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 9 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 9 of 24)
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for Lafayette, Tennessee, arriving there on June 2.3rd. To our
surprise, when we entered the town, a Confederate flag was still
flying from a flag-staff. It was but the work of a moment for
some of the boys of the 53rd to get an axe and cut down the staff.
The flag was distributed among the boys in fragments, as memen-


toes to send North. At this point the enemy was so hard pressed
that they had no time to destroy property, except the bridge. The
dwellings here were above the average and the pnblic bnildings
good. The citizens were not so panic-stricken, and remained at
home. They had learned by this time that the " Yankee vandals "
did not wear horns. The bridge had to be rebnilt here. The
health of the regiment was good. Memphis was about thirty
miles from here, and we presumed that was to be our objective

At this juncture our division was compelled to make a forced
march back to Moscow, some ten miles away, in order to re-inforce
General Hurlburt's division. The weather was intensely hot, and
the health of the regiment good. We reached Moscow, June 27th,
1(S62. This backward movement was occasioned by the enemy's
attacking our forces at Holly Springs, some fifteen miles distant.

On June 29th we received orders to proceed to Holly Springs,
Mississippi, We marched day and night, the sun making it very
trying. On July 1st we had an encounter and brought in use our
artillery, and soon dispersed the enemy and recaptured the town.
The 53rd had one man killed and a few wounded.

Upon our return march we moved mostly by night, as we had
to cross a sand desert, and water and provisions were very scarce.
Many of our boys replenished their stomachs by the purchase of
corn-pone from the negroes. We finally returned to Moscow,
reaching there July 7th, and camped on the bank of the river in a
beautiful grove.

On July 18th, 1862, we again took to the road, Memphis
being the objective point. On this day quite a number of the
bovs were sick and had to take to the ambulance. Some of the
commissioned officers were among them. One of our number died
during the day, and was buried by the roadside. We reached
Memphis on July 21st, 1862.


The city was a commodious one, beautifully located, and
composed of a homogeneous mass. Here we found many Union
citizens and ladies in abundance. The Sisters of Charity came to
the relief of the sick and wounded, and rendered God's service.
The 53rd was camped one and a half miles below the city on the
banks of the Mississippi River. For the first time for several
weeks, we were where we could get mail from " God's country, "
and oh ! how we did enjoy a letter from wife, mother, brother, sis-
ter, or sweetheart. With what relish we enjoyed a newspaper
from the North.

General Sherman was in command, and that meant no rest for
any certain time. Many of our boys who had left us at Shiloh,
sick or wounded, returned to us here. Extensive fortifications
were constructed. Hundreds of negroes were employed upon the
works. All citizens residing within the line of fortifications were
ordered out. Steamers arrived daily, thus keeping us in touch
with the home-land, much to our satisfaction and enjoyment.
Sickness prevailed to an alarming extent. About August 4th we
located our Regimental Burying Ground and buried our first man,
John Davis, of Co. K, within twenty-four hours. Some nine or
ten others were buried near him. While at Memphis one of our
commissioned officers, gallant Captain Galloway, of Co. K, was
by order of General Sherman assigned to duty upon a Board of
Court Martial. While here we drilled two hours a day. All
houses within one mile of the fort were ordered demolished, to
prevent shelter to the enemy, and to give our artillery free and un-
obstructed firing. On November 10th, 1862, Lieutenant Dawes
left for Columbus to bring us a lot of drafted men to fill our de-
pleted ranks. Our morning roll-call showed 680 men present
for duty.

On November 22nd, 1862, there was a Union demonstration
in Memphis, rejoicing over the occupation of the city by the Un-
ion forces. A detailed description of this demonstration would oc-
cupy too much space, hence the historian simply makes the gen-



eral statement. It was evident, however, from this celebration
that a lar^e loyal sentiment prevailed thronofhout the city of
Memphis, and the display did ample jnstice to those who projected
it. Notwithstanding this, however, enong-h rebel sympathizers
were left to keep np some agitation. A good sized army was be-
ing collected at this point ; a large part of it consisting of new and
nndisciplined troops.

The following incident may fnrnish a fitting close to the
present chapter : John Davis, of Co. E, was well known throngh-
ont the regiment. He was, what we used to consider in those
days, rather an old man and though a good soldier never quite un-
derstood the necessity of all the " pomp and circumstance of glo-
rious war. " While on picket duty one night in front of Corinth,
where the hostile lines were in close proximity, the officer of the
day, at midnight making the rounds, approached his post. " Who
comes there ? " said Davis. " Grand rounds ; " was the reply. " I
don't know anything about your grand rounds, " answered Davis,
" if you move I will shoot you ; " and he leveled his musket.
Grand rounds stood still, until the sergeant of the guard, fortun-
ately close at hand, came up and solved the difficulty.




On November 22nd, 1862, we marched ont and left the city
of Memphis. General Denver commanded the division and Colo-
nel Cockerill the brigade. The 53rd, while at Memphis, did con-
siderable duty in and around the city ; the boys had so kindly per-
formed these duties, treating all classes with consideration, that, as
the regiment passed through the streets, they were given quite an
ovation. As we proceeded upon our line of march, it became appar-
ent that the army in general was possessed of a determination to
wipe that part of Mississippi through which we were passing off
the map of the United States. The torch was applied fearlessly.
The section was abundant in forage and many were the chickens,
turkeys, geese, and hogs which found their way into Union stom-
achs. The negroes, always friends of the boys in blue, winked
one eye at us, slyly bade adieu to their families, and then followed
the army. They invariably knew the cause of the war, and what
it would eventually lead to, their freedom ; and they recognized that
that freedom, if it came, must come through our army. They
were always ready and willing to risk life and all that was dear to
them for the cause of the Union.

A Virginia slave, who had heard of the President's promise
concerning the proclamation to be issued on the 1st of January
1863, then only a few days in the future, is said to have been
heard praying, with great earnestness and the deepest emotion :

" O God Almighty ! keep the engine of the rebellion going
till New Years ! Good lyord ! pray don't let off the steam ; Lord,
don't reverse the engine ; don't back up ; Lord, don't put on the


brakes ! Hut pray, g-ood Lord, put on more steam ! Make it go
a mile a minute! Yes, Lord, pray make it go sixty miles an
hour ! (' Amen ! ' 'Do good Lord ! ' responded the brethren and
sisters. ) Lord, don't let the express train of rebellion smash up
till the 1st of January ! Don't let the rebels back down, but
harden their hearts as Pharaoh's, and keep all hands going, till the
train reaches the depot of Emancipation."

General Grant is in command of the army. Our brigade now
consists of the 97th and 99th Indiana, the TOth and 5.3rd Ohio.
The division is in command of General Sherman.

On December 4th, 18H2, we left our camp near Holly Springs,
Mississippi, and marched to the Tallahatchie River, and at night
marched back to our camp which we had left in the morning. On
the 5th vye retraced our steps to the Tallahatchie River, and
camped for the night. On the 0th we crossed the river in the
morning on bridges just constructed. We marched through the
swamps wdiere the enemy had intended to give us battle, but when
we were ready to confront them they had hied themselves away
and left us to occupy the fortifications. We passed on and camped
at College Hill.

Five miles to our front General Grant had routed the enemy
at Oxford, Mississippi. W^e proceeded to Coffeeville, on the Mis-
sissippi Central railroad. Here we received the information that
Van Dorn had retaken Holly Springs and played havoc with our
supplies stored there. We were ordered thither at once, and reach-
ed there January 2nd, 1883, and found to our disgust and dismay
that our information was all too true, as Van Dorn had destroyed
two depots, machine shop, Government stores, ammunition, and a
lot of baled cotton, and also the cars. We went into camp by the
burned depot. We had assisted in the capture of the Springs just
six months previous. Colonel Murphy, who commanded the 109th
Illinois, surrendered to Van Dorn's forces without any resistance.
We found the colonel under arrest upon our arrival. We tore up


the railroad from there to Oxford, Mississippi, and then marched
to La Grange, reaching there January 10th, 1863. We readily
recognized the place as we had been there in June, 1862. We
went into camp in a pine grove, and for the first time in several
months drew full rations, which we enjoyed hugely. Frequently
such prayers were heard, as " God grant that our cracker-line may
be kept open to the North and our stomachs thereby maintained. "
On January 13th, 1863, it commenced to rain and continued
raining until the 18th, when a deep snow covered the ground and
very cold weather followed. On this day, the 18th, the 53rd Ohio
was ordered upon a foraging expedition. It rained hard all day ;
the men were soaked to the skin and lay down for the night in
wet clothes. During the night it began to snow. We marched
four days in the cold and snow. Several of our boys suffered from
frost-bitten feet and hands. This was decidedly the severest and
roughest experience of our soldier life to this date. The oldest
citizens in that section said that they had never experienced such
weather before and they naturally blamed the Yankees for bringing
it southward.

There was a large hospital at La Grange, but to our regret it
was filled and, what was worse still, large numbers were dying dai-
ly. Graves were kept in readiness at all times. Coffins, so-called,
were stacked all around the hospital, ready to receive their victims.
As soon as life was extinct, the body was put into a pine box and

January 24th, 1863, doing routine duty. Cold weather still
with us.

From February 4th to 22nd nothing occurred to break the
monotony worthy of note.

On F'^ebruary 19th, Captain Galloway was stricken with ery-
sipelas. He was recommended for furlough by Colonels Jones
and Cockerill and the division surgeon, but General Denver re-
fused to sign unless they would certify that going home would
save his life.


On February 25th, at Moscow, ten miles distant, our wagon
train was attacked and some of the teamsters were taken ])risoners.

On March 1 1th the pickets wt^re hastily withdrawn and at 4
a. m., the troops were assembled, and we struck our tents and were
off for Moscow, Tennessee. When we reached our destination w.e
were surprised to find Moscow almost licked up by flames, and the
residents impoverished.

The 53rd and 70th Ohio and Bouden's Battery constituted our
fio^hting: force here.

Just prior to our leaving- La Grange a large quantity of am-
munition, in charge of our quarter-master, and guarded b\- four of
our regiment, was exploded, carrying death and destruction in its
train. One was killed and three were fatally injured. The ex-
plosion was caused by the carelessness of the guards, leaving a
candle burning on a box of cartridges. It burned through the
box while the guards were asleep.

On April 5th, 186.">, Captain Galloway and Lieutenant Mc-
Millen were at Memphis, and while at the depot waiting for
the train for Moscow, they met Major Dawes just coming
from Moscow. While the trio were engaged in conversa-
tion the train pulled out and the Captain and Lieutenant were
left. This train while en route for Moscow was captured, to-
gether with all on board and a large quantity of mail. The
rebel cavalry hovered close about and annoyed us by raids.
Within a few days of the above raid and capture, the chaplain
of the HTth Indiana and several of his assistant mail boys
were captured, with all the mail in their possession.

At about this time Sergeant Joshua K. Bailey of Co.
K. was promoted to Second Lieutenant.

The boys concluded that they were going to have to
stay at Moscow for some time and indulged in the pastime of
making gardens.


April 28th, Captain Henry C. Messenger of Company K
died of disease. The Captain was a man of generous im-
pulses, noble character, brave, true and loyal. Captain Messen-
ger in civil life was a civil engineer, and when he entered the
service brought with him his knowledge of that business. He
was courteous, accomplished, and scholarly, and popular with
the men and officers of the regiment. He was a faithful com-
pany commander and in his death the regiment lost a brave,
good man.

On this same date, while our hearts were sad at
the loss of the gallant captain, the paymaster put in his ap-
pearance, and the way green-backs were handed out to the "boys"
caused many a one to rejoice.

May 5th, 1863, still in camp ; and reports from all parts
of the army are coming our way, though not sufficiently strong
to reflect the silver lining of peace upon the opposite side of the
portentous war cloud.

We here made the first attempt to recruit negro regiments
in our part of the army. Recommendations for officers of such
regiments were numerous, several of our own boys being among
the number. It was a glorious time for certain officers to get rid
of some who were working for promotion, and who, owing to cer-
tain political influences at home, might be able to supersede
someone. The peculiar method of enlistment of the negro
made it quite easy to organize a regiment, as all who did not
volunteer were conscripted. The majority of colored males fol-
lowing our army readily volunteered ; they were glad to do so.
They really wanted an opportunity to show their loyalty to our
cause ; for, disguise the fact as we might, these people, ignorant
as they were, knew that the success of the Union arms meant
freedom to them ; and with this incentive they were more than
willing to assume any burdens imposed, and this dispelled any
erroneous idea that they would not fight, or were not willing to
risk life for freedom.


On May 1 Uh, 1803, Adjutant-General L. Thomas of the
United States visited our camp, and made an address to the
brijrade and division, which were drawn np in hollow sqnare.
His address was listened to with rapt attention. Strange as it
may seem, at this late day, and remote from the war, there was,
among the rank and file, opposition to negro regiments. Snch
opposition at times assumed the character of anarchy ; and some
there were, both officers and men, who were so indiscreet as
to declare that if the Government proceeded with the formation
of sucli troops they would lay down their arms and unbuckle
iheir swords. The Adjutant-General, as the mouth-piece of the
administration and government, called a halt upon the officers by
forcibh intimating that disloyalty and treason were punishable by
death, and that any resistance in words or otherwise, to the en-
listment of negro troops would be instantly treated by court
martial and merited punishment speedily awarded. This an-
tidote worked quickly, the disease was healed, and wounded big-
otry subsided. It was at no remote period from this that such
oro-anizations were tested under fire, and demonstrated their
qualities for avenging the wrongs of more than a century. From
this time on the colored troops received their due meed of
praise, and all were ready to admit that they fought bravely.
Then it was that the rank and file concluded that a negro
could stop a bullet as well as a white man, and that for every one
so sacrificed there would be just that many more white soldiers
to return north to their friends and families.

On May 21st, 1863, details from the brigade were sent out in
all directions to take possession of every horse and mule they could
find. It was the purpose to mount the 53rd. The Confederate
women gave us " Scotch blessings " as we departed with their last
" hoss " or mule. Forage of all kinds, for man and beast, was
abundant, including razor-back hogs.

June 1st, Colonel Jones ordered Co. K, with some twenty wag-
ons for foraging, they returned to camp loaded down and leading



quite a number of horses and mules. One of the boys had his
horse shot under him, and became separated from the company,
but finally came into camp carrying his saddle and bridle.

On June 6th the order to break camp was received, and to be
ready to go to Memphis. The entire division had come together,
and proceeded on their line of march to Memphis, which was
reached in o;ood order on the 8th. The entire army was on the
move, and it was strongly hinted that our objective point was
Vicksburg, Mississippi.

On June 9th, our regiment was marched to the landing at
Memphis and embarked on the transport " Luminary ; " our desti-
nation being Young's Point, at which place we arrived June 12th,
and immediately steamed up the Yazoo River to Haines' Bluffs,
disembarked, and camped upon a beautiful eminence overlook-
ing the country. The boys were delighted, as fishing was abund-

We could hear the roar of artillery every day from in and about
Vicksburg, some ten miles away.






Historians soon after the war placed the 5')rd Ohio in the en-
eaeement of Chickasaw Bavou, but those in connnand, and whose
information can best be relied on, say we took no part in this en-
eaeement. In fact, we feel in abont the same condition of mind
concerning this as the Irishman who was accnsed of being dead.
He said, " Yes, I have heard the same report, bnt I had the satis-
faction of knowing it was a lie as soon as they told me. "

From abont the 10th to the 30th of Jnne the division of
which the 53rd was a part was performing all manner of duty ; i.
e., foraging, fatigue duty, marching and counter-marching here
and there in the vicinity. Dining the interim referred to we made
a march to Big Black River and returned to the starting point,
Snyder's Bluffs. This maneuvering was made necessary in order
to frustrate some designs of the enemy, which were to raise the
seige at Vicksburg ; but with Sherman in the rear to watch and cir-
cumvent any such movement, the enemy had but little if any
chance of success. With Grant to pound at their front, and Sher-
man to attend to the flank movements in the rear, and fight if ne-
cessary, the "Johnnies" experienced a "hot time." In fact, so hotly
and so closely pursued were they, that on Jnh- 3rd and 4th they
capitulated and surrendered to General Grant ; some twenty-eight
thousand soldiers and eight thousand citizens, including all muni-
tions of war.

Thus ended the siege of Vicksburg after some forty-
seven days. Thirty-seven years have elapsed from that, period to
the time of dictating the history of this grand regiment. A


visit at this date to this famous battlefield would startle oue un-
familiar with war's alarms. On a sloping hill near the city is
the cemetery. A partial history of this great struggle is told
upon an arched gateway :

" Here Rest in Peace
Sixteen Thousand Six Hundred
Who Died for their Country
IN THE Years 1861-65."
This cemetery was once bristling with bayonets, resounding
with the booming of cannons and the shrieking of shells. Now
it is the home of the silent dead. Speechless and motionless
the country's dead heroes speak to all coming generations, ad-
monishing them, by the memories of the past, to unite in the ef-
fort to elevate and educate the public conscience and thus in-
sure better statesmanship, loyalty, and patriotism, and by so
doino- contribute worthy honor to our heroic dead of 1861 - 65.
May it be the pride of the North and the South not to be con-
tent with the annual floral tribute to our Nation's dead ; but re-
gardless of section, may they bring to the Goddess of Liberty the
diamond ring of patriotism, and with renewed pledges of devotion
place upon the nuptial finger ©f the American's guardian angel,
the hope of the Republic, christianized American manhood.

On July 4th, we were under marching orders for Black
River. The march was principally after night, owing to the in-
tense heat which prevailed. When we reached Black River our
brigade was in the advance. When nearing what had been a
ferry we were met with sharp firing from the enemy ; we swung in-
to line of battle and returned the compliment vigorously. How to
cross and dislodge the enemy was a puzzle to Colonel W. S.
Jones, who was temporarily In command of the brigade. The
pontoon bridge was miles to our rear, so it was expedient that
some mode of crossing be improvised. The first thought was to
plunge in and ford the stream, but the cool judgment and execu-


tive ability of Colonel Jones taught him that it might not be a
fordable stream. In the meantime the rebel skirmishers were
making it hot for us. Colonel Jones said to Captain Percy,
in order to ascertain if it were possible to ford : "I will furnish
you some one to wade in, if you will do the planning as engineer."
The captain replied : "I will fix a long pole and put a sinker on
the end of it." Volunteers came forward to the number of eight
or ten. Colonel Jones was of the opinion that one or more, per-
haps several, would be killed before he ascertained the depth of
the river. Additional skirmishers, by way of protection were
thrown out. Colonel Jones was near by, and said to Captain
Percy : "One of these young men will take your pole." ''1 am
going to do it myself ;" said the captain. The Colonel replied,
"I do not want you to do it." He again replied, ''I will do it
myself." He waded out and measured the water, and the rebel
force was so astonished at his audacity and bravery that they
scarcely fired upon him. Paying no attention to the shots, he
waded into the stream to his armpits. The heads of the rebel
skirmishers were plainly in sight as the captain was taking the
soundings. Upon his return from the river he saluted the col-
onel and reported : "Sir, the ford is not ])racticable at this

Some of our Yankee soldier boys, whose eyes were ever like
full moons, soon discovered hidden in the bushes and rank weeds a
rope which indicated that we had struck the ferry. A short dis-
ta'nce further down, the same sharp eyes discovered the boat, sunk
and out in the stream. Captain Eustace H. Ball, of Co. E, and
some of the brave boys of the left wing of the regiment swam out
to the boat and soon had it in floating condition. It was almost
miraculously brought into use as a ferry and the brave boys of the
53rd were the first on the opposite side of Black River, greatly to
the discomfort of our enemy, as many were killed, and but few left
to. return South to tell the story, except those who returned as
exchanged prisoners of war. About the first question that any of


the prisoners asked was, " What in the d 1 was that man want-

ino- wading about in the river out there?" The result of this
crossing was one killed and a few wounded.

General Joe Johnston, not having heard of the surrender of
Vicksburg, came to Black River with his army and was expecting
to cross and assist his superior officers at Vicksburg ; but, learning
of the fall, he beat a hasty retreat in the direction of Jackson, Mis-
sissippi, with our army hotly pursuing. We marched day and

As we advanced toward Jackson we passed the residence of
Joe Davis, brother of JefT, with the 5;3rd Ohio in advance of the

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 9 of 24)