​When Johnny Comes Marching Home: One Hundred Days in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry During the American Civil War

When Johnny Comes Marching Home: One Hundred Days in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry During the American Civil War

By Kyle Nappi

During the American Civil War, Ohio devised a strategy to recruit short-term soldiers, known as Hundred Days Men, in an attempt to alleviate the non-combat duties of frontline troops. Kyle Nappi is the great-great-great-great grandson of one of these men, John LeVoy Higbie. He has joined us on the blog to write about this family story.

By the Spring of 1864, the United States had suffered considerable strain in its effort to preserve the union and defeat the Confederacy. “There was scarcely a family in the North who did not suffer sorrow that cannot be described,” one Yankee veteran recalled in his twilight years. “Hardly a fireside that did not mourn for a husband or lover, brother or friend, who went forth with pride, never to return.”[1] Ohio had already sent a tenth of its total population off to war. Nonetheless, Buckeye Governor John Brough drafted a bold proposal to encourage the recruitment of short-term soldiers from the Midwestern states in attempt to mount additional pressure upon the Confederacy.

On April 21, 1864, Governor Brough submitted the ambitious gambit to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and President Abraham Lincoln. “The term of service to be one hundred days, reckoning from the date of muster into the service of the United States.”[2] “The foregoing proposition,” the President promptly replied, “is accepted…the Secretary of War is directed to carry it into execution.”[3] Thus, the Hundred Days Men were born. Ohio would furnish thirty thousand new recruits, Indiana and Illinois would enlist twenty thousand apiece, Iowa ten thousand, and Wisconsin five thousand. “The call was intended as a herald to the last great Union thrust that would topple the Confederacy like a sudden wind against a weakened tree.”[4]

In the span of two weeks, the Buckeye state recruited 35,982 volunteers and organized them into forty-one regiments. “This prompt and energetic action,” Secretary Stanton relayed to Governor Brough, “exhibit an unmatched effort of devoted patriotism and stern determination to spare no sacrifice to maintain the National Government and overthrow the rebellion.”[5] Among the Buckeyes to answer this call to arms was John LeVoy Higbie, a married father of four and farmer in Knox County, Ohio. On May 2, 1864, nearly two months shy of his forty-fourth birthday, John mustered into Company A of the 142nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI) at the rank of Private.[6]

John LeVoy Higbie, circa 1860s (Ancestry.com)

Undoubtedly, most enlistees joined to contribute indirect non-combat aid to the war effort, as outlined by Ohio’s Adjutant-General in his state-wide call for volunteers. “The citizen soldiery will share the glory of the crowning victories…by relieving our veteran regiments from post and garrison-duty…”[7] However, to the great surprise and anger of some, ten regiments of Ohio Hundred Days Men (including the 142nd OVI) were ordered to the frontlines of Virginia in June 1864. “It is too late or not the proper time to question whether we have been wronged or not,” a Private in 142nd OVI penned to his parents. “It would be outrageous to send such troops as ours – unacquainted with battalion drill – directly into the front with old veterans.”[8] Despite the understandable trepidation of these volunteers, Secretary Stanton underscored the sense of urgency to Governor Brough. “We want every man now,” he telegraphed. “They may decide the war.”[9]
142nd-OVI-Flag.pngNational Colors of the 142nd OVI (Ohio History Connection Flag Collection)

Higbie and his fellow bluejackets were dispatched to Bermuda Hundred, a neck of land between the James and Appomattox rivers. Since May 1864, Union commanders had leveraged Bermuda Hundred as a staging area from where their armies sought to sever the rail lines between the nearby dixie cities of Petersburg and Richmond, the Confederate capitol. At Bermuda Hundred, Hundred Days Men like Higbie performed fatigue duties (labor tasks), picket duties (forward observers of enemy activity), and, on occasion, fought off Confederate attacks. However, some Union commanders questioned the utility of these hastily summoned Ohioans on the frontlines. “They have scarcely had a musket three weeks, and many are reported to me who do not even know how to load,” lamented one Brigadier General.[10]
Confederate (red) and Union (blue) positions at Bermuda Hundred (Library of Congress)
On June 13, 1864, the 142nd OVI reached the Point of Rocks area of Bermuda Hundred. Assigned to the Tenth Corps of the Army of the James, these Buckeyes promptly marched to the extreme right of the Union’s fortified frontline. “All troops of this command will be immediately assigned and take position in the breast-works, ready to repel any assault made by the enemy,” instructed General Orders No. 12 of the Tenth Corps. “Brigade and battery commanders will see that the troops are properly distributed…and will take every precaution to prevent surprise.”[11] After bivouacking in rifle pits and trenches for a week, the men of the 142nd OVI received orders to destroy a cluster of recently seized Confederate earthworks along the Howlett Line, which spanned some three miles between the James and Appomattox rivers. “While engaged in this duty they were resisted by the Rebels…with the aid of other troops on the line, [the 142nd OVI] not only effectually completed the destruction, but drove the Rebels from the field.”[12]

“Hardly a day passed without the [142nd OVI] or detachments from it being detailed for picket or fatigue duty.”[13] While Higbie did not keep a journal or diary throughout his soldiering, the wartime writings of other Hundred Days Men offer glimpses of life at Bermuda Hundred. A fellow bluejacket in the 142nd OVI wrote, “from a point near our headquarters, on a clear day, we can see the smoke arising from the city of Richmond, the chief city of Rebeldom.”[14] Meanwhile, a solider in the 143rd OVI described, “our pickets and [the Confederate pickets] are in talking distance – about thirty feet apart – and drink from the same spring.”[15] Likewise, a solider in the 138th OVI penned to his wife, “I write this letter from my post on picket duty where I can see six or eight rebels…Towards Petersburg there has been continual firing of artillery…I fear the war will not be over in the next hundred days.”[16]

At some point during his service at Bermuda Hundred, Higbie became ill and was treated in a nearby field hospital. There, he was mistakenly reported dead after a soldier died in a nearby bed. Amazingly, the erroneous news of Higbie’s death reached his family in Knox County, Ohio.[17] Indeed, many Hundred Days Men contended with exposure, sickness, and disease which collectively took a more damning toll than Confederate bullets. “I took seventeen sick soldiers to the hospital for quinine,” one soldier in the 132nd OVI chronicled on Independence Day. “About half the regiment is unfit for duty.”[18] Seeking relief for his Buckeyes, which included the 142nd OVI, one Union Colonel penned an urgent appeal directly to President Lincoln. “The unusual nature of our fatigue duties has born so heavily upon our unseasoned men together with the climate that, unless we are relieved, I have reason to fear our numbers will be so reduced by disease and death as not even to leave skeleton regiments to take home the middle of August.”[19] The bold request, however well intended, ultimately failed.

On August 19, 1864, as the end of their term of service neared, the soldiers of the 142nd OVI departed Bermuda Hundred and began their journey back to Ohio. On September 2, 1864, exactly one hundred days since their enlistment, the men of the 142nd OVI mustered out of service at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio. While the regiment suffered zero battlefield deaths, disease, on the other hand, claimed forty-three men and undoubtedly comprised countless others. Higbie’s post-war pension application indicated that the ailments incurred in the field permanently impaired his health in later years.[20]

Ultimately, the troop surge of Hundred Days Men did not defeat the Confederacy. Fighting continued unabated until the southerners finally surrendered in the spring of 1865. Notwithstanding, the contributions of Higbie and his Buckeyes did not go unnoticed. “The Ohio National Guard in 1864 did far more than was expected of it,” reflected Ohio’s Adjutant General. “I have never doubted…that the services of the Hundred Days Men of Ohio in 1864 shortened the war.”[21] On September 10, 1864, President Lincoln issued an acknowledgment of appreciation to all such soldiers. “The term of service of their enlistment was short, but distinguished…the National Guard of Ohio performed with alacrity the duty of patriotic volunteers, for which they are entitled to and are hereby tendered, through the Governor of their State, the National thanks.”[22]

L-R: Remnants of Union trenches preserved in a residential area of Bermuda Hundred and John LeVoy Higbie’s wartime photo placed near the Howlett Line where the 142nd OVI dismantled a series of Confederate earthworks (Kyle Nappi photos, May 2021)

***Kyle Nappi is the great-great-great-great grandson of John LeVoy Higbie. An alumnus of The Ohio State University, Kyle serves as a national security policy specialist in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. He is also an independent researcher and writer of military history (chiefly the World Wars), having interviewed ~4,500 elder military combatants across nearly two-dozen countries.

[1] George Perkins, A summer in Maryland and Virginia; or, Campaigning with the 149th Ohio volunteer infantry, a sketch of events connected with the service of the regiment in Maryland and the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, (Chillicothe: School Printing Company, 1911), 14.
[2] Edited by James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Volume 8, (New York: Bureau of National Literature, Inc., 1897), 3347.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Jim Leeke, A Hundred Days to Richmond: Ohio’s “Hundred Days” Men in the Civil War, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), xi.
[5] Benjamin R. Cowen, Sketches of War History, 1861-1865: Papers Read Before the Ohio Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Volume 5, (Cincinnati: The Robert Clarke Company, 1903), 376-377.
[6] Roster Commission, Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, Volume 9, (Cincinnati: The Ohio Valley Press, 1889), 18.
[7] Whitelaw Reid, Ohio in the War: Her Statesman, Her Generals, and Soldiers, Volume 1, (New York: Moore Wilstach & Baldwin, 1868), 211.
[8] Mark Sebastian Jordan, “Knox County guardsmen pressed into Civil War action,” Knox Pages, September 14, 2019, https://www.knoxpages.com/history/knox-county-guardsmen-pressed-into-civil-war-action/article_3253da88-d718-11e9-bc5f-e33f782305f9.html.
[9] U.S. Department of War, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Volume 37, Part 2, (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1891), 443.
[10] Department of War, The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 36, Part 3, 774.
[11] Department of War, The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 40, Part 2, 82.
[12] Reid, Ohio in the War, 672.
[13] Albert Adams Graham, History of Knox County, Ohio –  Its Past and Present, (Mt. Vernon: A.A. Graham & Co, Publishers, 1881), 341.
[14] Jim Leeke, A Hundred Days to Richmond: Ohio’s “Hundred Days” Men in the Civil War, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 232.
[15] Edited by Harry G Enoch, “One Man’s Experience in a One Hundred Day Regiment: Barzilla R. Shaw and the 143d Ohio Volunteer Infantry,” Ohio History Journal, Volume 107, Summer-Autumn 1998, 193.
[16] Edited by Mabel Watkins Mayer, “Into the Breach: Civil War Letters of Wallace W. Chadwick,” Ohio History Journal, Volume 52, Number 2, April-June 1943, 169.
[17] John Neilson Furniss, Hill and Allied Families of Central Ohio, (Baltimore: Gateway Press, Inc., 1974), 117.
[18] Leeke, A Hundred Days to Richmond, 106.
[19] John Y. Simon, The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Volume 11: June 1-August 15, 1864, (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984), 457.
[20] “John LeVoy Higbie – Declaration For Pension,” WC 555-467, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., Civil War Pension File.
[21] Edited by W.H. Chamberlin, A.M. Van Dyke, George A. Thayer, Sketches of War History, 1861-1865: Papers Read Before the Ohio Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Volume 5, (Cincinnati: The Robert Clarke Company, 1903), 382-383.
[22] Abraham Lincoln, “Executive Order—Thanks to Hundred-Day Troops From Ohio,” The American Presidency Project, University of California, Santa Barbara, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/202585, accessed March 17, 2021.

Posted June 25, 2021
Topics: Civil WarMilitaryPresidents & PoliticsHistoric Preservation

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