Sharing an article I did about Missionary Ridge for a local newspaper in Montgomery County, Indiana.
Our Darkest Day; the Battle of Missionary Ridge
Montgomery County is very rich in the annuals of the Civil War. We can boast of five general officers and well over 2000 men that enlisted to fight during four years of Civil War. Many men from MontgomeryCounty fought valiantly in every theatre of the war. Articles could be written for weeks about the battles and hardships endured by MontgomeryCounty men. The purpose of this article is to focus on the actions of Montgomery County solders at the battle of Missionary Ridge. The often overlooked battle took place 150 years ago, on a lofty steep ridge overlooking Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The battle of Missionary Ridge was fought on November 25, 1863. It was the end result of a long 1863 summer/fall campaign through Middle and East Tennessee. The fight for Chattanooga took place a month after the battle of Chickamauga, Georgia. MontgomeryCounty men that fought and died on Missionary Ridge were proud members of Gen. George H. Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland. The Army of the Cumberland had been soundly defeated at Chickamauga on September 20th and had retreated to the City of Chattanooga. The Confederate Army followed and laid siege to the city. Grant and Sherman arrived from Mississippi with the Army of Tennessee and broke through the Confederate siege lines bringing aid to Thomas’ army. Members of the Army of the Tennessee, including many of their commanders quietly considered Thomas’ men inferior to their army. After all, the Army of the Tennessee had just arrived in Chattanooga after their great victory at Vicksburg. Tensions would remain high between the two Union armies sitting in Chattanooga.
As overall commander of both armies in Chattanooga, General Ulysses S. Grant was making his battle plans to drive the rebel army off of their strong position on Missionary Ridge. His plan was for Gen. Sherman to assault the Confederate right flank on the northern end of Missionary Ridge and drive the rebels off of the heights. The Army of the Cumberland was to play a secondary role in the action. It was to advance forward, take the Confederate rifle-pits at the bottom of Missionary Ridge and then stop. They were to be a diversion; it was thought they had no fighting spirit after the Chickamauga loss. But, the main attack on the northern end of the ridge didn’t go according to plan. Meeting a strong Confederate resistance, Sherman’s attack stalled. As the Army of the Cumberland stepped off toward the Confederate rifle-pits, the rank and file soldiers felt that they had something to prove. They were going to show Gen. Grant that they had plenty of fight left in them.
Major Henry Leaming, of the 40th Indiana Inf. stated that the Army of the Cumberland would cover “more than a mile, without cover of any sort, over dead level, commanded at all points by the enemy’s batteries, and the last quarter mile under fire of the infantry.” Montgomery County had men present in the following regiments on Missionary Ridge. The 10th, 15th, 38th, 40th, 79th & 86th Indiana Infantry. At 2:00 o’clock the men stepped off to take the rebel rifle-pits, there were no orders to scale the heights. Once the Confederate rifle-pits had been taken, an order was received to advance the quarter-mile to the ridge. In after-action reports from Gen. George Wagner’s Brigade, which contained the 15th & 40th Indiana Regiments, commanders state that they were taking heavy rifle fire but were making forward progress. The brigade had reached a spot at the bottom of the ridge where they were somewhat shielded from the bullets of the enemy.
Lt. Col Elias Neff, of the 40th Indiana Infantry sums up what happened next. “Scarcely had this movement upon the ridge commenced when the order to fall back to the rifle-pits was received from General Wagner, through an aide, and given to the men. It was with the greatest reluctance, almost amounting to a refusal at first, that this order was obeyed, but the sense of duty prevailed, and they fell back, suffering very severely in the movement; but the shelter thus obtained was not long made use of. Again, under the proper order, the line advanced to its former position, again loosing heavily in the movement. Now commenced the struggle; man by man, as each was would gather breath, firing as they went, the brave fellows rushed up, always onward, never backward for one moment. The fire here, on the part of the enemy, rapid and well sustained, both by the infantry and the batteries upon the ridge, which at this time poured a constant shower of grape down the slope; but the advance was not even checked………”
The 15th Indiana Infantry were members of Gen. George Wagner’s Brigade. On November 25 Wagner’s Brigade was one of the hardest hit brigades in the Army of the Cumberland. Company E of the 15th was composed of men from Montgomery County. The ranks of the 15th had been thinned during a bayonet charge performed by the regiment at the battle of Stones River on Dec. 31, 1862. Six men from company E had been killed; numerous others had been wounded and disabled. The company reported 28 men present for duty at Chattanooga. Captain Benjamin Hegler, commanding the 15th Indiana explains the regiment’s assault on Missionary Ridge. “…. The ascent was very steep and our progress so obstinately contested that it was necessarily slow, but in forty-five minutes after leaving the base of the ridge our colors were planted by 2nd Lt. Thomas Graham and the enemy fleeing in disorder.” Officers and men fought and clawed their way up the slope, paying a price in blood for every step taken. Several color-bearers from the 15th were shot down during the assault, but the men kept pushing. Color-bearer George Banks, who was wounded twice, said the ridge “was a perfect hail of bullets.” The 15thIndiana had the honor of being the first regiment to plant a flag on the heights of Missionary Ridge. On December 10, 1863 a list of causalities from company E appeared in the “Crawfordsville Daily Journal.” The article reported that company E “went into the fight with only 28 men, rank and file; and came out with a loss of just one half – 5 killed and 9 wounded. These numbers would change as several men succumbed to their wounds. Causalities for the regiment as a whole were 202 men killed and wounded – 60 percent of the regiment.
Also in Wagner’s Brigade was the 40th Indiana Infantry. Companies C, G, &H, contained men from Montgomery County. Every step the regiment took was heavily contested by the Confederate defenders. Major Henry Leaming of the 40th described his view of the attack; “ I could see our brave boys dropping all around me as we moved forward, some killed, others desperately wounded, but the advance was not even checked. It moved as if each man felt himself invulnerable.” As the regiment neared the ridge top, regimental flags became targets for the Confederate defenders. At one point, 2nd Lt. James Hanna of Waveland was carrying one of the regiment’s flags; he was severely shot in the hip by a musket-ball. Close by James was his brother, Corp. Robert Hanna. Seeing his brother go down, he grabbed the flag from his brother’s grasp and started for the top. 20 year old Robert had only taken a few steps when he was killed, “pierced through the head by a musket-ball.” At another point, James H. Seaman of Brown Township, picked up a flag and advanced with it. Seaman also went down; a musket wound to one of his legs. After the war Lt. Col. Neff cited Seaman for “gallant and distinguished conduct as color bearer of the 40th Indiana Regiment at Missionary Ridge.” Brown Twp. resident, Hezekiah Harrell, was able to grab the regimental colors after it had “fallen five times.” Harrell made it to the summit and planted his flag. The commander of the 40th; Lt. Col. Elias Neff, picked up the national flag after it had fallen numerous times. Once at the top, Neff planted the flag right in front of Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg’s headquarters. Major Leaming reported; “ The Fortieth took two hundred prisoners, and eight pieces of artillery.” Losses in the 40thIndiana were 158 killed and wounded – 45 percent of the regiment.
To the left of Wagner’s Brigade was the 79th and 86th Indiana Regiments in Gen Samuel Beatty’s Brigade. Company K of the 86th had been raised in Montgomery County. Reverend Henry Newton Ornbaun of Crawfordsville had left his ministry and was serving as a sergeant in company K, 79th Indiana Infantry. The 86th and 79th regiments had been consolidated at Chattanooga because of losses sustained in each regiment at Chickamauga. Beatty’s Brigade experienced a rough time climbing the ridge, especially from Confederate artillery fire. W. H. Laymon of the 86th Indiana sent a letter that appeared in the December 10, 1863 addition of the “Crawfordsville Daily Journal.” Laymon’s description of the assault; “ ….we advanced in fine order, on the double-quick, charged and took that line of the enemy’s defenses, and still charged on and on until the foot of Missionary Ridge was gained, and on up the ridge still we charged against eight pieces of heavy artillery directly in our front, thirty more pieces of artillery constantly pouring their fire upon us both from the right and the left and Gen. Hardee’s Corps of three entire Divisions in our front, right and left, from behind breast-works pouring their galling fire into us. On up the mountain still charged the noble 86th and 79th.”
Lymon also mentions MontgomeryCounty’s company K of the 86thIndiana. “Capt. Southard was shot in the breast and instantly expired, at the head of his men, when about half way up the mountain. His conduct is well spoken of by all who witnessed him on the battlefield, and his death is severely felt, not only by his own command, but by all the officers and men of the regiment. Poor Billy! His is another good life given for our country. The other causalities sustained by his company are Serg’t B.F. Snyder, severely wounded in the left hip; Corp. Tillman A. Howard, slightly wounded in the left breast; privates Morris Welch, severely through the right arm; James Harrington, slightly in the left side; Wm. Saunders, slightly in the left knee; Jas. Williams, slightly on left elbow. Lieutenant John Yount was pretty severely bruised by a fall, but it did not prevent him from bravely leading on the noble boys of company K. ”Long may he wave,” and enjoy the honors so nobly won.”
Sergeant Henry N. Ornbaun, of Crawfordsville is also mentioned in the Laymon letter. “Serg’t Newton Ornbaun of the 79th, I saw fall, severely wounded in the thigh, whilst bravely charging the rebel breastworks. I hope he may soon be able for duty again, for he is one of the bravest and best soldiers.” Ornbaun’s return was not to be, he would die from his wounds on December 1, 1863. Ornbaun’s body was returned to Crawfordsville, where he was interred in the Crawfordsville Masonic Cemetery on Grant Ave. The following article appeared in the “Crawfordsville Daily Journal,” on Thursday, January 21, 1864.
Funeral of Serg’t Ornbaun
“The remains of Serg’t H.N. Ornbaun, of Company K,79th Indiana Regiment, who fell mortally wounded at the battle of Missionary Ridge, on the 25th of November last, and who died on the 1st day of December, arrived at home on Saturday morning last for interment. On Tuesday of this week, under military escort, the remains were conveyed from the family residence to the Methodist E. Church;(where appropriate funeral exercises were had);and thence to the town Cemetery, where they were consigned to the tomb-the final resting place of all that is mortal of man.”
Once the summit had been gained, the fighting continued down the reverse slope of Missionary Ridge. The Confederates were in a mad retreat, muskets, cannon and wagons were left behind. The Army of the Cumberland was in pursuit, and gathering many prisoners along the way. They had proven that they could still fight and felt as if their honor had been restored. By the morning of November 26, 1863 the great railroad hub of Chattanooga lay in union hands. The Confederate army had been beaten and was in full retreat. The little remembered battles for Chattanooga had opened the door for Union forces to take Atlanta in 1864 and ultimately it helped win the war. MontgomeryCounty had played a significant part in the battle; “our boys” would continue fighting on many other fields of battle. But, never again would we pay such a high price in a single day of battle. Eighteen county men had been lost during the assault and capture of Missionary Ridge. Other local men would be lost in the war, but never on the same scale as November 25, 1863. It was MontgomeryCounty’s darkest day of the Civil War.
As in the case of Sergeant H.N. Ornbaun, several other causalities of the battle rest in MontgomeryCounty. John C. Monfort of the 40th Indiana is also buried in the Crawfordsville Masonic Cemetery. Four members of the 40th Indiana are interred in Freedom Cemetery, Brown Township. They were friends and neighbors in life and comrades in company C. They are Sergeant William B. Gayley, Lt James Hanna, Corp. Robert Hanna and James Elrod. They are all in the same general area of the cemetery. A visit to this spot brings the thought of the devastation this battle produced to families in a tight knit community. The valor and deeds of all Montgomery County soldiers that fought on Missionary Ridge should be remembered on this 150th anniversary of the battle.
Our Heroes lost on Missionary Ridge
Sgt. Robert B. Gilbert – 15thInd.
Sgt. Frederick Waltz – 15thInd.
Sgt. Solomon Bowers – 15thInd.
Pvt. William R. Emmerson – 15thInd.
Pvt. Silas Cooley – 15thInd.
Pvt. John C. Tyson – 15thInd.
Pvt. William R. Creek – 15thInd.
Lt. James M. Hanna – 40thInd.
Sgt. William B. Gayley – 40thInd.
Sgt. Alvin Egnew – 40thInd.
Cpl. Robert C.H. Hanna – 40thInd.
Pvt. James Elrod – 40thInd.
Pvt. John C. Monfort – 40thInd.
Pvt. James R. Shelton – 40thInd.
Pvt. George Krauss – 40thInd.
Pvt. Taylor McIntosh – 40thInd.
Sgt. William Newton Ornbaun – 79thInd.
Capt. William M. Southard – 86thInd.