175th Regiment History Presented as a Personal Experience
(Refreshed Feb. 2018)
Until recent years most of the history of the 175th O.V.I. could only be found in military records that contained reports by commanders, rosters, lists of casualties and compressed views like Dyer’s Compendium. I will try herein to present a brief history that will fill in the unsaid in those others. As I researched my wife’s and my great-grandfather’s CW travels I always tried to picture their place; their thoughts; their fears – I tried to understand their 1864. I am making an attempt to present the regiments history in a “letters home” format as it may help us all experience their war.
Acknowledgements and Credits
To Eric Jacobson and Richard Rupp who have written two wonderful books about the events in Middle-Tennessee and without one of them in particular, Baptism of Fire, it would not be possible for me to get down to ground level with some sense of reality, down with the men of the 175th (and 183rd) Ohio Regiment. Soldier’s quotes are found online and in the above mentioned book. Also from “Footprints Through Dixie” written by Joseph W. Gaskill, a member of the 104th O.V.I. who fought and traveled with the 175th.
September 29, 1864
Our stay at Camp Dennison has been fun for the most part. Regulations are more lax than I would have thought they would be, but Col. McCoy is a veteran of the war and I’ll trust he knows the proper way. Our regiment, the 178th, is filling with recruits. Besides our home boys from Highland County we have received many from Fayette County. We signed on for the war and we are getting bored with camp life here and wish to go where we are needed. Send my regards to all and thank Mom for the package of home baked. That is one thing in short supply here……
October 10, 1864
I wrote Papa and told him of the boredom here in camp, however it appears at an end. We hear rumors of moving out soon. The last of the new recruits, Company K, was brought here and now we are full, over 700 men in all. Tell Papa I am marched out and want to become part of the adventure elsewhere. Today we voted for Lincoln, or I expect that most men did. They tell us troops are desperately needed in Tennessee. Our unit has been re-numbered the 175th. Lt. McCoy gave us no reason for the change.
October 12, 1864
On the 11th 6:00 p.m. we boarded railroad cars for Cincinnati. The order came to leave the state on short notice and a number of men came up missing* My rail car arrived at Cincinnati at 8:00 and we quartered at the 5th Street Barracks. I heard a rail car jumped the tracks at a Cincinnati engine house and overturned and that delayed many. Two boys killed in that accident. A ship, the Jewess, took us to Louisville. Not all are here, yet so we wait.
*In a not an uncommon practice — some 30 men received a bounty to enter service, deserted, and for some of them, to do it again for the money.
October 22, 1864
We have been traveling since the 11th and until now I was unable to find a comfortable place or time to write. We are in Columbia Tennessee and they say this is where our duty is. We came by ship to Louisville and then rail cars to Nashville on the 14th. It was far from comfortable riding in box cars over a rough road and sleeping very difficult. We passed through Kentucky and along the ride saw some devastation of war here. Also most of us saw our first cotton fields.
We arrived Columbia October 20th and were assigned to the 4th Army Corp. My Chaplain, J.P. Schultz, says he never saw a more jolly crew. Our duties are to garrison the town and to guard the bridges and trestles along the Nashville and Decatur Railroad. The boys we replaced were quite glad to see us. A rebel cavalry* has been causing trouble along the rail line and they tell us the duty will make us as weary as it has them. The duty is lonely and dangerous. Now I am part of the duties here in town so I can take that worry from you…..
*that of Nathan Forrest’s Cavalry
November 18th, 1864
We hear Hood is coming. Boys are writing home in a rush. May be our last chance for a while….
November 22, 1864
Moved to the Duck River today. Rebels nearby and we are to protect against movements from here. Over sixty* of ours captured at the rail houses.
*Sixty-two from companies b,d,e,g
November 28, 1864
Things getting bad here…enemy artillery has fired on us for a week. The rebels are moving and we are to march to Franklin. I hear they are all around and are trying to get to the front and stop us here. Lots of new recruits here now. All as green as we are. Train left here with over 30 sick and wounded going north. Hospital in Nashville I would think.
November 29, 1864
Left Columbia this a.m. with Headquarters train and took our wagons with us. We also had 50 rebel prisoners with us and were going to Nashville with them. Couriers came by and said to leave our camp tonight since we have no protection. We built fires all over the hills around and if the rebels come they will think there are one thousand of us. I am told the boys at the rail houses are still back there……..bad situation on the way at Thompson’s Station. Reb cavalry found us alone. McCoy decided to run the train right through them which Schultz and some Co. C boys did. Rebs only got one wagon but took their prisoners back. 20 of ours too. McCoy’s brother was one of them captured. What a day.
November 30, 1864
Arrived Franklin today. We met on the way with the column and came here to stay McCoy said. Now assigned to James Reilly’s 3rd Div. 23rd Army. Ordered in reserve behind the main lines….we have gone about collecting wood from the property* at our location to help build works…. Hood has chased us here to fight I imagine.
*the Lotz House
Ed Note: Pardon my interruption here. It appears to be a good place to tag this quote as we get ready to move on to the Battle of Franklin:
“I have read a great many descriptions by both Union and Confederate writers who have tried to describe how it appeared to them as the enemy charged across what may be called the field of death, but all have failed to show it up as it was. There are no words in the English language that will fittingly describe it – it is painted on the canvas of the memories of those who saw it and stands out in bold relief but no eye witness I care not how clever he may be with the pen can do it justice on paper” – Erastus Winters, 50th Ohio
December 7, 1864
We got a hellava fight at Franklin, Tennessee. Tell Mother and everyone to be proud. Also say that I am ok. I have a small wound of my lower leg below the knee but bandaged with little pain and I will go on. Better that than many of my friends who are left on the fields.
Sorry I haven’t written for many days. Hood’s Army chased us to Franklin where we finally stood and met him. More of that later. First, I still don’t have my gear – never will. While chased here from Columbia some of our wagons were set afire to keep it from the Rebs….and me it seems. We lost some men along the way but it looked like most were at the fight. My friend McFarland almost didn’t make it. He was so exhausted he had crawled into the bush and had fallen asleep, but we woke him and dragged him on.
My hand can barely write of the fight. Instead of going to Nashville where we had been sent Lt. McCoy went to headquarters which the Army shares with a Carter family and told them we were here to fight. We were sent into reserve behind the main line right on the pike. We helped build works without orders. Men around me took down fences to put on top works as more protection. We were exhausted and hadn’t eaten much in a couple days but all went about it well.
At 4:00 p.m. a strange quiet came. They day was warm like a nice Southern Ohio fall day and we could see the enemy out in the fields. Some said it was a grand sight even a band played the rebel song Dixie. I did not think it grand for I knew our fight had come. There was some cannon noise and some gun firing out in front some ways away and suddenly a rush of men came toward us.
Just in front of the charging rebels were our (1) own men who had been in the fields in front. They rushed through the opening on the pike followed by the rebels. No one up front could shoot for fear of killing our own. Companies were overwhelmed and some of this mass retreated past us. The wave of men all came to us with great loss. Officers cried out for all to reform. At this McCoy said fix our bayonets and sent us forward. He led our charge. Sometime here he was shot and was carried past me to the rear. We kept up our charge with even more force and even though it was our first fight we drove the rebels back and held until more men came forward. I think all those men came from behind us. I recall a brigade (2) passing us on the pike as we built works and surely those forced back by the rush came up to help. Soon the rebels knew it was time and surrendered in large numbers ran off to safety.
JOSEPH W. GASKILL of the 104th O.V.I., his regiment was on the main line in front of the 175th. He adds; “The enemy onslaught with overpowering numbers drives our company and three others from the works, capturing a battery and many prisoners. The enemy now holds a portion of the line while we are driven from our defenses find refuge in our second line of defense and behind the cotton gin……General Cox orders our supports forward in a counter charge and the enemy is met by this reserve force and men who have rallied after being forced from position…..The murderous struggle that follows this meeting of the two forces is indescribable.”
Eventually; “The enemy fire gradually weakens until it almost ceases when the soldiers taking cover in the ditch call out surrender and come in as prisoners, leaving the ditch well filled with dead and wounded.”
Late at night we left and crossed the river and arrived in Nashville that day. We went into camp at Fort Negley and were sure glad to sleep and be fed. It has been since that we wait to see what Hood will do. All is quiet but he is camped to the south of us and General Thomas (3) waits. The weather has turned first bringing wind and rain and then turned to snow and ice. Reinforcements have been coming in. I hope Thomas will finish Hood when the weather improves.
For now we are told we will not be affected because so many of our boys are sick. Now we do skirmish and picket duties and try to stay dry. Snow and ice are welcome since some days I woke with a sea of mud and water around me. The night is freezing now but we are comfortable with our camp stove and a board to sleep on. Now that we are all here there is time to see who is not. Dick Colvin is not and I hope his family has heard of him. Tell Bill Cutler’s wife that he is fine and only slightly wounded but cannot write her yet. She may have heard but who knows what she was told.
Well I wished to tell you I am fine. I hope this can end soon and that I again will hear from you in good health and spirit. Our Father has spared me. Those that fell around me are more worthy that I.
Your loving son,
(1) Wagner’s Brigade
(2) Opdyke’s 125th
(3) General George Thomas, overall commander of the Union Army of the Cumberland and roommate of William Sherman at West Point, waited for reinforcements and weather to improve. General Grant felt he was stalling and even sent a replacement. However, Thomas was soon able to implement his plans.
Ed. Note; to grasp the Confederate side of the lines at the Battle of Franklin there are fewer words better written than this: “Kind reader, right here my pen, and courage, and ability fail me. I shrink from butchery. Would to God I could tear the page from these memoirs and from my own memory. It is the blackest page in the history of the war of the Lost Cause. It was the bloodiest battle of modern times in any war. It was the finishing stroke to the independence of the Southern Confederacy. I was there. I saw it. My flesh trembles, and creeps, and crawls when I think of it today. My heart almost ceases to beat at the horrid recollection. Would to God that I had never witnessed such a scene! I cannot describe it. It beggars description. I will not attempt to describe it. I could not. The death-angel was there to gather its last harvest. It was the grand coronation of death. Would that I could turn the page. But I feel, though I did so, that page would still be there, teeming with its scenes of horror and blood. I can only tell of what I saw” – Private Sam Watkins of Columbia Tennessee, Confederate Army soldier and author
January, 1, 1864
When I last wrote I told Papa we were hoping that General Thomas would confront the enemy one last time. That he did on Dec 15 and the following day. The boys routed Hood’s Army back to Alabama I am told. On Christmas Eve we were ordered to go back to Columbia. Mullinex, our new commander now, said we are to man the town and the blockhouses on the north side and protect the railroad. So Mother I am going back to where this all started in November. With Hood in Alabama it should be a better time for us……………
February 25, 1864
Life sure has changed for us. Lt. McCoy is back with us and is post Commander at Columbia. The poor fella was attacked coming to us at Thompson’s Station by guerrillas but they were driven off and his train continued here. Here we have seen nothing but rebel deserters. We have busy days making housing and rebuilding camps or blockhouses since most that was here was burned by Hood’s boys as they headed south……….Soon I hope back to home. I miss everyone and wake homesick beyond expression.
Ed. Note; The 175th remained in Columbia, Tennessee until June of 1865. There they settled into a routine of cutting and hewing logs for their huts, daily drills and the consumption of rations; and the officers to reports. Still loyal to the Confederate cause, guerrillas caused some fighting and fear, but as far as this writer is aware the men found no significant danger. They remained in Columbia, Tennessee until June 25, 1865, were mustered out at Nashville on June 27 and shipped back to Ohio with a few dollars in their pockets.
One Last Cruel Episode in the History of the 175th Ohio
Our fictitious solider, who has told us about some of the experiences that the companies of the 175th had during their service, is unable to tell about this last episode. Even with guns laid aside some would not see home again. In April 1865, 1700 persons perished aboard the SS Sultana, a steamboat carrying roughly 2000 passengers, far more than its capacity, up the Mississippi near Memphis. Most of the passengers were Union soldiers, many from Ohio, just released from Confederate prison camps like Andersonville. It is known that twenty-seven (27) were from the 175th Ohio. Many of the passengers had been weakened by their incarceration and associated illnesses and were packed into every available berth and filled the decks. Before the ship departed Vicksburg, Mississippi it had experienced boiler problems and an improperly repaired boiler exploded causing the ultimate disaster.
The Roll of Honor, found elsewhere on these blog pages, lists 135 men from the 175th who died while in service of the regiment; Thirty-five (35) were killed in action at Franklin, fifty (50) were captured at Franklin or Columbia and died in prison or on the way home, twenty-seven (27) of those aboard the Sultana. In addition fifty (50) died from wounds, disease, accidents or other causes. This is significantly more than previously reported elsewhere. Also 49 more were captured, eventually released, survived the Sultana, or sent back to the unit to muster out with them. At least seventy-five (75) were wounded, sent home or returned to the unit.