What Were You Doing at Fifteen?

Where were you and what were you doing at age fifteen? Personally? Let’s see; I was in the 9th grade, Rock & Roll was in its infancy, even in its place of birth, Cleveland Ohio. Baseball was my game and my music tastes, which would soon change, was Glenn Miller music. Parental influences were pushing against the teen in me. They weighed heavy and kept me safe despite myself.

William Wesley Gist, born in 1849, volunteered for service with the Union Army in 1864. Fifteen. What were you doing at fifteen?

William was born on February 28th in Starr, Hocking County, Ohio. Bears, and other like wildlife, probably outnumbered humans in this county southeast of Columbus, Ohio. In 1864 his older brothers Nathan and Cornelius were serving in the army and it can be assumed William wanted to join them; be part of the excitement. In March of that year he lied. Said he was eighteen and joined the 26th Ohio Volunteer Regiment. He was assigned to Company D and served until the regiment mustered out in August, 1865.

What were you doing at fifteen?

Young William was quickly introduced to battle, serving with Sherman’s Army from May to September during the Atlanta Campaign. Brother Cornelius was in Louisiana with the 114th O.V.I., but I wonder if William was, at the time, aware that brother Nathan was also in Georgia and Atlanta with the 31st O.V.I.? Both regiments participated in numerous major battles before Hood’s Confederate Army left Atlanta behind and Sherman began his march east.

The 26th had been formed during the early summer months of 1861. During the summer of 1864, while in Georgia, the three-year enlistments of the original volunteers ended. They were mustered out and headed back to their Ohio homes. What remained after Atlanta, about 120 men, (have also read about 200) was assigned to Lane’s Brigade, Wagner’s 4th Corps Division. The Corps was part of an army charged with defending Nashville from Hood’s Army. Hood, indeed, had plans.

Soon, this now small regiment would be tested again at Franklin, Tennessee.

During the preparations that preceded the Battle of Franklin, General Wagner made a huge error and with it put two divisions in harm’s way, isolated in open fields against Hood’s 20,000 man army. When the Confederate Army advanced on Franklin, the men of the 4th Corps out in those fields ran for their lives. The finish line in their run was the Union Army’s main works and the only path to those works was Columbia Pike. As William and the 26th Ohio crossed the finish line and passed beyond the works the rebels were only 50 yards behind. Within seconds they breached the main works at the pike and were in battle with an advancing Union Regiment, the 44th Missouri. One of the heroic regiments on that November afternoon, the 44th found new company. A fifteen year old and his brothers of the 26th had melted into their company and were also in combat with the enemy. In that situation it was only the color blue that mattered. David Bragg and John Worley were captured, and Joseph Kern went missing in the melee. William would later write:

“I jumped over the works just east of the locust grove near … the Carter house. Finding the works practically empty, we stopped, and as soon as our men seemed to be in we began to fire as rapidly as possible. The batteries on both sides began to fire with great rapidity into the advancing ranks. Soon a cloud of smoke hung over us and nothing was distinct in front. …

 “Some of the Confederates were on the opposite side of the works from us. When a lull would occur, some of these would offer to surrender. We would cry out, ‘Drop your guns and climb over.’ This they did, and this was repeated a number of times. Some of them crossed the works so close to me that I could have touched them with my hand.

“In the part of the line where I stood were men of many commands…….

Well, that is the short story of a longer one about a fifteen year old Ohioan in Tennessee in the year 1864. Later William Gist would contribute many newspaper accounts, magazine articles, and a book about the actions of the 26th Ohio at Franklin. Visit http://www.ohiocivilwar.com  and in the reference list of the written word about the regiment there are many listed. I found that if I google the title portion of those articles many of them are available online. Also visit http://26thohioinfantry.com  a website dedicated to the regiment.

Gist William Wesley Gist (photo from Chris Burson and find-a-grave)

In 1876 William Wesley Gist married Lillian Jeanette Hurlburt of Ashtabula, Ohio. He was a teacher and school superintendent in Willoughby, Ohio; a professor of English literature at Coe College , Cedar Rapids, Iowa; a pastor of the Congregational church of Marion, Iowa and then of the Congregational church of Osage, Iowa; a member of the faculty of Iowa State Teachers College at Cedar Falls, teaching English literature, rhetoric, and Bible. He was elected Commander of the Department State of Iowa, G.A.R. at Fort Dodge on June 6, 1923, dying two days later at his home in Cedar Falls.

William and Lillian had eleven children and they and four of their children are buried at Oak Shade Cemetery, Marion, Iowa. For more details, particularly about Lillian, see www.findagrave.com

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3 thoughts on “What Were You Doing at Fifteen?

  1. William Wesley Gist is my great great grandfather father to Julian Gist my great grandfather father of Jean Gist Burson my Granny grandma

  2. Nice article and history about my Great Grandfather, William Wesley. We just visited his grave in Marion last week, July 2015. WW Gist and his wife Lillian were quite the over achievers. I knew Lillian when I was a young boy. As a youngster she saw President Lincoln.

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