A Brief History of the 183rd Ohio Infantry
(Refreshed Feb. 2018)
Until recently most of the history of the 183rd could only be found in military records that contained reports by commanders, rosters, and 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 the others. As I researched my wife’s and my great-grandfathers’ 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 with the men of the 183rd Regiment. Quotes of soldiers are documented. Most are found online or in the book mentioned above. Quotes by J.W. Gaskill are from his book Foot Prints Through Dixie.
October 15, 1864
I have arrived at Camp Dennison just to the north side of Cincinnati from Columbus. The days are long and boring with much marching to and fro and learning to use our rifles, but they don’t tell us much of what to expect when we have to use them. The food is good and they treat us well. New recruits come every day and most of them are Germans from Over-the-Rhine. Fact is some just arrived from the their country. We have all signed on for a war and we are hoping that happens soon. Send my regards to all and thank Mom for the package of home-baked. That is one thing in short supply here……………
November 18, 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 men, Company K, is now full, over 700 men in all. A 32-year-old has been assigned to command us. His name is George Washington Hoge. We have signed to one year and we expect to serve it all as this war continues on without pause. Tell Papa I am marched out. Today we voted for Lincoln or I expect that most men did. They also tell us troops are desperately needed in Tennessee.
November 19, 1864
We boarded rail cars and began to roll to Cincinnati where a ship waited for us and by 9:00 p.m. and we were aboard the Steamer Prima Donna for a trip down river to Louisville. They say that from there we are headed by rail to Nashville. I suppose that is where our war is.
November 24, 1864
We left Louisville the 22nd and arrived in Nashville today. The ride down was uncomfortable and riding over the rough road was difficult on sleep for sure. Along the way we saw some effects of war and most saw our first cotton fields. Our regiment is still full, but I am told that two regiments lost over thirty men back in Cincinnati. I guess some men sign up to serve, get their bounty and then escape to do it again for monies gain.
November 28, 1864
We left Nashville in a hurry after we arrived and came to Columbia today. We joined with Strickland’s Brigade.* We were joined in the rail cars by the boys from the 44th Missouri. They tell us that the rush to get us here means that trouble is nearby. We hear Hood is coming. Orders came to grab our gear and quickly move a bit south to the Duck River. My gear was still on the rail car so I go on without.
* Strickland’s Brigade*, Ruger’s Division of Gen. Schofield’s 23rd Army
November 29, 1864
Things getting bad here……..the enemy artillery was firing on our men for the week before we arrived and continues. 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.
JOSEPH W. GASKILL of the 104th O.V.I., Nov. 29th “the enemy opens out with batteries and keeps up a steady fire all day for the purpose, no doubt, of drawing our attention from their flank movements. During the storm of shot and shell we lie quietly in our works with guns capped and bayoneted in readiness………As soon as darkness sets in we quietly evacuate our works and retreat on the Franklin Pike. While on the march and near Springhill camp fires are seen on both our right and left. We are informed that these show the location of both wings of the rebel army………we hold our breath, muzzle the oracles and make our escape between the jaws of the enemy.”
November 30, 1864
Arrived Franklin and ordered to reserve line west of the pike….some nasty fights along the way at Spring Hill…..fired last night at a rebel skirmish line…a hectic scene because we fired on some of our own…ordered to the end of the column and passed rebels close by in the dark night and saw shadows of them at fires but our column passed quietly…we were ordered to build works and all find fence and buildings to tear down that do well for building the works. Even on the back line we entrench for what is to come. Hood has chased us here to fight I imagine.
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:
Erastus Winters, 50th Ohio, “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…..“
December 5, 1864
At the moment it is quiet and we all write home. Mother we got our war and tell Papa to be proud. Tell everyone that I am ok. I have a wound of my lower leg below the knee but bandaged with little pain and I will go on. Better that than many of our boys who are left on the fields. Sorry I haven’t written for many days. Hood’s Army chased us to Franklin, Tennessee 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 Jon Ball disappeared. He fell behind our march and I suppose he was taken by the Rebs.
My hand can barely write of the fight. We were sent to the line and built our works without orders which some of us did on works that were already built (1). Men around me took down an outhouse to help protect us. We were exhausted and hadn’t eaten much in a couple of days but all went about it well. Two companies were sent to the main line with Moore’s men to fill a gap, others (2) were sent out as skirmishers into the cornfields in front.
At 4:00 p.m. a strange quiet came. They day was warm like a nice 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 a fight had come. There was some cannon shots 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 came our skirmishers who rushed over the main works and the two companies sent up front were overwhelmed and retreated past us. The wave of men all came to us with great loss. Upon seeing this Clark (3) and Col Hoge quickly ordered us to the main line. Our colors had fallen to the ground so Clark gathered the flag and mounted the works with it and with that we rushed forward. A bullet ripped through his head and killed him. At this some of our boys faltered but mostly we were fully in the fight. All including those who had rushed past came forward and fought hand to hand and gun and bayonet to same for a time but we performed well and with help held the main line. Duty fell to me to fill shot for men ahead as they emptied their load time and again on the enemy and handed it back in need of more. I never knew how fast I could load a gun before. We stopped fighting when the rebels disappeared into the heavy smoke and at midnight we retreated that scene passing over our own men. There were many dead there Mother. We were ordered to cross the river and go to Nashville where I can hope to write you again soon.
Your loving son,
(1) Works that had been constructed in 1863 during previous preparations for battle
(2) Men from Companies A, F, & G
(3) Lt. Col Mervin Clark, second in charge of the 183rd
Ed. Note; I wish to tag this: Sgt. Festus Hays, Company K said that he “felt that some on the main works took more than their share of glory, failing to give proper credit to the 183rd, which supported others and fought at the works.” Further, thanks to Eric and Richard, they have been able to finally establish the location of the 183rd at the battle and their important contributions there – Baptism of Fire by Eric Jacobson & Richard Rupp.
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
December 10, 1864
We arrived in Nashville the day following the battle and went into camp near Fort Negley. 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* waits. The weather has turned, first bringing wind and rain and then snow and ice. Reinforcements have been coming in. I hope we will finish Hood when the weather improves.
For 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. Now the night is freezing but we are comfortable with our camp stove and a board to sleep on. Now that we are quiet there is time to see who is not with us. Abraham Walker is not and I hope his family has heard of him. Tell Ben Underwood’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.
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.
*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.
December 20, 1864
Back in near Franklin in pursuit of Hood……the weather cleared and on the 15th we moved into position on the far right flank, part of John Mehringer’s Brigade*. We were positioned in support in front of the Indiana 15th Battery and their cannon blew my hat off many times later that day. It was afternoon and Thomas began his plan. The fighting that day moved Hood back one mile to Shy’s Hill on our side. The hill was directly was in front of us. On the 16th we were in our rifle pits most of the day and late afternoon we engaged rebel troops and took much fire losing a few men. Hoge said we behaved gallantly. By dark the enemy was fleeing south filling the roads. Later, on the 19th, while chasing Hood south details were sent to Franklin to attend to our dead and wounded.
*Ed Note; With the 183rd’s brigade at Nashville were the 91st and 123rd Indiana and the 50th Ohio. The 50th had been in the worst of the battle at Franklin stationed on Columbia Pike. Unless they were reinforced by new recruits or transfers they were down to 112 men at Nashville.
JOSEPH W. GASKILL of the 104th O.V.I.“On the afternoon of Dec. 19 we move forward a few miles and camp a short distance outside the village of Franklin. a detail of men is sent to the battlefield of Nov. 30th where we find our dead have been stripped of of clothing and bodies thrown into trenches under a light covering of earth……..without covering many of these bloated and discolored dead cannot be identified except for the tattoo marks found on a few of them. Here we find the enemy in his hasty retreat has left nearly all the wounded of both armies to fall into our hands, and these being cared for by the surgeons and citizens of Franklin.”
January, 1, 1864
When I last wrote we were hoping to confront the enemy one last time. That was done on Dec. 15 and the following day. We routed Hood’s Army back to Alabama they tell us. We helped pursued him south through Franklin and finally stopped back in Columbia at Rutherford Creek. I saw the same place back in November when the train brought us down. It was a kinder sight this time. One of my fellows at the works in Franklin, Frank Haver ,was captured in the early rebel rush. He was rescued here as Hood fled and he back is here with us. What good luck his has been.
Other than the two days of fighting at Nashville we are now only in support and if Hood is in Alabama then it is done. We did lose a few men the second of those days but I am fine other than the still ringing in my ears of the cannon behind us. It was that close. We do hear that we are leaving this place soon maybe tomorrow. I will write from the road to tell you where to mail your letters…………….
January 2, 1865
Headed south to Clifton on the Tennessee River where boats will take us to the Ohio and more travel to the east we hear.
February 11, 1865
Hello again. We are in Washington D.C. After Hood fled Tennessee we were put on boats and transported north to Paducah and on to Cincinnati. It was good to touch Ohio soil again, but soon trains took us on to the Potomac River and Washington. As I write we are camped at Annapolis and the whole 23rd Army is reassembled in the area. They say we are headed for North Carolina to join with General Sherman to end this war. I am now with the 2nd Division 3rd Brigade and our commander is Gen. Cooper…………..
JOSEPH W. GASKILL of the 104th O.V.I., “transports and gunboats arrive to convey and convoy the 23rd Army to some other field of operation. We board a steamer and after a long and tedious journey down the Tennessee we enter the Ohio, then up through drifts of floating ice that threatens to wreak our boats, and arrive at Cincinnati. Here the corp is loaded on top freight cars for a long mid-winter ride over snow clad country and our journey is continued eastward through Columbus, Newark, Zanesville, and other cities. At all the stopping places the good people greet us with cheers and ample supplies of hot coffee and provisions, all of which is fully appreciated by the boys who are suffering with cold, especially those quartered on the “hurricane” decks……he journey continues through Bellaire, Ohio, eastward passing through Cumberland and Harpers Ferry and down the Potomac River to Washington City. Here the corps goes into camp on the Capital grounds.”
February 23, 1865
Arrived near Wilmington today aboard ships, mine being a captured rebel named the Atlanta. My old commander, Silas Strickland, has captured this city recently and cut off Lee’s supply lines. We will soon depart north to join the center wing of Sherman’s boys and we are happy to have Strickland back to lead us.
Ed Note; with them still were the 50th Ohio and 91st Indiana, and now the 181st Ohio.
JOSEPH W. GASKILL of the 104th O.V.I., Feb 3, 1865 “boarded with a fleet of sixteen transports and convoys the Twenty Third Corps with horses, mules, wagons, artillery, and other equipment steam down the Potomac River, enter Chesapeake Bay, then out upon the Atlantic, rounding Cape Hatteras and along the coast, we anchor off Cape Fear on the 9th. Soon after we land at Smithville, NC.”
March 20, 1865
Received your recent letters with some delay. We have been moving and left camp near Wilmington early this month. We are part Sherman’s Army and Strickland is still with us. He leads us north where we repair Lee’s old supply rail lines and roads. Mostly they lay in the swamps so the work is hard and we always are ready to fight if needed. Hood came here after we drove him to Alabama and we can hear the cannon fire on him to our left as we go north. We are near Kinston now and if we keep chasing the rebels and we will soon be in Raleigh I suppose………
March 26, 1865
Arrived in Goldsboro on Mar. 21 where we remained, still in reserve. We have lost a few from disease along the swamps but for the most part our health is good.
April 22, 1865
I don’t know what the news is at home but if you don’t already know we have ended our fighting. For the most part it has been quiet here for some time. We are at Raleigh camped in the town of Warrenton. General Sherman came here yesterday and we all stood for him as he passed. It looks like I’ll be home soon…..
JOSEPH W. GASKILL of the 104th O.V.I., May 2, 1865 “we arrive at Greensboro, NC in the midst of 30,000 defeated and disheartened Confederate soldiers………while (the 23rd Army) encamped at Greensboro a convention of Ohio soldiers is held in a grove adjoining the village. By the middle of May the paroled rebel prisoners have all departed for their homes…….”
JOSEPH W. GASKILL of the 104th O.V.I., June 16, 1865 “we pass in review before Generals Schofield, Cox and Carter. On the 17th our (104th Ohio) regiment is mustered out of service. Our recruits (those who have not served full term) the the 183rd Ohio and will probably remain on guard duty at some point in the south.”
Ed. Note; The 183rd remained in North Carolina to perform duty near Salisbury until late July when they mustered out and were shipped back to Cincinnati. On July 28 the army paid the surviving members of the 183rd one final time. With a few dollars in their pockets they headed home.
A Last Cruel Episode in the History of the 183rd Ohio
Our anonymous solider who has told us about some of the experiences that the companies of the 183rd had during their service is unable to tell about this last episode. Even with guns laid aside some would not see home again. In the greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history about 1600 persons perished aboard the SS Sultana, a steamboat carrying roughly 2000 passengers. The Sultana’s legal capacity was 376. Most of the passengers were Union soldiers, many from Ohio, just released from Confederate Prisons like Andersonville and were heading back home. While steaming up the Mississippi near Memphis disaster struck.
It is known that seven were from the 183rd Ohio and their names are listed on our Roll of Honor. Also, refer to the list of web-site links for more about the Sultana disaster.
The Roll of Honor, found elsewhere on these blog pages, is significantly more precise than previously published elsewhere. It lists ninety-two men from the 183rd who died while in service of the regiment. Twenty were killed in action at Franklin, another nine missing in action there and presumed dead. Nineteen were captured and died in prison or on the way home. One man died in action at Nashville and thirty-eight died of disease, accidents or other causes.