"They obeyed every order with the steadiness of veterans.”
William Hotchkiss was born on February 2, 1823 in White Hall, New York, and at a young age, he began work as a printer's apprentice. In 1846, he quit his job in the printing industry and volunteered in the United States Army to fight in the Mexican-American War. He was sent to Vera Cruz and was made a non-commissioned officer in the Third United States Artillery, under the command of General Winfield Scott. When the war ended in 1848, William returned to New York and picked up where he left off in the printing industry in Albany, New York, and served one year as an assistant sergeant at arms in the State Legislature. On May 27, 1851, William married Amanda Smith. They eventually had seven children.
In May 1854, William moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he published the Northwestern Democrat. He ran the newspaper for four years and later sold it. He bought a farm near Monticello, Wright County, Minnesota. He also sold and bought lots in town.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Hotchkiss entered the Union army. On October 18, 1861, he enlisted at Fort Snelling and recruited a battery of light artillery. He was hoping to recruit the first battery from Minnesota, but Emil Munch took command of the 1st Minnesota Battery. Hotchkiss recruited forty-seven men and on February 14, 1862, he became captain of the 2nd Minnesota Battery. On March 21, 1862, his battery was accepted into the United States army. On April 21, 1862, the battery left for St. Louis and arrived on four days later where it went into quarters at Benton Barracks. On May 1st, now Captain Hotchkiss secured horses, guns, and other equipment required for the use of his guns. Hotchkiss’s battery comprised of two twelve pound Napoleons and four six-pounder howitzers.
During the day Capt. Hotchkiss mounted and drilled his men, and the evenings were devoted to the school of instruction in the science of gunnery for commissioned and non-commissioned officers. On May 18th the battery was ordered to Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee. The battery boarded the steamboat Warsaw at St. Louis and the battery arrived at Pittsburgh Landing on the 25th. The battery arrived after the Battle of Shiloh and was assigned to General John Pope’s army, who was part of the force under Major General Henry Halleck, which was advancing on Corinth, Mississippi. Several days later General William Rosecrans took over Pope’s command. Rosecrans inspected the battery and complimented him on their excellent equipment.
On August 14th, the battery broke camp at Jacinto, Mississippi, with orders to proceed with Union General Jefferson Davis’s division to Nashville, Tennessee. On September 8, 1862, the battery crossed the Cumberland River at Nashville and went into camp with Union General Don Carlos Buell’s army, marching a total of 248 miles. On September 11th, General Buell broke camp and began the Heartland Campaign against Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of the Mississippi. The battery traveled 259 miles to Louisville, Kentucky and on September 26th, arrived in the river city. Lieutenant Albert Woodbury brought another twenty-six recruits with him from Minnesota. After resting and drilling for several weeks, Hotchkiss and his guns moved out of Louisville with Buell's army on October 1, 1862, The 2nd Minnesota Battery was assigned to the Third Corps, First Division, Thirty-first brigade, under the command of Colonel William Carlin. The division camped near Bardstown Turnpike, eight miles from Louisville. The next morning Union General Alexander McCook’s I Corps took the lead and moved out with Davis’s division in advance.
On October 7th Confederate General Braxton Bragg concentrated his forces at Perryville with the purpose of striking portions of Buell’s army “in detail”. The battle of Perryville was fought two miles northwest of town, on the hills that border the Chaplin River. Perryville was suffering from a drought and both armies were looking for water. The III Corps, under General Charles Gilbert and accompanied by Buell, started on the morning of October 7th from Springfield along the turnpike to Perryville. The corps was comprised of three divisions under Generals Albin Schoepf, Phil Sheridan, and Robert Mitchell. The 2nd Minnesota was attached to Carlin’s brigade and had the lead and arrived at 2 p.m. three miles from Perryville and formed on the right and left of the road. With the batteries in position. Sheridan’s division arrived shortly after and passed a little further to the front and took position on some heights on the right of the road and close to Doctor’s Creek. Schoepf’s division arrived and formed the reserve. The First Corps, under General Alexander McCook, was at Mackville seven miles north and the Second Corps, under General Thomas Crittenden was near Haysville, ten miles west. On October 8th, at 2 am, McCook and Crittenden received orders to move out for Perryville. At 5 am, McCook, with General Lovell Rousseau’s division marched in advance with General James S. Jackson’s division in the rear and at 10:30 am arrived on the left of Gilbert’s Corps. General Crittenden’s Corps, accompanied by General George Thomas, arrived and formed his divisions. The first division was under General William Sooy Smith, the second division under General H. P. Van Cleve, and the third division under General Thomas Wood. Crittenden formed the right wing, with his extreme right three miles southwest of town with the troops facing east. McCook’s corps was on the left and the line was six miles in length. Private James Hunter, of the Second Minnesota, age 21, wrote, “At gray daylight, October 8, 1862, we were roused by the bugle, and howitzers number one and two of our battery were ordered to the left of the line, about half a mile distant, to support General McCook.”[i]
When McCook’s corps was taking position, Captain Ebenezer Gay’s cavalry brigade proceeded in a reconnaissance of the front with cavalry and two pieces from Hotchkiss's guns. Firing broke out with the Union and Confederate artillery. Gen. Mitchell sent forward a section of Hotchkiss's Second Minnesota battery to relieve a section of Captain Oscar Pinney’s Wisconsin battery. Hotchkiss commanded the section, but was under the immediate command of Lieutenant Albert Woodbury. The section reported to Captain Ebenezer Gay who was operating on the left and front with a brigade of cavalry. Gay reported that he advanced the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry, who had dismounted about a half mile, in open ground, on the left of the Springfield Road. The Confederates opened fire from two batteries, so Gay placed two pieces of artillery, under Hotchkiss in a position opposite the Confederate batteries and opened fire. In twenty minutes, Hotchkiss silenced the Confederate batteries and the Rebels were driven back from the wooded hill. The Confederates advanced on Gay’s left and front, so he ordered his brigade to move forward to a more advanced position, near a fork of the Chaplin Creek, placing two howitzers of the Second Minnesota on a knoll near the creek and advanced portions of the 9th Pennsylvania and Second Michigan Cavalry as skirmishers. The Confederate batteries were again silenced and the Confederate cavalry, broken and disordered, fell back towards Harrodsburg.[ii]
At 11 am, General Lovell Rousseau rode up and Gay requested that Rousseau send forward two Parrott guns from Captain Cyrus Loomis’s 1st Michigan Battery, that had a longer range to replace Hotchkiss’s howitzers, which were having little effect. The Parrott’s fired a few shells with apparent effect and were soon joined by the rest of the battery.[iii] Private Hunter wrote that the section “became immediately engaged on the skirmish line in dislodging some rebel sharpshooters who were secreted in an old barn about 1,000 yards to our left front, which we soon succeeded in doing, and then advanced down near the creek, near the old barn, and shelled the rebel position in a point of woods on our right front until our spherical case was exhausted and another battery relieved us (I think Loomis’s Michigan Battery). We were then ordered to retreat to a point of timber on our left rear and left of our first position, to await the time when we could use our grape and canister.”[iv]
A Confederate battery opened on the left, while another battery opened on the right and the Southern infantry advanced. The Confederates attacked the Gilbert's extreme. Gay sent a regiment to support the flank of General McCook and opened fire with Hotchkiss’s howitzers on the advancing gray line. General Rousseau wrote that during the battle, he rode up to Hotchkiss and took his field glasses and just as he was putting his eye on the advancing Confederate line, the Rebels opened fire with two or three batteries. Captain Charles Cotter, Chief of Artillery, on General McCook’s staff stated that at 4 pm, Hotchkiss’s two howitzers were located at the Russell House, located on the right of the Mackville Road and a little in front of the Dixville Crossroads with Carlin’s brigade, with was further to the right. Private James Hunter wrote: “The Rebels, flushed with success, were coming on, yelling, when an orderly rode to where we were and ordered our guns to the right, across a double lane worm fence in front a white house near our position in the morning, to check the enemy’s advance, and the rails of those fences flew as if struck by a cyclone to let our guns through and into position, each gun squad being anxious that its gun should have the honor of speaking to the enemy first. We flew into position and for two or three hours sifted the canister into their ranks and held them in check in front; but they were slowly driving the infantry back on both sides of us, until we were nearly surrounded when an orderly from General Rousseau rode in and shouted: “Get out of there! Your battery is lost!” We had a load in No. 1 at this time, but having held up for a few seconds during this order, the “powder monkey” as we used to call No. 5, who carried the ammunition, had got there with another, and we cut the powder from it, and as a parting gave them a double-header, when we sprang for the trail ropes and lost no time in getting to the rear. This was about 5 pm, although five of us were wounded they got the other four on the guns and took them off, while I, who was at the front of the gun and nearer the enemy, had my leg broken by a gunshot, and they could not get me. One noble fellow, John Kimball, ran back to help me. I begged him to leave me and save himself, which he finally did, shaking hands within ten feet of the Rebel bayonets and promising to meet in Minnesota...The Rebel line swept over me while I lay resting upon my elbow to see if my comrade got safe to the rear, which he did, and shortly afterward the rebels came back over me again, pell-mell, and made a stand, and I lay between two fires, when a second ball passed through my body, and I turned to take a last look at the setting sun and bid good bye to this world, thinking I was mortally wounded. Again the Rebels swept over me and I was far into the rebel lines, and darkness ended the strife.”[v] The Second Minnesota remained at the Russell House until dark. Gay praised Hotchkiss and his men “for their brave and effective services.”[vi]
At 2 pm, General Robert Mitchell reported that he formed Carlin’s brigade, including Hotchkiss's four guns, under the command of Lieutenant Richard Dawley, on the right of the Springfield road, on a wooded prominence, with the brigade located in the rear and within supporting distance of General Phil Sheridan’s division, which was engaging the Confederates in his front. Carlin’s brigade moved forward to reinforce the right of Sheridan’s division. Sheridan charged and drove the enemy back, but he found he was lacking support and with the Rebel artillery and infantry on both flanks, he fell back to a position immediately adjoining the town of Perryville. The Confederate and Union batteries fired over the town until dark.[vii] Four men of the Second Minnesota were wounded. They were Private Daniel Frye, Private James Hunter, Lieutenant George W. Tilton (real name was G. W. Gaylord), and Private Tennis Hanson. Hotchkiss wrote that his two gun section, under the command of Lieutenant Woodbury “could have not behaved better. They obeyed every order with the steadiness of veterans.”[viii]
After the battle, during the night, Private James Hunter lay wounded on the battlefield. He remembered, “The moon came up in great splendor, and man could be distinguished for half a mile, and presented a panorama of a battlefield, which, once witnessed, could never be forgotten. The cries for help, for water, the curses and prayers of the wounded as they sat up or reclined upon their arms in the beautiful moonlight, when all nature seemed hushed again to rest after the strife and carnage of the day, presented a picture that no painter’s brush could reproduce, and for the time I forgot my own terrible extremity while gazing upon the scene. But my reverie was soon broken by the approach of a squad of the enemy who were picking the pockets of friend and foe alike. I called to them and asked them to find me a surgeon, which they promised to do, and treated me very kindly, although they took my hat, jacket, and boots, with the encouraging information that they did not think I would need them. They then brought a surgeon, who did what he could for me, and offered to take me to their hospital at Harrodsburg, which I declined with thanks, and my request they carried me into the white house mentioned (Russell House), where I found seventeen other wounded in the same room, where we lay and rolled in each other’s blood for forty-eight hours, when but seven of us were still alive, and when our lamented Lieutenant Albert Woodbury of Anoka (who was afterward killed at Chickamauga), rode back some twenty miles in search of me, and had me taken to hospital, where I remained until discharged the following February. Shortly after being carried into the house before mentioned, a general (who, from pictures I have since seen of him, I am satisfied was General Bragg) and staff came in and had a fire built in an open fireplace in the room, and they discussed the battle, the tenor of which was that they had a pretty hot afternoon’s work, but they had better not risk an engagement next day, but get as far away as possible before daylight, rejoin their train, and get out of the state without any more fighting if possible.”[ix]
On October 9th, Gen. Mitchell observed Rebel cavalry riding to the Confederate left and approached the Harrodsburg turnpike. Mitchell ordered Hotchkiss's battery to fire on the horsemen, who promptly retreated. Buell’s army followed Bragg for a time, and on October 15th, Hotchkiss engaged the Confederates near Lancaster, Kentucky. McCook and Gilbert’s Corps halted at Crab Orchard, Kentucky and Crittenden followed the Rebel army as far as London.. Buell retired to Bowling Green, and on October 30th, President Lincoln replaced him with General William S. Rosecrans. Bragg’s army fell back to Bryantsville, passed the Cumberland Gap, and a month later maneuvered close to the Union army at Nashville, Tennessee.
After the battle of Perryville, the 2nd Minnesota fought at the Battle of Stones River, Tennessee and the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia. In June 1864 the men of the 2nd Minnesota were mounted as cavalry, and in October they were armed with muskets and served as infantry, garrisoning Chattanooga and Philadelphia, Tennessee. On August 16th, 1865, the 2nd Minnesota was mustered out of the army.
In October 1866, William returned to his family and bought the Fillmore County Republican newspaper and moved to Preston. William and his brother Fred were partners in the newspaper and William became the editor and publisher. William bought out his brother’s share of the newspaper and in 1880 changed the name of the paper to The National Republican, and in May 1900, William’s son F. W. Hotchkiss took over the daily operations of the newspaper. Later he lived with his daughter in Kent, Washington. On April 19, 1914, at the age of 92, he died and was laid to rest in the Kent Cemetery.[x]
[i] The Board of Commissioners, Minnesota in the Civil And Indian Wars 1861-1865, St. Paul, Minnesota, Pioneer Press Company, 1890, 658. [ii] Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Chapter XXVIII, Battle of Perryville, No. 3. Report of Capt. Ebenezer Gay, Sixteenth United States Infantry, Inspector and Chief of Cavalry, including operations October 7, 1037, Washington, D.C., Government Printing House, 1886. [iii] Ibid. 1037. [iv] The Board of Commissioners, Minnesota in the Civil And Indian Wars 1861-1865, St. Paul, Minnesota, Pioneer Press Company, 1890, 658. [v] The Board of Commissioners, Minnesota in the Civil And Indian Wars 1861-1865, St. Paul, Minnesota, Pioneer Press Company, 1890, 658. [vi] Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Chapter XXVIII, Battle of Perryville, No. 3. Report of Capt. Ebenezer Gay, Sixteenth United States Infantry, Inspector and Chief of Cavalry, including operations October 7, 1038, Washington, D.C., Government Printing House, 1886. [vii] Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Chapter XXVIII, Battle of Perryville, No. 24, Report of Brig. Gen. Robert B. Mitchell, U.S. Army, commanding Ninth Division, including skirmish October 7, Washington, D.C., Government Printing House, 1886, 1077. [viii] The Board of Commissioners, Minnesota in the Civil And Indian Wars 1861-1865, St. Paul, Minnesota, Pioneer Press Company, 1890, 658. [ix] The Board of Commissioners, Minnesota in the Civil And Indian Wars 1861-1865, St. Paul, Minnesota, Pioneer Press Company, 1890, 659. [x] 2nd Minnesota Battery of Light Artillery, William A. Hotchkiss, http://www.2mnbattery.org.