Tuesday, December 2, 2008

81st Ohio

81st Ohio Infantry
Commanded by Col. Thomas Morton

On back of monument:
This regiment guarded Snake Creek bridge during forenoon April 6, 1862; assisted in repelling enemy's advance at army's extreme right after noon; by personal order of Gen. Grant, received at 3 p.m., developed enemy's position at crossing of Hamburg & Savannah and main Corinth roads; formed left of McClernand's command April 7th; drove enemy from a battery shortly before end of battle, where its greatest loss occurred. Its loss was 2 officers and 2 men killed; 17 men wounded; 2 men missing; total, 23.

The story of the 81st Ohio adds another layer of complexity to the battle. By most accounts this regiment saw little action during the battle. On the first day of battle they guarded Snake Creek bridge until Grant ordered them to the intersection of Corinth-Pittsburg and Hamburg-Savannah roads to develop the enemy. They did this shortly after 3 P.M. and then fell back to the final line. On the second day they saw very little fighting, or at least that is what the Ohio Monument Commission reported in 1903 in its report. The Ohio Monument Commission endeavored to erect a monument to every organization from Ohio that fought at Shiloh. Every organization was thus memorialized, except the 81st Ohio.[i] The Ohio commissioners selected a site near the Corinth-Pittsburg and Hamburg-Savannah roads for the monument. A foundation was put in and the monument was at Pittsburg Landing waiting for placement when two former officers objected to the location and wording on the monument selected. These two officers appealed to the Shiloh Battlefield Commission, which sided with the Ohio Monument Commission. The two officers then appealed to the Assistant Secretary of War. The placing of the monument turned into a huge political fight with 64 former soldiers protesting the actions of these two officers. No agreement could be reached and the monument was not erected when the other Ohio monuments were.[ii]
The argument made by the two officers was that the 81st Ohio captured Cobb’s battery on the second day and they wanted the monument to be near the location of that capture. Unfortunately for them they selected a location near a marker that states that the 11th Illinois, 12th Illinois and 11th Iowa captured Cobb’s battery on the first day. In their report the Ohio commissioners quoted Captain Cobb as saying that his battery was captured on the first day after his ammunition was exhausted and 79 of his 84 horses were killed.[iii] Larry Daniel wrote that Cobb’s battery was captured by the 11th Illinois and 20th Illinois near Woolf Field around noon on the first day. About an hour later the Confederates were able to recapture Cobb’s battery and enough mules were found to drag off four cannon but two cannon and all six caissons had to be left behind.[iv] Wiley Sword also says that Cobb’s Battery was abandoned at this place and time but he later talks about this battery being captured on the second day by the 14th Wisconsin, 13th Ohio and 9th Kentucky.[v] George Witham says that the four guns were removed during the night and that the battery was not in action during the second day.[vi]
Eventually the 81st Ohio’s monument was put in place where the two dissenting officers wanted. Although the monument does not claim capture of Cobb’s Battery by name the monument is directly across the road from a marker for Cobb’s Battery. The monument states that the 81st Ohio “drove [the] enemy from a battery shortly before end of battle, where its greatest loss occurred. Its loss was 2 officers and 2 men killed; 17 men wounded; 2 men missing; total, 23.” The loss of 23 men would seem to indicate that the 81st Ohio did not face much resistance in capturing the battery. Of the several regiments that are connected to the capture of Cobb's battery the 81st Ohio has by far the fewest casualties. The three regiments that the battlefield tablet lists for the capture each suffered more than three times as many casualties as the 81st Ohio did. Considering the volume of casualties in the Civil War it seems odd that any regiment could capture a battery and lose just 23 men. Across the road is a marker for Cobb’s Battery that says at noon on April 6th, “its horses were all killed and [the] guns taken. The guns were retaken and four removed from the field but were not used again at Shiloh.” What probably happened is that if the 81st Ohio captured any guns it was two abandoned cannon which were likely not being fired and only served as a rallying.[vii]
To make things even more confusing in the February 1905 edition of "Confederate Veteran" Captain Cobb disputed that his battery was captured at Shiloh at all. He describes the marker explaining how his battery was captured as “perverted history.” He says he felt compelled to publicly repudiate the story because of the memory of his dead and his few survivors who repulsed the attack of the “Fortieth Illinois and Twenty-Third Missouri Infantry.” Cobb also says that “Cobb’s Battery” was not captured at Shiloh because the battery was not known as “Cobb’s Battery” until more than thirty days after the battle, which seems to be splitting hairs on the issue. Cobb also says that only eight horses were still standing after the charge and that four of those had flesh wounds.[viii] Unfortunately Captain Cobb did not submit a report of his actions in the battle, at least no such report is printed in the Official Records. The only mention of Cobb’s battery at Shiloh is by Colonel Robert P. Trabue, Cobb’s brigade commander, who mentions him twice. The first mention is that this battery was detached from Trabue but that he was told that the battery fought with “extraordinary gallantry,” that nearly all his horses were killed and he was ordered to remove his battery with mules. The second mention is that the battery lost most of its horses and two cannon.[ix] What seems most likely to have happened is that Cobb’s battery was overrun by the Union and then later recaptured by the Confederates. Having all his horses killed the battery had to be removed by mules that evening, leaving behind two guns due to a lack of mules to remove all the guns. Cobb denies being captured because he was able to remove his guns and only left two behind because he did not have the horseflesh to remove them. With no horses he did not participate in the second day of the battle.
General McClernand said that one the first day the 11th Illinois, 20th Illinois and 11th Iowa charged a battery and killed, “most all the artillery horses.”[x] This sounds a lot like the attack on Cobb’s battery. Colonel Marsh describes the attack virtually the same, but with more detail:
We succeeded in slowly driving back the enemy for half a mile to the extreme left of my own camp, silencing a section of artillery planted in rear of General McClernand’s quarters, killing all the horses on both guns and caissons. The enemy being heavily re-enforced and my ammunition running short, I was forced to fall back without bringing off the guns, but on regaining possession of our camp on Monday morning the guns were found in the same position, and are now in our possession.[xi]

The Ohio commissioners further reported that on the second day the 81st Ohio served as part of the 20th Illinois, with the 53rd Ohio also serving as part of the 20th Illinois for the day.[xii] Colonel C. Carroll Marsh’s report states that on the second day his brigade consisted of the 17th Illinois, 20th Illinois, 43rd Illinois, 48th Illinois, 49th Illinois, 54th Illinois, 53rd Ohio and “a portion of one other Ohio regiment.” On the first day his brigade had only consisted of the 11th Illinois, 20th Illinois, 45th Illinois and 48th Illinois. On April 7th they crossed Review Field with no trouble, then prepared to charge a Confederate battery but just when he was about to give the order the “Ohio troops on my left, without any apparent cause, broke and ran in a manner that can only be stigmatized as disgraceful and cowardly.”[xiii] Marsh does not mention if the brigade was ever able to capture that battery. Lieutenant Colonel Robert A. Fulton of the 53rd Ohio, serving under Colonel Marsh on the second day, reported that they did capture that battery but on the nearing the battery they discovered that it was “entirely abandoned.”[xiv] After encountering the abandoned battery they encountered other artillery fire and the Confederates then advanced on the brigade. Fulton say that at this point the 81st Ohio “fell back across the open field.”[xv]
The Ohio Commission also added that they, “considered the reports of those officers who were present with the regiment as more reliable than that of one who did not see it during the day.”[xvi] They are referring to the fact that Colonel Thomas Morton, the 81st Ohio’s commander, was acting brigade commander for the Second Brigade of the Second Division, taking over from the wounded Brigadier General John McArthur. The Ohio commissioners would not directly say who were the two officers who caused all the trouble, though it seems Colonel Thomas Morton was one of the men involved. Colonel Morton would serve as the 81st Ohio’s colonel for most of the war, from Aug 19th, 1861 to July 30th, 1864 when he resigned his commission.[xvii]
The other officer was Major William H. Chamberlain. In 1865 he wrote a regimental history in which he says that at Shiloh the 81st Ohio captured a battery on the second day. He says that the regiment drove the Confederates away with musketry then charged and captured the battery. The regiment had to leave the cannon behind though as they were left unsupported.[xviii] It appears that only one other regimental history for the 81st Ohio exists. Corporal Charles Wright says in his memoirs that the “audacious” advance of the 81st Ohio caused the Confederates to become confused and retreat, leaving behind some cannon. The 81st Ohio sent several volleys from the site of the capture but then had to retreat as no support was in sight.[xix] This is a much different story than the one told by Lieutenant Colonel Fulton of the 53rd Ohio, which served with the 81st Ohio on the second day. T. J. Lindsey, chairman of the Ohio commission, wrote to park historian Reed that Chamberlain, “certainly got some other battle mixed with Shiloh.”[xx]
Knowing the numbers involved in the later controversy it seems odd that the only two regimental histories support the minority opinion, especially considering that both men were in the same company at Shiloh. The introduction to Wright's memoirs was written by Major William H. Chamberlain. Although he ended the war as a major, at Shiloh Chamberlain was the First Lieutenant of Company C, Corporal Charles Wright’s company.[xxi] Chamberlain explains that Corporal Wright never intended for the book to be published; he intended it to be a family heirloom and went to the trouble of having it bound in calf and morocco for posterity’s sake. Chamberlain though persuaded Wright to have the book published.[xxii] The way Wright wrote the book though it appears that his audience was not his ancestors but rather his fellow soldiers. Here’s a selection to illustrate, “Comrades, remember in what manner we retreated from those guns; we would fire, the about face’ and walk slowly while getting out a cartridge, stop and finish loading, blaze away, and then walk on again until half loaded, the halt, finish loading, and give them another.”[xxiii] Perhaps Wright rewrote the book once it was decided to print it for a mass audience.
Colonel Morton wrote about his brigade capturing a Confederate battery but had to leave it where it was due to all the horses being killed. Their ammunition was exhausted and they then fell back.[xxiv] It is an odd report because Morton describes his brigade as being his own regiment and “three fractional regiments which were in line on my right and very poorly officered.”[xxv] What regiments was Colonel Morton commanding? The order of battle states that Colonel Morton was commanding the Second Brigade of the Second Division for the wounded General McArthur and that this brigade consisted of the 9th and 12th Illinois and the 13th and 14th Missouri. Captain James Hugunin of 12th Illinois reported that the “division and brigade had been scattered and broken up, and I had to act without orders,” on the second day. They spent most of the day following the first line and doing very little fighting.[xxvi] Colonel August Mercy of 9th Illinois said that they served as a reserve on the second day. At 4 P.M. they were ordered forward but the enemy was in retreat when they got there and were thus not engaged.[xxvii] The 14th Missouri’s colonel, B. S. Compton, said that the only action by his regiment on the second day was as skirmishers for Lew Wallace’s force.[xxviii] Colonel Charles J. Wright’s 13th Missouri saw some action serving under Sherman on the second day but was not involved in the capture of a battery.[xxix] All the regiments listed as being under Morton’s command can be explained as serving under other commanders and not getting into much action. If Morton did command a brigade it did not consist of what was officially listed as his brigade. Perhaps the Ohio Commission was right when they said that the 81st Ohio served with the 20th Illinois under the command of Colonel Marsh.
Colonel Marsh did not state that his brigade consisted of the 81st Ohio; he simply said “a portion of one other Ohio regiment.”[xxx] There were nine Ohio regiments that were in the first day’s engagement. These were the 46th, 48th, 53rd, 54th, 57th, 70th, 71st, 72nd and 77th. As stated earlier the 53rd Ohio served in Marsh’s brigade on the second day. The 48th, 70th and 72nd Ohio served together under Colonel Ralph Buckland. This brigade was engaged near McClernand’s headquarters on the second day. Unfortunately Buckland did not state his precise actions in his report to General Sherman, only saying, “The manner in which my brigade came into line and fought was observed by you, and therefore I need not describe it.”[xxxi] Sherman in his report does not mention any specific actions by Buckland but does state that it was his only brigade “that retained its organization.”[xxxii] The 57th and 77th Ohio were in reserve during the second day and did not see any combat. The 71st Ohio was scattered early in the morning of the second day and also did not see any action. It is impossible to state what the 46th or 54th Ohio did on the second day.[xxxiii] Either of these two might be the other Ohio regiment that served in Marsh’s brigade. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Fulton of the 53rd Ohio states that when his regiment advanced in the morning the 81st Ohio was on his left and the 45th Illinois was on his right.[xxxiv] The 45th Illinois was one of Marsh’s original regiments but he did not mention it as fighting with him on the second day. The Ohio Monument Commission did not leave a detailed written history of the actions of every Ohio regiment. The history for each regiment in the book is usually only two pages long and details where and when they were recruited, what the inscription on the monument is and what was the supreme moment for each Ohio regiment at Shiloh. In some ways this is unfortunate but it is also beneficial. Since none of these mini-histories include actions from the second day it can be deduced that none of the Ohio regiments that fought on the first day did anything of much importance on the second day or at least nothing that was of more importance than their first day’s actions. The Ohio Monument Commission must have thought that each regiment did their most conspicuous service on the first day.
What does it all mean? Probably the 81st Ohio captured nothing on April 7. They may have bolted for the rear early in the action. If they did capture anything it was abandoned cannon and it not comparable to how other regiments captured batteries.

[i] Ohio at Shiloh. p. 47.
[ii] Ohio at Shiloh. pp. 47-8.
[iii] Ohio at Shiloh. p. 49. Marker 3.
[iv] Daniel, Shiloh: The Battle that Changed the Civil War, pp 187-90.
[v] Sword, Wiley. Shiloh: Bloody April. (NY: Morrow, 1974) pp 326, 396.
[vi] Witham, George F. Shiloh, Shells and Artillery Units. (Memphis, TN: Riverside Press, 1980) p 77.
[vii] Monument 146 and Marker 450.
[viii] "Cobb’s Battery Not Captured at Shiloh." Confederate Veteran, Vol 13. February 1905. p 68. Cobb's account also adds two new regiments to the list of regiments that are given credit for attacking his guns. This brings the total to nine regiments in addition to the 81st Ohio, with five credited on being there on April 6th and four more on April 7th.
[ix] OR 10:1, 617, 620.
[x] OR 10:1, 117
[xi] OR 10:1 134. The Trailhead Graphics map lists no campsite for Colonel Marsh. His regiment’s camp was north of Woolf Field. General McClernand’s camp was on the eastern edge of Woolf Field. These two bits of evidence support the contention that Cobb’s battery was captured on the first day because the location that is believed to have happened is in or near Woolf Field.
[xii] Ohio at Shiloh. p. 49.
[xiii] OR 10:1, 135.
[xiv] OR 10:1, 265.
[xv] OR 10:1, 265-6.
[xvi] Ohio at Shiloh. p. 49.
[xvii] Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion. 1861-1866. Vol VI. (Akron, OH: Werner Printing, 1888) p 469.
[xviii] Chamberlain, William H. History of the Eighty-First Regiment Ohio Infantry Volunteers, During the War of the Rebellion. (Cincinnati: Gazette Steam Printing, 1865) p 19.
[xix] Wright, Charles. A Corporal’s Story: Experiences in the ranks of Company C, 81st Ohio Volunteer Infantry During the War for the Maintenance of the Union 1861-1864. (Philadelphia: James Beale, 1887) p 43.
[xx] Smith, This Great Battlefield of Shiloh. p 82.
[xxi] Chamberlain joined the 81st Ohio as first lieutenant in company C on August 30, 1861. On May 7, 1862 he was promoted to captain of company C. He was promoted to major on Aug 9, 1864 and resigned just over a month later on September 15, 1864. (Ref: Official Roster of the State of Ohio. Vol VI. pp 469, 478.
[xxii] Wright, A Corporal’s Story, unnumbered pages at beginning of book.
[xxiii] Wright, A Corporal’s Story, p 43.
[xxiv] OR 10:1, 162.
[xxv] OR 10:1, 162.
[xxvi] OR 10:1, 158.
[xxvii] OR 10:1, 155.
[xxviii] OR 10:1, 161.
[xxix] OR 10:1, 160.
[xxx] OR 10:1, 265.
[xxxi] OR 10:1, 267.
[xxxii] OR 10:1, 250.
[xxxiii] OR 10:1, 249-71.
[xxxiv] OR 10:1, 265.

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