Sunday, September 30, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Monday, Sept. 30, 1861

Brig. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, still unsettled by the debacle at Bull Run little more than two months ago, is becoming even more unsettled in Kentucky. Ostensibly neutral, Kentucky’s citizens are a mix of Confederate sympathizers and Union loyalists, and it is important to hold this state for the Union—or the Ohio River will become the border between the Union and the Confederacy. Sherman sees danger everywhere. Today, he writes his father-in-law a litany of complaints and anxieties: most of his soldiers are undisciplined volunteers, whose abilities Sherman does not trust; apathy or disloyalty is rampant among Kentucky’s citizenry; he lacks supplies, and Confederate Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner has a large force nearby (but not as large as Sherman imagines). “I suppose I must meet the shock [of an attack] with what I have,” he concludes gloomily. Sherman will not be attacked....but, in weeks to come, he will suffer a defeat of another kind.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Sunday, Sept. 29, 1861

Rutherford Hayes, a lawyer from Cincinnati and major of the 23rd Ohio, is camped on Sewell Mountain in the southern region of western Virginia. Separated from his regiment (which is “back about twenty miles”), Hayes is serving as judge-advocate for the brigade commanded by Gen. Jacob D. Cox. Though Lucy Hayes frets at home about her husband’s absence, “Rud” Hayes relishes the military life. Writing Lucy today, he exults in the “beautiful bright Sunday morning,” after several rainy days, that “finds me in perfect health.” Cox’s force, perched on one peak of Sewell Mountain, and a large force of Confederates perched on the other, a mile or two away, eye each other, exchange a few shots, but impeded by muddy conditions, do not attack.

ON THIS DAY: Saturday, Sept. 28, 1861

While Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant commands his troops from headquarters at Cairo, at the southern tip of Illinois, Julia Dent Grant and the four Grant children remain in the family home, a rented brick house in hilly Galena, in northwestern Illinois. Nearly 400 miles separate husband and father from wife and children. Always uncomfortable when separated from his family, Ulysses writes Julia almost daily, urging her to join him and bring the children. Afflicted with “much timidity” about moving nearer the combat zone, Julia will demur until early November.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Friday, Sept. 27, 1861

In camps across Ohio, 20 regiments of volunteer infantrymen are in various stages of organization and training. Campgrounds—many of them at county fairgrounds, others hastily erected in farm fields—bustle with inexperienced officers training inexperienced soldiers. About 30 other regiments have already left Ohio for the war, most going to western Virginia or Kentucky. The goal of a new regiment is to meet the federally required 825 to 1,025 men, divided into ten companies of 83 to 101 officers and men each. A company is led by a captain, two lieutenants, and several sergeants and corporals. The regiment is commanded by a colonel, whose headquarters staff includes several lesser officers and staff, including medical personnel and musicians. At this early stage of the war, the officers are usually elected, a practice that the demands of war will change. At least four cavalry regiments and some batteries of artillery are also being organized in Ohio. The quality of training is uneven, with many officers studying military manuals at night in order to train their soldiers the next day. The training itself consists mostly of marching formations, with little or no weapons practice or physical conditioning.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Thursday, Sept. 26, 1861

Capt. Tom Taylor and four companies of the 47th Ohio finally reach Cross Lanes, in western Virginia, where they rejoin six other companies of the regiment. Taylor and the four companies have endured a march of nearly a hundred miles on a hilly, muddy trail that barely qualifies as a road. A month ago, Taylor had been wearing a fine dress uniform with a plumed hat. The elegance is gone. Now he wears “a blue blouse, two grey flannel shirts, coarse heavy blue pants,” and is barefoot, the better to deal with rain and mud.

Monday, September 24, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Wednesday, Sept. 25, 1861

Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, headquartered in Cairo, Illinois, sends troops to occupy Smithland, Kentucky…thereby saving the strategically important mouth of the Cumberland River from capture by the Confederates. The 687-mile Cumberland River, which empties into the Ohio River, offered a “superhighway” into the Middle South, originating in eastern Kentucky and curving into northern Tennessee before returning to Kentucky. On September 6, Grant had staged a similarly bloodless occupation of Paducah, Kentucky, situated at the mouth of the Tennessee River, an even more important watercourse. The Tennessee stretches 652 miles from Alabama, through Tennessee and into Kentucky to the Ohio River. Using his own initiative, Grant has scored two early victories for the Union.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Monday, Sept. 23, 1861

Four companies of the 47th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, a regiment formed in southern Ohio, are moving southwesterly through western Virginia [later to become West Virginia]. They are marching from Weston to Cross Lanes, where they will join the other six companies of their regiment. The men must endure a hard march of nearly a hundred miles in mountainous terrain, slogging along a primitive, muddy road, up hill and down. The marchers include an ambitious young captain named Tom Taylor. Prosecuting attorney for Brown County, Ohio, Taylor (like many other new soldiers) hankers for a battle—but for the moment, can do no more than trudge through the mud.

ON THIS DAY: Sunday, Sept. 22, 1861

The New York Times reports that Col. Lorin Andrews, president of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio until joining the war, has died from typhoid, age 42. Andrews had taken ill in western Virginia, returned to Gambier, and died at home on September 18. Like many other Union soldiers who would die from disease instead of battle injuries, he was a victim of sanitary practices that permitted consumption of polluted water. (About two Civil War soldiers would die of illness for every one wounded in combat.) Born in Ashland County in 1819, Andrews was a leader in reforming public education until chosen for the college presidency. Said to be the first man in Ohio to volunteer after Fort Sumter, he was given a leave of absence from the college, joined as a private, but soon was elected colonel of the 4th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Colonel Andrews’ regiment served in various places in western Virginia and Maryland, but had experienced no combat before he was forced to return home. On word of his death, the college bell tolled 42 times.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Saturday, Sept. 21, 1861

Several little-known Ohioans are preparing for war, unable to even guess at the prominence the war will bring them. In Cairo, Illinois, at the far edge of the war’s Western Theater, Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant calmly and confidently goes about training his soldiers. Pipe smoke curls in the air as he pores over maps, looking for ways to go on the attack. Unpretentious but possessing an unmistakable command presence, Grant is called "the quiet man" by his soldiers.

In Kentucky, another new brigadier general of volunteers, nervous, red-haired William Tecumseh Sherman, has arrived to assist in defending that border state for the Union—and is beginning to feel uneasy about the challenge facing him. Elsewhere, Capt. Philip H. Sheridan, a little man who dearly loves a fight, is en route from the Pacific Northwest to St. Louis, called away from the pacification of Indians, eager to join the war at last. In Washington, Edwin M. Stanton—not yet a member of Lincoln’s government—is grumbling, as usual, about the President’s management of the war.

Monday, September 17, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Friday, Sept. 20, 1981

At Lexington, Missouri, the Confederates use bales of hemp, soaked in river water, to shield themselves as they advance on a wide front against the badly outnumbered Federal force dug in around the Masonic college. After trying unsuccessfully to set the bales on fire by firing hot shot, the besieged Union soldiers surrender, out of water and cut off on all sides by a much larger force. Unable to reach them in time, thwarted Union reinforcements, including the 39th Ohio, move on to Kansas City.

Can anyone supply more information about the 39th Ohio’s first brush with combat?

ON THIS DAY: Thursday, Sept. 19, 1861

Col. James A. Mulligan’s Federal troops, dug in around a Masonic college on a hill in Lexington, Missouri, are coming under increasing pressure, suffering from thirst in a scorching heat. They number only 2,800 men from Illinois and Missouri, while Confederate Maj. Gen. Stirling Price’s has a force that is estimated variously at 10,000 to 18,000. The Rebels capture the Federals’ water supply, cut off their means of escape via the nearby Missouri River, and block Union reinforcements—including the 39th Ohio—from reaching Mulligan’s embattled little troop. The Ohioans will not taste battle here.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

ON THIS DAY: September 18, 1861

The 39th Ohio is on the move, the lone Ohio unit in a force sent to relieve a besieged Federal garrison at Lexington, Missouri. The 39th had been organized only a few weeks earlier at Camp Coleraine and Camp Dennison, near Cincinnati. Although it had little time for training, the 39th was said to be “fully armed and equipped,” and on August 18, the Ohioans had departed for St. Louis. There they joined forces organizing under Gen. John C. Frémont.

After five companies of the 39th were detached for other duties, the remaining five joined troops dispatched to the aid of
Lexington. Unaccustomed to hard marching and given no transportation for the 85-mile journey, by this time the green soldiers of the 39th are suffering “severely.”