In first reading Peter Cozzens’ work, This Terrible Sound, I was struck by the role the 81st Indiana played on September 19th, in Viniard Field. Brigadier General William Carlin assigned Major James E. Calloway of the 21st Illinois to command the regiment, just as the brigade was about to go into action. According to Cozzens, the regiment was unsteady, bereft of senior leadership, and possibly unreliable in combat. The 81st was detached from the brigade and moved to support the 2nd Minnesota Battery at the south end of Viniard Field, and fought there the rest of the day.
I found this truncated explanation a little unsatisfying. Why was the 81st having problems?
Looking at the OR, Carlin offered little more: “The incompetency displayed by Captain Boone (actually, Captain Nevil B. Boon of company E) early in the action induced me to supersede him.” Calloway was also no help, noting only that Carlin ordered him to take command of the 81st – no reason offered why.
Corporal George Morris, in his regimental history of the 81st, gives a more detailed explanation:
“At this junction the order was given to fall back and form in the rear of the battery. Owing to some misunderstanding, only part- of the regiment fell back, and some confusion was the consequence, but a line officer of General Davis’ staff soon had them to reform in about a hundred yards. The remainder of the regiment was then removed in good order. …Captain Boon was at this time in command of the regiment, and after the regiment was reformed he asked, to be relieved, and Major Calloway, of the Twenty-first Illinois, a brave and fearless officer, was placed in command.” (George W. Morris, Eighty First Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry 1861-1865 Louisville, 1901. p. 58.)
Boon resigned his commission on October 8th, 1863.
But that isn’t really the whole story. Boon was thrust into command quite hurriedly, in July or August, by dint of seniority. The 81st, you see, had troubles at the top. The Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel, the Majors, the adjutant – all gone; resigned or removed. Not, apparently, for incompetence, but for political unreliability.
In April, 1863, Brigadier General Milo Hascall was sent from the Army of the Cumberland to assume command of the District of Indiana. One of Hascall’s jobs was to quell desertion in the Army of the Cumberland, on the rise since the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. As noted in the post about General Davis, not everyone in the army thought the Proclamation was a grand idea. Few officers, however, had the influential friends that Davis did.
Colonel William W. Caldwell was in command of the Regiment until July 6th, 1863. Caldwell, according to brigade commander Carlin, was a brave and effective officer. Carlin received the 81st in a trade for the 15th Wisconsin back in April. The swap allowed Hans Heg – a rising star in the army – to assume command of a brigade. It also, apparently, removed Caldwell from being in line to command that brigade. Heg was a staunch abolitionist; Caldwell was quite the opposite.
In the 81st Indiana’s roster, published by the Adjutant General of Indiana shortly after the war, Caldwell is noted as having been removed by order of the President for “disloyalty.” Carlin explained it this way: “He was accused by some of the officers of his regiment of making some remarks that were indicative of what was then known as ‘copperheadism’ and was dismissed for it. During this time, Hascall’s orders back in Indiana were shutting down eleven Indiana newspapers who “advised resistance to conscription” or “endeavored to bring the war policy of the Government into disrepute.”
There must have been quite a bit of trouble among the officers of the 81st, though Morris takes no note of it. Between April and July, a number of officers left the command. Lieutenant Colonel Horatio Woodbury resigned on April 30th. He was offered the Colonelcy on July the 7th, the day after Caldwell’s dismissal, but declined it. Major Leonidas Stout declined a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel at the same time. Stout had resigned on April 30th to take a position as Major in the 13th Cavalry. Captain Ranna Moore of company F was also offered the Colonelcy on July the 7th, he instead followed Major Stout into the 13th. Adjutant William H. Timberlake resigned for the good of the service on April 29th, 1863.
The political bloodbath clearly left the regiment in turmoil, and Captain Boon unready for the duties thrust upon him on September 19th, 1863. Calloway proved to be just what the men needed, and he would continue to command the regiment for some weeks. The 81st eventually presented him with a sword in March, 1864, for his steady leadership in Viniard Field. Eventually competent officer s emerged within Hoosier ranks, allowing Calloway to go back to his own regiment.
I intend to find out more about the unfortunate 81st and its troubled summer of 1863; many of the details remain unclear. It’s also a tribute to the men in the ranks that they fought well, both at Chickamauga and beyond, despite uncertain leadership. They re-enlisted, fought with Sherman, and mustered out in 1865.