The 153rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment
A Brief History
© 2004 David G. Davis
The 153rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment was one of the 96 100-day regiments called up in the spring of 1864 to support the Union’s final push to achieve victory over the Confederate armies and bring an end to the War for Southern Independence, or as it is commonly known today, the Civil War. This brief summary of the 153rd Ohio draws upon many sources that provide both specific information on the regiment and more general background on the larger military and geographic context in which they served. I am deeply indebted to the dozens of researchers and authors who provided the critical information on which this regimental history is based. In order to maintain a concise format, I have omitted bibliographic footnotes but provide an extensive bibliography listing the primary sources consulted and used. David G. Davis, Arlington, Virginia; February 2004.
By the spring of 1864, the Confederacy’s future looked increasingly bleak, and Union military and political leaders geared up for a final decisive drive deep into the southern nation. Governor John Brough of Ohio, with the support of the governors of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin, proposed to President Lincoln that existing state militia units be called into Federal service for 100 days and be equipped and paid by the national government. Lincoln accepted the plan, and on April 25 Ohio called up 36,000 troops in 43 regiments, leading the other states who together with Ohio provided about 80,000 men in 100-day units. The primary mission of these new regiments was to free up front-line troops by taking on critical rear echelon functions such as guarding railroads, bridges, forts, and prisoners of war.
The 153rd Ohio evolved from the 35th and 41st Ohio National Guard Battalions. The 35th was organized in Clark County in October 1863 in response to Confederate General Morgan’s raid into Indiana and Ohio. Upon the call-up of the Guard units, the 35th under the command of Colonel Israel Stough was ordered to Camp Denison near Cincinnati where it was consolidated, in part, with the 41st to become the 153rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment with Colonel Stough in command. The new regiment, numbering 909 men, was mustered into Federal service on May 9 and spent the next several days preparing for deployment. Although details are lacking, the troops were likely issued standard US Army uniforms of dark blue blouse, light blue trousers, and billed caps, known as kepis. It appears that many of these regiments were issued British-made Enfield rifles in .577 caliber. Besides Colonel Stough, the other regimental officers were Lieutenant Colonel Marcellus Leeds, Major Zedikiah South, and Reverend Lucien Clark, Chaplain.
Like most of the other 100-day regiments, the 153rd headed east on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to reinforce Federal units guarding the railroad and Union garrisons along the Potomac River in eastern West Virginia and western Maryland, an extensive territory that included a portion of the lower Shenandoah Valley. Union forces in that region were assigned to the Department of West Virginia (commanded by Major General Franz Sigel, followed by Major General David Hunter) until early August when several Federal military departments were combined into a new Army of the Shenandoah under Major General Philip Sheridan. Railroad guard units were assigned to a Reserve Division, commanded during most of the 153rd ‘s period of service by Sigel. The Division was subdivided into two geographic "commands", functionally equivalent to brigades. The 153rd was assigned to the Command of Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley, an officer with long service in operations in West Virginia and in guarding the railroad. His command included 3 other 100-day Ohio regiments and a number of other Maryland, Illinois, Ohio, and West Virginia regiments or smaller units.1 Kelley was responsible for guarding the railroad from Sleepy Creek, Maryland, to the Ohio River–a region that included a full transect across the Allegheny Mountains and a portion of the lower Shenandoah Valley. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, one of the nation’s oldest, was a vital link between the US capital and other Mid-Atlantic cities and the Ohio Valley and "west" more broadly, and as such was a hotly contested piece of linear real estate throughout the war.
1. Kelley’s Command consisted of the following units (based upon a June 30, 1864, organizational table, with changes as noted): 2nd Maryland Regt., Potomac Home Brigade, Companies F and K; 133rd Ohio Inf. Regt. (May only); 134th Ohio Inf. Regt. (May only); 153rd Ohio Inf. Regt.; 154th Ohio Inf. Regt.; 6th West Virginia Inf. Regt.; 16th Illinois Cavalry Regt., Co. C; 3rd Company, Ohio Cavalry; 1st West Virginia Cav., Co. A; 6th West Virginia Cav. Regt., 1st Illinois Light Artillery, Battery L; 1st West Virginia Light Artillery, Batteries E, F, and H; Engineer Troops.
Despite serious setbacks for Confederate forces, control of the Shenandoah Valley and the adjacent mountain counties of West Virginia changed hands several times over the course of the 153rd ‘s service. In particular, Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Army of the Valley pushed Federal forces back to Harper’s Ferry, at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, in late June. On July 5 they crossed the Potomac at Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in the first step in a headline-grabbing but largely inconsequential campaign to attack the Federal capital. Throughout August, action seesawed back and forth between the blue and the gray armies. Over most of the summer Confederate cavalry units and Partisan Ranger units struck the B&O railroad, often destroying rolling stock and large segments of track, as well as bridges, culverts, and other rail support facilities.
Although military records are unclear regarding the 153rd ‘s original destination, it is apparent that the changing military situation, weather (including floods), and even some Federal-state politics confounded the deployment of the Ohio regiments. In the end, the 153rd was strung out along approximately 35 miles of the B&O, primarily in Hampshire County, West Virginia, where the rail line closely follows the winding Potomac as it passes through heavily forested and rugged mountain terrain. The regiment was deployed in companies or smaller detachments at critical bridges and other facilities, with Colonel Stough’s headquarters at Paw Paw. Figure 1 illustrates both the initial deployment of the regiment and subsequent engagements.
Railroad guard duty was lonely and dangerous business with small units scattered widely along the rail line and highly vulnerable to surprise attack from the narrow valleys and the steep forested ridges. Most of the time boredom was the principal enemy, and the men spent some of their time fishing and hunting near their posts. Though most of their service was in the summer, the mountains can be cold and rainy even in that season and many nights were spent huddled in flimsy tents while attempting to keep warm and dry. This part of West Virginia was primarily southern in its sympathies, and many of the Confederate units that attacked the 153rd drew recruits from the area, giving them the dual advantage of knowledge of the terrain and the support of local citizens. Two new technological innovations helped offset these advantages somewhat for the Union troops. Those were the use of rail cars armored with plate steel and carrying mounted artillery pieces that could be moved rapidly along the rail line when needed and the construction of wooden blockhouses at key locations. These small fortified buildings, constructed of heavy timbers and earthen berms, provided protection against small arms fire but not artillery. The Union forces, while separated, also had the ability to communicate by telegraph as lines paralleled the tracks, but these lines of course were also the first thing to be destroyed during an attack on the railroad.
There is no specific information on the 153rd during late May and June, and it is likely that Confederate incursions during that period were relatively light as the major military action was taking place far up the Valley to the south. Sources conflict on the location of the 153rd in June. One significant source indicates that they joined Major General Benjamin Butler’s Army of the James at Bermuda Hundred southeast of Richmond–a campaign that largely failed and ended in the stalemate at Petersburg. There is, however, no specific evidence of the 153rd ever surviving in the Army of the James or at Bermuda Hundred, so the most likely explanation is that they were ordered there but held in reserve somewhere enroute and never actually committed in the campaign.
In early July, the 153rd apparently experienced its first major taste of combat, when elements of the regiment were struck by two of Early’s cavalry brigades in separate expeditions. In the first of these, Brigadier General John Imboden’s Northwestern Virginia Brigade2 was sent to destroy the B&O bridge over the South Branch of the Potomac at its confluence with the North Branch. Imboden left the Valley on June 28, moving northwest toward their objective. Enroute through the North River Valley (a tributary of the Great Cacapon River), the brigade on July 3 encountered a scouting party of the 153rd under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Leeds at North River Mills (or Hammack’s Mills 3). The considerably larger Confederate forces captured 34 men and killed one officer of the 153rd–probably of Company A under Captain Thomas Rathbone.
2. The Northwestern Virginia Brigade during most of the period of interest was composed of the following units: 62nd Virginia Inf. Regt. (Mounted); 18th Va. Cavalry Regt.; 23rd Va. Cav. Regt.; McNeill’s Rangers; McClanahan’s Artillery Battery.
3. There is confusion in the various sources regarding this engagement. In some sources it is referred to as North River Mills; in others as Hammack’s Mills; and in some both names are used but never in the same listing. Hammack’s Mills was a specific industrial mill, among others, at the town of North River Mills, so it is most likely that these names are interchangeable and only one engagement was fought here.
Imboden’s command continued north reaching the South Branch bridge on July 3, finding it heavily defended and protected by a blockhouse and an armored rail car with a 12-pound gun. Imboden attacked the next morning and succeeded in using his own horse-drawn artillery pieces to destroy the armored car, but his troops were unable to dislodge the Federal troops from the blockhouse or, because of Union sniper fire, to position his own artillery so that it could damage the bridge. The Union forces (the 153rd and the 6th West Virginia) lost 2 men captured and 2 men slightly wounded. Imboden’s losses were greater with 8 killed and 15 wounded.
At some point before the brigade reached the South Branch bridge, one of its component units, McNeill’s Rangers (a Partisan Ranger battalion), split off and moved farther upriver to attack the somewhat smaller bridge at Patterson’s Creek. This bridge was defended from a blockhouse by the 153rd ‘s Company E under Captain McKinney. The Rangers had succeeded in effecting some damage to the blockhouse with their artillery piece, but had been pinned down by sniper fire until they saw an approaching armored rail car after which they withdrew. The bridge was not damaged.
McNeill’s Rangers rejoined the brigade as it moved downriver. On July 6, the brigade attacked the bridge at Big (Great) Cacapon but failed to destroy it. Records do not document participation of the 153rd in this action, but it is likely that they were the unit guarding the bridge based on their initial deployment orders. On the same day, the brigade struck again–this time the railroad bridge at Sir John’s Run somewhat downriver, but the 153rd with the assistance of ironclad cars under the command of the 2nd Maryland Regiment, Potomac Home Brigade, repulsed them without casualties or damage to the bridge. Imboden’s casualties were 2 killed and several wounded. The brigade moved east to Martinsburg, rejoining Early’s army for the advance on Washington.
At the same time that Imboden’s Brigade was attacking bridges farther west, Brigadier General John McCausland’s Cavalry Brigade4 departed Winchester for a spearhead drive up Back Creek Valley to North Mountain (west of Martinsburg) with the objective of destroying the rail bridge over Back Creek. After burning the bridge, they attacked the Union garrison at North Mountain Depot near Hedgesville on July 4. McCausland’s forces were successful, capturing 200-300 Union troops–perhaps all from the 153rd. Confederate losses were very light. It appears that these prisoners were all paroled, as McCausland’s Brigade moved eastward to join the advance on Washington. Of Early’s army, only McNeill’s Rangers stayed behind to maintain pressure on the railroad, but much of the rest of July was probably relatively quiet for the railroad guards.
After Early returned to the Valley in mid-July, the next several weeks were filled with move and countermove as the two armies struggled inconclusively for control of the lower Valley. General Kelley ordered the 153rd to complete blockhouses on the Little Cacapon and Sir John’s Run in anticipation of a Confederate offensive, which came late in the month. Early’s forces destroyed 75 miles of track between Cumberland and Harper’s Ferry, undoubtedly bringing additional, but undocumented, combat action for the 153rd.
On July 29, Early sent McCausland’s Brigade and that of Brigadier General Bradley Johnson5, both under McCausland’s command, north across the Potomac in a raid into Pennsylvania which culminated in the burning of Chambersburg on July 30 when the town refused to pay a large cash ransom as retribution for Union destruction of private property in the Valley. McCausland’s command immediately thereafter advanced on Cumberland (Kelley’s headquarters and a major Union supply depot) via Hancock. Kelley moved quickly to concentrate his forces and directed Colonel Stough to Old Town, Maryland, on the Potomac, with 7 companies of the 153rd and the objective of blocking a Confederate withdrawal across the river into West Virginia.
4. McCausland’s Cavalry Brigade during most of the period of interest was composed of the following units: 14th , 16th , and 17th Virginia Cavalry Regts; 22nd Va. Cav. Regt. (July only); 25th Va. Cav. Battalion. [The status of the last unit is unclear. It was included in a listing of the Brigade’s units for the Battle of Cedar Creek, October 1864, in only one source; no information on such a unit was found in any other source consulted.]
5. Johnson’s Cavalry Brigade during most of the period of interest was composed of the following units: 8th and 21st Va. Cavalry Regts.; 22nd Va. Cav. Regt. (Aug. -); 36th and 37th Va. Cav. Battalions; 1st and 2nd Maryland Cav. Battalions; 27th Va. Cav. Battalion (later redesignated the 25th Va. Cav. Regt.); Baltimore Light Artillery Battery.
Following an inconclusive engagement near Cumberland on August 1, McCausland withdrew toward Old Town during the night. Colonel Stough and his troops lay squarely in the path of the withdrawing Confederate forces, which numbered approximately 3000 cavalry and a heavy artillery battery. Stough lay in ambush, engaging the lead Confederate elements at dawn on the 2nd, initially throwing them back. The engagement lasted from 5 to 9 a.m., when the superior Confederate forces began flanking the Ohio troops. Stough, under heavy fire, fell back across the river to the blockhouse at Green Springs, West Virginia, where he placed 40 of his men in the blockhouse and the remainder behind the railroad embankment. The 153rd was soon supported by the 2nd Maryland with an ironclad car, but Johnson’s artillery quickly knocked it to pieces. After about a half hour of continued fighting, much of the Union detachment boarded a nearby train and pushed off to Cumberland, thinking that the Colonel was already on board. Colonel Stough with 79 men sought refuge in the blockhouse and continued to resist until 11 a.m. when the last shot was fired.
Having completely surrounded the blockhouse, Johnson sent a note under a flag of truce to Colonel Stough demanding immediate surrender or the forfeit of any terms. Stough surveyed his untenable situation, then replied to Johnson in writing that his terms were as follows: his men would be immediately paroled; their private property would be respected; they could keep their haversacks, canteens, and blankets; and he would be allowed to transport his wounded by handcar to Cumberland. Johnson immediately accepted the terms, and Stough and his men came out of the blockhouse. By then McCausland had come up and wanted the haversacks and other equipment, but Stough claimed that they were his by contract. McCausland then recognized the Colonel as a former Captain of the 44th Ohio with whom he had been engaged over a period of time on the Greenbrier River in 1863. Upon Stough’s confirmation that he was that officer, McCausland acknowledged their acquaintance and his respect for Stough and reaffirmed the terms of the surrender. The two generals commended Stough and his men for their bravery, assisted them in retrieving a mortally wounded soldier that the Confederates had been caring for, and released them to return to Cumberland. The Confederates cheered the Ohio troops as they moved off. Union losses were very light–2 killed and 3 wounded. Despite their victory, McCausland and Johnson lost 20-25 killed and 40-50 wounded.
The engagement at Old Town-Green Springs was the last one documented for the 153rd. Kelley’s last recorded order to the regiment, dated August 5, redistributed the regiment along the rail line. McCausland’s and Johnson’s brigades were surprised and overrun by Union cavalry under Averell on August 7 at Moorefield, West Virginia, and driven back into the central Valley. Sheridan took command of Union forces on the same day and began pushing southward up the Valley. By then McNeill’s Rangers appear to have been the only organized Confederate unit that may have been operating in the 153rd ‘s assigned area. August was terribly hot, punctuated by summer thunderstorms.
The 153rd should have completed their 100 days on August 18 or 20, but Kelley agitated to retain the Ohio regiments until replacements could be found for guarding the railroad. Although the general prevailed in part, his actions precipitated a flurry of telegrams within the Union command structure and between Governor Brough and the Secretary of War. The 153rd did not return to Ohio until August 30. They arrived at Camp Chase at Columbus and mustered out of Federal service on September 9–the last 100-day Ohio unit to do so. The regiment mustered out with 753 men, having lost 3 killed or mortally wounded and 26 by disease.
There is no readily available information on what happened to the men of the 153rd after they left Camp Chase, but it is likely that most of the enlisted men returned to their civilian lives and families while some of the officers joined other long-service regiments, serving until the war’s end the following spring.
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Pauley, Michael J. Unreconstructed Rebel: The Life of General John McCausland CSA (Charleston, WV: Pictorial Histories Publishing, 1992)
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Stipp, Joseph A. The History and Service of the 154th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (Toledo, 1896)
Summers, Festus P. The Baltimore and Ohio in the Civil War (Gettysburg, Penn.: Stan Clark Military Books, 1939; reprint, 1993)
Time-Life Books, Eds. The Shenandoah in Flames: The Valley Campaign of 1864 (Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1987)
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Woodward, Harold R., Jr. Defender of the Valley: Brigadier General John D. Imboden CSA (Berryville, Virginia: Rockbridge Publishing Co., 1997)
Virginia Regimental Histories Series -the following were all published at Lynchburg, Virginia, by H. E. Howard. In the following list only title, author, and copyright date are shown.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, DC, 1884) http://www.ehistory.com/uscw/library/or/index.cfm.
The Shenandoah Valley Campaigns 1861-1865 (Heritage Enterprise) http://www.angelfire.com/va3/valleywar/Civil_War_Shenandoah_Valley_battle/campaigns.html
The Military History of Clark County (Web version of The History of Clark County Ohio: Chicago: W. H. Beers & Co., 1881) http://www.heritagepursuit.com/Clark/Clark(2).htm
Civil War: West Virginia (Linda Fluharty) http://www.lindapages.com/cwlist.htm
West Virginia in the Civil War (Steven Cunningham) http://www.wvcivilwar.com/
153rd Ohio Infantry (Larry Stevens) http://www.ohiocivilwar.com/cw153.html
155th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry (Matt Mitchell) http://home.mindspring.com/~mtmitchell/
Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (US National Park Service) http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/
Benjamin Franklin Kelley, Major General, US Army (Arlington Cemetery Web Site) http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/bfkelly.htm