The 17th Missouri Volunteer Infantry Regiment was organized in St. Louis, Missouri in August 1861 by the German-American Turner Society. With its ranks filled by Turners recruited throughout the country, the regiment was known as the Western Turner Rifles. During the Civil War, the Western Turner Rifles was part of the "Light German Brigade" comprising the 3rd, 12th and 17th Missouri Regiments. The 17th Missouri was engaged from the earliest days of the Civil War marching from St. Louis to Georgia, fighting at Pea Ridge, Searcy Landing, Chickasaw Bluff, Arkansas Post, Jackson, Vicksburg, Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, Ringgold Gap, Resaca, Dallas, Atlanta, Ezra's Church, Jonesborough, Lovejoy Station and Savannah. After the Civil War, the men of the 17th Missouri returned to their homes in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and other German settlements throughout the United States. Many were active in the Grand Army of the Republic. In St. Louis, 17th Missouri veterans founded GAR Post 13 in honor of their commanding officer, Col. Franz Hassendeubel who died in combat at Vicksburg.
Almost one thousand men served in the 17th Missouri during the period 1861-1864.
The Western Turner Rifles StoryEdit
- The 17th Missouri Volunteer Infantry Regiment was formed at St. Louis in August 1861 by the St. Louis Turner Society, a German -American athletic and social organization. Under the leadership of Charles Stiefel and Frederick Leser, the St. Louis Turnverien placed its meeting hall in the hands of General Lyon, the Union military commander in St. Louis, and Col. Sigel, a former German officer. A new regiment known as the Western Turner Rifles was quickly recruited to serve for three years composed primarily of German-American officers and enlisted men from St. Louis who had previously served 90 day enlistments from May to August 1861 with the First, Second, Third and Fourth Missouri Regiments. These units fought under Brigadier General Lyon and Sigel at the capture of Ft. Jackson in St. Louis, the relief of St. Genevieve, Missouri and later in the summer at the battle of Wilson's Creek.
The Turner Society recommended Col. Franz Hassendeubel, Lt. Col. John Cramer, Major August Poten, Captain Frederick Leser and Lt. John Schenk as regimental officers. General Sigel proposed moving Turner Companies "A" "B" and "C" in Frank P. Blair's old First Missouri Regiment to the 17th, but Col. Blair was adamant in his desire to retain these German-American troops who had performed so well during the first three months of the war. However, many other veteran German -Americans answered the call to form a Turner Regiment. Capt. Francis Romer and fifteen members of the old 4th Missouri Regiment known as "Die Swartzen Jaeger" transferred directly to Company "C" of the Western Turner Rifles. Promotions encouraged many to join the new Turner Regiment. Christian Hinterberger who had served as a private in the Fourth Regiment, was promoted to corporal upon enlistment in "C" Company of the 17th. James F. Mallinckrodt who had served as a corporal in the old Third Missouri was promoted to Sgt. of "H" Company, 17th Missouri.
In addition to these 90 day veterans, the 17th Missouri Volunteer Infantry recruited German-Americans through the Turner Society chapters around the country. Capt. Leser was sent to Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit on a recruiting tour. The St. Louis Turners were in correspondence with the Turners of Cincinnati and Philadelphia. Through the efforts of the German Turnveriens many recruits arrived in St. Louis over the next few weeks including one whole company from Philadelphia that became "I" Company. The muster-in rolls for the 17th Missouri show that members of the Turner Society came from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois to join their comrades in St. Louis.
The 17th Missouri Regiment's commanding officer, Major Franz Hassendeubel was St. Louis City Engineer when the Civil War erupted. He had been instrumental in the Turner Society in St. Louis and along with Franz Sigel had been secretly training Turner Society members in anticipation of the outbreak of war. Hassendeubel had served in the U.S. Army as an artillery officer during the Mexican War. He had a distinguished military career serving under General Steven Kearney during the movement of U.S. forces from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to Santa Fe in August, 1846. He participated in the battle of Taos, New Mexico entering the city as head of U.S. forces and accepting the surrender of the Mexican garrison. As city Engineer, Hassendeubel helped to design and construct ten earthen forts and seven artillery batteries around St. Louis shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War.These fortifications protected the exposed western flank of the city stretching from Hyde Park on the north side, along Grand and Jefferson Boulevards to the Naval Hospital on the south side. Several other officers in the 17th had military experience. Lt. Col. Cramer and Major Poten were also Mexican War veterans who had served with distinction.
The 17th Missouri formed part of a brigade commanded by Colonel Peter Osterhaus, another former German officer with experience in the 1848 German revolution. Osterhaus, from Belleville, Illinois, was a friend of Sigel and Hassendeubel's and encouraged German-Americans in Belleville to join the Missouri regiments. Osterhaus' brigade was known as the German brigade because three fourths of the soldiers serving in the brigade's 3rd, 12th and 17th Missouri Regiments were German -Americans. Osterhaus' Brigade was attached to the Army of the West commanded by General Fremont whose headquarters was in St. Louis. Fremont was a special friend of the German-American community because of their shared support of the Free Soil Movement and opposition to the nativist Know Nothing Party. The German-Americans voted for Fremont when he ran for President in 1856 on an anti-slavery platform.
On September 25, 1861, the Western Turner Rifles were ordered to Sedalia, Missouri to protect the vital railroad center from destruction by rebel General Price. During the winter months, Hassendeubel's troops patrolled deep into rebel controlled Southwest Missouri, operating from their base camp in Rolla. Here the Western Turner Rifles received basic infantry training using Hardee's Infantry Tactics Manual. It was during this time that Osterhaus and Hassendeubel organized the 3rd, 12th, and 17th Missouri Regiments, now constituting the First Brigade, First Division, Army of the Southwest, into a fast moving fighting unit that was to become known as the "Light German Brigade." These regiments would fight together throughout the war and gain a reputation for endurance on the march and toughness in battle.
The first test of the Light German Brigade was at the battle of Pea Ridge fought in March 1862 in Northwestern Arkansas. Confederate President Jefferson Davis harbored the belief that St. Louis was the key to separating the far West from the Union by controlling the Mississippi River. Davis dispatched Confederate forces from Missouri, Arkansas and Texas under General Van Dorn to rally in Arkansas for an attack on St. Louis while Confederate forces under General Albert Sidney Johnson were to move up the east bank of the Mississippi to attack the Union strong point at Cairo, Illinois.
General Halleck, headquartered in St. Louis, now in overall command of all Union forces west of the Mississippi, assigned General Samuel R. Curtis to personally lead the Army of the Southwest into battle against Confederate Divisions led by Generals Price of Missouri, Van Dorn of Arkansas and McCullogh from Texas. Curtis, a Mexican War veteran from Iowa was a capable officer who had assembled a loyal staff and aggressive field commanders. Curtis led his Army of the Southwest through rebel held Springfield, Missouri and into Northwest Arkansas where they met Van Dorn's army at Pea Ridge. On March 5, Companies "A" and "C" of the 17th were attached to Major Conrad's 15th Missouri and sent on a long reconnaissance west into the Indian Territory in search of Indian Cavalry operating under command of Confederate General Pike. The next day the 17th Missouri marched to Sugar Creek halting five miles from Bentonville. A messenger brought news that the enemy had circled around and attacked Curtis from the rear causing much confusion. Immediately Major Poten was dispatched to Curtis' headquarters for instructions leaving Capt. Niegemann in charge. Major Poten returned with orders to join Osterhaus' First Division at Bentonville.
Two companies from the 15th Missouri were attached to Poten's command to replace "A" and "C" Companies. On Friday March 7, the Western Turner Rifles remained in camp on the bluffs overlooking the Little Sugar Creek Valley until about noon when General Sigel ordered a general advance against the rebel lines at Camp Stephens near the junction of Little Sugar Creek Road and the Bentonville Detour Road. Major Poten's command consisted of the 17th Regiment Missouri Volunteers, two companies from the 15th Missouri, two companies of Benton's Hussars, two companies of the 3rd Missouri and two pieces of artillery from the First Missouri Flying Battery. Poten led his force forward about five miles where he encountered the main rebel force on a hill to the right of the Bentonville Road. Unknown to Poten, Camp Stephens held the Confederate supply wagons. After his artillery shelled the hill, Poten ordered the Benton Hussars to attack but fire from three rebel artillery pieces drove them back with one man severely injured. Poten's command was ordered back to Sigel's position near Elkhorn Tavern where it spent a quiet night.
On the morning of the 8th, Curtis lined his army up facing the rebel divisions at Elkhorn Tavern. The 17th was on the extreme left behind a split rail fence along Cox's field. After a two-hour artillery duel that did much damage to the Confederate forces, Curtis gave Sigel orders to attack with his two divisions across Cox's field, drive the rebel artillery from the rocky hill at the base of Big Mountain and charge the rebel position at Elkhorn Tavern . At about 10:00 a.m., Curtis gave the command to advance and the 10,000 men of the Army of the Southwest rose up in one continuous line with bayonets fixed to assault an equal number of Confederates. As the 17th Missouri raced across the open ground, Gen.Van Dorn sensing his army was defeated ordered a general retreat leaving much of his supply train and artillery behind.
After two days of intense fighting during which German-American units led by General Sigel played a leading role, the Army of the Southwest drove the Confederates from the field and effectively destroyed Southern plans to hold Missouri for the Confederacy. The Battle of Pea Ridge was the most significant engagement fought west of the Mississippi during the Civil War. The 17th Missouri led by Major Poten played an important role during the second day of the battle participating in the bayonet charge that drove the rebels from the field. The German-American troops were proud of their achievements and were often heard to say, "I fight mit Sigel." The Western Turner Regiment's losses were eight missing, presumed dead, and two wounded.
- After the Battle of Pea Ridge, General Halleck was anxious to exploit the Union victory by taking control of Arkansas. Halleck ordered the Army of the Southwest to march on Little Rock intent on installing General Curtis as military governor. Crossing into Arkansas in early April, Curtis was reinforced at Jacksonport by a division sized force from southeast Missouri led by Gen. Steele. When Van Dorn and Price abandoned Arkansas to the advancing Federals and moved their armies into Tennessee, Halleck directed Curtis to move eastward to assist in an attack on Memphis, Tennessee. When lack of roads made movement toward Memphis impossible, Halleck ordered Curtis to send half of his force to Cape Girardeau, Missouri for assignment to Grant's army operating in Tennessee. Curtis reorganized the Army of the Southwest into three divisions with the First Division placed under Gen. Steele, the Second Division under Gen. Carr and the Third Division under Col. Osterhaus. The Light German Brigade led by Col. Hassendeubel was redesignated as the First Brigade of the Third Division. Lt. Col. Cramer continued as acting commander the 17th, a role he had played almost continuously since leaving St. Louis.
Curtis resumed his march on Little Rock with Colonel Osterhaus' 3rd Division crossing the Little Red River near Searcy Landing in early May. Once across the Little Red River, rebel activity picked up considerably. The 17th Missouri got a lesson in guerrilla warfare at the hands of the 12th Texas Rangers and local militia who had boasted that they, "Would butcher those damn Dutch." On May 19, a two hundred fifty man foraging party led by Major Klielmansegge commanding a detachment of the 4th Missouri Cavalry and Captain Wilhelmi the commanding officer of Company G of the 17th Missouri headed south beyond the Union lines in search of much needed forage. The foraging party comprised several wagons under Quartermaster Adolph Boettscher and portions of Companies F under Lieutenant Fischer, G under Lieutenant Schmidt and H under 2nd Lieutenant Henry Neun. A part of the foraging party was caught in the open while returning to Searcy Landing by a one hundred and fifty man rebel cavalry patrol led by Major Emory Rogers of the 12th Texas Rangers and a local cavalry company led by Captain William Hicks. Sweeping down the Searcy to West Point Road the rebel cavalry armed with pistols, sabers and shotguns first cut through Company H positioned along the road with the forage wagons then chased the survivors into the nearby woods where Lieutenant Fischer had positioned his infantry from Company F. After a sharp engagement Lieutenant Fischer attempted to surrender his command but was shot down with most of his men by the rampaging rebel cavalry. Before the rebel cavalry could finish their bloody work of killing the wounded men of Companies H and F, Captain Wilhelmi with Company G, some of Major Klielmansegge's cavalry and a relief column sent from the Union camp drove the rebels from the field. During these engagements the 17th Missouri lost 14 killed and 37 wounded.
Curtis aware that his supply lines north into Missouri were vulnerable, decided to push his army down the White River where he expected to be resupplied before moving against Little Rock. After Union victories on the Mississippi at Island Number 10 and at Memphis, Halleck attempted to resupply Curtis in Arkansas by sending transports guarded by gunboats up the White River. One of the resupply expeditions was attacked and a gunboat damaged when a rebel shell caused the steam boiler to explode killing and wounding most of the crew. Curtis' operations along the White River stretched into July 1862, but finally stalled at Clarendon about 90 miles east of Little Rock due to lack of supplies, rebel cavalry raids, and intense flooding that washed out bridges. Before reaching Clarendon, the 12th and 16th Texas Cavalry Regiments on July 6 attempted without success to cut off Curtis while crossing the Cache River. Brig. Gen. Charles E. Hovey made a name for himself that day by leading his inexperienced 33rd Illinois Regiment in a counterattack against the poorly led Texas Rangers. After waiting for resupply at Clarendon for several days, Curtis abandoned plans to take Little Rock and marched eastward to Helena, Arkansas. From his base at Helena, General Curtis's army presented a formidable force well positioned on the Mississippi River to strike any rebel army that dared return to Arkansas.
During the late summer and fall of 1862, the Army of the Southwest constituted the principal mobile force in General Halleck's riverine strategy. When Gen. Curtis returned to St. Louis, General Steele was put in charge of all troops at Helena, designated as the District of Eastern Arkansas, Department of Missouri. From its base in Helena, Steele's regiments could be transported by riverboats on the Mississippi to various hot spots in Missouri and Arkansas. The 17th Missouri operated more like contemporary U.S. Marines than traditional infantry troops. Whenever it appeared that a rebel army was massing along the Mississippi from Missouri to Arkansas, General Halleck would telegraph Steele at Helena to mount up the troops and send them off on the riverboats to counter the rebel movements. Some of the 17th's notable expeditions were to the mouth of the White River in Arkansas, and to Ironton, Pilot Knob and St. Genevieve, Missouri. The men of the 17th considered this the quietest period of their Civil War service and lived quite well on the riverboats as compared to their comrades who were slugging it out in the mud at Fort Donelson, Shiloh and Corinth on the east side of the Mississippi under the leadership of General Grant.
The upcoming November, 1862 Congressional elections influenced President Lincoln's handling of military operations in the Western Theatre. Lincoln was not so much concerned with a major victory in the Trans-Mississippi Theatre as he was with avoiding the loss of political supporters for the Union Cause in the western border states like Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee. He instructed his commanders to respect the private property rights of supporters and rebels alike unless military necessity required otherwise. This admonition even extended to interfering with slavery in those states. Lincoln had ordered Gen. Fremont to revoke his proclamation of August 30, 1861 which imposed military control over the government of Missouri, authorized the confiscation of rebel private property and freed slaves owned by Confederate supporters. When Fremont attempted to stir up opposition to the President's order, Lincoln had him removed in spite of strong pressure from the German-American community in St. Louis. Lincoln gained support for his moderate policies by telling his Abolitionist supporters about the Union company composed of Kentucky recruits that had gone home upon learning of Fremont's proclamation.
Some military commanders including Gen. Steele took notice of the abolitionist zeal on the part of the German-American troops. In a letter to General Halleck on November 1, 1861 Steele reported that, " The German Regiments of my command are to be kept here [Helena] until after the election --Osterhaus' Division. They are Abolitionists and are probably to vote for Blow rather than Blair. This was told to me by an unsophisticated German officer." Although Steele allowed state election commissioners to come into his camps to count the votes cast by his German-American units, he would not allow them to return home to vote. As expected, most of the men of the German Brigade cast their votes for Blow, the Radical Republican Congressional candidate from St. Louis. Steele professed to be unconcerned with the radical Republican views of his German-American units, but since taking command of Osterhaus' troops, he had favored his moderate Republican and Democratic friends from Iowa with commands and promotions over the German -American officers from St. Louis. Later Blair would contest the election results claiming that many non-citizens voted in the election.
- In December 1862, General Steele's units were made part of General Sherman's Yazoo Expeditionary Corps. The 17th under Colonel Hassendeubel was part of the Second Brigade now commanded by, Brigadier General Charles E. Hovey. Hovey's Brigade comprised part of the Fourth Division under General Steele. From December 22 until January 3, 1863, the 17th Missouri was engaged in riverine operations on the Yazoo River which is located in the low, swampy delta area of Northwestern Mississippi. This operation was designed to support General Grant's efforts to strike overland from Holly Springs in northern Mississippi down to Vicksburg. The 17th Missouri was heavily engaged at Chickasaw Bayou in efforts to dislodge Confederate forces from their position overlooking the Yazoo River immediately south of Vicksburg. General Sherman three times tried frontal assaults against the well fortified rebels which resulted in over one thousand five hundred Union casualties. The 17th Missouri was in position for a fourth assault when bad weather and flooding forced the cancellation of the attack. The 17th Missouri escaped relatively unscathed with the loss of three men killed and five wounded. The Yazoo expedition was called off after Sherman learned that rebel General Van Dorn had successfully destroyed Grant's Holly Springs supply base forcing Grant to cancel the overland attack on Vicksburg.
Public reaction to Grant and Sherman's failed campaign convinced President Lincoln to turn over operations on the Mississippi to General McClernand, a friend and fellow politician from Illinois. When Sherman's Yazoo Expeditionary Corps returned to base camp at Helena, Arkansas, it was reorganized by McClernand and made a part of the new Department of Tennessee. The Second Brigade now comprised the 25th and 31st Iowa Regiments, the 3rd, 12th, and 17th Missouri Regiments, and the 76 Ohio Regiment and was assigned to the First Division, led by General Steele. The First Division was part of the XV Corps under General Sherman and constituted the Right Wing of General McClernand's Army of the Mississippi. The Army of the Mississippi was an independent maneuver unit in the Department of Tennessee reporting directly to Major General Halleck rather than Major General Grant.
The cancellation of Grant's overland attack on Vicksburg gave General Halleck an opportunity to use McClernand's thirty thousand man Army of the Mississippi to reduce Fort Hindman located at Arkansas Post, Arkansas near the mouth of the Arkansas River. The square earthen fort over one hundred yards on each side with sloping walls almost fifteen feet high was considered impregnable by the rebels. Confederate Gen. Thomas J. Churchill commanding at Fort Hindman had five thousand Confederate troops in the vicinity. In January 1863, the Army of the Mississippi was loaded on eighty riverboats and sailed down to Arkansas Post. In a two-day effort, Fort Hindman's garrison and supporting artillery were reduced by a severe artillery bombardment by General Porter's gunboats. The Army of the Mississippi was put ashore and night marched through the swamps in order to get into position to attack the fortress. McClernand's forces invested the rebel fortifications after a sharp fight with the Confederate troops. The 17th Missouri was engaged in a significant skirmish southeast of Fort Hindman in the vicinity of the rebel camp located outside the fortress losing five killed and six wounded. Fort Hindman surrendered as the Federals were preparing a massed frontal assault on the fortress which would have dramatically increased Union casualties which amounted to 134 killed and 898 wounded.
After the reduction of Fort Hindman, the Army of the Mississippi moved its camp down river from Helena, Arkansas to Young's Point, Louisiana and was attached to the Army of the Tennessee under General Grant. The 17th Missouri would remain with the Army of the Tennessee for the remainder of the war. Grant's Army was composed of the XIII Corps under McClernand, XV Corps commanded by Sherman and the XVII Corps that would be commanded by McPherson. Grant had moved McClernand and Sherman's troops to Young's Point, Louisiana in anticipation of his effort to reach Vicksburg through the bayou country in Louisiana across from the Vicksburg fortress. General Steele's Division and the 17th Missouri were engaged initially in efforts to cut a ship canal across the horseshoe bend in the Mississippi River below Vicksburg to allow Admiral Porter's gunboats and troop transports to pass out of range of the rebel artillery on the heights at Vicksburg. Colonel Hassendeubel used his engineering skills to help direct efforts on the canal project. When the canal failed to work, General Grant used his troops at Young's Point in a series of diversionary raids north of Vicksburg to confuse Confederate General Pemberton, commanding at Vicksburg, as to Grant's true intentions.
In late April 1863, General Grant began moving troops on foot through the swampy Louisiana bayou country in order to approach Vicksburg from the south by crossing the Mississippi River at Bruinsberg, Louisiana. To carry out Grant's plan to deceive Pemberton, Sherman's Fifteenth Corps, which included the 17th Missouri, made diversionary raids north of Vicksburg at Greenville, Black Bayou, Deer Creek, and Haines and Drumgould's Bluffs, Mississippi. By the time the 17th Missouri was pulled back from the attack on Haines and Drumgould's Bluffs, the advance units of General Grant's Army of the Tennessee had crossed the Mississippi River and had captured Port Gibson, Mississippi. In order to catch up with Grant's fast moving column, General Sherman night-marched his XV Corps briskly along the muddy roads through the Louisiana swamps west of the Mississippi. Men of the l7th Missouri long remembered the candle lit trek through the swamps that night.
The XV Corps brought up the rear of Grant's attacking army, crossing the Mississippi at Bruinsberg on May 7, 1863 and marched northeast to Grand Gulf. The regiment with the rest of Steele's Division departed Grand Gulf on May 8 marching 18 miles to the Big Black River at Hankinson's Ferry where a pontoon bridge had been constructed across the river. The 17th's first action of the campaign occurred about 10 o'clock on May 11 when the 17th Missouri came to the aid of Union Cavalry that had run into a rebel ambush while forcing a crossing of Fourteen Mile Creek near Raymond. Sherman who was nearby at the time, ordered the 2nd Brigade now led by Col. Charles R. Woods to clear the creek so his column could move forward. After Capt. Landgraeber's Company F, 2nd Missouri Light Artillery fired five or six shells into the rebel lines, the 17th under command of Maj. Romer crossed the creek in line of battle followed by the 12th Missouri. Supporting fire was provided by the 3rd Missouri on the right and the 31st Iowa on the left. The 17th was exposed to deadly fire during the crossing, but attacked the rebels in the dense underbrush on the far side and succeeded in driving them from their hiding places. The 17th lost four men killed and six wounded. On the 12th of May the 17th Missouri encountered skirmishers from the rebel blocking force and Private Gottlieb Dietzman was severely wounded in the right arm. Surgeons removed his arm on the battlefield and left him in the care of his son Fredrick, the drummer for Company A. Later they were captured by Confederate Cavalry and held in Jackson until Grant returned in July. Gottlieb was evacuated and discharged but Fred continued as the drummer for Company A.
Sherman's XV Corps passed Raymond on the 13th missing the major engagement of the previous day and raced to the state Capital. The 17th Missouri part of General Steele's Division was in the vanguard of Sherman's XV Corps during the march to Jackson and fought in the front lines during the attack on May 14. Steele's Division linked up with the 95th Ohio following the tracks of the New Orleans, Jackson& Great Northern RR to drive Task Force Thompson out of their entrenchments on Lynch Creek and capture the rebel battery holding up the advance. After taking Jackson, the 17th Missouri was detailed to burn Confederate commercial buildings in the capital and destroy the vital SouthernRailway leading to Vicksburg. The 17th helped to burn a cotton factory, two foundries, and an extensive workshop used to produce artillery caissons and gun-carriages.The railway was destroyed by tearing up the tracks, stacking the iron rails on piles of wooden ties and burning them. When the rails were still hot, they were bent around trees. The soldiers referred to the bent rails as "Sherman's neckties." Some five miles of tracks were destroyed as well as a large bridge across the Pearl River. In spite of written orders to spare civilian property, Union troops ransacked and burned many homes and private property giving the citizens of Jackson reason to long remember the union visit to their city.
Sherman's XV Corps was ordered to march back to Walnut Hills north of Vicksburg arriving on May 17. During their march from Jackson the 17th Missouri provided flank security and missed the big battles at Champion's Hill and Big Black River Bridge. Sherman's approach to Vicksburg was severely contested by Pemberton's rebel forces fighting from trench lines encircling Vicksburg. The rebel defenders of Vicksburg poured a murderous fire on the approaching army forcing the men of the 17th to literally crawl on their hands and knees up the ridge line facing the rebel trenches. Captain Landgraber's Company F, 2nd Missouri Light Artillery gained fame that day for his gallant charge across the exposed ridge line in spite of intense enemy fire earning the nickname, " The Flying Dutchman." After the day long fight, the 17th found themselves just two miles from Vicksburg. The brigade was on the extreme right of Sherman's position north of Vicksburg with their line stretching from the banks of the Mississippi River inland several hundred yards to the vital Yazoo City road. That night Pemberton sent rebel patrols to probe the 17th Missouri lines across the Yazoo City road in order to determine whether his encircled army could escape. After a brief firefight the rebel unit retired to their trenches and reported to Pemberton that the Federals had indeed cut off their communications to the north.
On the morning of the 18th, the 2nd Brigade awoke to find the enemy had evacuated their position and fallen back toward Vicksburg, leaving their camps and equipment. Col. Woods ordered the regiments of his brigade forward and occupied a hill about 500 yards from the rebel lines. The Confederate position was strongly posted with a dozen siege guns in position, covered by strong earthworks. Only a low swampy stream known as Mint Springs Bayou separated the Union and the rebel lines. The 17th Missouri, under the leadership of Colonel Hassendeubel, built some of the strongest entrenchments along the Union line encircling Vicksburg to protect themselves from rebel fire. From their trenches, the men of the 17th were exposed to constant rifle and artillery fire from the rebel line located to their front. Beyond the first rebel line of trenches, Fort Hill looked down on the 17th's position providing enemy gunners with a clear field of fire. In the distance, the Confederate Stars and Bars flying above the Vicksburg Courthouse was plainly visible to Sgt. Hinterberger and the other men of the 17th providing a constant reminder that much hard fighting remained.
Grant had ordered frontal assaults on the rebel entrenchments for the 18th. Col. Hassendeubel's troops were not involved in the first assault. When these uncoordinated attacks failed, Grant ordered a concentrated attack on May 22. Sherman chose General Steele's Division to make the assault in his sector. General Steele selected a position in front of Thayer's Iowans not far from the 17th's trenches to launch his attack against the rebel strong points on the other side of Mint Springs Bayou known as the 26th Louisiana Redoubt. Simply getting into position to make the attack was a bloody ordeal with over fifty officers and men lost in the movement. The Union regiments selected to lead the attack were not optimistic about their chances of breaching the well prepared defenses. Referring to their mission as a "forlorn hope", the assaulting regiments from the 2nd and 3rd Brigades of Sherman's First Division charged valiantly across Mint Spring Bayou and up the steep hill to the Confederate line with only a few reaching the enemy works. So intense was the rebel fire the brave soldiers that reached the enemy parapets were forced to spend the long hours before nightfall crouching in shallow holes scooped out with their hands until darkness allowed retreat. The 17th was the last regiment in line scheduled to make the assault that day. After seeing their comrades in the 25th Iowa and 12th Missouri cut down before the rebel fortifications, Lt. Col. Cramer decided to move his regiment through the woods on the left to a position half way up the slope where they could provide covering fire to protect the withdrawal of the lead regiments. That night, a truce was declared to allow the Union dead and wounded to be retrieved from the killing grounds along Mint Spring Bayou. The failure of Sherman's attack like all the others made up and down the battle line that day convinced Grant that Vicksburg would only fall when hunger forced surrender.
During the siege of Vicksburg, the men of the 17th Missouri were subject to daily rebel artillery and small arms attacks from Fort Hill, located to their front and the highest point on the Confederate defensive line. The scorching summer heat and constant sniping made for long days on both sides. The noise from the artillery duels was deafening; Lt. Mallinckrodt and many others suffered permanent partial hearing loss as a result. The 17th's lines contained three Union artillery batteries. In addition to Landgraber's Flying Battery and Hoffman's 4th Ohio Battery, the 17th protected Selfridge's battery of naval guns salvaged from the Union gunboat Cincinnati. At least once every day, Grant ordered all batteries to fire continuous salvos at the rebel strong points and supply depots in order to disrupt Pemberton's communications, weaken the morale of his troops and allow Union reconnaissance parties to probe the rebel defensive positions.
It was during one of these bombardments on June 28, 1863 that Brevet Brig. Gen. Hassendeubel, acting 2nd Brigade Commander, was fatally wounded by a hand grenade while leading a reconnaissance party near the front lines. He expired after lingering for several days and his family had his body returned to St. Louis where a large crowd attended his burial at Bellfontaine Cemetery. The German -American community was joined in mourning by all of the loyal element of St. Louis. He was the highest ranking Union officer from St. Louis to lose his life in the struggle since General Lyon was killed at Wilson's Creek during the earliest days of the war. His second in command, Lt. Colonel John F. Cramer was given command with the support of the officers of the regiment. Cramer had been with the 17th Missouri since the unit was organized and had been in charge at the unfortunate skirmish at Searcy Landing where the l7th suffered its highest single day losses of the war. Although Cramer was an accomplished soldier who was fluent in English, he lacked Hassendeubel's personal touch with the troops and his leadership would be questioned.
On July 4, 1863, Vicksburg surrendered. Pemberton's army laid down their arms and marched out of Vicksburg accompanied by Grant's Provost Marshall who quickly arranged to parole those who pledged to refrain from future Confederate war efforts. After the surrender ceremony, the men of the 17th Missouri were freed from the tension of combat and enjoyed a peaceful morning strolling the streets of Vicksburg. The rebel sulters in Vicksburg were quick to change sides and sold Confederate equipment to the victorious Yankees as souvenirs of their long campaign. During their short visit, many old friendships were rekindled with Missourians who had fought with the Confederate units at Vicksburg. During the thirty-seven day siege the 17th Missouri had lost four men and officers killed, nine wounded and one missing.
Later that day, General Grant organized a large force including most of Sherman's XV Corps to move back to Jackson to drive rebel General Joe Johnson out of the Vicksburg area. During the next few weeks, the 17th Missouri was hotly engaged in battles at Jackson, Bolton Depot, Briar Creek and Canton, Mississippi. The two week expedition to Jackson succeeded in pushing out the last Confederate Army operating in Mississippi and assured Vicksburg peace and security for the rest of the war.
On July 19, 1863, Sherman's Army of the Tennessee went into camp near the Big Black River Bridge several miles east of Vicksburg. Here the 17th rested after the long campaign. Most of the officers and men were given thirty day furloughs to return to their families in St. Louis. Sgt. Christian Hinterberger left with the early draft in recognition of his faithful service. The furlough party took a steamboat from the Vicksburg pier directly to St. Louis arriving during the first week in August. Christian was reunited with Maria, his wife and his three-year-old son, Samuel. For the next month Christian and his family became reacquainted after his two-year absence. Maria and the other regimental wives arranged for parties and get togethers at Turner Hall and Jaeger Gardens where the men of the Western Turner Rifles Regiment told stories of their experiences since leaving St. Louis. Few were anxious to return to the heat and sickness in the Vicksburg camps and several delayed departure beyond the day when they could reasonably expect to get back to camp before their furlough ended. It was a sad day for Christian and the other furlough men when they departed St. Louis. When they returned, Lt. Col. Cramer put some on report for unauthorized absence, but higher commands let it be known that no court martial would be convened to hear the charges.
- When the men of the 17th returned from their furloughs, they were pleased to learn that on September 1, 1863 Brigadier General Osterhaus would be reassuming command of the 1st Division, XV Corps, Army of the Tennessee. General Osterhaus' request to be relieved of command of the Ninth Division of the XIII Corps and restored to command of the First Division had been granted by General Sherman as part of the reorganization of McClernand's command. Osterhaus reported to Maj. Gen. Frank P. Blair, from St. Louis who had taken command of the XV Corps when Sherman was given command of the Army of the Tennessee. Osterhaus appointed Col. Charles R. Woods, formerly commander of the Second Brigade to lead the First Brigade that was composed of the 3rd, 12th, 17th, 27th, 29th, 31st and 32nd Missouri Regiments as well as the 13th Illinois and 76th Ohio. Captain Landgraeber's Independent Missouri Battery was also added and redesignated Company F, 2nd Missouri Artillery Regiment.
The men of the 17th Missouri also learned that Union forces at Chattanooga had suffered a disastrous defeat at Chickamauga on September 20 when Union Gen. Rosecrans' Army of the Cumberland had been torn apart by Confederates under Gen. Bragg. The costly rebel victory left Rosecrans' with a perilous grip on Chattanooga. Besieged by Bragg's Confederate Army, and with no hope of immediate help from Grant's troops at Vicksburg, President Lincoln called an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss Federal options. Lincoln and Stanton agreed to promote Grant to command of all Union Forces in the West and to send additional divisions to Grant's new command. Lincoln was persuaded by officials of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad that Union troops from the Army of the Potomac could reach Chattanooga over a roundabout route faster than Grant could move his army from Vicksburg. Lincoln decided to move troops both from Vicksburg and Virginia to save the Army of the Cumberland and drive General Bragg out of Tennessee.
Lincoln ordered Major General Joseph Hooker to bring the XI and XII Corps from commands in the Army of the Potomac to support Grant's plans to relieve Chattanooga. Within a week of the cabinet meeting, the B&O Railroad began moving General Hooker's 20,000 man relief force with their horses, wagons and heavy guns from Washington, D. C. to Benwood, West Virginia then westward across the Ohio River at Louisville, Kentucky then easterly to Nashville, Tennessee and finally south to Chattanooga. The B&O Railroad had estimated that the movement would take two weeks, but in only eleven days Hooker's XX Corps joined Sherman's Army of the Tennessee near Chattanooga.
On October 19, 1863 General Sherman began his movement from Vicksburg to the relief of the Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga. The 17th Missouri and the rest of Osterhaus' Division was moved from their encampment along the Big Black River to Vicksburg then embarked by boat to Memphis, Tennessee. The 1st Division was shipped out by rail cars to Corinth and ordered to camp at Clear Creek awaiting Major General Sherman and the remainder of the XV Corps. On October 25, the 1st and 2nd Divisions were ordered forward to Tuscumbia, Alabama where Confederate Cavalry controlled the road and railway lines to Chattanooga. Over the next few weeks, Osterhaus' Division skirmished constantly with Confederate cavalry brigades led by Lee, Roddy, Col. Forrest and Ferguson. On October 26, 1863, Osterhaus' Division engaged Col. Forrest's cavalry at Cane Creek. The 17th Missouri and other regiments of the 1st Brigade were sent forward to secure a position on Osterhaus' right flank. Col. Forrest personally led four hundred of his best troops to attack the Light German Brigade. After an intense firefight, the rebel cavalry withdrew when Forrest, the brother of famed General Forrest was severely wounded by a mini ball that passed through both thighs.
After Osterhaus dispersed the Confederate cavalry, Sherman's Army of the Tennessee marched over bad roads from Tuscumbia to Chattanooga in order to rally with Grant's other forces assembling in the mountains across the Tennessee River from Chattanooga. Grant's plan called for Sherman to move north of Chattanooga, cross the Tennessee River at Brown's Ferry and assault General Bragg's Confederate Army on Missionary Ridge. However, on November 23, the First Division under General Osterhaus, including the 17th Missouri, were unable to cross the Tennessee River due to destruction of the temporary pontoon bridge at Brown's Ferry that had been constructed to ferry troops across the river. General Osterhaus' First Division was therefore attached to the nearby Twentieth Corps commanded by General "Fighting Joe" Hooker.
On the eve of battle, the 17th Missouri while on picket duty along the west side of Lookout Creek, carried on a lively exchange with the rebel pickets on the other side. Some of the Union and Confederate troops even met at the creek during the night while on water detail. As morning approached, a rebel soldier was filling his canteen when General Osterhaus gave the order to advance. One of the 17th Missouri pickets yelled out; "Go back, Johnny. We are coming across!" This signaled the beginning of the battle that would drive Confederate forces out of Tennessee and lead to glory for Grant's Army and the Light German Brigade.
For the next three days, the First Division operated as part of General Hooker's XX Corps and played a pivotal role in the Battle for Chattanooga. On September 24, Hooker's Corps including Osterhaus's First Division assaulted and captured Lookout Mountain, the highest fortified position to be taken by assault during the war. The battle on Lookout Mountain was observed by newspaper reporters assembled at Grant's command post on Orchard Knob. As the battle progressed, a storm moved in blanketing Lookout Mountain with rain and mist. From time to time the fog would disperse allowing a clear view of Hooker's progress up the mountain. As night fell the flashes of gunfire and exploding artillery shells marked the progress of the battle. That night, a full eclipse of the moon was seen by the men of Grant's army as a good omen. By first light the Union forces assembled before Missionary Ridge saw the Stars and Stripes floating above the clouds sending roars of approval through the ranks. Union newspapers quickly dispatched news of Fighting Joe Hooker's victory at Lookout Mountain calling it," The Battle above the Clouds." Although it was not the most hard fought engagement at Chattanooga, Hooker's victory on the first day of battle captured the imagination of the public and undoubtedly inspired the Union troops during the hard fighting that followed.
The next day November 25, Sherman's Army of the Tennessee initiated the battle with an attack at Tunnel Hill on the left side of Missionary Ridge, General Thomas led the Army of the Cumberland in a frontal assault on the center, and Hooker moved his 100,000 man force across Chattanooga Creek to attack on the right near Rossville. General Bragg had repositioned his troops concentrating on Sherman's assault while weakening the center and Rossville Gap. After being held up for almost three hours while a bridge was constructed across Chattanooga Creek, General Osterhaus' First Division troops were first to reach Missionary Ridge at Rossville. The 17th Missouri was deployed as pickets as the column approached Rossville. When a rebel battery took the 17th under fire, Osterhaus ordered the regiment to assault the ridge line on the right side of the Rossville Gap to clear out rebel sharpshooters protecting the battery. The 17th gained the ridge line and after crossing through the gap with minimal resistance, assaulted up Missionary Ridge from the reverse side.
Osterhaus' quick movement caught the rebel defenders by surprise driving Confederate Generals Stewart's and Bate's troops from their positions. Osterhaus, watching the action on Missionary Ridge shouted encouragement to his troops telling them, " We have them in a pen." The 17th Missouri captured a small knoll behind Missionary Ridge and provided security for Landgraber's Flying Battery. From this position Landgraber brought fire on the reverse slope of Missionary Ridge helping to drive Stewart's and Bate's Divisions from their positions and many units to surrender in mass to Hooker's troops. Osterhaus Division corraled almost a thousand fleeing rebels and several cannon and at least one regimental flag. By nightfall, the 17th had helped clear the reverse of Missionary Ridge of all remaining rebels and set up camp at General Bragg's old Headquarters. That night while the 17th celebrated, General Bragg's Confederate units straggled across Chickamauga Creek and headed for Georgia through Ringgold Gap.
The next morning November 26, while Sherman and Thomas' troops recovered on the slopes of Missionary Ridge, Hooker's Twentieth Corps, again with Osterhaus's division in the lead, pursued General Bragg's retreating army into the tiny village of Ringgold, Georgia. Another ridge line slightly higher and steeper than Missionary Ridge rose up about six hundred yards beyond the Ringgold railroad depot that was being used by Bragg to transport his retreating army. The high rugged ridge between 350 and 400 feet high formed by White Oak Mountain on the left and Taylor's Ridge on the right is split by a heavily wooded valley containing a wagon road and railroad grade running along the banks of South Chickamauga Creek which flows into Georgia. As night fell, Hooker's long range artillery took the Ringgold railroad depot under fire as his troops skirmished with rebel units desperately retreating through Ringgold Gap to safety behind Taylor's Ridge.
On the morning of November 27 after spending a frigid night sleeping on their weapons in the open fields outside Ringgold, Osterhaus' division waded the freezing waters of West Chickamauga Creek and entered the village of Ringgold hot on the heels of Confederate General Patrick Cleburne's rear guard division. Cleburne's troops were the best in Bragg's Army having bloodied Sherman at Tunnel Hill and prevented the Army of the Tennessee from overrunning rebel defenses on the left of Missionary Ridge. General Bragg had given Cleburne the unenviable role of slowing down Hooker's pursuing force to allow Bragg to evacuate his tattered army to Georgia through Ringgold Gap. Cleburne arriving in Ringgold less than an hour ahead of Osterhaus' advance units, placed his Texas and Arkansas troops in the narrow gap between White Oak Mountain and Taylor's Ridge. The gap about a thousand feet wide and three quarters of a mile deep Ringgold Gap provided the only access available to Bragg into Georgia and Cleburne had pledged to hold it at all costs until Bragg and his wagon trains were safely beyond reach.
About 8:00 A.M., Hooker began his assault with Osterhaus' 1st Brigade under Brig. Gen. Charles R. Woods. Wading the South Chickamauga Creek the 1st Brigade entered Ringgold with the 17th Missouri in the vanguard. The 17th, 29th, 31st Missouri Regiments moved forward behind the railroad berm, formed a skirmish line and assaulted toward White Oak Mountain were a terrific fussilade drove them back. The 76th Ohio sent to the left almost reached the crest of White Oak Ridge before the rebels rose and fired a deadly salvo that cut down the unprotected troops. Woods assembled the survivors to join with the 3rd and 12th Missouri and 13th Illinois on an assault directly into the gap. These regiments boldly charged down the railroad grade into the narrow passage through the ridge. General Cleburne, personally directing a masked two gun battery gave the signal to fire when the pickets of the 13th Illinois had advanced to within fifty yards of the rebel position. Cleburne leapt into the air waving his hat and yelled for his troops to open fire. The rebel cannons loaded with grape shot did deadly execution. Those that were not killed or wounded hit the dirt leading one Texan to exclaim that, "We have kilt them all!" Although severely tested by the sudden volley, the 17th and other regiments in Wood's Brigade took cover behind the railroad grade and continued to pour fire into the rebel lines until their ammunition was exhausted and they retired to the rear.
General Osterhaus quickly committed the rest of his division to extract his advance element. The firing was so intense that the Jobe farmhouse on the right of the gap near the railroad tracks was literally reduced to splinters. General Hooker observing the raging battle from the relative safety of the stone railroad depot ordered General Geary's Twelfth Corps units to assault to the left of where Woods troops had been repulsed on White Oak Mountain, but Cleburne anticipating the assault moved several of hisTexas regiments to the heights where they repulsed the attack with appalling losses on the Union side. About noon, after a four-hour sprint, Captain Landgraber's Company F, 2nd Missouri Light Artillery arrived with four guns. With Hooker's troops cheering them on, Landgraeber's four guns delivered a furious cannonade which suppressed the rebel fire. However Grant who had arrived during the cannonade sensing the futility of sacrificing more lives called off the attack, and by 2:00 p.m. Cleburne had withdrawn his Texas and Arkansas troops into Georgia in perfect order.
The fight at Ringgold was a bitter end to the 17th's accomplishments at Chattanooga. After Searcy Landing, it was the bloodiest day in the regiment's history. The 17th was first into battle that day and the initial charge up the steep slopes of White Oak Mountain was well executed. However, after the initial fight, Col. Cramer was not able to reassemble the regiment due to the loss of key officers and men. Major Romer who led the regiment up the slopes that day, Sgt. Hinterberger, along with a dozen other members of the 17th Missouri, were wounded at this engagement. The 17th Missouri's casualties over three days' fighting were five dead, 14 wounded and one missing. The other regiments in the Brigade suffered equally. The 12th Missouri lost many of its Belleville, Illinois men in the fighting, and the 76th Ohio was hard hit during its charge up White Oak Mountain. Col. Hugo Wangelin, commanding the 12th Missouri, had his right arm amputated as a result of a wound received that day. Hooker's forces lost a total of sixty-five killed and four hundred and twenty-four wounded in the Battle of Ringgold Gap.
- With Bragg retreating far into Georgia, the fight at Ringgold was the last major engagement for the Army of the Tennessee in 1863. After spending several weeks cleaning up the battlefield, the Army of the Tennessee marched back to Woodville, Alabama where in went into winter quarters. During the winter months the 17th Missouri rested and prepared for the upcoming summer campaign. Col. Cramer recommended many officers and men for promotion to fill his depleted ranks. Lt. Mallinckrodt was promoted to first lieutenant and assigned to "C" Company. The Army of the Tennessee remained in winter quarters at Woodville, Alabama for almost five months except for occasional training expeditions to Chattanooga.
President Lincoln concerned that veteran regiments like the 17th would muster out in the middle of the next summer campaign, convinced Congress to increase base pay, authorize substantial reenlistment bonuses and make another draft call. The 17th Missouri had left St. Louis with eight companies totaling 788 men but by year end 1861 effective strength had dropped to 743 primarily due to discharges for unfitness. After a year fighting in Arkansas, toiling on the banks of the Mississippi and subsisting in the swamps of Louisiana, the regiment's strength at the end of 1862 had dropped to 624 effectives with most of the losses that year due to sickness. 1863 saw some of the hardest campaigning of the war and the 17th had only 431 on its rolls by Christmas. Although First Lt. Mallinckrodt and other officers had been dispatched to St. Louis on recruiti ng duty, almost every able bodied young German-American was already serving in the field. The draft had brought some recruits, but for the most part the new members of the regiment lacked the zeal necessary to sustain a soldier through long and difficult campaigns. Although reenlistment incentives included a much desired thirty day furlough for the most part, the men of the 17th and the other regiments in the Light German Brigade declined to extend their service beyond three years which would take them through the upcoming campaign against Atlanta.
In February, 1864, Col.Cramer, commanding officer of the 17th Missouri, was dispatched to St. Louis to seek out additional recruits. Even the presence of the 17th's commanding officer could not produce the numbers needed to bring the regiment up to strength. Returning to the field in mid-April, Cramer was also faced with criticism of his combat leadership at Ringgold. The commanding officer of the 31st Missouri had been openly critical and blamed Cramer for the fearful losses his regiment suffered alongside the 17th at Ringgold. Col. Cramer took the criticism badly and began to drink heavily and occasionally suffered fits of delusion. He told the officers in the regiment that the brigade staff and the other regimental commanders were plotting against him. On May 1, when orders came to mobilize the regiment for the start of the Atlanta campaign, he was unable to effectively assume command. Major Romer and the other officers of the regiment pulled together and the 17th departed Woodville as ordered. That night the regiment camped near Bellefonte, Alabama. Col. Cramer drank heavily and fell into a drunken stupor. Awaking during the night, he attempted to shoot Major Romer but his service revolver failed to discharge. He then obtained another pistol and ended his suffering by shooting himself in the head.
Col.Hugo Wangelin who has assumed command of the Light German Brigade upon recovery from wounds suffered at Ringgold, appointed Maj. Romer as acting regimental commander and commenced a formal investigation into Cramer's death. The officers and men were deeply saddened by Col. Cramer's fate but quickly rallied around their new commander. Major Romer who had organized "C" Company, was a St. Louis saddle maker by trade at the outbreak of the war. He had immigrated from St. Gallen, Switzerland along with Sgt. Hinterberger and a number of other soldiers in the 17th. He had been in the field as company commander of "C" Company until June, 1862 when he replaced Major Poten on the regimental staff. Romer had led the 17th into battle at Ringgold and was greatly admired for his courage and leadership. Despite the death of Col. Cramer, the 17th still had the respect of Division Commander Osterhaus. His report to the Missouri Adjutant General for 1863 stated in part, " This regiment has lost severely in officers and men, and has, on every occasion, proved itself worthy of that distinction it will receive from the pen of the historian when the present war for the integrity of the nation shall be written."
During the winter, General Grant had been promoted to Lieutenant General, assigned to head all the U.S. Armies in the field. When he moved to Virginia to oversee the Army of the Potomac, General Sherman assumed command of the District of Mississippi with its three armies assembled for the attack on Atlanta. Sherman now had under his command General Thomas's Army of the Cumberland, General Schofield's Army of the Ohio and General McPherson's Army of the Tennessee. Sherman began his 120-mile march south to Atlanta through the mountains of North Georgia on May 2, 1864. Over the next three months, the 17th Missouri would be heavily engaged at Resaca, Dallas and Kennesaw Mountain, before reaching Atlanta in July 1864. For the first time during the war, the Third Brigade, First Division, Fifteenth Corps led by one armed Col. Hugo Wangelin, was composed exclusively of Missouri regiments. The 3rd, 12th and 17th Regiments, the hard corps of the Light German Brigade were joined by the 29th, 31st and 32nd Missouri. During the Atlanta Campaign, the brigade would be known simply as the "Light Brigade" as the men of the German-American units and the native born regiments learned to work together under Col.Wangelin. The old animosities and stereotypes would be forgotten as the hard marching Light Brigade earned its reputation for reliability in the months ahead.
President Lincoln and Grant prepared a plan to end the war before the fall presidential elections. Sherman's mission was to take Atlanta and destroy Georgia's ability to provide supplies to Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Sherman in command of the western armies for the first time had learned valuable lessons at Chickasaw Bayou and Vicksburg. The Confederates also changed commanders with Joe Johnson replacing Bragg. His plan to drive Joe Johnson out of north Georgia would depend on tactical use of his three armies rather than costly headlong assaults on Johnson's well prepared defensive positions that stretched from Resaca to Atlanta. The Union campaign to capture Atlanta began well for Sherman. While Thomas' Army of the Cumberland pushed against Johnson's army entrenched at Rocky Face Ridge, the Army of the Tennessee led by Maj. Gen. McPherson moved through Snake Creek Gap behind Johnson's main force and was in position to trap the Confederate Army by cutting the railroad to Atlanta.
On May 13 the Light Brigade arrived with Osterhaus' First Division before Resaca. The 17th and 32nd Missouri were assigned picket duty in front of the Division and skirmished constantly with rebel cavalry. Artillery positioned in Resaca pounded the Federal lines as they fanned out in Sugar Valley after leaving Snake Creek Gap. McPherson moved slowly deploying most of his units north of Resaca where Johnson's army was also deploying as they arrived from the north. Logan's XV Corps was sent directly toward Resaca on the main road. Unknown to McPherson, Johnson had few troops guarding the vital railroad bridge at Resaca across the wide Oostanaula River. If the railroad bridge at Resaca fell into McPherson's hands, Johnson would be unable to continue his retrograde movement toward Atlanta.
On the morning of the 14th, the 12th Missouri was ordered forward to take the bridge across Camp Creek on the main road into the little railroad village of Resaca where Joe Johnson's rear guard was posted. With fire support from the other regiments, the 12th Missouri crossed the bridge under heavy fire and secured a position on the enemy side. At six p.m. a charge was ordered on the rebel lines on the high ground between Camp Creek Bridge and Resaca. After Landgraber's battery shelled the rebel held hill in front of the bridge, the 3rd and 12th Missouri led the charge which drove the enemy back. Rebel artillery then took the 12th Missouri under intense fire until Landgraber's six gun battery returned counter battery fire that quickly knocked out three enemy guns and silenced the rebel fire. The 17th and 31st Missouri who had been on the front lines all day were pulled back before the charge was made and held in reserve near the bridge where they were employed carrying ammunition to the men of the division. Although the 17th was not engaged in the assault, they were constantly exposed to rebel fire. The raid failed to dislodge the main line of enemy troops who were well entrenched and about midnight the regiments of the Light Brigade fell back in good order to the Camp Creek Bridge. The 17th Missouri's casualties during the raid were light with two killed and two wounded.
For two days while the battle raged north of Resaca, the brigade dug rifle pits to protect the bridge across Camp Creek in case of attack. During the night of May 15, the Union troops heard trains coming and going as Gen. Johnson moved his entire army down the railine towards Atlanta eluding the trap that Sherman had so carefully laid at Resaca. Before daybreak on the morning of the 16th, the Light Brigade crossed the Camp Creek Bridge, marched down the old roadway into Resaca to find the enemy gone. Later that day Gen. Sherman would tell Army of the Tennessee commander McPherson, "Well Mac, you have missed the opportunity of your career."
Sherman dispatched the Army of the Tennessee to follow Johnson with instructions to always keep pressure on the west side of the rebel army. John "Black Jack" Logan now commanding the XV Corps assigned Osterhaus' First Division to the extreme right flank which meant the men of the 17th had to march almost twice as far as the troops in the Gen. Thomas' Army of the Cumberland moving along the railine to Atlanta. The 17th Missouri passed through Adairsville, Kingston and Van Wert on the way to their next major engagement at Dallas. Gen. Sherman again planned to get behind Gen. Johnson's army which occupied an impregnable position behind the Allatoona Mountains. However, before Sherman could get his armies in position, Johnson redeployed some of his best units to block McPherson. Confederate Gen. Hood blocked the way at New Hope Church, Cleburne held firm at Pickett's Mill and Hardee was prepared to do the same at the little town of Dallas, Georgia.
Gen. McPherson's Army of the Tennessee moved on Dallas with the intention of driving through the Confederate position and marching to the Chattanooga-Atlanta railroad at Big Shanty. Most of McPherson's troops were positioned north of Dallas but Logan's XV Corps was entrenched on the south side along the railroad spur line running into Dallas from Rome, Georgia. On May 28, Hardee's divisions launched a general attack all along the line against the Army of the Tennessee and attempted to roll up the exposed right flank of Logan's Corps on the south side. The men of Bate's Division rose from their trenches, moved through the valley in front of the Federal line and struck Osterhaus' well entrenched division with surprising force. However, Bate's three Brigades failed to coordinate their attacks resulting in a terrible slaughter in front of Osterhaus' lines. The famed Kentucky Orphan Brigade charged alone at Col. Wangelin's well prepared Light Brigade position. The Orphans let out a fearsome rebel yell as they came out of the valley in front of the 17th Missouri position. Their initial charge overran Wangelin's picket line resulting in the capture of about 30 men and several artillery guns before being cut to pieces just a few yards short of the 17th Missouri's solid entrenchments that rose up to six feet above the ground in some places. When Lt. Col. Hawkin's, the 5th Kentucky commanding officer realized they were the last attacking regiment on the battlefield, he seized the regimental colors and ordered his remaining men to the rear. The Orphan Brigade lost twenty killed and one hundred seventy-seven wounded in the assault that day while the 17th Missouri had only four killed and seven wounded. For the rest of the day and long into the night, Wangelin's fatigue parties aided the wounded and buried the dead Orphan's who had fought bravely but died tragically during the ill fated attack.
Joe Johnson's divisions suffered defeat up and down the line that day. Although Johnson's Army fought bravely, they were outnumbered almost two to one. Sherman started the Atlanta campaign with almost 100,000 men while Johnson's effective force numbered around 40,000. Since Ringgold, the Confederate Army had been forced back about one hundred miles from one well fortified position to another and the constant retreat was taking its toll on the rebel soldiers who openly complained about their commander's lack of fighting spirit. In spite of their losses on May 28, the rebels held their position until June 4 when they began withdrawing toward Kennesaw Mountain finally allowing Sherman's Army to come together on the railroad at Big Shanty. A few miles to the south another mountain chain rose up protecting the Confederate supply depots at Marietta. All of the mountain tops held strong fortifications that were capable of providing mutual support. The Confederate line started at Lost Mountain ran to Pine Mountain and ended on Kennesaw Mountain. The Kennesaw line would prove the strongest challenge Sherman's Army would face during the Atlanta Campaign.
During the first two weeks of June, the XV Army Corps advance was impeded by inclement weather that turned roads and fields into an impenetrable morass. Osterhaus' First Division slowly moved eastward on the Burnt Hickory Road heading for the junction of Little Kennesaw Mountain and Pigeon Hill. The 17th along with the rest of Wangelins Brigade moved forward throwing up strong entrenchments along the way. Every day the 17th patrolled the no man's land between their entrenchments and the enemy lines. Skirmishing was constant as Osterhaus' regiments maintained constant contact with the withdrawing rebel units. By mid- June the rainy weather had caused almost all operations to halt and the Union lines were under constant artillery attack from the surrounding mountain tops. When the weather cleared and the Union advance resumed, the Confederates abandoned their positions on Pine Mountain and then Lost Mountain where Gen. Johnson had his headquarters. Johnson moved his headquarters to a high hill along Burnt Hickory Road in front of Little Kennesaw Mountain directly in the path of Wangelins Light Brigade. With the elusive Johnson less than two miles away, Sherman was tempted to move Osterhaus' division aggressively against the strongly entrenched Confederates.
As the Confederate line collapsed on Kennesaw Mountain, Sherman lost patience with the slow pace and determined to speed up operations ordering a general assault for June 27. The main attack made by Thomas' Army of the Cumberland would be aimed at Cheatams Hill with McPherson's Army of the Tennessee launching a secondary attack down Burnt Hickory Road striking the rebel line in the gap between Little Kennesaw Mountain and Pigeon Hill. Brigades from Logan's XV Corps positioned along both sides of Burnt Hickory Road, would lead the secondary attack with Wangelins brigade in reserve.
Unlike Sherman's flanking movements that had worked so well during the campaign, the planned frontal attack on Kennesaw Mountain was seen as a lost cause by the men of Logan's Second and Fourth Division who were chosen to lead the secondary attack. After a thunderous artillery bombardment that did little to weaken the Confederate lines, the men of Osterhaus' First Division could only watch and provide supporting fire when the assaulting divisions moved out of their entrenchments along Burnt Hickory road on the morning of June 27. Confederate General French who observed Logan's secondary attack recounted in his biography, " .. As if by magic, there sprung from the earth a host of men. In one long, wavering line of blue the infantry advanced and the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain began. The assaulting column struck Cockrell's [ Missouri Confederate Brigade] works near the center, recoiled under the fire, swung around into a steep valley, where exposed to fire from the Missourians in the front and of Sear's Mississippians on their left, it seemed to melt away, or sink to the earth, to rise no more." In spite of the fact that the 17th was not involved in the fateful assault, the regiment lost one man killed and six wounded while carrying ammunition to the attacking regiments and helping to bring back the wounded under fire. McPherson lost almost six hundred in the secondary attack while Confederate losses were estimated at only half that number.
Union efforts at Cheatham's Hill also failed to dislodge Johnson's forces. Total Federal losses that day exceeded 2,500 while Confederate losses were less than 500. After enduring several more days of artillery bombardment during which no one in the 17th was killed or wounded, Johnson slipped away crossing thewide and deep Chattahoochee River where he again took up position in strong defensive lines before Atlanta. Osterhaus' division followed the retreating rebel army through the railroad junction at Marietta, crossing the Chattahoochee River at Roswell, and taking up defensive positions a few miles east of Atlanta near Decatur. By the time the 17th Missouri reached its position in front of Atlanta, the veterans and recruits were battle hardened by almost three years of fighting. They had fought in over a dozen major battles and had never been defeated in a major campaign. They were well prepared for the next month's fighting around Atlanta, which would prove to be their most severe test of the war.
After getting his army across the Chattahoochee River at Roswell and establishing his rear guard at Decatur, McPherson moved the Army of the Tennessee within four miles of the Confederate defensive line east of Atlanta, daring Confederate General Hood to come out and fight. McPherson now controlled the vital Georgia Railroad which was the primary supply line to Lee's Army of North Virginia. The l7th Missouri, would play a pivotal role in the Battle of Atlanta fought on July 22. Hood who had replaced Gen. Joe Johnson sent Hardee's Corps on the night of July 21 around the left flank of the Army of the Tennessee intent on striking it from the rear. Hardee’s Corps was composed of Manley, Cleburne, Walker and Bate's Divisions which had been engaged with Wangelin's brigade throughout the Chattanooga and Atlanta Campaigns.
Hardee's forces reached the Union position at daybreak after a tiring fifteen mile night march. Confusion reigned in the Union ranks when the Confederate attack began. McPherson near the front lines saw a gap open between the XVI and XVII Corps, ordered Logan to send Wangelin's brigade then in reserve to fill the gap. With minutes of giving this order, McPherson was killed just as Hardee commenced his assault. The Light Brigade was moved over a mile from the right side of the Union line through a wall of fire on Bald Hill to the crumbling left center between Gen. Dodge's XVI and Gen. Blair's XVII Corps. Wangelin arriving just in time to plug the gap poured deadly fire on Cleburne's advancing troops helping to stop the attack on the Union rear. Hardee's Corps tried several times to break through the Union lines but was driven off after a struggle that lasted most of the day. Sherman's men were now in control of two of the four railroads that were essential to Atlanta's survival.
After the Battle of Atlanta, General Sherman sent the Army of the Tennessee, now led by General O.O. Howard, on an arduous 18 mile night march to the west side of Atlanta in an effort to cut the third rail line leading into the besieged city. General Hood, desperate to save this link with the outside, launched a furious attack against Howard's XV Corps at Ezra Church on July 28, 1864. It was here that the Light Brigade, under Colonel Wangelin, saw its most glorious day on the battlefield. The 17th Missouri physically occupied the forested high ground around the little wooden chapel known as Ezra Church and used its benches and their backpacks to form a makeshift protective line that withstood three relentless attacks by General S.D. Lee. As the sun set that day, hundreds of Confederate dead lay in front of the 17th Missouri's lines. The 17th's losses of one dead and 34 wounded were amazingly light considering the intensity of the battle.
The men of the 17th Missouri passed down a story that tells of the futility of Hood's reckless tactics at Ezra Church. After the fighting ceased for the day, one of the 17th Missouri's pickets called out to the rebel lines, "Well Johnny, how many of you are left?" A tired southern voice responded still maintaining the flint hard humor of a true soldier, "Oh, about enough for another killing." After the defeat at Ezra Church, the men of the 17th Missouri knew Hood's army was decimated and Atlanta would soonbe lost to the Confederacy.
The 17th Missouri veterans were nearing the end of their three-year enlistments. Sgt. Chris Hinterberger had less than two weeks to go when he was seriously wounded on August 3, 1864 during a daylight movement to straighten the XV Corps line near Ezra Church. He was evacuated to the XV Corps medical hospital north of Atlanta near Marietta where he spent the next three weeks recuperating from a serious chest wound caused by a mini ball that pierced his left breast and exited near his spine. With his left arm in a sling, he was able to join the other veterans of the 3rd, 12th and 17th Missouri, the hard core of the old Light German Brigade, when they returned to St. Louis on September 20, 1864.
- The Brigade veterans led by Col. Wangelin were met by a spirited reception committee and accompanied by a local band, paraded through the streets of St. Louis. That night, the men of the brigade were guests at a welcome home dinner at Turner Hall where it all began three long years before. During the banquet, Gen. Rosecrans, military commander at St. Louis recounted the battles and honors won by the Western Turner Rifles and other regiments. A few days later, on August 27, 1864, the three-year veterans were mustered out and returned to their homes and families. Although technically still veteran volunteers subject to recall in the event of a rebel attack on St. Louis, they were mostly spectators during their old army's March To The Sea under General Sherman.
On October 1, 1864 after the Battles of Jonesboro, Lovejoy Station and Altoona Pass marked the end of the Atlanta campaign, most of the remaining troops in the Light German Brigade whose enlistments had not expired were attached to a special detachment under the command of Captain O. C. Lademann, 3rd Missouri Infantry. Special order No. 223 issued by Headquarters, Army of the Tennessee provided in part, " This company will be designated as, " Lademann's Detachment" of the 3rd, 12th and 17th Regiments Missouri Infantry Volunteers, and in all field reports will be so reported, but in the required reports to the War Department, and on muster and other rolls, the detachment of each regiment will be separately reported." According to the special order the detachment consisted of 56 men of the 3rd, one from the 12th and 32 from the 17th. These men would carry on the proud traditions of their regiments until the last days of the war.
Before the Army of the Tennessee departed on the long march to the sea, Lademann's detachment was transferred to the 15th Missouri. The 15th Missouri had been raised in the Swiss community of Highland, Illinois and was known as the Swiss Rifles. In December, the Swiss Rifles were assigned to the Army of the Cumberland and helped pursue Hood's army through the mountains of north Georgia. Lademann's detachment and the Swiss Rifles participated in the Battle of Knoxville, remaining there until the end of hostilities.
Although the Light German Brigade technically continued in the field as Lademann's detachment, some of the men of the 17th Missouri had been transferred to the 76th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and Hoffman's 4th Ohio battery. These were principally Ohio residents who had been recruited in Cincinnati by the Turner Society and had joined the Western Turner Rifles Regiment in St. Louis. The 76 Ohio and the 4th Ohio battery continued to serve in the field as part of the First Division and marched with Major General Osterhaus' XV Corps, Army of the Tennessee from Atlanta to Savannah. On September 21, 1864, Osterhaus replaced Major General Logan as XV Corps commander when Logan requested leave to go back to Illinois to run for reelection to Congress. Logan told the XV Corps they would be well led by Osterhaus. General Charles R. Woods assumed command of the First Division and Col. William B. Woods was given command of the 76th Ohio.
In January, 1865, after the surrender of Savannah, Osterhaus was replaced by Major General Logan in a political shuffle that severely disappointed Osterhaus' faithful German-American troops. When Logan returned from leave after his successful reelection, Sherman congratulated Osterhaus on his leadership during the March to the Sea. With Logan's return, there was no other suitable command for Osterhaus, now a Major General. Osterhaus, always a gentleman accepted an assignment as Chief of Staff to General Banks in New Orleans and later participated in the final efforts around Mobile, Alabama. In addition to the former members of the 17th that transferred to the 76th Ohio and the 4th Ohio Battery, several former officers of the regiment continued to serve on the First Division Staff after Osterhaus' departure. These included Captain John Schenk former Quartermaster of the 17th and since 1863, attached to the First Division as Assistant Division Quartermaster. Schenk was a capable and energetic officer who was complimented by General Sherman during the march to the sea for the excellent condition of the First Division's baggage train. "Your's is the best in my army," Sherman told him. Captain Schenk was one of the few officers to serve continuously from the formation of the 17th in September, 1861 until mustering out after the war's end. These 17th Missouri veterans served in the Army of the Tennessee from Savannah to Goldsboro, North Carolina, where they remained until Lee's surrender at Appomattox in the spring of 1865.
After President Lincoln's murder and the surrender of Rebel General Joe Johnson's Army, the war came to an end. The few remaining stalwarts from the 17th Missouri, still in the field with General Sherman's Army of the Mississippi marched through North Carolina and Virginia to Washington, D.C.. These veterans represented their comrades from the old Western Turner Rifle Regiment in the grand parade of 200,000 Union troops down Pennsylvania Avenue before the grandstand occupied by President Johnson and all the dignitaries of the Union government.
On May 23, 1865, the Army of the Potomac marched by in splendid uniforms to the cheers of the Washington crowds that owed their safety to the Army of the Potomac's efforts. Some of the men in Sherman's western army were openly contemptuous of the "Parade Ground Soldiers" who had spent four years moving just over one hundred miles to capture one state capitol when they had marched over nineteen hundred miles and marched through ten rebel states in the same time. The next day, General Sherman led the Army of the Mississippi down Pennsylvania Avenue to the astonishment of the thousands of onlookers who stared in amazement at these hardened veterans in their ragged field uniforms, some barefoot and most long-haired and bearded, some with red Georgia clay still evident on their equipment. Each unit proudly carried its tattered banner, some so shot up and worn that onlookers could not distinguish the unit name. Captain Schenk and the other 17th Missouri men marched directly behind Sherman as part of the First Division. On the reviewing stand the German Ambassador commented to General Grant after watching the XV Army Corps pass in review that with an army like that he could conquer Europe. After the XX Corps passed, he exclaimed that with these troops all the world would be his. Finally, after the last soldiers of the XVII Corps had marched past, he grabbed Grant's arm and said, "With all these, even the devil himself could be driven from the depths of hell!"
After the grand parade and a short furlough in Washington, the last of the old 17th Missouri returned by railroad to Louisville, Kentucky and from there by steamboat to their homes in St. Louis. When the boats landed the veteran's of the Western Turner Rifle Regiment turned out with battle flags streaming one last time on behalf of a thankful city that had been spared the ravages of war due to their heroic efforts. The veteran volunteers of the 17th Missouri held a homecoming celebration for their comrades who had marched on to victory at Nashville or Savannah and glory in Washington. Although almost a year had passed since separating at Atlanta, their memories were fresh and the smell of battle could be recalled as they swapped stories at Turner Hall.
The men of the 17th Missouri Volunteer Infantry had marched over 2,200 miles from St. Louis, through Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and north Georgia on their way to Atlanta. Those who remained with Sherman's army marched another 650 miles to Goldsboro, South Carolina by way of Savannah. After hostilities ended, they marched another 400 miles through North Carolina and Virginia to reach Washington, D.C. where their long campaign for the Union came to an end.
The 17th Missouri was one of the few regiments to fight in the war that could honestly claim that they were never defeated in a major campaign. As their regimental colors proclaimed, they were victorious at Camp Jackson, Pea Ridge, Arkansas Post, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Atlanta. Almost 1,000 men had served in the Western Turner Regiment with almost half lost to death, disease or discharge due to other causes. Less than two hundred and fifty men were present at the last roll call in the field at Jonesboro in August, 1864. In spite of losses due to death, wounds and disease, the hard core had fought and marched together over three thousand miles from St. Louis to the nation' capitol. No history book written about the Western Campaign neglects to mention their loyalty, bravery and toughness.
After the war, the proud members of the 17th Missouri founded Grand Army of the Republic Post No.13, named in honor of their beloved Colonel Hassendeubel. Several reunions were held to remember their fallen comrades and the efforts of their war years. The Hassendeubel Post met twice monthly at Turner Hall until the last members of this proud fighting regiment had died.
With the passing of the last old veteran, the story of the Western Turner Rifles Regiment was consigned to dusty archives and boxes of lovingly maintained records and diaries composed by these brave men during the great struggle. Their proud battle flags were stored in the Missouri State Capitol. Unfortunately, no permanent record of the l7th's achievements has been compiled. The Iron Brigade, the Orphan Brigade and many other noteworthy regiments had their achievements during the great struggle contemporaneously recorded. Hopefully, enough firsthand accounts can be unearthed in archives and attics to tell the full story of the 17th Missouri Regiment and preserve the memory of these courageous men.
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