Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Battery Disbanded

The following excerpt is from the book Best Little Stories from the Civil War by C. Brian Kelly. It is one of the few in depth accounts of the 13th Ohio at Shiloh and deserves to stand alone:

Battery Disbanded

Few, yesterday or today, have ever heard of the 13th Independent Battery, Ohio Light Artillery organized and mustered into the service of the Union Army at Camp Dennison, Ohio on December 20th, 1861, one year to the day that South Carolina seceded from the Union. Few at any time since battery’s first and only appearance in battle have heard of it because its furious division commander Brigadier General Stephen A. Hurlbut, disbanded the unit, scattered its men, gave away its guns, and ordered it s officers home, accusing all of cowardly performance in battle…even if it was their first combat experience.
By Hurlbut’s angry account, the battery personnel (“ignorant of duty and drill”) set up their guns on Sunday, April 6th 1862 and then--”A single shot from the enemy’s battery struck in [Capt. John B.] Myers’ 13th Ohio Battery when officers, and men, with a common impulse of disgraceful cowardice, abandoned their entire battery, horses, caissons, and guns, and fled, and I saw no more of them until Tuesday”
The facts as related by others, may have been somewhat less stinging. For instance, Thomas Jeffrey, a young enlisted man in the battery later wrote that he and his companions spent most of their time since their unit’s formation in December 1861 in marching drills, because only one practice cannon was available at their camp for the use of several artillery batteries.
On March 1st 1862, the battery at last received “guns and horses.” Just four days later the battery was ordered to the front. The front would be Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River; the battle awaiting Jeffrey and his comrades was Shiloh.
How did they get there from Ohio? They” marched to Cincinnati and by railroad to St. Louis, then by steamboat down to Cairo and up the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers to Pittsburg Landing.”
The entire trip took nearly a month. Leaving on March 5th, the 13th Ohio Battery arrived just six days before the fighting erupted on April 6, near the Shiloh meetinghouse. ”From the time of receiving their guns and horses to their arrival at Pittsburg,” wrote Jeffrey later, “they had not had their horses hitched up more than a half a dozen times.”
On that “terrible first day,” as he later called it, Jeffrey’s battery was “prompt to respond” as the fighting began, but had to wait an hour or more in camp for orders. They came at last, carried by an aide to General Hurlbut: Move up to the front.
“After going a mile or more the Captain was ordered to place his battery in a narrow belt of timber to the right of an open field,” wrote Jeffrey years later. Myers objected, saying he wanted to place his guns in the open field. “The staff officer peremptorily ordered him to place it in the timber.”
It may be, too, as other accounts have it, that the inexperienced Myers mistakenly held back when his supporting infantry, four regiments under Brigadier General Jacob Lauman, dashed ahead. General Hurlbut later accused Myers of holding back, “either from ignorance or some other cause.”
In the lines opposite, meanwhile, a very proficient artilleryman was preparing his own guns to support a Confederate charge against Lauman’s position. This was Captain Felix H. Robertson, commander of an Alabama battery and a West Point graduate who had gone with the South. He had the 13th Ohio Battery in his sights.
As Jeffrey tells it: “As they (his battery) undertook to obey the order (to go into the trees), the enemy opened with both infantry and artillery which resulted in their becoming hopelessly entangled among the trees and logs, the horses shot down, the men in disorder. So complete was the destruction that but two of the team with one gun and its caisson escaped from the general disaster.”
Said a friendly onlooker, Union Lieutenant Cuthbert W. Laing of the nearby 2nd Michigan Battery:” They had just got unlimbered when one of their caissons was shivered to pieces, and the horses of one of the guns took fright and ran through our lines. All then left the battery without firing a shot.
Other Union Artillerymen, it seems ran forward, cut loose the surviving horses, and spiked the guns left behind by the 13th Ohio Battery, which suffered one man killed and eight wounded.
The day wore on ,with at least four Confederate assaults against Lauman’s “Hornets Nest” sector in the Federal line, which was gradually pushed back-but at horrendous cost to the attacking Rebels. Said an Indiana officer: “The advance was made up to within some 10 yards of my line and the slaughter among the enemy in its front was terrible.” General Lauman recalled, as did U.S. Grant later: “The ground was literally covered with their dead,”
Young Sergeant Jeffrey, meanwhile, wrote that his batteries one undamaged gun and “ detached pieces of other batteries did efficient work in the repulse of the enemy on the evening of that terrible first day at Shiloh.” Battery members, he wrote, later regrouped at “their old camp” after the battle ended the next day, “having recovered their guns and equipment except horses.”
They were in for a shock. “A few days thereafter they were surprised by an order from General Hurlbut for the muster out of their officers and assignment of the men to the Ninth, Tenth, and Fourteenth Ohio Batteries.
Even years later, Jeffrey could not understand Hurlbut’s attitude. “Why this was done I do not know,” he wrote “No doubt General Hurlbut thought he had sufficient reason, but the only apparent reason was that the officers in attempting to obey orders had lost their battery.”
According to Jeffrey, later an officer himself in the war, an official investigation by the Ohio Adjutant General’s office “fully exonerated Captain Myers from blame,” and further, according to Jeffrey “The treatment of Captain Myers and his officers by General Hurlbut has been denounced as outrageous by all who knew of the affair.”
In the meantime, though, the war continued. Jeffrey found himself assigned to the 14th Ohio Battery, which now took over the 13th’s remaining equipment. The 14th served honorably though the rest of the war-At Corinth, Mississippi, in the Atlanta Campaign, the Battle of Nashville, and the Campaign against Mobile, Alabama.
At Resaca, Georgia, one day, the battery was asked to “knock out” some Confederate snipers in distant trees. “It took us but a short time to knock them out,” Jeffrey reported, and the on looking General James B. Mc Pherson “remarked that in all his military experience it was the first time he had ever seen artillery used for the purpose of sharp shooting.”
Another time, the battery marched so long through such completely stripped Confederate countryside in parts of Georgia and Alabama that it’s horses starved to death. Later still the 14th covered 4,500 miles just in the final months of the war.
If Jeffrey did not see much of the war with the ill-fated 13th Ohio, he and his old compatriots certainly did with the 14th Ohio.

1 comment:

  1. Thomas Jeffrey:
    Enlisted on 12/9/1861 as a Sergeant.
    On 4/20/1862 he transferred into OH 14th Light Artillery
    He was Mustered Out on 8/9/1865 at Camp Dennison, OH

    * Qtr Master Serg 9/9/1864
    * 2nd Lieut 10/12/1864
    * 1st Lieut 12/9/1864

    He also had service in:
    OH 13th Light Artillery