The Oldest Soldier at the Battle of Perryville? Thomas Stewart was 92.
Thomas Stewart was born on March 16, 1770, in Leitchfield, Connecticut. In 1862, his father was still living in Connecticut and was 122, which made him the oldest living person in the United States. His father was born in 1740 during the reign of King George II (1727-1760). His father was old enough to remember of the Battle of Plains of Abraham, also known as the Battle of Quebec, when British General James Wolfe successfully resisted the advance column of French troops and the British occupied Quebec City. His father was only twenty-nine years old when Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769. His father would have seen all fifteen United States Presidents up to that point. In 1862, Thomas Stewart was the father of seventeen children and twenty-four grandchildren. He had four sons, two grandsons, and three sons in laws who were in the Union army. During the War of 1812, Thomas Stewart enlisted on March 26, 1813, as a private in Captain Stuart’s Company of Ohio militia. He was discharged on April 26, 1813 as a private. According to a newspaper account, Thomas Stewart was pressed into the British service on a man-o-war. Stewart stated he had served in four wars. He claimed he was sick only two days during his life.[i]
On August 30, 1862, the 101st Ohio Volunteer Infantry regiment was organized at Monroeville, Ohio and mustered in for three years-service, under the command of Colonel Leander Stem. On August 14, 1862, Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith entered the state of Kentucky and defeated the small Union force at Richmond, Kentucky. He captured Lexington, Kentucky and Frankfort, Kentucky on September 2 and 3, 1862. From September 1 through September 13, the Confederate Heartland Campaign and the Defense of Cincinnati began, when Confederate General Henry Heth, under orders from General Smith, threatened the city. Union General Lew Wallace declared martial law and seized sixteen steamboats and armed them and organized the citizens of Cincinnati, Covington, and Newport, Kentucky. Fortifications were built from Fort Thomas, located in Campbell County, Kentucky to Bromley, which was located on the Ohio River in Kenton County, Kentucky. The fortifications were defended by twenty-five thousand Union army soldiers and forty-five thousand local militia volunteers. Governor David Tod of Ohio called for the men in his state to rally at once in the defense of their homes. The forces who volunteered were called “Squirrel Hunters.” Thomas Stewart was one of the thousands of men who responded to the Governor’s call. When he arrived, he had provided his own uniform, blanket, and two days cooked rations and armed with his own gun. Heth and his eight thousand men marched from Lexington, Kentucky and arrived south of Covington on September 6. On September 10 and 11, he skirmished with the 101st Ohio, 103rd Ohio, and the 104th Ohio Infantry near Fort Mitchell. On September 12, Heth realized that an attack on Cincinnati was pointless and returned to Lexington. During Heth’s approach to Covington, the militia were camped on the hills over the Ohio River. Stewart performed his regular guard duties and when the column was drawn up in line of battle, he was always ready to respond.
On September 12, General Wallace telegraphed Major General Horatio Wright, commander of the Department of the Ohio, in Cincinnati, that Heth’s forces had retreated and asked if he should pursue the Confederate forces. Wright never ordered the pursuit and instead sent the Union forces, including the 101st Ohio Infantry, on steamboats to Louisville. General Wallace told the “Squirrel Hunters” that their services were no longer needed and told them to go home. Stewart asked and obtained permission to remain as a private with the 101st Ohio Infantry. While the 101st Ohio prepared to board steamboats to Louisville, Stewart stood “regular picket, guard, and sentinel duty, went through all the drills, parades, reviews, etc.” On September 24, the 101st Ohio was ordered to Louisville and Stewart accompanied the men and again was at the front in the defense of the city against Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Mississippi that was located at Bardstown, Kentucky. While in Louisville, the 101st Ohio Infantry was put into General William Carlin’s brigade, of General Jefferson C. Davis division, General Alexander McCook’s I Corps. When Union General William Nelson was killed by Union General Jefferson Davis at the Galt House in Louisville, the division fell under the command of General Robert Mitchel. On October 1, the 101st Ohio, under the command of Colonel Leander Stem, marched out of Louisville with three days rations. Many of the men fell out of ranks due to the heat. The next day at 3 am the regiment awoke and by 5 am fixed breakfast and were on the march by 9 am. The day was hot and more men passed out from the heat. On October 5, the regiment marched through Bardstown.[ii]
On October 8, at 8 am, the regiment moved at a slow rate due to the men marching twenty five miles the day before and the extreme heat, scarcity of water, dust which layered to about four to six inches deep, and no rain in nine weeks. The Confederate army had also swept the countryside clean of water and food. At 5 pm, the regiment was called into line and marched up a hill and formed into line of battle. The men heard the firing of cannon and muskets about a half mile away in the woods. According to Colonel Leander Stem, of the 101st Ohio, the regiment along with the 38th Illinois (in Carlin’s Brigade), who “supported the 2nd Minnesota Battery, which did good work. We however were not attacked or permitted to make an attack. We marched forward in front of our battery and directly under the fire of the enemy’s batteries (Captain Overton W. Barrett’s Missouri Battery), but only a few shots fell anywhere near us. The movement of the troops of the 101st under the circumstances was pronounced admirable by officers and men of older Regiments.”[iii] According to Lewis W. Day of the 101st Ohio, the regiment heard the sounds of battle. He wrote that “shells had fallen dangerously near us” and the men were ordered into line. Carlin’s brigade had gone far in front. The 2nd Minnesota battery opened fire on the town, attracting the fire of a rebel battery, Barrett’s battery, posted just south of the town. Carlin could not fall back without endangering the 101st Infantry. The 101st hugged the ground until dark when the regiment withdrew. When the regiment fell back, they halted for the night near an old house used as a general hospital. Day recorded that “surgeons of both armies were very busy, the evidence of their efforts being visible on every hand. Doubtless they were kind hearted and careful, but to us it seemed like brutality. There were several piles of amputated limbs, to which accessions were being made constantly. Dead and dying men were lying promiscuously around. Others were awaiting their turn to be thrown upon the operating table, an old work bench, while still others were being bandaged and patched up in various ways and assigned to this hospital or that as the character of the injury might indicate.”[iv]
After the battle of Perryville, Stewart was commended by his commander for “his bravery, coolness, and soldierly bearing.” Since he was no longer needed after the battle, he decided to return home and look after his farm, which he left “in an unsettled condition.”[v] On October 29, he arrived in Cincinnati and obtained a pass to go home, which was located in East Newton. Thomas Stewart died on December 26, 1865, in the Sterling Township, Brown County, Ohio. He was buried in the Bloom Rose Cemetery, two miles northeast of Crosstown.
[i] An extraordinary Case of Longevity-An Ohio Citizen Ninety two year Old in the Battle of Perryville, Interesting reminiscence, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati, Ohio, October 29, 1862, pg 3. [ii] Jay Caldwell Butler, Captain, 101st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Arranged by his son Watson Hubbard Butler, 1930, Privately Printed. Birmingham, New York. [iii] Letter No. 17, Headquarters 101st Reg. O. V.I. Camp near Lebanon on Rolling Fork, Ky. October 25, 1862, Stand by the Colors: The Civil War Letters of Leander Stem, edited by John Hubbell, 297. [iv] L. W. Day, Story of the One Hundred and First Ohio Infantry: A Memorial Volume, Cleveland, Ohio, The W. M. Bayne Printing Company, 1894, 55. [v] An extraordinary Case of Longevity-An Ohio Citizen Ninety two year Old in the Battle of Perryville, Interesting reminiscence, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati, Ohio, October 29, 1862, pg 3.
Colonel Leander Stem, commander of the 101st Ohio Infantry.