20th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry (Three Years Service) (1861-1865)

Also Known As: Twentieth Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry (Three Years Service)

Updated: February 07, 2014

In the American Civil War, Ohio provided the federal government with 260 regiments of men, including infantry, artillery, and cavalry units. Ohioans also served in several other regiments from other states, most notably from Kentucky, West Virginia, and Massachusetts, as well as in federal units. Almost 330,000 Ohio men, including 5,092 African Americans, served in the Union military during the conflict.

In the American Civil War, Ohio provided the federal government with 260 regiments of men, including infantry, artillery, and cavalry units. Ohioans also served in several other regiments from other states, most notably from Kentucky, West Virginia, and Massachusetts, as well as in federal units. Almost 330,000 Ohio men, including 5,092 African Americans, served in the Union military during the conflict.

Infantry regiments formed in Ohio became known as regiments of Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Soldiers of Ohio infantry regiments served the Union for varying lengths of time, ranging from one hundred days to three years. One of the three-year regiments was the 20th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Organization occurred at Camp King, near Covington, Kentucky, and the regiment mustered into service on October 21, 1861. The 20th Regiment had previously organized for three months service, but officials requested that the regiment's members reenlist for three years service. The soldiers that did reenlist became the nucleus of the new 20th Regiment.

During the winter of 1861-1862, the 20th principally guarded batteries in the vicinity of Covington and Newport, Kentucky. The regiment's colonel, Charles Whittlesey, was a graduate of West Point, an engineer, and a geologist and supervised the erection of defenses around Cincinnati, Ohio. Officials dispatched for regiments to Warsaw, Kentucky during the winter to drive out enemy guerrillas. In February 1862, all of the 20th's companies except Company K boarded the steamers Emma Duncan and Doctor Kane for the Cumberland River in Kentucky. The regiment arrived at Fort Donelson, Kentucky on February 14, 1862 and participated in the attack of this enemy fortification on the following day. Officials held the organization in the reserve, but Confederate artillerists fired upon these Ohioans. Following the Union's capture of this installation, officials directed the 20th to escort prisoners northward. The regiment remained divided until mid-March 1862, when seven of the organization's companies boarded the steamer Continental and joined General William T. Sherman's command at Yellow Creek, Tennessee.

By April 6, 1862, the 20th had encamped at Adamsville, Tennessee. On that same day, the Battle of Shiloh erupted at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee. The regiment arrived on the battlefield in mid-afternoon and assumed a position on the Union right. On the next day, the 20th actively engaged the enemy, helping the Union to attain victory. After the battle, the 20th’s commanding officer issued the following report:

CAMP SHILOH, April 25, 1862.

CAPT.: The Twentieth Ohio, under my command (Col. Whittlesey commanding the brigade), arrived after dark from Adamsville at the camp of the Eighty-first Ohio, near Pittsburg Landing. It was posted for the night on the northern slope of a ravine, and there lay on their arms in line of battle till morning. My picket, in taking post, encountered a mounted picket of the enemy, who hastily withdrew. Changing the position of the picket, at the beginning of dawn I went on the high land on the opposite side of the ravine with the lieutenant of the guard and there found one of the rebel pickets. Returning, the regiment took post as ordered by Col. Whittlesey; Company D, Capt. McElroy, was stationed in a log house outside of the extreme right and the other companies drawn in line in a slight hollow. The enemy promptly began fire with musketry and hollow shot, but soon ceased.

The brigade then marched across the ravine in line; the Twentieth, on the left and in the rear as a reserve, advanced across an open field and into the woods, keeping to the right of the Second Brigade and at the extreme right of our army. Company A, Capt. William Rogers, was sent in advance as skirmishers, and the brigade halted on the crest of a steep hill, where the enemy's guns, at 800 yards, opened an occasional fire upon us, but the men being kept lying down behind the crest, only one man (a private of Company K) was wounded.

Under an order from Col. Whittlesey bayonets were fixed and the regiment (with the Seventy-sixth) marched down the hill and along a valley filled with morass and almost impenetrable thicket toward the battery which had played upon us. This valley was evidently regarded as impracticable and as a sufficient defense. While in that position, however, some loud command drew attention and we were fired upon with spherical case shot. Only one (a private of company K) was wounded. The battery withdrew before we emerged upon high ground. Here we were halted near Gen. Sherman's camp, while one of his brigades (Col. Stuart's) filed by to take part in the very hot contest then raging in front. Company A, having taken two prisoners, here took its place in the battalion. Word coming to the brigade for assistance, we were marched by the flank to the right and then forward toward the firing. Just then, sharp firing suddenly breaking out still farther to the right, we were again marched by the flank to the right. Here, the Seventy-sixth being ordered to take place temporarily in another brigade, the Twentieth continued alone. Approaching an open field and taking a prisoner, apparently stationed as a picket a section of brass field pieces stationed there opened upon us with round shot and canister. The regiment marching steadily on with fixed bayonets, the enemy, after two or three rounds, limbered up and galloped off as we reached the inclosure. Capt. William Rogers, of Company A, was struck in his shoulder and obliged to withdraw. No one else was struck.

We were then ordered into the field, in order to take upon the flank a column of the enemy which was expected to retreat in that direction. While the battalion was here lying on the ground sharpshooters kept up a fire upon the field officers. I sent a detachment of Company A, who killed 1, captured 1, and dispersed the rest, and reported that the guns had withdrawn to a camp (camp of the Forty-sixth Ohio) and were then moving into a new position. The battalion was withdrawn from the field and ordered to lie flat upon the ground behind a three-railed fence. A severe and exceedingly well-aimed fire was opened upon us by the guns now placed in the woods across the open field. Muskets and bayonets at all exposed were bent and snapped off; my sword was struck, but the men were so well sheltered that but 1 was killed and 10 were wounded.

The Twentieth forming the extreme right of the army and exposed to be flanked I changed front of the two right companies, making their right rest near a ravine at the rear and their left near the remainder of the battalion, and sent out a party of skirmishers and scouts, under command of First Lieut. Ayres, now commanding Company A. This party sent in as prisoners 3 officers and 15 men.

Three pieces of artillery brought up by Col. Whittlesey putting an end to all contest at this quarter, the Twentieth took its place in the division, which was then formed into one line of battle, and thus advanced into the country some distance beyond the outer line of the encampment.

Obtaining permission, I sent Company A, Lieut. Ayres commanding, a mile in advance, to pick up stragglers of the enemy. He came upon a hospital filled with wounded rebels, attended by five rebel surgeons: saw a detachment of cavalry burning a large subsistence train, and was just deploying into the woods when he was recalled, in consequence of the order for the division to fall back within the lines for the night.

One private slipped out of the ranks unobserved. With this exception every officer and man behaved admirably. Every order was executed as promptly and quietly as upon a parade ground. I can particularize only Maj. J. N. McElroy, for his valuable assistance in commanding the regiment, and First Lieut. L. N. Ayres, of Company A, for efficient service in handling skirmishers and scouts. A list of casualties and prisoners taken is appended.

I am, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

M. F . FORCE.

ASSISTANT ADJUTANT-GEN. Third Brigade, Third Division.

Following the Battle of Shiloh, the 20th remained encamped at Pittsburg Landing until early June 1862, when the regiment advanced first to Purdy, Tennessee and then Bolivar, Tennessee. On August 30, 1862, enemy forces attacked Bolivar. Despite being greatly outnumbered, the Union garrison, including the 20th and a few companies from the 78th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry and the 2nd Regiment Illinois Cavalry, successfully defended the town. Confederate cavalrymen did capture, however, Companies G and K of the 20th late in the day.   

In mid-September 1862, the 20th joined a larger Union movement against Confederate General Sterling Price's command, which had seized Iuka, Mississippi. The Northerners drove Price's soldiers from the city in the Battle of Iuka (September 19, 1862). The regiment also helped to defeat Price's command at the Hatchie River, near Metamora, Tennessee, and pursued the retreating Southerners.

In late 1862, the 20th advanced with General Ulysses S. Grant's command to Oxford, Mississippi, before moving to Memphis, Tennessee in early January 1863. On February 22, 1863, the regiment boarded the steamer Louisiana and sailed down the Mississippi River to Lake Providence, Louisiana. In March, the organization advanced to Steele’s Bayou to protect some Union gunboats. On April 18, 1863, the 20th advanced to Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana and then marched to Hard Times Landing on the Mississippi River. The regiment crossed the river at Port Gibson, Mississippi and helped to drive enemy soldiers to Hawkinson’s Ferry on the Big Black River in Mississippi. The ultimate goal for the Union forces was the seizure of the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

On May 12, 1863, the 20th engaged enemy forces at Raymond, Mississippi. Other Union regiments withdrew to stronger defensive positions, leaving the 20th’s flank exposed to a brutal crossfire. The 20th advanced, driving the Southerners from the field. The Ohio regiment had twelve soldiers killed and fifty-two more wounded in this battle. After the engagement, the 20th’s commanding officer issued the following report:

----- ---, 1863.

SIR: I have the honor to report that, on the morning of the 12th of May, the Twentieth Ohio marched as advance guard of the division, on the right side of the road to Raymond, with four companies (first, second, third and fifth) deployed in front as skirmishers till the deployed line reached the edge of the timber bordering the Fourteen-Mile Creek; there the column was halted, the rebel battery on a hill beyond the creek throwing shell over the timber into the open field. I brought up the reserves upon the deployed line for shelter. The First Brigade, afterward marched over the field to the shelter of the woods, and rested upon and mingled with my skirmishers.

While in this situation, I received orders to forward, and immediately a hot fire, with hurrahs, was heard in front. All the companies but the first and second quickly formed in line, advanced to a deep gully, and took position there. The second company (F, Capt. Harrison Wilson) assembled the skirmishers, formed, and marched by the flank under a very severe fire to its position in line, as quickly as if on parade. Company A, Lieut. Weatherby commanding, was so separated by the intervening brigade that it was impossible for it form with the regiment. Lieut. Weatherby reported to Col. Dollins, commanding Eighty-first Illinois, and fought under him. Col. Dollins gives emphatic report of the good conduct of this company.

The fire was very hot and close. Private [Levi] Donaldson, of F, had his leg shattered by a rifle held within a foot of it. The enemy's fire being silenced in about an hour, I advanced out of the gully across an almost impenetrable tangle of logs and brush, a run waist-deep in some places, and a plowed field, up the hill where the enemy's guns had been placed, and there halted and reported. I advanced with the brigade to Raymond in the evening, and marched the regiment out on picket.

The Seventh Texas, which boasts that it never before gave way, was lying in ambush when the Twentieth Ohio first marched into the woods. With all its advantage of position, this regiment was slaughtered and driven. Twenty-three dead were found in half and acre in front of the line of the Twentieth; 7 dead were found behind a log, which was pierced by seventy-two balls. One tree in front of my line was stripped and hacked near the root by balls, though not a mark was found more than 2 feet above the ground.

I cannot speak too highly of the behavior of officers and men. Notwithstanding the suddenness of the attack, the severity of the fire, and the necessity of maneuvering to form line, I did not see a mistake or any hesitation, nor enough excitement to interfere with immediate obedience to every command. If admirable performance of duty under trying circumstances entitles on to honorable mention, every officer and man should be honorably mentioned. I can name Capt. Abraham Kaga, acting as field officer (two field officers being detached on staff duty), and First Lieut. J. B. Walker, acting adjutant, for their very efficient assistance; Capt. Harrison Wilson, for the excellent manner in which he assembled his skirmishers without confusion under fire and in the midst of a retreating regiment and marched them to position in line; Private John Canavan, of Company E, who in part led the company, when, by the wounding of Second Lieut. John Stevenson and death of First Sergeant [Byron] Selby, the company was left in command of the fifth sergeant ([Osborn H.] Oldroyd), lately appointed; Corporal [William H.] Borum (B), who insisted upon remaining in the ranks with a ball lodged in his throat, and Private -------, of D, who returned from the hospital after his wounds were dressed, to carry water for the men.

I think it proper also to mention hospital attendant Lawrence Greenman, of Company D, for persistent zeal in performance of his duties under fire. Private [Jacob] Cauter, of Company A, seeing a good opportunity for a shot after the regiment with which that company was serving was ordered to cease firing, asked permission; Lieut. Weatherby, walking the length of the regiment, obtained permission, and Cauter fired his shot, the only one fired by the company until order was given to resume.

A list of casualties is appended.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

M. F. FORCE, Col., Cmdg. Twentieth Ohio.

Lieut. J. C. DOUGLASS, Acting Assistant Adjutant-Gen.

The 20th continued to advance upon Vicksburg, marching through the Mississippi communities of Clinton, Jackson, and Bottom Depot and fighting in the Battle of Champion Hill (May 16, 1863). In this victory, the Union force drove the Confederates into Vicksburg’s defenses. The 20th joined the Northern siege of this city, until moving to Tiffin, Mississippi on the Big Black River to prevent Confederate reinforcements from reaching Vicksburg. On July 4, 1863, the Siege of Vicksburg ended with the Union’s occupation of the city.

Following Vicksburg, the 20th immediately joined General William T. Sherman’s advance against Jackson, Mississippi. After the Northerners captured Mississippi’s capital, the Ohio regiment entered camp on Vicksburg’s outskirts. The organization remained at Vicksburg for the rest of 1863, participating in various expeditions to other parts of Mississippi. In August, the 20th marched to Monroe and, in October, to Livingston. In January 1864, two-thirds of the regiment’s members reenlisted. Before receiving their thirty-day furlough to their homes in Ohio, the re-enlistees with the rest of the 20th participated in the Meridian Expedition. During this campaign, the regiment served principally as the Union rearguard, but the organization did destroy miles of railroad track. After returning to Vicksburg in March 1864, the 20th’s re-enlistees received their furlough.     

Upon returning to the front, the 20th embarked upon Union General William T. Sherman's Atlanta Campaign. The goal of this expedition was for Northern forces to capture the important manufacturing center of Atlanta, Georgia. The regiment fought in many of the largest engagements of the campaign, including the Battles of Kennesaw Mountain, Nicojack Creek, Atlanta, and Jonesborough. The Union military occupied Atlanta on September 2, 1864, bringing the campaign to a victorious conclusion for the North.

Following the Atlanta Campaign, the 20th encamped briefly at Lovejoy’s Station, before relocating to East Point, Georgia for a few weeks. In early October 1864, the regiment joined the Union’s pursuit of Confederate General John Bell Hood’s army, which was advancing through northern Georgia, northern Alabama, and southern Tennessee in the direction of Nashville.  The 20th marched through northern Georgia and briefly entered Alabama, before encamping at Smyrna Church, Georgia, twenty miles from Atlanta.

On November 15, 1864, the 20th Ohio joined General Sherman's "March to the Sea." The ultimate goal of this campaign was for the Union military to seize Savannah, Georgia. The regiment saw no real combat on this campaign until reaching Savannah, where the organization participated in the Union's siege lines of the city's Confederate garrison, before moving to King’s Bridge, Georgia to build wharves on the Ogeechee River. The Union military occupied Savannah on December 21, 1864, with the 20th entering camp in the city’s outskirts.

In late January 1865, the 20th Ohio embarked upon General Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign. In South Carolina, the regiment participated in several skirmishes with Confederate forces, including a stiff engagement at the North Edisto River. In early March 1865, the 20th entered North Carolina, arriving at Fayetteville in the middle of the month. The regiment participated in the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina from March 19 to 21, 1865. Following this Union victory, the organization moved to Goldsboro, North Carolina, before advancing to Raleigh, North Carolina.

Following the surrender of General Joseph Johnston's Confederate army in late April 1865, the 20th marched to Washington, DC, where the organization participated in the Grand Review on May 24, 1865. In early June 1865, the regiment proceeded to Louisville, Kentucky, taking the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to Parkersburg, West Virginia and then boarding a steamer and sailing down the Ohio River the remainder of the way. On July 15, 1865, the 20th mustered out of service at Louisville. The regiment then proceeded to Columbus, Ohio, where officials discharged the unit's members, allowing the men to return to their homes.

During the 20th Ohio's term of service, eighty-nine men, including two officers, died from wounds received on the battlefield. An additional 271 men, including four officers, died from disease or accidents.

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"20th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry (Three Years Service)," Ohio Civil War Central, 2019, Ohio Civil War Central. 21 Aug 2019 <http://www.www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1252>

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