At 4 a.m. on April 12, 1861, Confederate forces in Charleston, South Carolina opened fire on Fort Sumter, a U.S. military installation on an island in Charleston Harbor. This action ushered in the Civil War, the bloodiest and deadliest era in American history.
The Gettysburg Monument to the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment is at the southern edge of Gettysburg on Steinwehr Avenue. The Civil War death toll far exceeded the number of lives lost in World War II and left thousands of survivors with lingering wounds that they endured until the 20e Century.
No part of the country was spared and war came quickly to Cleveland. One of the first units organized here was the 8e Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, mustered before late April 1861 at Camp Taylor at what is now East 30e Woodland Street and Avenue. At the beginning of May, the regiment was transferred to Camp Dennison, located near Cincinnati.
Originally a three-month regiment, the unit was reorganized and drafted to serve three years before the end of the summer.
Best known for his service in the second corps of the legendary Army of the Potomac, the 8e Ohio fought in many of the most decisive battles of the war.
Veterans of this unit fought against Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign in the fall of 1862 and then went straight to Sharpsburg, Maryland to fight in the Battle of Antietam, widely recognized as the bloodiest day of the war.
The Cleveland ranks fought particularly hard along the battlefield’s Sunken Road, a distinctive piece of terrain that was literally filled with corpses before the day was out. It was later estimated that 25,000 men were killed, wounded or missing in the Battle of Antietam.
There was little respite for the Cleveland soldiers as they soon found themselves in Fredericksburg, Va., taking part in a doomed frontal assault that claimed the lives of 12,000 Union soldiers just before Christmas.
In May 1863, the 8e Ohio took part in the Battle of Chancellorsville, a victory that cost the Confederates dearly, as Stonewall Jackson was killed by friendly fire.
Attack of General Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, May 2, 1863Early July finds the 8e Ohio in Pennsylvania, responding to Robert E. Lee’s invasion from the north.
By tradition, the Battle of Gettysburg began on July 1 when shoe-seeking Confederates encountered a Union cavalry unit outside of town. Very quickly, a full-fledged battle developed between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia.
On July 3, the battle reached its climax with Pickett’s Charge. That afternoon, about 15,000 men formed ranks and advanced toward a Union battle line at Cemetery Ridge.
The 8the Ohio finds himself on the far right of this line, advancing in the open without the benefit of the stone wall that sheltered other defenders.
Cleveland’s men held their ground despite terrible danger and exposure. Long after Pickett’s charge had ended, one observer speculated that, based on the unit’s actions that day, the regimental commander must have been drunk or mad.
This observation is debatable, but the results were not. The 8the Ohio was present for duty as the Confederates withdrew, disappearing south to fight another day.
Once again, the unit had no respite as the 8e Ohio moved north to restore order during the 1863 riots that rocked New York that summer.
The following spring was to see even greater bloodshed.
The 8the Ohio participated in Ulysses S. Grant’s land campaign, beginning with the battle for the Battle of The Wilderness the first week of May. As the Union troops moved away from the battlefield, they came to a crossroads – The Union army turned right, indicating a pursuit by Lee’s army and a fight to the finish scoring a turning point in the war, recalls a Union veteran in the 1920s.
Soldiers wounded in the Battle of Wilderness, resting outside a building in Fredericksburg, Virginia, May 20, 1864The 8the Ohio remained in the thick of it, with many Cleveland residents losing their lives at the Spotsylvania courthouse just weeks before the regiment’s warrant expired.
The regiment’s last battle was Cold Harbor, fought on June 1, 1864.
Finally, it was over, the regiment being mobilized on July 13, 1864.
The unit’s loss in combat was far greater than the number lost to disease, grim evidence of its long exposure to combat.
Additionally, three soldiers from the regiment were awarded the Medal of Honor, all for capturing Confederate battle flags in battle. On both sides of the line, these flags held great significance, and the soldiers fought desperately to avoid their loss in battle. The most dangerous job on a Civil War battlefield was serving in a color guard.
With the release of the unit, the veterans and their exploits began to go down in history.
The 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry is remembered today with Civil War battlefield monuments of its most notable service: Antietam and Gettysburg.