The 95th's First Fight
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
NOW IS THE TIME TO ENLIST IN THE 95TH OHIO. - It will be seen by advertisement elsewhere that Captain Taylor and Lieutenants Peters and Barber have opened a recruiting office for the 95th Ohio, at No. 7 South High street, over Main's grocery store.
Now is the time, and here is the opportunity for our young men to enlist In the 95th Ohio, Colonel McMillan - a regiment to be filled up by our own citizens, friends and neighbors
Sixty dollars bounty will be paid each recruit upon enlistment, and he will avoid a draft in which no bounty is paid.
The 95th being the regiment to be raised in this Military District, should be filled up as soon as possible. We should strive hard to be ahead of other districts in the State. Go, then, If you are one of those liable to draft, to the headquarters of the 95th over Main's store, offer your services freely to your country and receive your bounty.
It was easy for the Daily Ohio Statesman to print the above notice to entice the young men in central Ohio to join the ranks of a new regiment...those newspaper editors would not be the ones facing disease, scanty meals, and miles of dry marches along dusty roads. If those conditions were not enough to try one's patriotism, then consider being placed in line of battle, having little in the way of drill, never fired your newly issued rifle, while veteran rebels were doing their part to inflict bodily harm upon your person. Yet, on August 30th, 1862, the 95th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment found themselves in just that predicament.
The 95th had been organized at Camp Chase on August 19th, just eleven days before their first action in the rolling hills south of Richmond, Kentucky. The men came mostly from Madison, Licking, Champaign, and Franklin counties in central Ohio. Given their lack of experience, the 95th would perform credibly well in its first action of the war. The 95th's colonel was William Linn McMillen, an 1852 graduate of the Starling Medical College (now part of the University of Cincinnati) who had served the Russian army as a surgeon during the Crimean War, and upon the outbreak of the Civil War would serve as the surgeon of the three month 1st Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Being named colonel of the newly formed 95th, McMillen and his regiment would have little time for training as they were thrust into action as part of the Federal Provisional Army of Kentucky, an ad hoc force hastily organized to defend central Kentucky from Edmund Kirby Smith's own Confederate Provisional Army of Kentucky.
On Thursday, August 21st, the 95th was moved via train from Columbus to Cincinnati, crossed the Ohio, and marched to the railroad depot of the Kentucky Central. After spending some hours in Covington, Kentucky at 1:00 a.m. they boarded trains for the trip to Lexington, and upon arrival (about noon on the 22nd) were marched to Camp Clay, located a mile south of the city. At this point mode of travel switched from iron rails to brogan leather, and the 95th started on their first hard march of the war at 7:00 a.m. on the 23rd. At 1:00 a.m. on Sunday, August 24th they arrived in Richmond, having covered some twenty-five miles on their first march as the town was being threatened by a Confederate cavalry force.
The 95th would receive some rudimentary company drill while stationed at Richmond over the next week, until the booming of artillery on Saturday morning, August 30th, would see them being thrust into their first battle. As part of Charles Cruft's brigade, they would serve alongside the 12th and 66th Indiana Infantry Regiments, as well as the 18th Kentucky. All of these regiments were newer organizations with no combat experience, with the 18th Kentucky having the longest time in service, having started its formation in February.
The battle would start some miles south of Richmond when the Federal brigade under Mahlon Manson would become involved in heavy skirmishing and exchange of artillery fire with Patrick Cleburne's division of two veteran brigades with supporting artillery. This action would start about 7:00 a.m., with Cleburne positioning most of his forces east of the Old State Road, which in turn would force Manson to also deploy most of his forces east of that pike. Cleburne would send a brigade further east in an attempt to flank the Federals, and by this time both Edmund Kirby Smith and Churchill's Confederate division were near the field. Smith would assign McCray's brigade the mission to flank the Federals on the west side of their position, which by 9:30 a.m. was held by three companies of the 69th Indiana, several hundred yards north of the Armstrong House. McCray would use a draw to maneuver his regiments unseen to flank these three Hoosier companies. It was about this time that the 95th was approaching their first field of battle.
Initially formed into line east of the Old State Road, the 95th would be deployed behind to support the three companies of the 69th Indiana that were still remaining on the west side of the road. As the Hoosiers were engaged by Clark's Arkansas sharpshooters that were leading the rest of McCray's brigade into position, the 95th were ordered to charge a battery deploying some several hundred yards to the south near the Armstrong barn. A correspondent from the Daily Ohio Statesman would write "They were ordered to charge a battery on the enemy's left. Young men who had just been enlisted two weeks ago were called upon to perform a work for which veterans might well shrink. They did not hesitate." The Buckeyes were soon see the elephant.
Unknown to the Federal command was the presence of McCray's Brigade that were still mostly hidden within Churchill's Draw. As the 95th moved forward to take the Humphrey's battery McCray's dismounted Texas cavalry came over a rise that separated the draw from the fields the 95th were crossing, whereupon the Texans opened fire. The 95th's Sergeant Henry W. Phelps of Company H would write "The firing was terrific and as the enemy advanced on us, firing volley after volley, our men fell fast, three of my own company falling dead at the first fire, and as many more from each of the other companies. Major Jefferson Brumback was badly wounded." Forward the 95th pushed, coming to a fence line north of of the Armstrong barn, and a few yards away from the still deploying Confederate artillery. But the flanking fire from the Texans was just too much for the Ohioans to endure for any extended period of time. To add to the dire situation, parts of Hill's Confederate brigade - mostly the 2nd Tennessee Infantry - were moving towards the left of the 95th, adding a threat from the east. The correspondent from the Daily Ohio Statesman observed "As they approached the battery, they were met by a murderous cross-fire, which thinned their ranks and created not a panic, but a momentary confusion."
Colonel McMillen, realizing that his regiment could not continue its advance against the battery would order a retreat. "Seeing that it would be reckless and useless to continue our assault upon the battery I ordered the regiment to halt and fall back, which they did for a time in good order, losing however in addition to our killed and wounded, 160 men and a large number of officers captured at this point." Others would claim that McMillen shouted "every man for himself" which would later cause the colonel to face a court martial, where he was exonerated. (McMillen would go on to serve as a brigade commander as Nashville in December 1864 where he seemed to lose his faculties, but that story will be shared at another time) Most of the regiment would reform north of the Mount Zion Church, but a portion under Lieutenant Armstrong would still be south of the church and some of these men must have been the 160 men that McMillen references.
The 95th would be engaged in the remaining two phases at Richmond - the first being near Duncannon Road in a short action that would see Cruft's Brigade mishandled and driven from the field, and later in the last phase at the Richmond Cemetery. Here the 95th put up a credible fight, and most likely was the last regiment to retreat. It was at the cemetery that Colonel McMillen was wounded.
The 95th Ohio, a regiment in existence for less than two weeks, would face a difficult march to reach Richmond, suffer from unbearable heat and a lack of water, have very little instruction in the school of the soldier, and then be faced with the daunting task of charging a battery in its first action, only to be flanked on both sides and forced to retreat after putting up a short but stiff fight. The regiment would go on to some distinction and have a regimental monument placed at Vicksburg. But it was in the rolling fields south of Richmond where the regiment faced its first trial by fire.
Maps from Blue & Gray Magazine (Volume XXV, Number 6) written by B. Kevin Bennett.
One Confederate source would call the 95th the "Black Devils" as apparently at least part of the regiment were wearing not tradition light blue pants, but instead sported black jeans.