Ohio Civil War » Objects » Entries » William Babcock Hazen

William Babcock Hazen

September 27, 1830 – January 16, 1887

A prominent Union officer, Major General William B. Hazen served in nearly all of the major campaigns in the Western Theater of the American Civil War.

William Babcock Hazen was born on September 27, 1830, in West Hartford, Vermont. He was the third son and the fifth of six children born to Stillman and Ferona (Fenno) Hazen. In 1833, Hazen's parents moved their family to a homestead near Hiram, Ohio. The Hazen children worked on the family farm and attended a one-room school where William became a close friend of classmate and future United States President James A. Garfield. In 1850, Hazen enrolled in the first class of the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, which later became Hiram College.

As a youth, Hazen decided that he preferred the prospects of a military career over the drudgeries of farm life. After a good deal of lobbying, Hazen persuaded Ohio Congressman Ebon Newton to nominate him for an appointment to the United States Military Academy in 1850. Hazen passed his entrance exams and entered the Academy on September 1, 1851. Among his classmates were David McMurtrie Gregg and William W. Averell, prominent Union cavalry officers during the Civil War. Hazen graduated on July 1, 1855, placing twenty-eighth in his class of thirty-four cadets.

Following his graduation from West Point, Hazen was brevetted as a second lieutenant in the 4th United States Infantry stationed at Fort Reading, California. By the time he arrived in the Golden State, on October 26, 1855, Hazen learned that he had received a full commission as a second lieutenant in the 8th U.S. Infantry, but that he had been detached to serve with the 1st U.S. Dragoons in Oregon. Hazen spent the next two years campaigning against American Indians in the northwest.

On February 13, 1858, Hazen finally joined the 8th Infantry at Fort Davis, in western Texas where he campaigned against Apache and Comanche Indians. Transferred to Fort Inge, in southwest Texas, in 1859, Hazen was brevetted to first lieutenant on May 16 for "Gallant Conduct" during "engagements with the Indians in Texas." On November 3, 1859, Hazen was severely wounded by a bullet that passed through his hand and into his chest during an encounter with Comanche Indians along the Llano River. Hazen's injuries were so severe that after being hospitalized at San Antonio, he was declared unfit for duty and placed on sick leave until 1861.

Hazen returned to active duty on February 21, 1861, as an instructor of infantry tactics at the U.S. Military Academy. Shortly after his assignment to West Point, Hazen was promoted to first lieutenant on April 1, 1861. He was quickly promoted to captain on May 14, after the fall of Fort Sumter. When Hazen's efforts to secure a field command were rebuffed, he obtained a leave of absence and traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to recruit soldiers for the 41st Ohio Infantry Regiment. After the regiment was created, the soldiers elected Hazen as their commander and he was commissioned as a colonel in the volunteer army on October 29, 1861.

Initially serving in Kentucky and Tennessee, Hazen was placed in command of the 19th Brigade of Major General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio in January 1862. In April, Hazen and his brigade distinguished themselves at the Battle of Shiloh (April 6 – 7, 1862). Arriving on the field during the second day of the conflict, Hazen's unit suffered heavy casualties as they charged across a wheat field to regain ground the Federals had lost the day before. During the battle, Hazen was separated from his troops, leading to unsubstantiated charges of cowardice from Union General David S. Stanley more than fifteen years later.

Following the Union victory at Shiloh, Hazen served during the Siege of Corinth (April 29 to May 30, 1862). On the march to Corinth, Hazen was stricken with malaria and forced to go on sick leave from May 25 to July 4, 1862. When he returned to duty, Hazen commanded the garrison at Murfreesboro from August 15 to September 10, 1862. In early October, Hazen's 2,300-man brigade helped halt General Braxton Bragg's Confederate Heartland Campaign at the Battle of Perryville (October 8, 1862).

Frustrated because the Union forces did not immediately pursue Bragg during his retreat after the Battle of Perryville, President Abraham Lincoln relieved Buell of his command and placed Major General William Rosecrans in command of the 14th Corps, which was eventually designated the Army of the Cumberland, on October 24, 1862. Hazen, still a colonel, was placed in charge of the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Division of the Left Wing of the newly formed army.

A month later, Hazen's brigade was instrumental in defeating Bragg's forces at the bloody Battle of Stones River (December 31, 1862 – January 2, 1863). Four Confederate assaults on December 31 failed to dislodge Hazen's brigade from a wooded salient in an area known as Round Forest, which was later renamed "Hell's Half-Acre." According to the National Park Service, "Hazen’s Brigade was the only Union unit not to retreat on the 31st. Their stand against four Confederate attacks gave Rosecrans a solid anchor for his Nashville Pike line that finally stopped the Confederate tide." Hazen was soon promoted to brigadier general of volunteers, effective November 29, 1862, for his performance at Stones River.

When campaigning resumed in 1863, Hazen commanded his brigade during the Tullahoma Campaign (June 24 – July 3, 1863), where Rosecrans cleverly outmaneuvered Bragg, forcing the Confederate army to retreat to Chattanooga. In mid-August and September, Rosecrans once again outmaneuvered Bragg, forcing the Rebel commander to abandon Chattanooga and march his army into northern Georgia. When Rosecrans pursued, Bragg surprised him at Chickamauga. On the second day of the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19 – 20, 1863) Hazen's brigade joined Major General George Thomas's staunch defense of Snodgrass Hill, averting a total Union collapse. Hazen was later brevetted to the rank of major in the regular army (effective September 20, 1863) "for Gallant and Meritorious Services at the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia."

Following the Confederate victory at Chickamauga, Bragg invested Rosecrans' s army, which had retreated to Chattanooga. In late October, Hazen played a major role breaking the Rebel siege. During the pre-dawn hours of October 27, portions of Hazen's brigade quietly floated down the Tennessee River, past Confederate sentinels on Lookout Mountain, to Brown's Ferry where they secured a bridgehead. Union engineers quickly constructed a pontoon bridge across the river, establishing the famous "Cracker Line," which brought food, medicine, and ammunition to the isolated Federal troops at Chattanooga.

During the Battle of Chattanooga (November 23, 1863 – November 25, 1863), Hazen's Brigade was instrumental in the capture of Orchard Knob on the first day of fighting. On the third day, his men were among the Union forces that drove the Confederates off of Missionary Ridge. Hazen was subsequently brevetted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the regular army (effective November 24, 1863) "for Gallant and Meritorious Services at the Battle of Chattanooga."

During the Atlanta Campaign (May 7 – September 2, 1864), Hazen was engaged in numerous conflicts, including the Battle of Resaca (May 15, 1864), the Battle of Adairsville (May 17, 1864), the Battle of Cassville (May 19, 1864) the Battle of Pickett's Mills (May 27, 1864), and the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (June 21‑23, 1864). Hazen and his men served with great distinction during the Battle of Pickett's Mill when they were foolishly ordered to assault Major General Patrick Cleburne's reinforced and heavily entrenched division without adequate support. In the bloodbath that followed, Hazen's brigade was cut to shreds. Federal casualties totaled over 1,600 soldiers; the 41st Ohio lost 108 out of 260 soldiers engaged in the conflict. When asked after the battle where his brigade was, Hazen replied, "Brigade, Hell, I have none. But what is left of it is over there in the woods."

On August 17, 1864, Hazen was transferred to the Army of the Tennessee and placed in command of the 5th Division. During the next two weeks, he participated in the siege of Atlanta and the Federal occupation of the city on September 2, 1864. At the conclusion of the Atlanta Campaign, Hazen was brevetted to colonel in the regular army, effective September 1, 1864.

Hazen accompanied the Army of the Tennessee on Sherman's March to the Sea (November 15, 1864 – December 21, 1864). Near the end of the campaign, Hazen was instrumental in the capture of Fort McAllister on December 13, 1864. He was subsequently promoted to major general of volunteers, effective that date.

After spending five weeks in Savannah, Georgia, Hazen accompanied Sherman during the Carolinas Campaign from February through April 1865. As the war neared its conclusion, Hazen was brevetted to major general in the regular army on March 13, 1865.

After the war ended, Hazen briefly commanded the 15th Corps of the Army of the Tennessee from May 19 to August 1, 1865. He also commanded the District of Middle Tennessee for a short time from October 12, 1865, to January 24, 1866. On January 15, 1866, Hazen mustered out of the volunteer army, but remained in the regular army at the rank of colonel and was assigned to the 38th U.S. Infantry on July 28, 1866. Serving in the Great Plains, Hazen helped implement the reservation system while he was commander of the Southern Military District from 1868 to 1869. On March 15, 1869, Hazen was transferred to the 6th Infantry. In 1870, he traveled to Europe to observe the Prussian Army during the Franco-Prussian War.

On February 15 1871, Hazen married Mildred McLean, the daughter of prominent Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper owner Washington McLean, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Their marriage produced a daughter who died in infancy and a son who died at the age of twenty-two in 1898.

In 1872, Hazen exposed corrupt trading practices at Fort Sill that led to the impeachment and resignation of President Ulysses S. Grant's Secretary of War William Belknap. Hazen's honesty-principled candor earned him the subsequent enmity of Washington politicians and fellow army officers.

Hazen returned to Europe in 1877, serving as military attaché to the United States Legation in Vienna, Austria. While there, he was also a military observer of the Russo-Turkish War.

When Hazen returned to the U.S. in 1878, Colonel David S. Stanley accused Hazen of perjury during the Belknap trial and cowardice at the Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War. Hazen countered by requesting that Stanley be court-martialed for slandering a fellow officer. In 1879, Hazen was vindicated when a court ruled that Stanley was guilty of "conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline."

In 1880, President Rutherford B. Hayes promoted Hazen to the rank of brigadier general and appointed him as Chief of the Army Signal Corps. Serving in that position, Hazen was responsible for the development of meteorological science in the Army Signal Corps. In 1881 a twenty-five man polar expedition authorized by Hazen encountered problems in northern Canada. After two rescue efforts in 1882 failed to reach the stranded party, Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln refused to authorize a third in 1883. Left to fend for themselves, the expedition members spent a third winter desperately wandering about in search of supplies. When finally found in 1884, only the commanding officer and seven of his men were still alive. The others had either frozen or starved to death. After Hazen criticized Lincoln's inaction in the press and in his 1884 annual report, Lincoln had Hazen court-martialed for "conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline." On March 21, 1885, the court found Hazen guilty of the charges. He was censured for his actions and reprimanded by President Chester A. Arthur, but ordered to resume the duties of his office.

During the last years of his life, Hazen suffered from diabetes and recurring pain from the bullet wound he received in Texas. On January 16, 1887, at the relatively young age of 56, Hazen died at his home in Washington, D.C. from a diabetic coma brought on by the onset of a common cold contracted three days earlier. Hazen is buried at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.

Related Entries