The 123rd OVI

Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley Campaign

August & September, 1864


By Stephen J. Hartzell

The 123rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Monument
Winchester National Cemetery
Photo by Stephen J. Hartzell - May, 1999

Other 123rd OVI Pages
James Hartzell's Civil War Service Record - 1862-64
Members of the 123rd OVI Buried at Winchester National Cemetery

After the Battle at Kernstown the 123rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and the Department of West Virginia was under the command of General Phil Sheridan. From this point they become known as the Department of the Shenandoah. The government issued much needed shoes and clothing in preparation for the impending campaign.

Phil Sheridan, an Ohio native, was short of stature but quickly became known as a fierce warrior who believed in "total war". Loved by his men, he was a hard talking man who could scarcely complete a sentence without swearing. President Lincoln, when advised by General Grant to place the Department of the Shenandoah in Sheridan's charge, was at first hesitant about the 33 year old Sheridan. Reluctantly though, he agreed. History would show that this was undoubtedly the right man for the job.

Crossing the river at Harpers Ferry, the 123rd OVI encamped near Halltown on August 8, 1864, remaining there until the 10th when they started up the Shenandoah, arriving near Berryville at night. The next morning they again started up the river. The day was hot, the country was wild and the men suffered greatly from the heat. Water was in short supply. They encamped for the night near Nineveh Church.

In the morning they turned north, eventually reaching the Valley Turnpike at Middletown where they passed the Cavalry, which had been pushing the Rebels down the road from Martinsburg, which was some 50 miles east. The 123rd then encamped near the road about 3 miles from Cedar Creek where they remained for 4 days. Here they found corn in great abundance, and they made good use of it.

On the 16th they received orders to move. Just before moving out, Regimental Commander, Colonel Wilson became very ill from an apparent overdose of morphine. Captain Chamberlain then took command of the regiment.

They marched to Winchester that night, and the next day to Berryville. On the 18th they moved to the small town of Clifton and encamped. On the 20th the 123rd reported 360 men and 6 officers.

The next morning they went out as guard to a forage train. While loading their wagons, the men heard fighting and artillery nearby. They hurried back to camp only to find it deserted. After much searching they finally found their place in the line of battle and went to work building a breastwork out of rails, which they had to carry a considerable distance.

Near evening they moved out to support a battery in the front, but soon the firing ceased. At 11:00 pm they began to move back in the direction of Harper's Ferry and after marching about 14 miles they reached the camp. The Brigade Commander was with them, as he had lost the rest of the Brigade in the night. After some time escorting him around to find it he, in disgust, finally told them to go into camp wherever they wished.

Again the following morning they heard skirmishing on the front. At noon the 123rd was at work fortifying their position. Strongly entrenched by nightfall the army settled in. For 3 days the skirmishing continued along the whole line. The men remained hidden behind their works the entire time.

Finally on the 25th the skirmishing ceased. Soon they were on easy terms with the Rebels. They began fraternizing and trading newspapers and coffee, for tobacco and etc. This practice of fraternizing with the enemy and trading goods during quiet times was a fairly common one in the Civil War.

On the 27th the Rebels had abandoned their position. The 123rd was to be in readiness to move without baggage. They were issued 3 days ration to last 4 days. They moved out early the next day, and finally encamped near Charlestown. They mustered on the 31st and received 4 months pay.

Among those encamped here was General George A. Custer, who would later meet his end at Little Big Horn in the Indian Wars.

On the morning of September 3rd they moved up the valley, arriving at Berryville at about noon. The pickets were under attack and the 123rd went out in their support. Moving through a corn field they suddenly came upon a brigade of Rebels. They gave them a few volleys but the charging Rebels forced their retreat. Upon reaching their reserves they halted, and were forced to lay on their arms all night in a cold rain. In the morning they began building breastworks, but they never had to fire over them.

On the 7th, Colonel Kellogg took command of the regiment from Captain Chamberlain. Kellogg had been on sick leave and was just now returning to duty. Captain Shawhan returned to duty on the 12th. On the 15th, Colonel Kellogg again went on "sick leave" and went to his home, giving command back to Captain Chamberlain.

By now, Sheridan's army was in top condition. They generally felt as though they could whip the Rebs at any time. The buzz among the soldiers was "why don't we do it!" Finally on the 16th, General Grant visited the army. Grant could see that Sheridan wanted permission to strike. He gave it to him in 2 words, "GO IN!"

On the morning of September 19, 1864, the 123rd was moving in the direction of Winchester with their Corps having the advance. They could soon hear firing in the distance, and as they continued to advance it increased in volume. By 10:00 they had reached the Berryville Pike at it's crossing of Opequan Creek. The Battle had now become a deafening roar. They waited in reserve until about 2:00, then the order came.

Crossing the Opequan Creek they made their way along a narrow woody gorge. The gorge, crowded and choked up with debris, was slow and difficult to move through. Finally they reached the front.

They stood before a ravine, in front of which was a narrow strip of woods. They rapidly formed in column by brigade with the 123rd at the front. They stood in readiness to relieve the division now heavily engaged on the southern edge of Redbud Creek. They could see General Sheridan riding up and down the line waving his hat, urging the men on, and spanking the stragglers with his sword. This greatly amused and excited the men, who were now ready, and eager to strike a blow.

The bugle sounded and they immediately charged on the doublequick. With the 123rd at the front, the rebels were soon in rapid retreat. They drove the Rebels over stone fences, up hills and down ravines for over 2 miles. About 4:00, the Cavalry got on their flank at Winchester and continued to drive them down through the valley.

In this gallant charge the 123rd lost 7 killed and 45 wounded, with most being hit when the Rebels occasionally slowed their retreat just long enough to return a quick volley. The Regiment won special praise from General Thoburn for gallant conduct. The 123rd was the first regiment to move over the Rebel fortifications and into Winchester. Much maligned at New Market, they earned much glory at Winchester.

4 of the 7 killed were from Company D. One of the killed was our own James Hartzell. Based on all of the above information, it becomes reasonably certain that James died somewhere between Redbud Creek and the city of Winchester between 2:00 and 4:00pm.

He lay on the battlefield until 2 days later. The 123rd had counted their losses and buried their dead. Leaving their brave fallen comrades to the peaceful care of mother earth, they broke camp and began their march to Strasburg

The Grave of James H. Hartzell
Winchester, Virginia

James Hartzell was initially buried in the Lutheran Burial Ground in Winchester, which also served as the site of one of the field hospitals. These graves were marked with wooden markers. That burial ground is now part of Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Winchester, and this was where most of the 123rd dead were initially buried. He was re-interred at Winchester National Cemetery about 2 years later, section 12; grave 343. This National Cemetery is very near the battle ground.

Other 123rd OVI Pages
James Hartzell's Civil War Service Record - 1862-64
Members of the 123rd OVI Buried at Winchester National Cemetery

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