocracy
were loud in their praise of the Confederates and exhibited their
contempt for us. The water and fruit made a decided improvement
in the health of the regiment and of the army in general. We
moved out from La Grange, and on June 18th, 1862, we occupied
Moscow, Tennessee. As usual, the enemy had burned the railroad
bridge across Wolf River, the depot and cotton gins. The citizens
vacated with the rebel army, and left about everything, except
their valuables, behind. The regiment assisted in the rebuilding
of the bridge, 300 feet long, and then took up the line of march

Online LibraryJohn K. DukeHistory of the Fifty-third regiment Ohio volunteer infantry, during the war of the rebellion, 1861 to 1865. Together with more than thirty personal sketches of officers and men → online text (page 8 of 24)