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Benjamin Durbin, WS Mc Ginley, William McGrew and the 96th Ohio in the Civil War


Roster of Company B 96th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, commanding Captain Joseph Leonard

Benjamin Durbin, private, enlisted August 11th, 1862

Musician, W. S. McGinley, August 13, 1862

September 1st the regiment left Camp Delaware and the same night went into quarters at Covington, Kentucky. On the eighth it went into camp three miles back of Newport, Kentucky, and occupied the advance on a part of the Federal lines during the threatened advance upon Cincinnati of General Kirby Smith. October 8th the regiment marched to Falmouth, Kentucky, where it remained until the twentieth, when it marched to Nicholasville, arriving there November 1st, and remaining about a week when it went to Louisville. Leaving the latter place on the nineteenth of November it reached Memphis and went into camp on the twenty-seventh.

December 21st it embarked at Memphis as part of the expedition under command of General W. T. Sherman, destined “down the river.” On the twenty-fifth of December it landed at Millikin’s Bend, Louisana, and made a forced march with the brigade, under command of General Burbridge, to Dallas Station, on the Vicksburg, Shreveport & Tensas railroad; destroyed the bridge across the Tensas and about a mile of track and trestlework. It returned the next day to the transports, having marched fifty miles in two and a half days, destroying a large amount of railroad property, and burned several depots of rebel cotton. The next day it followed the army to Johnston’s Landing, on the Yazoo river; landed the same night and marched out to Chickasaw Bayou. Getting into position at 10, A. M., the regiment took part in the first attack on Vicksburg. It returned with the army and embarked for “up the river” January 1, 1863.

On the tenth of January, 1863, it landed near Arkansas Post, and on the eleventh engaged in the severe battle at that place, resulting in the capture of the rebel forces and works. Companies A and B were in the thickest of the battle and suffered some loss. In company A, Corporal E. W. McGiffin, V. B. Hildreth, and J. H. Clements were killed, and Sergeant George Thorne, J. T. Hutton, Norton A. Meker, and Jesse P. Robertson were wounded. Hutton subsequently died of wounds received there. The loss in the regiment in this battle was ten killed and twenty-six wounded.

The regiment returned to Young’s Point, Louisiana, January 25, 1863; accompanied the army in its flanking movement to the rear of Vicksburg and took part in the siege of that city until its surrender July 4, 1863. Although under fire almost daily while working in the trenches, or occupying their camp, no casualties appear in the Knox county companies at Vicksburg. The rebel General Bowen and Colonel Montgomery, who came into our lines July 3d, under flag of truce to negotiate for the surrender, were met by Captain Leonard, of Company B, and conducted to the headquarters of General A. J. Smith.

The day after the surrender the regiment was ordered to Jackson, and took part in the siege of that place up to its evacuation, July 17th, then marched to Bryant’s Station and Dry Creek, thence to Vicksburg. It went by river to Carrollton, Louisiana, August 26th, and from that point made several short expeditions and scouts. It moved to Brasher City October 3d, and took part in the Teche campaign.

The battle of Grand Coteau, a desperate fight against overwhelming numbers, occurred on the third of November. The regiment lost nine killed, thirty-three wounded, and sixty-eight taken prisoners.

This was one of the most desperate battles in which the Knox county boys were engaged, and companies A and B shared their proportion of the loss.

The losses in company A were as follows:

George E. Browning, wounded—afterwards died, Norton A. Meeker, Edwin T. Tathwell, M. L. Terrill, Andrew J. Zimmerman, James W. Devoe, prisoner, J. R. P. Martin, William C. Martin, William A. McGrew, Bailey Sprague,
The losses in company B were—

Jacob Young, killed, William H. Scarborough, wounded, and George W. Lore, Joseph T. Jacobs, Morris Penrose, John P. Reynolds, George W. Fish, and Zachariah Workmen, prisoners.

Nearly if not quite all these prisoners were subsequently exchanged and rejoined their commands.

This battle has been variously designated as “Bayou Bouf” and “Bayou Bourdeux,” but Grand Coteau is the name generally adopted. It occurred six miles south of Opelousas, Louisiana. The following vivid picture of this battle is from the pen of Dr. J. T. Woods, the surgeon of the Ninety-sixth:

At two o’clock on the morning of the third (November) Colonel Brown, of the Ninety-sixth, received a request from General Burbridge to call immediately at his headquarters. The general at that late hour was busily engaged in writing. This interview was private and confidential, in which he notified the colonel that there was not the least doubt but that early in the day the command would be attacked by overwhelming numbers. He explained fully all the details, and notified him as to what he should expect of his regiment. Very early in the morning a council was held, in which all the commanding officers of regiments were present. The general explained to them the expected attack, and directed them to adopt every precaution in their separate commands to secure their entire strength and efficiency in the coming struggle.

Colonel Brown proceeded immediately to give certain orders to his officers. Then followed quickly the sounds of busy preparation. Every where was heard the click, click, of the rising hammer, and then the sharp explosion of the caps, by which it was known that the tube was open; and the clear ring of the rammer as it was dropped into the barrel satisfied the soldier that he could rely upon his musket to do faithful execution in the moment of need. Cartridge boxes were carefully packed with forty rounds, and canteens filled with water.

It was scarcely 10 A. M. when the sharp picket-firing in the distance confirmed our expectations, and at twelve our retreating cavalry gave notice of the enemy’s approach. The thrilling long-roll called every man to arms. In calm, calculating haste each man donned his battle trappings, and with clock-work precision fell into line.

Marching directly on the road that turned to the left close to

the right of our camp, the rebel infantry advanced in force, while clouds of cavalry emerged from the woods, and deployed on the flanks of their infantry, scattering like wild Comanches and enveloping our camp.

Not an instant is lost in preparation. Our line of battle faces the woods on the right, close to and at right angles with our camp. The Sixty-seventh Indiana, in open prairie on our left, supports two guns of the Seventeenth Ohio battery. The Ninety-sixth Ohio and Sixtieth Indiana, with the remaining guns, form the centre. The Twenty-third Wisconsin, a little delayed in reaching its position, forms the right of our line. This disposition is scarcely completed, and we are face to face with more than eight thousand men, and the battle of Grand Coteau commences.

A part of the Sixtieth Indiana deploys as skirmishers, and promptly advance into the infested woods. Gallantry is unavailing against the frightful odds, and the whole regiment advances to its support. They are few in number, and against them are hurled massed lines of battle. The quick crack of the skirmish rifle is followed by the crash of musketry, Undismayed by terrible loss they fall steadily back, leaving not an inch of ground uncontested.

A vindictive fight rages along the entire front. “Forward, Ninety-sixth,” sends them to meet the solid lines of gray, and full in each other’s faces the deadly volleys are exchanged. It is a host against which a handful of stout-hearted men are battling, and which it is impossible for them to withstand. Defiantly both Ninety-sixth and Sixtieth fall back.

A cloud of cavalry is swooping down on the Sixty-seventh and the two pieces of artillery on the prairie to our left. The regiment quickly forms a hollow square to receive the cavalry. In doing so a gap is left in our line, and it is entirely detached from support. A command to reform and move to the right to fill the gap is instantly sent by General Burbridge. In attempting to execute this manoeuvre under fire it becomes confused, and from confusion it is quickly panic-stricken. The fierce cavalry sweep like a whirlwind among the men with gleaming sabres; the swift riders enfold them, and almost without resistance march them away captive before our eyes.

The men of the Twenty-third Wisconsin, on our extreme right, are enveloped in smoke, but here, as every where, maintain their well-deserved fame. It is only by sheer weight of numbers that they are forced slowly back. Their intrepid colonel stands staunchly and firmly in the thickest of the fight, and, wounded, falls into the hands of the enemy.

Twice has the Ninety-sixth been repulsed, and, rallying, returned to the hopeless charge. The three regiments still maintain an irregular line; the rebels are plainly enveloping our flanks. The Twenty-third Wisconsin is almost muzzle to muzzle with the enemy, who, on its right, overlaps it and pours in a deadly enfilading fire. Nothing can save it or even prolong the contest, but to fall quickly back and form an angle to face the foe in front and on the right. The Sixtieth Indiana maintains a position on the light of the Ninety- sixth, but its left is driven far back, and a fatal gap is thus made between the regiments. The Ninety-sixth makes an attempt to close the gap, but it is a fruitless effort; the Sixtieth breaks, and a portion rushes through our right.

While this furious struggle is raging, our rear presents a most singular sight. At the summons of the long-roll, the stores of fhe brigade had been promptly loaded, and started pell-mell tor the rear. In mad haste some dashed into the deep ravine,

to find their wagons instantly mired. Others with more coolness took their places, rapidly flew over the bridge and with lavish use of whip and spur, escaped. Haste was never more demanded, as both the camp they left and the woods through which they must pass, are already full of roving rebel cavalrymen, who unexpectedly, and for some strange reason made little effort to prevent the escape of their legitimate prize and booty. A Federal officer rode through the woods unmolested, although they were thick around him. He noticed a stolid German attilleryman, stoically marching to the rear, carrying his swab-stick on his shoulder. A cavalryman rode behind him, brandishing a revolver and shouted*: Hall! you Yankee vagabond !” The indignant gunner instantly turned on his heel with an oath, and furiously swinging his swab-stick, smashed the head of the would-be captor into a jelly, and ‘ shouldering arms’ marched on as unconcerned as before.

The artillery has been, by dint of both valor and good fortune, removed from the field—the piece last passing through the woods being temporarily captured by a half dozen or more resolute rebel cavalrymen shooting down the artillery horses.

There is nowhere a trace of terror. Men fall in promiscuously, maintaining the semblance of a line, and move back delivering their fire defiantly to the last. We know we are doomed, but only press more closely together, Lieutenant-colonel Brown inspires, both by word and deed, the men, who keep their eyes on him, moving only as he directs and contesting every inch of ground. The gallant Burbridge rides up and down the tattered fragments of his brigade, directing and encouraging the men. No aid comes, and stumbling to certain death over comrades dead and dying, even the most dauntless spirit must falter. The movement is more than sublime, as each, without a murmur asks his own soul, in agony, can we stay? must we go?

Impulses are like avalanches, and as if to spur souls that have never faltered, the heroic Burbridge seizes the battle-flag of a regiment, and waving it above him in this yawning battle-hell, in the face of defeat and death, in full defiant tones begins himself to sing that grand old battle-hymn — ‘ Rally round the flag boys Rally once again; and amidst the crash, roar, and ‘thud’ of the minnie-bullet, a hundred voices mingle in the chorus— ‘Rally once again Shouting the battle-cry of freedom ‘

Now comes the appalling shout of the rebel horde, followed by a bullet-storm, and an advancing line of gray thickly fringed with glittering steel.

The Ninety-sixth gather closer around their commander and at his word deliver their fire. By the returning volley they are shivered to pieces as if by a thunder-bolt. They are completely routed, but as if by instinct they gather in squads, and fall back, firing wherever a foe presents. Everywhere they turn, right, left, or rear, rebel cavalrymen are using pistol and sabre.

Sergeant Forbes of company B., being wounded, had, early in the engagement requested Color-sergeant Isaac Ivins, as he could no longer use his gun, to exchange with him, and, with one mangled hand, he bore the banner safely through the battle, while the sergeant as bravely used his gun.

Falling back toward the edge of the wood near the camp, Colonel Brown notices a boy in the act of raising his gun to fire, when a bullet whistles through his breast. Running to him and raising his head, his lips move, and putting his ear close to them, he hears the whispered word ‘mother’—and Charley Stanfield is dead. Close before him rides three rebel cavalrymen, one of whom has shot the boy. The colonel instantly picks up the gun the boy had dropped with the hammer already raised, fires and the middle one of the three Texan rangers rolls from his saddle.

The bearer of the colors has planted the staff in the ground that he may use a musket, when he is whirled away, and, in the melee the flag is pushed over. The colors on the ground shocks the soldierly pride of Sanderson, orderly of Colonel Brown, and calling the colonel’s attention to it asks if he shall get it, receiving for a reply : ‘ It is a terrible place to go to, but bring the colors if you can’. Gallantly he rushes among the reeling, swaying combatants, and bears it safely to the rear.

Not an organized command remains, and Colonel Brown mounts his horse ; soldiers in squads around him deliver a desultory fire into the troop of cavalry that are close down upon them. The colonel says: “Boys, to stay is death; fall back as best you can to the other side of the woods; we will rally there;” and empties his revolver into the advancing rebel cavalry. The return fire luckily inflicts a slight wound on his horse, and in mad frenzy the animal dashes away to our left and rear, and with one desperate leap clears the ravine. The rebel horsemen are sufficient in number to capture every man, but are strangely inefficient. In squads we battle our way through them to the rear of the wood. The voice of Colonel Brown, whose horse had saved him by running away from the sabre-points of the enemy, is heard, and at his word the brave men halt in the teeth of the exultant foe. No sign of the hoped for aid is visible, yet with wonderful eagerness they fall into line. It seems like stubborn rashness, for masses of rebel infantry are surging along our front, and a cloud of cavalry deploying from right to left across our rear. They are no mounted mob, but proud knights of the sabre, whose lines are swiftly enfolding us. They ride rapidly on, when, as if by magic, there rises from the thick grass a line of men, till this moment unseen, who with level muskets pour into their tanks a volley that sends them reeling back with many an empty saddle. To our delight and surprise it is the Forty-sixth Indiana, whose colonel, hearing the roar of battle, instantly formed his command, and waiting for no orders, with the instincts of a true soldier, had marched at double-quick, and halting for a moment to take breath, found this opportunity to save us from utter annihilation. We join these brave comrades and charge upon the line of gray and steel, with a cheer. A short sharp struggle with the bayonet, and they flee through our camp so swiftly that they find no time to disturb anything.

For two long miles we pursue them, then return to our camp, both humiliated by defeat and exultant by victory. The camp has been twice swept by the storm of battle. All are there, save many of our comrades—the bravest and best, who wounded or dead lie all around us in ghastly pools of blood. The wounded are sent to the rear for medical attention, and the dead—a fearful number—are gathered for burial. Those of the Ninety-sixth we place in a row in our camp, and, with hearts bowed down in sorrow, the living gaze upon their loved comrades,

“With the red rents in their bosoms,
And their young eyes closed on life.”

In the glimmering twilight we take our last look at the little yellow mounds as we march away for Carrion Crow Bayou.

The regiment returned to Algiers, opposite New Orleans, December 13th, and on the eighteenth embarked for Texas. March 1, 1864, it returned to Algiers and entered upon the Red River campaign under General Banks. The history of this ill-fated campaign cannot be repeated here. General Banks allowed his command to be beaten in detail. The battle of Sabine Cross roads was fought by Landrum’s division, numbering about two thousand men. These were compelled to fight the whole rebel army of twenty or thirty thousand men, and the division was nearly annihilated. The Ninety- sixth formed part of this division, and was under command of Lieutenant Colonel Brown; Colonel Vance commanding the brigade. The Ninety-sixth was guarding the wagon train until just before the battle commenced, when it was brought forward and placed in the advanced line where it fought gallantly, holding the enemy in check until almost surrounded, when with the rest of the division it was compelled to retreat. The retreat became a rout; the road being blocked up with army wagons, so that supports could not get up in time to prevent the disaster. The regiment here lost fifty-six men, killed, wounded and missing. Of company A, Barney McCulloch fell into the hands of the enemy; in company B the losses were: Jacob Feaster, wounded (afterwards died); William Kring, wounded; O. L. Wallace, killed, and Samuel Stokes and John C. Tressel, prisoners. The brave Colonel Vance lost his life here. Being in command of the brigade he was not near his regiment when the order for retreat came, and in looking for the Ninety-sixth, as the troops were falling back, he found himself alone and almost surrounded. As he galloped toward the rear he was halted by four rebels who were secreted in a clump of bushes; he defies them and attempts to escape; they fire, and the riderless horse dashes away. His body was afterward secured and sent to his home in Mt. Vernon for burial.

Captain Coulter, a brave and valuable officer of the Ninety-Sixth, was wounded in this battle, fell into the hands of the enemy, and subsequently died in a rebel hospital. In the terrible and ever memorable retreat to the Mississippi river, the Ninety-sixth was fighting and skirmishing most of the way.

The regiment went into camp at Morganza; from there to Baton Rouge, where it remained until the twentieth of July, when it proceeded to Algiers, from which point it embarked and landed on Dauphin’s island, Alabama, August 3, 1864. At this point the Ninety-sixth formed part of the forces in the siege of Fort Gaines up to its capitulation on the eighth of August. It then moved to the rear of Fort Morgan, and engaged in the siege of that fort until its capitulation, August 23rd.

On the first of September it moved back to Morganza, Louisiana; thence on November 1st, to the mouth of White river, Arkansas. By special order No. 21, the regiment was consolidated on the eighteenth of November, into four companies, and a company of about seventy-four men transferred from the Forty-second to the Ninety-sixth, making five companies, designated as the Ninety-sixth battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Brown, commanding.

The regiment remained at the mouth of White river until the fourth of February, when it moved to Kennersville, Louisiana; thence on the sixteenth, to Mobile Point. It was engaged in the operations around Mobile, taking part in the siege of the Spanish fort until its evacuation on the eighth of April, 1865, and in the capture of Mobile April 12, 1865. Shortly after the capture of Mobile, the regiment was sent on expeditions to Namahubbul Bluffs on the Tombigbee, and to Mclntosh Bluffs. On the ninth of May the regiment returned to Mobile, where it was mustered out of the service July 7, 1865, and embarked from that city for Camp Chase, Ohio, via New Orleans, Cairo and Cincinnati, where the men were paid off and sent to their homes. At the date of muster-out the regiment numbered four hundred and twenty seven, including the company transferred from the Forty-second.

The Ninety-sixth marched one thousand six hundred and eighty-three miles; was transported by boat seven thousand six hundred and eighty-six miles, and by railroad five hundred and seventeen miles, making a grand total of nine thousand eight hundred and eighty-six miles.

beginning page 321

History of Knox County Ohio, Its Past and Present, N.N. Hill, Jr, 1881, AA Graham & Co, Mt Vernon, Ohio

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