by Andy Wendt
As I plan a trip to Perryville, Kentucky next month to attend a Civil War Reenactment, I can’t help but wonder if the story of the 35th Ohio Volunteer Infantry is completely lost to today’s Middletown residents.
The 35th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI) Regiment was formed in 1861 by Colonel Ferdinand Vanderveer, a Middletown native. The 35th OVI was comprised of men from Butler and Warren County. The all-volunteer unit numbered close to 900 men when first mustered on the Butler County Fairground in the summer of 1861.
After a brief guard duty assignment in Cincinnati, the 35th OVI, who called themselves the “Butler Boys”, were marching off to Kentucky by the fall of 1862. As a part of the Army of the Ohio under Major General Buell the 35th was among three corps of Federals who were in Kentucky to drive out the Army of the Tennessee. The Confederates, under Braxton Bragg, had earlier in the summer of 1862 taken their army into Kentucky in hopes that the local populace would flock to the southern cause.
Failing to rally popular support or dislodge the Army of the Ohio, the Confederates soon withdrew from Kentucky after the battle of Perryville in which the 35th OVI was largely held in reserve.
The luck of the 35th OVI however was not to last long. Within the year the 35th OVI was deep into southern territory on the Georgia – Tennessee border when on September 20, 1863 the Union Army of the Cumberland was flanked and smashed at the Battle of Chickamauga.
As the Union forces withdrew in disorder, the 35th OVI was ordered to hold as a part of a desperate rear guard. Falling under the command of Major General George H. Thomas, the only high ranking Union officer not in full retreat, the 35th OVI along with other units from Ohio and Minnesota fought the rest of that day in and around a small ridge called Snodgrass Hill.
Running completely out of ammunition on two occasions during the action, the 35th OVI never once faltered and repulsed several Confederate charges lasting long into the night.
The rear guard by Thomas was successful and the Confederate assault lead by General Longstreet was unable to completely envelop the fleeing Union Army. Though Union casualties at Chickamauga were estimated at 34,000 the army was spared total destruction.
For his service in defense of the Union withdraw Thomas earned a place in history along with the nickname “The Rock Of Chickamauga”. Also shortly after the battle he was appointed Commander of the Army of the Cumberland, the same army he had just saved.
For their part the 35th OVI suffered among the highest casualty rates of the battle as almost half (49%) of the unit was killed, wounded, or captured mostly in the fighting on Snodgrass Hill. It is said the 35th OVI was the last Union regiment to withdraw from the field of Chickamauga.
The 35th OVI served out the reminder of its commitment primarily in a support role, never again seeing action such as on that horrible day in Chickamauga. The 35th OVI being an all volunteer unit was dissolved in 1864 when the unit’s term of enlistment had expired. Many of the unit’s veterans were absorbed into the 18th Ohio Infantry Regiment and the war went on.
On a personal note, and somewhat to conclude this story, this Memorial Day I took my 5 year old son to Woodside Cemetery here in Middletown. My son and I walked around the various areas filled with the markers of Middletown residents who had fallen in our wars. We often stopped to read the names, the military unit numbers, and the dates on the crosses. After a few minutes my son asked “Daddy why are we here?”. To which I replied with the only thing I thought a 5 year old would understand: “Because this is all we can do to say thanks to these soldiers who died so that we could be free. All we can do to show our gratitude is to remember them and what they did for us”.
And so it is with the 35th Ohio. All we can do is remember.