Thursday, September 10, 2009

Samuel Chase Woodfin

The Woodfin Boys of Rutherford County

When the War Between the States came to Tennessee, there was little doubt that the Woodfins of Rutherford County would be in the fight. When the state left the Union and called for volunteers to join the new Army of Tennessee, the four oldest Woodfin brothers signed up. Their father, even at age 72, tried to enlist. That was part of the Woodfin heritage. For more than a century, the Woodfins had answered every call to defend their homeland.

Post Office at Fosterville TN
The Tennessee Woodfins grew out of a family of three brothers, John, Edward and Thomas, who came to the Virginia Colony from Cheshire County in England in the early 1700s. John's first son, Nicholas,  fought in the War of Independence in a militia unit from Greenbrier County in what is now West Virginia. He spent a year in the wilderness spying on Cherokee and Shawnee tribes near the Ohio River. Family history puts him at Yorktown in 1781 when Lord Cornwallis surrendered the British Army to George Washington.

Nicholas later fought in the War of 1812 in an Ohio militia regiment under Gen. William Henry Harrison, the governor of the Indiana Territory who would later be the nation's ninth President. After the war, Nicholas and his Virginian wife, Hanna Mary Ashbrook, moved to North Carolina, then to Middle Tennessee where they created a large farm on Brothers Road south of Murfreesboro near Fosterville. When Nicholas died in 1832, his son Samuel got a share of the land. Samuel, too, had fought the British in the War of 1812 and had also served under a future President. He was among Rutherford County's first volunteers to follow fellow Tennessean Andrew Jackson to fight the Battle of New Orleans. After the war, Samuel returned to Tennessee and married 20-year-old Mariah Barnhill.

As the tension between Northern and Southern states increased, Tennessee was pulled from both directions. Memphis and West Tennessee favored the Southern cause while Knoxville in the east was pro-Union with Middle Tennessee divided between the two camps. Early in 1861, as Abraham Lincoln was preparing to be sworn in as President, residents of Tennessee's central counties voted to support secession, but only by a narrow 51-49 percent margin.

Samuel was a respected landowner and a county commissioner who hoped Tennessee could avoid going to war. At public forums, he spoke against secession on practical rather than political grounds. The Union, he argued, had the advantage with more men, arms, forts and ammunition. If Tennessee bolted, he believed, the federal government would not let it go quietly. He correctly predicted that the state would become a battleground, it's government upended and its farms and towns plunged into poverty.

But he also vowed to that he would not desert his homeland. A family story says that during one speech, Samuel was interrupted by a man who called him a coward for speaking against war. He replied that he had three sons of fighting age and "they will all volunteer in the event our state calls them."
Hugh Lawson
White Woodfin

When the call did come, Samuel actually saw four sons go off to fight. The first to enlist was 20-year-old Hugh Lawson White Woodfin. He was named after Hugh Lawson White, a lawyer and judge from Knoxville who followed Andrew Jackson into the U.S. Senate, then ran for President from the Whig Party in 1836. Hugh Woodfin signed up in May of 1861, about two weeks before another referendum made Tennessee's exit from the Union official. He joined Tennessee's 18th Infantry Regiment which marched north into Kentucky where it occupied Bowling Green. When the Confederates left Kentucky, his regiment became part of the garrison guarding Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River.

Hugh was joined in the fall of 1862 by three other Woodfin brothers. Samuel Chase, 24, enlisted on Oct. 14 in Knoxville. Tom, 18, signed up Nov. 11 in La Vergne and both brothers joined Hugh in the 18th Regiment as privates in Company F. Moses, 33, enlisted Nov. 12 at Murfreesboro to follow Col. Anderson Searcy in the 45th Tennessee Infantry.

Col. Joseph B. Palmer
The 18th Regiment drew men primarily from Rutherford, Bedford and Sumner counties and had grown from a company of volunteers organized the year before by Joseph B. Palmer. The Murfreesboro lawyer had been a member of the Whig party at the same time as Abraham Lincoln and had supported the Union. But when Tennessee became the last state to secede, Palmer took up the Confederate cause.

By the time Tom and Samuel Chase joined the 18th, the regiment was in dire need of fresh recruits. Its troops had spent the early part of 1862 helping guard Fort Donelson near the Kentucky border, an effort that turned into a disaster for the Confederate Army.

In early February, Union forces captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, then marched 12 miles east to attack Fort Donelson. The Union Navy bombarded the fort while troops under the command of Ulysses S. Grant cut off its supply lines and escape routes.

Battery at Fort Donelson overlooking the Cumberland River.
One member of the 18th Regiment was Josephus C. Moore,  a 19-year-old boy from Bedford County who enlisted in May of 1861. Describing the siege in his diary, Moore said the rebels spent days and nights digging rifle pits and sleeping on cold dirt. February 14, he wrote, was "the most miserable night I have ever spent. Snowed all night and we worked on our breastworks good part of the night then lay down in the snow and when I tried to rise this morning I found my hair frozen to the ground and my boots froze hard on my feet."

On the 16th, Moore said the regiment marched out of the fort to a nearby town, then turned around and returned to find a white flag flying over the fort. With the situation apparently hopeless, Brig. Gen. Simon B. Buckner from Kentucky had asked Grant, his one-time Army friend, what terms he would offer to end the shelling. Grant replied that the only terms he would accept was "unconditional surrender." Buckner called Grant's reply "unchivalrous," but he reluctantly agreed.

Some Confederate units slipped away and avoided capture. One was a cavalry unit headed by Nathan Bedford Forrest, who took his 700 mounted troops across an icy stream and headed toward Nashville. Brig. General Gideon Pillow, a former politician who had been given command of the fort, escaped in the night in a small boat. Left behind were 12,000 Confederate troops including Col. Palmer, Pvt. Moore, Hugh Woodfin and most of the 18th Regiment. The regiment lost its battle flag and its men were shipped off to Union prisons.The surrender gave the Union control of the Cumberland River and an invasion route into the South and an unexpected hero, the man the newspapers began calling "Unconditional Surrender Grant."

Hugh Woodfin and Josephus Moore spent eight months in a Union prison at Camp Butler at Springfield, Ill., before the Confederates were exchanged for Union prisoners. The Tennesseans who swore an allegiance to the Union were allowed to go home while the others were shipped to Vicksburg, Miss. Moore was among those who had had enough of war. "My time for which I enlisted is out and two or three months over," he wrote, "so I am not bound to report myself to Jeff Davis or anyone else." Moore left the army and headed back to Bedford County where he died three years later.

Hugh Woodfin stayed true to the Confederate cause. Documents show that he was sent to Vicksburg on Sept. 23, 1862, and he may have been back in Rutherford County when his brothers Tom, Moses, and Samuel Chase enlisted later that fall.

Stones River

Battle of Stones River
With the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers under their control, Union forces quickly captured Nashville, the first Confederate capital to fall. Union Gen. William Rosecrans then set his sights on "the breadbasket," the rich farmland of middle Tennessee and the routes leading to the rail junction city of Chattanooga, a target that was as important to the Union as holding the Mississippi River. If Union forces could capture Chattanooga, they could attack Atlanta.

Braxton Bragg
Standing in the way was Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg and his Army of Tennessee camped below Nashville near Murfreesboro in Rutherford County. Bragg's troops included all four of the Woodfin brothers, who were now preparing to defend their home county. Tom, the youngest of the four, was said to be the one most eager to go to war. Family history describes how Tom would carve weapons from cedar branches to play soldier in the years before the war and that he was allowed to enlist, despite his young age, because of his "military bearing".

But Tom was lost before he saw his first battle. In December of 1862, just a month after he had enlisted, the Woodfin brothers were camped in the ruins of an abandoned flour mill on the banks of the Stones River just outside Murfreesboro. Finding themselves short of food, they collected dried bits of flour from the rafters of the old mill, mixed it with river water, and made crude biscuits that they toasted on bayonets over a campfire.

John C. Breckinridge
The next day, Dec. 2, Thomas complained of stomach pains and by evening he was dead. According to an 1863 muster record, the cause of death was "fever."  The more likely cause was botulism. That night, the surviving brothers got permission to borrow an ambulance wagon to take the body of their younger brother home to Fosterville about 20 miles away. They buried Thomas in or near the family cemetery and returned to their units in time for roll call the next morning. The short and painful trip home would be the last time the three sons would see their parents.

At Stones River, the 18th Regiment was part of a brigade commanded by Gen. John C. Breckinridge. Like Palmer, Breckinridge was a Southerner who had supported the Union and opposed secession before the war. Born in Kentucky, Breckinridge had been one of the state's U.S. Senators and James Buchanan's vice president. He was the Democratic Party's candidate for President in the fractured 1860 election that Lincoln won.

Stones River at McFadden's Ford
Now in uniform for the Confederacy, Breckinridge was in charge of several units including Kentucky's "Orphan Brigade," so named because the men could not return to a home state that was still part of the Union. He was among a group of generals who had a low regard for Bragg. In addition to doubts about Bragg's tactics and strategy, the Kentuckian disliked Bragg's rules against officers drinking whiskey. One of the officers who reported to Breckinridge was Joseph Palmer, who had been elevated to fill the role of  brigadier general with four Tennessee regiments under his command. They included the 18th, with Samuel Chase and Hugh, and Moses in the 45th.

As the new year approached, the Union army confronted Bragg's troops in the rocky fields and forests along Stones River. Palmer and his regiments were stationed on the east bank of the river at the far right of the Confederate defenses. The two armies made camp the night of December 30 and while the generals planned the next day's attacks, military bands began their usual evening serenades. Each side could hear the enemy's band just a few hundred yards away and when one of the bands struck up "Home Sweet Home," musicians on both sides joined in.

The Southerners struck first, marching out of a misty dawn to attack the Union's left flank. The Yankees retreated and regrouped throughout the morning until units from Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky were compressed into an area the locals called the Round Forest which straddled the Nashville Pike. A Union brigade led by Col. William B. Hazen, with help from artillery, turned back four successive charges. The fighting that was so severe the soldiers named the place "Hell's Half Acre."

Hazen monument
The last of the Confederate charges came from Breckinridge’s division with Palmer's brigade and another led by Brig. Gen. William Preston, both of which had stayed in reserve on the east bank of the river for most of the day. By the time they were ordered to attack, the cotton field in front of the Union position was strewn with the bodies of fallen Confederates and Hazen's troops had been heavily reinforced. 

Palmer likely saw little chance of success where three other assaults had failed. In his book "No Better Place To Die," Peter Cozzens said Palmer "marched his Tennesseans into the cedars west of the Cowan farm correctly but, contrary to orders, they never came out." Palmer's casualties were relatively light - just two men killed and 20 wounded, including Hugh Woodfin who stayed with his unit. Hazen’s men were the only Union soldiers to hold their position throughout the fighting. They marked the victory by erecting what today is the oldest intact Civil War monument in the nation.

Looking uphill from the banks of Stones River
toward the Union artillery position
Palmer's troops were ordered on another ill-fated assault two days later. Bragg aimed to dislodge Union troops that had crossed McFadden's Ford to the east side of the river and set up artillery on high ground above the west bank. Just hours before the attack, Palmer was replaced as brigade commander by Gideon Pillow, the same general who had given up Fort Donelson the year before. Palmer resumed command of the 18th Regiment.

The attack was ordered to start late in the day at 4 p.m. By then Union forces had more than 50 large guns on the hill with a clear view of any enemy approaches. Breckinridge objected to a mission he believed was clearly suicidal. When Bragg insisted, Breckinridge told one of his officers that "this attack is made against my judgment and by special orders of General Bragg." If he should be killed, Breckinridge asked his his friend to "do justice of my memory and tell the people that I believed this attack to be very unwise and tried to prevent it.”

Noah J. Hampton
Breckinridge was right to expect disaster. Noah Jasper Hampton, a private in the 18th Regiment's Company B, described the assault this way: "When the signal gun fired we marched forward, elbow to elbow, into the jaws of death." The rebels succeeded in routing Federal troops on the east side of the river, driving them back toward the hill on the west side where they were protected by artillery. But when the Confederates pressed on, they ran into a storm of heavy fire.

Hampton said the regiment marched across a cornfield and up a western slope. "They opened on us with fifty pieces of grape and canister, besides the musketry. This charge lasted about twenty-five minutes. Our men were mowed down until there were gaps of about twenty steps. I myself shot 34 cartridges. We were compelled to fall back, and that gave the enemy a chance to take good aim at us." Although the 18th Regiment may have avoided the worst of the fire, it took its share. "During this charge our colonel, J. B. Palmer, was wounded three times, three flag bearers shot down, twenty-two bullet holes shot in the banner, and a flagstaff cut half in two," Hampton said.

Out of 430 troops, the 18th Regiment saw 166 killed or wounded. Casualties for the entire army were just as severe. When the exhausted Confederates finally withdrew from Stones River, Bragg had lost 10,266 men and the Union had lost 13,249. The toll of killed and wounded would be the highest percentage of casualties of any major battle in the Civil War.


Marker in the Confederate cemetery at Beech Grove
at the south end of Hoover's Gap
The Battle of Stones River looked like a draw, with neither side giving up much ground to their opponent. Nevertheless, Bragg decided to withdraw and moved his forces farther south where he built a new defensive line near Tullahoma, a small railroad town about halfway between Murfreesboro and Chattanooga. The Union Army of the Cumberland settled in at Murfreesboro and for the next five and half months, the two sides prepared for their next encounter.

During the time Bragg's army was camped near Tullahoma, Breckinridge was sent to Mississippi and would go on to be the Secretary of War until the Confederacy dissolved. He was replaced by Col. John C. Brown, a Tennessee lawyer who left his practice in 1861 to enlist. He started as a private but quickly rose to the rank of colonel. He fought at Perryville in Kentucky and was at Fort Donelson with Hugh Woodfin when the Confederates surrendered and were later exchanged. Brown's Brigade was under the command of A. P. Stewart, another Tennessean who his men called "Old Straight."

John C. Brown
At Tullahoma, Brown was promoted to Brigadier General and given a brigade made up entirely of Tennessee troops. It included the 18th Regiment with Samuel Chase and Hugh Woodfin, the 45th Regiment with Moses and the 26th and 32nd regiments. However, the 18th and 26th regiments were temporarily detached to serve in a brigade under Gen. Bushrod Johnson.

To get to Bragg and Tullahoma, the Union Army would have to come through at least one of several gaps or low passages where rough farm roads slipped between between heavily wooded hills. One route followed what is now U.S. 41 through Hoover's Gap toward the crossroads settlement of Beechgrove. Another followed Short Creek toward Liberty Gap south of Fosterville near a farm owned by Anthony Clark, one of the area's early settlers. When the bluecoats entered Rutherford County and passed near the Woodfin farm, the old warrior from the Battle of New Orleans was not there to see them. Samuel Woodfin had died in April at age 74, about six weeks after the death of his wife, Mariah.

The force aiming at Hoover's Gap was led by Rosecrans' new secret weapon. It was a mounted infantry unit called the Lightning Brigade because it was designed to move fast and hit hard. Its leader, Col. John T. Wilder, was a mechanical engineer and foundry owner from Greensburg, Ind., who had moved quickly up the ranks after joining the army as a private. It was Wilder's idea to take infantry soldiers, put them on horseback, and use them as fast-moving shock troops. In addition to their speed, Wilder's troops had another significant advantage over their opponents -- a new repeating rifle that could fire as many as 20 rounds in the time it took a Confederate soldier to fire two.

The rifle was developed by Christopher M. Spencer who once worked for Samuel Colt. Earlier that year, Spencer had walked into the White House and convinced President Lincoln to take a look at his new invention. Lincoln had a natural curiosity about mechanical devices and new weapons and he joined Spencer and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton for some target practice near the site of the Washington Monument. The government eventually ordered thousands of the new rifles and Wilder arranged for his men to buy them for $35 each with payments taken out of their army pay.

When Wilder's strike force thundered into Hoover's Gap, they surprised and scattered a Kentucky cavalry unit, then pushed on toward a Confederate infantry camp at Beechgrove at the far end of the gap. When he arrived, Wilder was shocked to find the camp was empty. Most of the rebel troops were camped two miles away and most of the officers were away at a Masonic picnic.

When the Confederates finally organized an attack on Wilder's troops, his men got a rude introduction to the Spencer rifle. Wilder's men were severely outnumbered, but their superior firepower allowed them to hold their position until infantry reinforcements arrived. It was a similar story at Liberty Gap where the leading Union strike force was also mounted infantry armed with Spencer rifles.

"They didn't know we had the 'Spencers,' " Col. James Connolly recounted in a letter to his wife about the attack at Hoover's Gap. Their rebel yell "was answered by another terrible volley, and another and another without cessation, until the poor regiment was literally cut to pieces and but few men of that 20th Tennessee that attempted the charge will ever charge again."

While the Southerners were losing Hoover's Gap, other Confederate units a few miles to the west were being pushed out of Liberty Gap. One family history said the Woodfin brothers fought at Liberty Gap "where they shot so many Yankees they ran out of rifle shot." But other accounts and army records show the Woodfins were scattered around the area, some well away from the fighting. Moses was with the 45th Regiment.

A profile of the 45th published in The Murfreesboro Post said "fortunately, the unit did miss the fight at Hoover's Gap." The 18th Regiment, which counted Hugh and Samuel Chase, was temporarily assigned to Bushrod Johnson's brigade. They were called up from a reserve position on the 25th to try to push the Yankees out of Hoover's Gap but by the time they arrived, after marching through a steady rain, Wilder's troops had been reinforced and dug in. The next day the Confederate units began retreating back toward Tullahoma.

Civil War hospital in Tullahoma
Hugh Woodfin may have been in one or more of the fights at the gaps, but Samuel Chase probably missed the shooting. According to his obituary, he had been sent to a Confederate hospital in Tullahoma in the spring for treatment of rheumatism and diarrhea. His war records show him absent from his unit throughout the Tullahoma Campaign, from March until October of 1863.

After the Union troops broke through the gaps, Bragg packed up his headquarters and headed south. On July 3 - the same day that Vicksburg fell to Grant in Mississippi and Robert E. Lee withdrew from Gettysburg - Bragg's army began moving south across the Cumberland Plateau to Chattanooga. Moses and Samuel Chase also left their home area, moving out with Brown's Brigade, but not their brother Hugh. His records show that he was captured on July 1 near Tullahoma. Hugh's service records include one document listing him among soldiers who deserted from Brown's Brigade during the retreat. Whether he was captured in combat or in surrender, he was now in Union hands. Hugh was sent to Louisville, then on to the Union prison at Camp Chase near Columbus, Ohio, and later transferred to Camp Douglas in Chicago, a notorious POW camp that some called the Andersonville of the north. It was Hugh's third visit to a Yankee prison and this time there would be no parole or exchange.


Battle of Chickamauga
After losing Middle Tennessee at Murfreesboro and Tullahoma, Chattanooga was the logical place for Bragg to make another defensive stand. The city in the bend of the Tennessee River was a busy shipping center with rail links to Richmond, Atlanta and into the Deep South. Bragg moved into Chattanooga, but with Union forces converging from the north and east, he couldn't hold it and on Sept. 8, he ordered an evacuation into North Georgia.

The did not sit well with the Tennessee volunteers who had been fighting on their home soil for more than a year and many refused to go. Peter Cozzens, in his book "This Terrible Sound," quoted George Dillon of the 18th Regiment: "After crossing the state line many Tennesseans refused to serve our country longer thinking that we were on the retreat and shamefully deserted our army." Gen. Stewart told his men that the departure was not another retreat but a strategic move and that they would soon "meet the enemy in a deadly conflict."
Brotherton cabin and farm

Bragg did have an offensive plan. He wanted to insert his army between two pursuing Union armies and mount an attack before they could consolidate. He aimed his wedge at the rolling woods and farm fields west of Chickamauga Creek. On Sept. 19, Stewart's division had crossed the creek at Thedford Ford with orders to move toward the sound of the guns, which turned out to be northwest toward Lafayette Road and the farm fields of the Brotherton and Poe families. In addition Brown and his five Tennessee regiments, Stewart had a brigade under Tennessean William Bate and another under Alabamaian Henry Clayton.

Early in the afternoon, the rebels bumped into Union regiments from Indiana and Ohio stationed in the open woods east of Lafayette Road and Stewart sent Clayton in first. The two sides stood and traded volleys, often shooting wildly, Clayton would later report, until his men ran low on ammunition. Then it was Brown's turn to take the field. 

With the 18th and 45th regiments anchoring the right wing of his advance, Brown's troops recaptured a battery of rebel guns that had been lost earlier in the day. But the Federals also had fresh troops and plenty of them. Indiana's 75th Regiment, with more than 700 men, was far larger than other regiments because it was made up of untested recruits who had never been in combat. When they poured in from the Union left, the Rutherford County boys got hit first.

Cozzens described the attack: "The Seventy-fifth struck the right flank of Brown's brigade like a whirlwind, hitting the Eighteenth Tennessee first. The Tennesseans, he said, "never had a chance." Pvt. Hampton said the fighting was close and confusing. "There was such a volume of smoke we could not distinguish the enemy from our own men ten steps away." At one point, he said his company fired a volley at another group of Confederates, mistaking them for Yankees.

Among the casualties in the 18th was Col. Palmer who took a bullet in his right arm and fell from his horse with blood spurting from a torn artery. Next in command was Lt. Col. William Butler, who also went down. With Capt. Gideon Lowe in charge, the 18th turned and headed for the rear with the 45th and the rest of the brigade not far behind. 

King monument at the Poe Field
The two sides fought to a draw and held their positions as the sun went down, each within shooting distance of the other. Hampton said every time a rebel soldier would light a smoke, the flash would draw a volley from the other side. With his teeth chattering, Hampton said "I imagined I was playing 'Dixie.' I would have played 'Yankee Doodle' if it would have stopped the firing."

The next morning, Stewart's brigades shifted to the north to make room for Confederate reinforcements. Gen. James Longstreet had arrived with seasoned troops that had fought at Gettysburg. When Brown's regiments stepped off, with the 18th and 45th regiments in the lead, they aimed at the cabin on the Poe farm on the west side of Lafayette Road. Col. Anderson Searcy of the 45th said the regiments moved in good order, "but rather too fast; it seemed impossible to restrain them."
Monument to IN 101st

The two regiments crossed the road and pushed on toward the Federal defenses at the far end of the Poe field where the the Indiana 75th Regiment again waiting for them along with other Hoosiers in King's Brigade. When the Tennesseans were 50 yards from the tree line, the Federals opened fire. The rebels wavered, then retreated in some confusion. As Brown tried to rally his battered regiments, he was knocked off his horse and slightly wounded. Hampton recalled constant firing for six hours. "The woods caught fire," he said, "burning our wounded men before we could take them up."

While Brown's troops were reforming, Longstreet's forces exploited a hole in the Union line. It swept across Brotherton field and pushed the Federals to the northwest where they rallied at the Snodgrass Farm and at nearby Horseshoe Ridge. Maj. Gen. George Thomas eventually organized a strong defense, earning him the title of "The Rock of Chickamauga."

The battle was the Confederacy's biggest success since it left Murfreesboro nine months earlier. But it cost Bragg 18,454 casualties -- 2,000 more than the Union Army lost -- and the Federals were still in control of Chattanooga.

Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge

Battle of Missionary Ridge
With the Union troops settled into the city, Bragg deployed his army in the mountains and valleys to the east and south, hoping to starve the Federals by cutting their supply lines.

 For two months, Union and Confederate troops were camped facing each other. The soldiers reached an informal agreement that they wouldn't fire on each other until the next full-scale assault. With their lines only 100 yards apart, Hampton said "we became very friendly exchanging tobacco for coffee and reading each other's newspapers when the officers were not watching us."

After Chickamauga, the depleted 18th and 26th regiments were combined and put under the command of Lt. Col. Butler while Col. Palmer was recuperating. In early November, Brown's Brigade was transferred to a division headed by Major-General Carter Stevenson, a Virginian and West Pointer who had come to Chattanooga after the fall of Vicksburg. His headquarters was high on Lookout Mountain at the Cravens House where his porch commanded a spectacular view of the city below. Some of the soldiers in Brown's Brigade had an even better view from the artillery positions on the mountain's highest point.

Point Park on Lookout Mountain
After Chickamauga, the Union command was also rearranged. When Grant arrived, he replaced Rosecrans with Thomas, called for Sherman's army to come to Chattanooga and devised a plan to break the Confederate siege with a coordinated attack up and down the length of the Confederate lines.

On the morning of Nov. 24, Brown's troops were fanned out along the western face of Lookout Mountain, watching for an expected Union advance below. There wasn't much to see. Thick clouds of mist covered the valley, screening the Federals as they made their way across Lookout Creek and along the foot of the mountain. Blinded by the fog, rebel skirmishers fired at what they could  hear. "The fog was so dense," said Brown, "that we could not see the enemy, although we could hear his march, and guided by this and the report of his musketry ours was directed."

Cravens House
At the summit, men from the 32nd Tennessee resorted to rolling boulders and dropping lighted shells down the mountainside onto the approaching Federals. Soon the order came to evacuate the mountain and regroup on Missionary Ridge, a long spine that overlooked the city from the east. Shortly after dark, Brown's Brigade and the Woodfin boys began moving down the Summertown Road. They marched east, crossing Chattanooga Creek at about 10 p.m., and continued walking all night, through the darkness of a lunar eclipse, arriving on the ridge just after sunrise.

Stevenson placed the brigade on the top of the ridge above the Chattanooga & Cleveland Railroad tunnel, then sent them down the hill to set up defenses south of the Glass Farm on the flat ground that offered an approach to the tunnel. With the help of artillery posted on the hill above the tunnel, the Confederates turned back several attacks by Sherman's forces.

Railroad tunnel under Missionary Ridge
Private Hampton wrote that he was behind Confederate breastworks on Missionary Ridge. When heard the signal for the Union troops to advance, he climbed to the top of the mound to watch the approaching bluecoats. "As far as I could see there was nothing but solid lines of battle moving toward us from every direction. It seemed as though the earth was on fire. The volumes of smoke formed dark, heavy clouds, and nothing could be heard but the roar of cannons and musketry, which echoed from hill to hill. The pitiful groans of the wounded and dying men were lost in the din of battle. A portion of the hillside was literally covered with dead and wounded soldiers."

Moses Woodfin
Federal troops scrambled up the face of Missionary Ridge chanting "Chickamauga," Chickamauga" as they overran three successive breastworks on their way to the top. Hampton made his escape down the back side of the ridge. Samuel Chase Woodfin, who may have been in the fight or still in a Confederate hospital, joined the retreat further south toward Dalton, Georgia.

For Moses, the war ended on Missionary Ridge. According to family history, Moses was wounded once at Chickamauga and again at Missionary Ridge while he was dragging a cousin named Will Peak to safety. His regiment's muster roll for early 1864 contains this notation: "Supposed to have been captured at Missionary Ridge November 25 1863." Union records show Moses was indeed in Federal hands. He arrived in Louisville as a prisoner of war on Dec. 10 and entered Rock Island Prison in Illinois on Dec. 13.

Another family story describes Moses Woodfin's trip north with other prisoners in an open boxcar. As the train passed through Fosterville, Moses was considering jumping to freedom when one of the other prisoners spoke up. He pointed out to Moses how close he was to his home and how he could walk to the family farm if jumped from the train. Overhearing the conversation, a Union guard closed and bolted the boxcar door, ending Moses' hope for an escape.   


Battle of Kennesaw Mountain
The dispersed Confederates, now under the command of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, regrouped and spent the winter of 1864 at Dalton, Ga., where Hampton said there was plenty of food and fresh recruits for what would be the Confederacy's last stand. On March 22, he said the soldiers engaged in an all-day snowball fight.

In the spring, the Union army marched out of Tennessee with a new commander, Gen. William T. Sherman. The opposing armies hopscotched south, fighting a series of small skirmishes as Johnston retreated closer to Atlanta.

Sherman's first fight came in early May when Union forces attacked Confederates holding the high ground north of Dalton along Rocky Face Ridge, Hampton said his company was camped at the top of a ridge where the rebels had positioned boulders to push down on the Yankees below. One night on picket duty, he heard the Union soldiers call out "O Johnny Reb don't roll any rocks down on us." They would answer, "All right Billy Yank, if you don't shoot."

Joseph E. Johnston
The Southerners pulled back and set up defenses a few miles south at Resaca, on the north side of the Oostanaula River. Brown's Brigade, still serving under Carter Stevenson, was deployed well north of Resaca on the far right flank of Johnston's line. On May 14, Stevenson's troops crossed the Dalton-Resaca wagon road to engage the Federals. After some initial success, the Union troops were reinforced and scurried back to their defensive positions. Stevenson's men were involved in another assault the following day. But when that attack also failed, Johnston retreated further south.

Over the next few weeks, the armies clashed at New Hope Church (May 25-June 4), Powder Springs Road, near Marietta (June 20), and Kennesaw Mountain (June 27). The month of July saw the Confederates defending Atlanta at its outskirts along the Chattahoochee River.
It was during the siege of Atlanta that many of the men in the 18th Regiment were lost. The Military Annals of Tennessee recorded that the regiment was on a special detached duty when it "had a desperate passage at arms with a greatly superior force." The "greater part" of the regiment was captured but "Col. Butler escaped with a remnant of the regiment" and his group was later folded into the Tennessee 3rd Infantry.

Defenses at Atlanta
With the Southerners entrenched on the northern outskirts of Atlanta, Confederate President Jefferson Davis again switched commanders, installing Texan John Bell Hood in place of Johnston. Hood must have made a remarkable sight. He had a crippled arm from a wound at Gettysburg and had lost a leg after Chickamauga. But that didn't slow him down. On August 31, Hood attacked Union troops at Jonesborough, about 20 miles south of Atlanta. But when that failed, he abandoned Atlanta after first destroying anything that might be useful to the Yankees.

Back to Tennessee

Battle of Franklin
When Sherman began his famous march through Georgia, Hood reorganized his tattered army and headed in the opposite direction. Samuel Woodfin and Lt. Col. Butler were among the few remaining troops in the 18th Regiment and they left the city with their new general. Hood's Quixotic quest back toward Tennessee had two goals: drive through the state and into Kentucky, wrecking Sherman's supply lines along the way and picking up thousands of new recruits. Once reinforced, it would push east to join Robert E. Lee in Virginia.

The army returned to Dalton in October, then headed southwest to Alabama before turning toward Tennessee. In November, Joseph Palmer returned to the field and took charge of troops that included a consolidated regiment made up of elements from the 18th and 26th regiments.

Hood's army moved through Columbia and Spring Hill before marching on Franklin. On November 30, the leading edge of the army came face to face with Union troops at a defensive line on the south side of town. Several regiments, including the 18th/26th, which had occupied Columbia, were still miles away at 4 p.m. when Hood ordered a frontal assault on the Union fortifications. The attack, sometimes called "Pickett's Charge of the West," was a disaster for the rebels. When the fight stopped after dark, the Confederates had suffered 6,252 casualties, including 1,750 killed and six generals were either killed or mortally wounded.
John Bell Hood
The Union forces pulled back to Nashville and although Hood's Army of Tennessee was decimated, he continued to push north, confronting the Union again near Nashville in early December.

On December 5, Hood sent Forrest's cavalry and an infantry force that included Palmer and men from the 18th Regiment south to attack Union garrisons along the rail lines near Murfreesboro. Palmer’s infantry brigades joined Forrest’s command on December 6 and the next day Union troops marched out of Murfreesboro to confront the rebels. It wasn't much of a fight. "Most of the infantry under my command were barefoot and in disabled condition," Forrest would later write. In the end, Forrest had destroyed some railroad track and burned a few houses, but not much else.

Back in Nashville on December 15, Forrest and Palmer were still gone when Union troops stormed out of their trenches and all but destroyed the Army of Tennessee. Hood had entered the state with more than 30,000 men but when he retreated south across the Tennessee River he had fewer than 10,000. Woodfin's 18th Regiment had all but disappeared. Camped at Columbia, Tenn., on Dec. 23, the regiment reported 12 men and three servants. A collection of Tennesseans patched together from survivors of the 18th and other units fought as the rear guard protecting what was left of Hood's army as it retreated south. On December 27, Woodfin was one of the last Confederates to leave the state when his unit crossed the Tennessee River near Florence, Ala.

Battle of Bentonville
Hood took the army to Tupelo, Miss., where he resigned his command on January 13, 1865. Some units were sent south to help defend Mobile. Woodfin and the rest of Palmer's brigade were put rail cars and sent east to Augusta, Ga., with the goal of eventually joining Lee in Virginia. Back under Johnston's command, they slowed but couldn't stop Sherman's march into Columbia, S.C. From there, they headed to Charlotte and then Raleigh, N.C.

The Confederates skirmished throughout the early spring and even enjoyed some success in a fight near Bentonville on March 19 and 20. In that fight, about 75 men, including some from the 18th Regiment, charged so far through the Union lines that they found themselves behind the Yankee troops. They hid in the underbrush through the night, then slipped around the Union's left flank and made their way back to their own camp.

Samuel Woodfin's discharge certificate 

But the success was short-lived and Bentonville would be their last battle. On April 26, two weeks after Lee surrendered to Grant in Virginia, Gen. Johnston surrendered in North Carolina. Woodfin was given his official discharge at Greensboro, N.C., and a cross of honor from Col. Searcy. Palmer, by then a brigadier general, escorted 1,312 Tennesseans back to their home state.

Woodfin headed toward home as the escort for a herd of cattle destined for a Union supply depot in North Carolina. That story was recounted by Samuel Chase's son, Roy, who founded a newspaper called the Hustler in South Pittsburg near Chattanooga in 1899. Writing in a profile published in 1934, Roy said his father returned to Fosterville but found that the family home was now occupied by strangers.

Entrance to the farm on Brothers Road
once owned by Samuel and Mariah Woodfin
The Woodfin farm, according to another family story, had been sold by the children to settle the estate after Samuel III and Mariah died. Roy Woodfin said his father peered through a window and looked at the stone hearth. As he turned to leave, he saw a man starting to chop down a stand of oak trees where he had played when he and his brothers and sisters were children. He sat on a log and opened the bible that he mother had given him when he went off to war. "He opened, quite singularly, to these words of the Psalmist David: 'I have been young, but now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread.' "

While Samuel Chase was walking home from North Carolina, Moses and Hugh also headed back to Tennessee. All three brothers remained in Rutherford County. They hired out to work on area farms and each one married a girl from the Clark family. Moses had married Rachel Clark in 1856 and Hugh married her sister, Mary Elizabeth Clark. In 1867, Samuel Chase married the girls' half cousin, Elizabeth Frances Clark. All three women were related to Anthony Clark whose farm had been the site of some of the fighting at Liberty Gap.

Amira Ellen Woodfin
Elizabeth's father, John McKamey King Clark, provided a home for his daughter and Samuel Chase. But in 1892, Samuel, Elizabeth and 12 children packed a wagon drawn by a pair of mules and headed to South Pittsburg, a small community a few miles west of Chattanooga. The couple raised 16 children before Samuel died in 1917 at the age of 78. He was buried in the Beane Cemetery near South Pittsburg rather than the Woodfin Cemetery near Fosterville.

In the same year that Samuel Chase and Elizabeth moved to South Pittsburg, their oldest daughter, Amira Ellen, married Charles Nelson Womack of nearby Fackler, Alabama. Womack was the son of another Confederate veteran, John Tipton Womack, who had served in an Alabama infantry unit that guarded Fort Morgan at the entrance to Mobile Bay.

The oldest child of Charles and Amira Ellen was Larada Nelson Womack who they called Nell. The family was living in Oklahoma and Nell was a teenager when she met Michael Manning, a barber and musician who had come to America as an infant when his parents emigrated from Sicily in 1893. Michael was 19 and Nell was 17 when they were married at her father's home in 1911. Their first son was my father, Charles Russell Manning.


Tennessee's Battered Brigadier - The Life and Times of General Joseph B. Palmer CSA
by Robert O. Neff

Six Armies in Tennessee - The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaign
by Steven E. Woodworth

The Confederacy's Last Hurrah - Spring Hill, Franklin and Nashville
by Wiley Sword

No Better Place to Die - The Battle of Stones River
by Peter Cozzens

An eyewitness to the dark days of 1861-65
by Noah Jasper Hampton

Tullahoma - The 1863 Campaign for the Control of Middle Tennessee
by Michael R. Bradley

The shipwreck of their hopes: The battles for Chattanooga
by Peter Cozzens

History of the Seventy-Fifth Regiment Indiana Volunteers
By David Bittle Floyd

His Cross of Honor Prized Next to His Bible
by Roy Woodfin, South Pittsburg Hustler, June 7, 1934

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Orrin C. Reed

September: Syracuse

In the fall of 1864, officials in upstate New York announced plans to form a new regiment for the Union Army, offering a bonus for men who agreed to a one-year enlistment. The money must have looked pretty good to 29-year-old Orrin Reed. Like most of the other residents of Cortland County, Reed was a farmer with a small plot of land, little money to feed a growing family, and a few debts.

Orrin C. Reed
Reed and his twin sister Olive were born in New York's Delaware County, near the Catskill Mountains, to Oliver Reed and Eunice DeLong. There were 11 other children in the family, including another set of twins.

Orrin started his own family early. He was just shy of his 19th birthday when he married 28-year-old Mary Ann Russell in Delaware County. Mary Ann already had a five-year-old son named Erastus and was pregnant with another son, Melvin.

By the time Reed enlisted, the couple had two more children. Sherman was 7 and little Clara Elida was 4. Both Sherman and "Lida," or "Clatty" as her father sometimes called her, had been delivered by Dr. A. D. Reed, one of two physicians among Orrin's siblings.

The new infantry regiment being formed in Syracuse was the state's 185th and was comprised of men from the city and surrounding counties. Each county had a quota of recruits to produce and if they couldn't fill it with volunteers, they would draft the rest. A man could buy his way out of the draft for about $300, but that was more money than most could afford.

The bounty was around $300 and might have been much more, with some of the money coming from the federal government and some from the state, the county and even private individuals. In Poughkeepsie, the bounty was $700 and one of the Cortland volunteers, Elisha Crosby, got $1,000. A man who took the bounty could pay his debts and leave some money with his family, but there was no money for draftees.

The Syracuse area had a proud history of turning out volunteers for the great war. Three years earlier, Cortland County had provided many of the men who formed the 76th New York Volunteer Infantry. That regiment fought in the second Battle of Bull Run, but was best known for its performance at Gettysburg where a monument to the 76th now stands. It held the extreme right flank of the Union line and lost almost one-third of its men in repeated Confederate attacks. Many of the men in that regiment had enlisted for three years and would soon be returning home.

Reed may have been inspired by the hometown heroes and lured by the money. He also may have thought the war could end before his enlistment did. The North and South had been fighting for four years and everything was looking good for a Union victory. After his defeat at Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee had retreated back to Virginia. Now Ulysses S. Grant had Lee's army bottled up in Petersburg, a transportation hub a few miles south of the Confederate capital of Richmond.

Whatever motivated the new recruits, they were quick to sign up. In his book "Under Chamberlain's Flag," Jeffrey Wood wrote that Cortland County filled its quota in just five days. Reed enlisted at Marathon, a small town south of Cortland, and he became a private in Company G of the 185th New York Volunteers. He was joined by his stepson, Erastus, who had enlisted as a substitute on August 12, joining Company D of the 24th New York Cavalry.

The Captain of Company G, Alben H. Barber, led the men to Syracuse on Sept. 8 where they joined the rest of the regiment in a temporary camp at the Syracuse Fairgrounds. Basic training lasted a mere two weeks as they learned how to march, drill and form battle lines, but not much about using their weapons. They wouldn't get their new muskets until weeks later when they reached New York City.

Gen. Sniper monumentThey did, however, get their commanding officers. Edwin Jenny was selected as the regiment's colonel. Jenny had been a Major in a New York artillery unit when he was taken prisoner aboard a captured steamer. He was sent to a North Carolina prison, but had been released under terms that said he would not be active in the Union Army. The War Department later ruled that Jenny's parole was invalid and allowed him to take command of the 185th.

Second in command was Lt. Col. Gustavus Sniper, a German immigrant who had organized one company from Onondaga County earlier in the war and had brought a second company to the 185th. Today a monument honoring Sniper overlooks Schlosser Park in Syracuse. Capt. Barber would be with Company G until the end of the war. Two of his lieutenants, Daniel Minier and Hiram Clark, would not.

Jenny and the regiment left Syracuse by train on Sept. 23 and stopped in Binghamton where the men had to spend the night sleeping in boxcars until another train could be found. Early on Sept. 25, the regiment marched into New York City from Jersey City and on to barracks in the Bowery area. In one of the first of his letters home, Reed told Mary Ann that he was comfortable living in barracks "on the banks of the sea" and that he was looking forward to his steamship voyage on the 27th to City Point in Virginia.

Grant's military railroad
City Point, now part of Hopewell, VA, was a port town on the James River just few miles from Petersburg and Richmond. It was Grant's headquarters and the staging area for the Union's last drive into the heart of the Confederacy. Every day, more food, arms, wagons, and fresh troops like those of the 185th regiment poured into Virginia from the City Point docks.

Reed had little time to appreciate his new surroundings. After leaving the ship and resting for a few hours, the regiment was rousted in the middle of the night. Troops were loaded aboard open rail carts on a special military line that linked City Point to the camps near Petersburg. When the train reached the end of its line at Warren Station, the men were funneled into camps on the far left flank of the siege line around the city. Their tents, rations and ammunition wouldn't catch up to them for another day, but they were definitely now in the war and they could hear the siege guns shelling the city and the rebel trenches. In less than four weeks, Reed had been transformed from a farmer in the bucolic New York countryside to a soldier on the front lines of the Union Army.

October: Petersburg

The camp for the 185th was on the west end of the Union's fortifications, which formed an arc just below Petersburg. In a letter to the Syracuse Daily Journal, a soldier in regiment said "our camp is splendidly located close behind the breastworks in a beautiful pine grove." And life in the camp seemed to agree with Reed. He told Mary Ann that the soldiers build their own shanties using logs from the nearby forests. Like many others, Reed's shanty was 16 feet long and 8 feet wide with a door at one end and a chimney at the other. The Army-issued tent, suspended from a crossbeam, formed the roof.

A Union camp at Petersburg
"We have to do our own cooking and I tell you it is done up right," he told Mary Ann. "We have pork and hard tack and coffee to eat and once in a while fresh beef." In another letter he said "I am in the best of health from the fact that it is better than I expected it would be and I guess camp life is going to agree with me first rate."

Reed also reunited in camp with his stepson Erastus, who was with his cavalry unit a few miles away. Reed later reported that Erastus had contracted diarrhea, a common disease among soldiers drinking bad water. Erastus was sick in camp for a while and later sent to the hospital in City Point where he would stay through much of the Petersburg campaign. Reed said his regiment, however, was in great shape. "Not but a few on the sick list and most of them got their disease in Syracuse you can guess what that is."

In another letter, Reed complained that a cake Mary Ann sent had been stolen and that he had also lost his gloves. "There is not anything I can keep unless I keep it on." Reed also learned that Mary Ann was now sharing a house with her sister, Fanny, who also had a husband in the army. He offered the bachelor women some advice: "Mary you and Fanny must be good girls and not keep company with more than three boys apiece."

Siege gun at Petersburg
So far, the war had been little more than cooking and drilling. Although Reed said he could hear the Union canon bombarding Petersburg almost every day, "the regiment has not shot a gun, nor have we had any shot at us." The closest he had come to rebel soldiers was when deserters came into camp to surrender, which happened quite often. And the most excitement came when the regiment caught a would-be spy. "There was a man shot yesterday for desertion," he wrote. The soldier was heading toward the Confederate lines with "a map of our fortifications and would have been a great help to the enemy had he succeeded."

October: Burgess Mill

The first serious engagement for Reed's company came late in October when Grant ordered an attempt to capture the South Side Railroad. The line ran from Petersburg into Western Virginia and it was keeping the besieged Confederates supplied with food, ammunition and troops. If the rail line stayed open through the coming winter, the rebels would be stronger in the spring when the Union planned to make a major assault on the city.

Fort Mahone
The operation had two prongs. The 185th regiment was part of a force commanded by Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren that attacked Confederate trenches along Hatcher's Run near Burgess Mill, about 12 miles south and west of Petersburg. While Warren's troops stormed the barricades, another Union force attempted an end run to the west. Once they cleared the Confederate defenses, they were to turn north toward the rail line.

But the fortifications at Hatcher's Run turned out to be stronger than the Union had anticipated and Warren's men were soon pinned down. The 185th took up a position behind the lead units, but still within musket range. Reed said he and his company spent most of the fight lying flat on the ground while bullets and shells flew overhead. His Captain, Alben Barber, had a similar description in a letter to his mother. "The bullets whistled in our ears lively but we laid flat on the ground and most of them went over us," he said.

While the Union troops in front of Reed's company were exchanging fire with the Confederates, others tried to detour around the rebel positions and many were scattered and lost in the dense woods. Fighting continued into the night, even as a cold rain began to fall. But the Federals got low on ammunition and with roads turning into an icy muck, there was little chance of a resupply.

At 1:30 on the morning of the 28th, the 185th got orders to pull back. They joined the march back to camp, leaving behind scores of dead and wounded. Also left behind were regiments from Michigan and Minnesota that didn't get their orders the previous night. The two regiments held their ground in a morning shoot-out and eventually found an open escape route.

The Burgess Mill battle -- sometimes called the First Hatcher's Run -- was a dismal failure. No new ground was gained, about 1,700 Union soldiers were lost with almost 170 killed, and the South Side Railroad would remain open throughout the winter.

November: Chamberlain

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
In November, Reed and the 185th got a new general, a man they likely had heard about. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was not a career military officer. When the war started, he was a college professor teaching modern languages at Bowdoin College in Maine. Chamberlain wanted to go to war, but the college administrators refused to grant him a leave of absence. When he came back and asked for a sabbatical to teach and study in England they agreed. Instead, Chamberlain accepted a commission to lead 20th Maine Infantry.

At Gettysburg, Chamberlain's troops were placed at the far end of the Union line on a hill called Little Round Top where they held off repeated charges by Confederate units trying to capture the high ground and the Union flank. When his men ran out of ammunition, Chamberlain led them in a desperate bayonet charge down the hill, directly at the oncoming rebels. The startled Confederates were overwhelmed. Those who didn't surrender hightailed it back to the safety of their line. The left flank held, the Union pushed Lee out of Pennsylvania the next day. Chamberlain later received the Medal of Honor.

In June of 1864, Chamberlain was leading troops from Pennsylvania in one of the many attacks on the Confederate defenses when he was shot in the hip. Though seriously wounded, Chamberlain fought on until he collapsed. Grant rewarded him by giving Chamberlain only battlefield promotion he would issue during the war. Chamberlain took four months to recuperate. When he returned to Petersburg that fall, he was a Brigadier General and was given 5th Corps' 1st Brigade, which included the raw recruits of New York's 185th.

December: The Weldon Raid

The Globe Tavern and Weldon Railroad
With the Virginia weather still mild, Grant decided to make another attack on the Confederate supply lines. This time the target was the Weldon Railroad, which was bringing food and arms from Georgia and North Carolina to Petersburg and Richmond. On Dec. 6, Chamberlain's regiments were dispatched with other units on a long march west. The men weren't told where they were going or how long they would be away from camp but they were in good spirits and happy to be on the move. The weather was warm and sunny when the regiment set out and many of the men, including Reed, lightened their load by tossing away blankets and coats.

The march went on sporadically, day and night, on muddy roads and sometimes through fields and woods. Along the way, the soldiers stopped at farms and plantations to raid the stores, commandeer horses and mules, free the slaves and burn anything that might be useful to the rebel army.

After two days they reached the rail line and after the cavalry cleared pockets of Confederate defenders, the troops began pulling up rails and ties. It was hard work, but at least no one was shooting at you. The ties were stacked in squares and set on fire with the rails placed on top. When the flames get hot enough, the rails would bend and become useless. The men moved south down the rail line, working into the night, even after a cold rain arrived.

On their last night before returning to camp, the men were rewarded with a ration of beef for supper, supplemented by food liberated from nearby homes and farms. Among the spoils were casks of fermented apple cider and bottles of apple brandy. The men stayed up late carousing, drinking and dodging the provosts who would pour the spirits on the ground to maintain order. The Weldon march would later become known as The Apple-Jack Raid.

Globe Tavern and Weldon Railroad
Weldon Railroad
On the morning of Dec. 10, the troops found their camp covered with light snow and ice and, although they didn't know it, A. P. Hill's Confederate troops were hurrying south, hoping to catch the raiders before they returned to safety. Advance elements of Hill's forces would nip at the heels of the Union troops, hoping to make them turn and fight. But the Federals pressed on and, after five days in enemy territory, they returned to their camp below Petersburg.

Reed summed up the events in a letter home on Dec. 13. "We tore up about 30 miles of their road. The rebs had to flee before us. We did not get into any fight with them." He also told Mary Ann that on the next march, he would probably hold on to his blanket. "After I laid on the ground without one I made up my mind that it was cold business for me."

January: Petersburg

Mary Ann Russell Reed
Mary Ann Russell
Shortly before Christmas, Orrin got a box from Mary Ann. It was filled with food, some photographs and other items from home. "It looked as nice an anything I ever saw and tasted as well," Reed says in a letter. "It almost made me feel home sick when I looked at the contents especially those two cakes that looked so much like something you handed. I think I shall take them to bed with me to knight with a little brandy."

He told Sherman and Melvin that the photograph of them "is laying before me as I am penning these lines and it seems as though I can almost talk with you. But you must be good boys and I hope I shall get back and talk with you again and Clatty."

In other letters, Orrin assured Mary Ann that he was healthy and ready to serve the rest of his term. "I have never been sorry I enlisted," he said. But Mary Ann wanted him home, at least for a visit, and she pressed Orrin to try to seek a furlough. Some men were able to get away by pleading a family or business emergency, but in general, there were no furloughs for one-year enlistees.

In a Jan. 17 letter, Orrin told Mary Ann that she would have to plead his case. He asked her to write a letter to his commanding officer telling him that she is not well, "that my business is in such a shape that you cannot settle them, that you have got to move, that you have got the horses and cattle on your hands an you do not know what to do with them as it will be impossible to buy hay for them and any more excuses that you can think of."

But nothing in Reed's letters indicate that a furlough ever came through for him. The closest he would get to his family were dinners with Erastus, who had finally returned to his cavalry unit after a long stay at the City Point hospital. Reed told Mary Ann that one evening Erastus visited Orrin's camp and let his stepfather cook for him. "He said it seemed like home for us to eat together again."

February: Hatcher's Run

Hatcher's Run
Hatcher's Run
Another month, another raid on a Confederate supply line. The winter and Grant's noose were taking a severe toll on the entrenched rebels, who depended on battered rail lines and sporadic wagon trains for food and supplies. In their letters and diaries, some Confederate soldiers wrote that they were reduced to cooking captured rats for dinner.

But even a trickle of supplies was too much for Grant and ordered another sortie directed at the Confederate rail lines. On Feb. 5, a force that included New York's 185th and Pennsylvania's 198th regiments left camp and headed once again toward Boydton Plank Road and Hatcher's Run.

This time, they were without Chamberlain. Their general had gone to Philadelphia for surgery on his wounded hip, so Col. Horatio Sickel from the Pennsylvania 198th was taking his place. Again the regiments marched through the Virginia countryside, raiding and burning plantations before stopping to rest. When intelligence reports indicated that rebel troops were in the area, the Federals quietly slipped away just before midnight. As the last of the Union troops were leaving, they heard a rebel yell and turned to see attackers swarm into their now deserted camp.

On the morning of the 6th, Sickle's 1st Brigade took up positions along the stream with the 185th occupying the earthworks. When another division nearby came under attack, Sickle's men joined the fight and helped put the rebels on the run. "Our onset was so furious I guess they thought the whole Yankee army was after them," Capt. Barber said in one of his letters. Reed said his regiment "engaged about an hour when the rebs gave way. We chased them for a mile and they got into some woods and we had orders to fall back."

The 185th lost about 20 men that day, with a couple of the casualties coming from Company G. Col. Sickel was among the wounded. At one point in the battle, he raised up in his saddle just as a musket ball tore through the seat of his pants, nicking his thigh. The fighting continued after dark, but eventually an icy rain put an end to the shooting. Troops on both sides hunkered down for the night and as the sleet turned to snow, some of the Confederates slipped out onto the fields to strip coats from the dead.

The next day, Confederate reinforcements arrived and the Union troops withdrew. The story of the Second Hatcher's Run became a familiar one: bad weather, poor communications, heavy Union casualties and no serious damage inflicted on the Confederate supply lines. When the 185th returned to the Union lines, it was told to start building a new camp - it's third that winter.

March: Lewis Farm

In the new camp, Reed shared his shanty with two men from back home. Lorenzo "Ren" Adkins and Arthur Terpening both had families that communicated with Mary Ann. Reed reported that he was still healthy and that he had gotten paid on March 1. "I got most four months pay but not any more of my bounty," he said. He asked Lt. Hiram Clark to take some of the money back home to Mary Ann along with a pistol he had gotten from Erastus. In a letter, Reed told Melvin and Sherman they will all "have a fine time shooting it" when he returned.

One day in early March, the regiment turned out for a formal review. A group of civilian visitors watching the men perform their drills included three young ladies. "Almost every soldier's eyes was upon them," Reed said. "Women is a rare thing you know down here. I could not look at them too long for the reason I guess I better not tell."

The Union soldiers all knew that the parades and drills would soon give way to more fighting and a fresh attempt to break through the Confederate defenses. There were rumors of a possible peace, but Lincoln refused any deal that would leave the Southern states as part of a separate country. As Grant was preparing to march again, it was Lee who struck the first blow. His troops overran Fort Stedman on the Union line and a few units pushed south toward City Point. Their target was the military rail line that had delivered Reed to the front lines six months earlier. But a counterattack recaptured the fort while other troops halted the rebel raiding parties. By nightfall, the Confederates had retreated back behind their lines and Lee had lost another 4,000 men.

Reed described the attack in his last letter home. "We had a severe fight here yesterday though our regt was very fortunate as we did not get into the engagement but lay in reserve all day." Reed could sense that the end of the war could be approaching. The rebs, he said, "are getting in a tight place and are trying to break through as Sherman is a moving up his army in the rear of them and Sheridan is on the left and we are in the front." When all of the Union forces meet, he said, "the rebellion is gone up."

All through the winter, Grant had poured troops into the siege line around Petersburg. Mile by mile, he extended the Union line further east and west, building a noose around Lee and forcing him to extend his thin and fraying defenses. Now Grant planned another push to the northwest, again trying to get behind the rebels and open a route to Richmond. Chamberlain returned from Maine and resumed command of the 1st Brigade and the 185th. On March 28, Grant met with President Lincoln on a ship anchored off City Point to outline his plan and Lincoln gave his approval. Grant's luck, Lincoln said, would be "the luck of all of us. Except for the poor fellows who are killed. Success won't do them any good."

Gravelly Run
At dawn on the rainy Wednesday morning of March 29, Chamberlain's regiments left camp carrying 12 days of rations and 70 rounds of ammunition. They had stopped to rest at a farm until just before noon when Gen. Warren ordered them to Quaker Road. To the north, the road crosses Gravelly Run, near today's Interstate 85, and leads on to Boydton Plank Road, the village of Burgess and then to Petersburg.

Chamberlain, naturally, was in charge of the advance party. When troops from the 198th reached Gravelly Run, they found a wrecked bridge over a creek swollen from spring rains and rebel troops dug in on the opposite bank. Without waiting for engineers to build a makeshift bridge, companies from the 198th crossed the cold and muddy stream, through waist-deep water, and charged up the opposite bank. Soldiers from the 185th were right behind them.

The Confederates fled their earthworks and retreated into nearby woods with Union soldiers chasing them. As the Federals advanced through the brush, groups of rebels would rise up from hiding places, fire volleys at their pursuers, then fall back. Eventually the woods opened to a large clearing with the Lewis farm house on the right near Quaker Road and a large pile of sawdust from a portable sawmill farther on. Confederates under the command of Maj. Gen. Bushrod Johnson gathered in the woods at the north end of the field while some collected around the house and dust pile. When the Union troops advanced into the field, the rebels opened fire.

The battle see-sawed back and forth with each side capturing and then losing the open field and the dust pile. Chamberlain was leading his troops in a charge when his horse reared up and was struck in the neck by a bullet aimed at the general. The ball went through the horse, hit Chamberlain's left arm and chest where it bounced off the brass backing of a pocket mirror before exiting through a seam in his coat.

Covered in blood, most of it from his from his wounded horse, Chamberlain slumped in his saddle and appeared to be dead. But when another officer rode to his aid, he sat up and resumed organizing his men. The Confederates were getting reinforcements and they continued to charge out of the woods to attack the Union troops holding the field. Col. Sniper was holding the regimental flag of the 185th while the New Yorkers and the Pennsylvanians were firing the last of their ammunition.

As Chamberlain was considering a retreat back to the woods, an aide arrived to tell him that an artillery battery had finally crossed Gravelly Run and was now moving quickly up Quaker Road. Chamberlain shouted to Sniper and his men to hold their ground. "Once more! Try the steel! Ten minutes of hell and we are out of it." As promised, four brigades and a four-gun battery arrived in about 10 minutes and quickly began firing on Confederates massing at the tree lines. The rebels stopped their charges and the Union troops were safe.

In Pennsylvania's 198th regiment, 228 men were down, including most of its officers. The 185th counted 180 killed, wounded or missing. Reed's friend Arthur Terpening had been wounded and captured. Lt. Minier was also gone. A soldier who was near him during the fight said Minier passed down a canteen saying "Maybe we will never drink again together." A few minutes later he was killed.

Other casualties from the 185th included Elisha Crosby from Company F and three men from Company G: Ezra Carter, Charles A. Bunnell, and Orrin C. Reed. The official record says Reed was shot in the abdomen on March 29, but it offers no details about where, when or how. One clue comes from a newspaper account published in 1935 that quoted a member of the regiment. Entitled "The Battle of Gravelly Run," it suggests that Reed may have been shot after the 185th stormed across creek and while it was pursuing the retreating rebels toward Lewis Farm.

"The Confederate fire was close and rapid. About 180 men in the 185th were hit and over 30 killed. Company G. had perhaps more casualties than other companies. I think they carried the flag. Among the killed in Co. G. were 2nd Lieutenant Miner, color bearer Ezra Carter, Charles A. Bunnell and ___ Reed. One man who was in the battle said they were marching through the brush and one line of men rose and fired then dropped. Then another line rose and fired and dropped, and a third line also. One veteran who had been through the war said the Confederates fired a regular blizzard of bullets into the unsupported 185, the worst that he had ever seen."

The story said both Bunnell and Carter were killed in the brush and both were buried near where they fell. Reed was sent to the Union hospital at City Point where he died on March 30. Elisha Crosby from Company F was also taken to City Point and also died there.

In a 1998 magazine article, Elisha Crosby's great grandson, Alfred Crosby, speculated on what wounded men like Crosby and Reed must have endured. "He was dragged from the field during battle or picked up later and carried by stretcher as carefully as tired men stumbling over broken ground in the dark could manage. The first stop would have been the field hospital set up at the Spain House about a half-mile down Quaker Road from Lewis Farm.

City Point hospital tents"By seven the next morning the wounded were on their way to the main hospital at City Point. The surgeon T. Rush Spencer and the assistant surgeon Charles K. Winne recorded that the roads were almost impassable. It rained the night following the battle and all the next day. The land was flat and drainage poor, the soil sandy and underlaid with clay. The roads, torn up by the heavy wagons and marching men, turned into troughs of mud. They could be made passable only by corduroying—that is to say, by being paved with logs, even captured muskets, laid side by side across them. The jolting ride back to City Point, where Elisha’s death was recorded, must have been agonal if he were still conscious."

In his book "The Passing of the Armies," Chamberlain also described how rain and darkness hampered attempts to tend to the wounded. "All night the dismal rain swept down the darkness, deep answering deep, soaking the fields and roads, and drenching the men stretched on the ground, sore with overstrain and wounds, -- living, dead and dying all shrouded in ghastly gloom. Before morning the roads were impassable for artillery and army-wagons, and nearly so for the ambulances, of our Corps and the Second, that crept up ghostlike through the shuddering mist. Under the spectral light of hovering lanterns hundreds of helpless patient sufferers were loaded in; to be taken from this scene of their manly valor, now so barren of all but human kindness, in long procession for the nearest hospital or railroad station, -- and for what other station and what other greeting, what could they, or we, foreknow?"

A soldier with a wounded limb had a chance of recovering at City Point. Over four years of treating the carnage of battle, doctors had become adept at amputation. But a stomach wound was another matter. With only primitive anesthetics and no antibiotics or the skills to perform surgery, they could do little more than make the soldier comfortable until the end.

Reed and Crosby were among the thousands buried at City Point. After the war, Mary Ann had her husband's body sent home to a plot in the Marathon Cemetery. Today, his name appears with those of other men killed in the Civil War on a monument in the city of Cortland.

April: Appomattox

Despite heavy casualties and bad weather, this time the Union forces did not return to camp. After a rest, they pressed on, aiming for White Oak Road and the town of Five Forks on the Confederate flank. Waiting for them were cavalry divisions led by Lee's son and infantry directed by Maj. Gen. George Pickett, the man who led the infamous Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. After a daylong fight, Five Forks was in Union hands on the morning of April 1. The next day, the Federals stormed Confederate trenches around Petersburg, forcing Lee into a wholesale retreat. In Richmond, Confederate President Jefferson Davis loaded his government into boxcars and fled west toward North Carolina.

Grant and Sheridan's cavalry, including Erastus, chased Lee's army for seven days before finally boxing him in near Appomattox Court House, a tiny crossroads a east of Lynchburg. When Lee had had enough, he sent an officer carrying a white flag and a message for Grant out across a field toward Chamberlain and the men of the New York 185th. Watching from behind a fence row was Lt. Hiram Clark, the man who had carried Reed's pistol back to New York a month earlier. As the Confederate officer approached, an artillery shell sailed out from behind him. The shell skipped under the fence and slammed square into Clark's chest, killing him instantly. He would be the last man to die in the Army of the Potomac.

Eleven days after Reed was shot and seven months after he enlisted, the war in the East was over. On April 12, a delegation from both sides met at Appomattox Court House to set the formal terms of surrender. Grant, who didn't attend, chose Chamberlain to be the chief representative of the Union Army. The New York 185th lined the road to the Court House along with other units from New York, Michigan, Maine and Pennsylvania. When Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon and his officers approached the house, Chamberlain gave a signal and thousands of men snapped their muskets to their shoulders in the "salute of arms." Gordon answered by touching his sword to his toe. "It was honor answering honor," Chamberlain said.

Erastus survived the war, was mustered out of his cavalry unit and went on to marry three wives before he died in 1912 in Painesville, Ohio. He named one of his many children Sheridan and another one Oran.

Clara Reed
Clara Reed
Arthur Terpening, who shared a shanty with Reed, was wounded and taken prisoner in the Battle of Lewis Farm. He was discharged on June 2 and promptly returned to New York. Eleven days later he married Deborah Bloomberg, the daughter of Orrin's oldest sister.

Orrin's children all remained in the Cortland area where they married and raised families. Melvin and Sherman are buried along with Orrin in the Marathon cemetery. Clara, Orrin's little "Clatty," married Charles Underwood, a descendant of one of the county's earliest settlers and a member of a family that can trace its roots back to the Mayflower. Charles managed a feed store in McGrawville and Clara worked in the area corset factories. Their daughter, Lula May, married Albrose Bingham, whose grandfather had fought in the Revolutionary War. Together, Albrose and Lula May raised seven children. Their first was Marjorie Marleah Bingham, my grandmother.

Sources and references

The inspiration to write a story about Orrin Reed's brief Civil War experience came from another of his descendants, Roberta Judith French. Her mother and my grandmother were sisters. Roberta gave me the text of Reed's letters and her friend, Harry Miller, provided additional information on Reed's family, including Mary Ann and Erastus. In 2010, the full text of the letters were posted in PDF form on the Delaware County NY Genealogy and History Site.

For details about New York's 185th Infantry Regiment, there is no better source that Jeffrey Wood's book Under Chamberlain's Flag. Wood follows the 185th and its sister regiment, Pennsylvania's 198th, from their creation to the end of the war. Quotes from Alben Barber's letters to his mother came from Wood's book.

Kenneth Wooster has posted many documents related to the Cortland area and its Civil War history on web pages at SUNY Cortland. They include Charles E. Bunnell's text from a newspaper story describing the ambush that likely killed Reed and two other soldiers. Wooster's website also has a link to a discussion forum where descendants of soldiers who served in the 185th can share information.

Alfred Crosby, a professor at the University of Texas, wrote the story Consequences of the Skirmish at Lewis Farm that appeared in American Heritage in 1998. Elisha Crosby, his ancestor, was also killed at Lewis Farm.

The USGenWeb Archives contains a list of all members of the 185th Regiment.

Other helpful resources included these books:

April 1865: The Month That Saved America
by Jay Winick

Battle Cry Freedom: The Civil War Era
by James M. McPherson

The Civil War Day By Day: An Almanac, 1861-1865

View Civil War sites in a larger map