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To Battle for God and the Right

To Battle for God and the Right: The Civil War Letterbooks of Emerson Opdycke

Glenn V. Longacre
John E. Haas
Foreword by Peter Cozzens
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 384
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt1xcfzd
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  • Book Info
    To Battle for God and the Right
    Book Description:

    Emerson Opdycke, a lieutenant with the 41st Ohio Infantry and later a commander of the 125th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, won fame at the Battle of Franklin when his brigade saved the Union Army from defeat. He also played pivotal roles in some of the major battles of the western theater, including Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and Missionary Ridge. _x000B__x000B_Opdycke's wartime letters to his wife, Lucy, offer the immediacy of the action as it unfolded and provide a glimpse into the day-to-day life of a soldier. Viewing the conflict with the South as a battle between the rights of states and loyalty to the Union, his letters reveal his dislike of slavery, devotion to the Union, disdain for military ineptitude, and opinions of combat strategies and high-ranking officers. A thorough introduction by editors Glenn V. Longacre and John E. Haas and a foreword by Peter Cozzens provide additional historical context and biographical information.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09203-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    PETER COZZENS

    Reflecting on the quality of Northern leadership during the Civil War, Major General John Pope (West Point Class of 1842) wrote in 1891, “It is quite certain that when the war closed the volunteer generals were coming rapidly to the front, and their capacity so fully recognized that if the war had lasted a year or two longer they might have been at the head of the armies.”¹ Pope had in mind Major General John Logan when he wrote these words, but to a lesser degree such praise might also be applied to Brigadier General Emerson Opdycke.

    Although cursed with...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Editorial Method
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xxi-xxxviii)

    To his admirers Emerson Opdycke was “brave, energetic and capable, impatient but not impetuous, ambitious without rashness.” His detractors thought “he had an ugly disposition that repelled all friendship and he was full of envy and utterly untruthful.” Friend and rival could agree, however, that “Opdycke was a very singular man; [possessing] . . . unusual bravery . . . [and] daring.”¹

    Bravery and daring are the two characteristics that best describe Emerson Opdycke. During the Battle of Shiloh, the Civil War’s first large-scale conflict, he raised the fallen colors of the Forty-first Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI), leading the regiment...

  7. ONE “To Battle for God, and the Right” AUGUST 31, 1861–FEBRUARY 13, 1862
    (pp. 1-13)

    In late summer 1861, Emerson Opdycke and the other members of the fledgling Forty-first Ohio Volunteer Infantry were introduced to the rigors and discipline of military routine at Camp Wood in Cleveland.

    Following the regiment’s muster and two months of intensive training, the unit was transported by rail to Camp Dennison near Cincinnati. There the men were issued arms and shortly thereafter participated in a minor reconnaissance into western Virginia.

    In late November, the regiment was ordered to Kentucky, where it joined the developing Army of the Ohio. The regiment’s first significant sojourn into a contested area introduced Opdycke and...

  8. TWO “I Am Sick of Doing Nothing” FEBRUARY 15, 1862–MARCH 31, 1862
    (pp. 14-25)

    The surrender of Fort Donelson’s defenders left middle Tennessee and Nashville vulnerable to Brigadier General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio. In mid-February 1862, civilians and the remaining Confederate forces began evacuating the city. Nashville surrendered without a battle.

    Disappointed with the bloodless victory, Opdycke and the Forty-first OVI went into camp a short distance south of the city and acted as an occupation force. During this time Opdycke continued his study of tactics, participated in reconnaissances, and wrote Lucy about life in an occupied city.

    Camp near Elizabeth Town

    Hardin Ky. Feb. 15th 1862.

    My dear Wife

    I...

  9. THREE “On Ground Made Red” APRIL 12, 1862–APRIL 29, 1862
    (pp. 26-33)

    In late March 1862, the Department of the Mississippi’s commander, Major General Henry W. Halleck, ordered Buell’s forces to march southwest and link up with Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, camped on the west bank of the Tennessee River, near a small Methodist church called Shiloh.

    In the early morning hours of April 6, as Buell’s army approached Pittsburg Landing, Opdycke and the men of the Forty-first OVI heard the distant roar of artillery. Grant’s army had been surprised and attacked by General Albert Sydney Johnston’s Army of Mississippi.

    Buell ordered his forces to quicken their...

  10. FOUR “Halleck Out Witted” MAY 12, 1862–AUGUST 10, 1862
    (pp. 34-45)

    Following the battle of Shiloh, General Halleck arrived to take personal command of Grant’s and Buell’s combined forces. Shortly thereafter, he initiated the long, drawn-out campaign for Corinth, Mississippi. Halleck hoped to capture General P. G. T. Beauregard’s forces at the major railroad junction and supply base. In the end, he captured Corinth, but his timidity allowed the Confederate Army to escape without a battle. Overall, the campaign was a Union disappointment.

    Opdycke took advantage of the campaign’s relative inactivity to recover from his wounds and contemplate his career as a volunteer officer. Almost from the beginning of his service,...

  11. FIVE “I Am Proud of the Regt.” DECEMBER 31, 1862–FEBRUARY 10, 1863
    (pp. 46-53)

    As lieutenant colonel of the 125th OVI, Opdycke was responsible for recruiting and training his soldiers. His disciplined tutelage under Colonel Hazen well prepared the zealous thirty-two year old for the task. Initially, Opdycke’s greatest obstacle was locating enough men to fill the new regiment’s ranks. The harvest of eligible recruits in northeastern Ohio had been reaped several times over, and the 125th OVI was but one of many area regiments seeking volunteers. Ultimately, Opdycke was successful in raising the eight companies (two short of the usual ten) necessary for his unit to take the field.

    In early January 1863,...

  12. SIX “A Very Pretty, Wealthy, Secesh Place” FEBRUARY 14, 1863–JUNE 23, 1863
    (pp. 54-80)

    Extended duty in Franklin created a familiarity among occupying Union forces and the village’s inhabitants. As ranking officer in the town, Opdycke made several acquaintances among both Unionist and pro-Confederate inhabitants. The 125th OVI’s responsibilities were light and consisted mainly of picket duty and the construction of fortifications. Additionally, the winter lull allowed Opdycke and the soldiers of the 125th an opportunity to solidify as a unit.

    In early spring 1863, the Union and Confederate armies in middle Tennessee began to stir in their winter quarters. In March, Opdycke noted with disdain the capture of a brigade of Union infantry...

  13. SEVEN “The Roads Are Awful” JUNE 29, 1863–SEPTEMBER 21, 1863
    (pp. 81-95)

    In mid-1863, Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland began a series of southeasterly movements from its encampments at Murfreesboro that, by summer’s end, would maneuver General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee out of its defensive positions along the Duck River in middle Tennessee and into northern Georgia. Beginning on June 24, Rosecrans, with his army divided into five columns, deceived Bragg into believing he was vastly outnumbered and out-flanked. Bragg withdrew his forces first to Tullahoma and then southward across the Tennessee River to escape the probing Union columns.

    In July, after a brief respite, Union forces resumed their southerly advance....

  14. EIGHT “They Can Kill Us, but Never Whip Us” SEPTEMBER 21, 1863–SEPTEMBER 30, 1863
    (pp. 96-104)

    Forced to evacuate Chattanooga in early September 1863, Bragg withdrew his army south into Georgia. With his corps concentrated in the northwest, along Chickamauga Creek, Bragg intended to attack and destroy Rosecrans’s columns then converging a few miles north of his positions. Bragg had reason to believe his plan would succeed. Not only were the Union forces separated but also the Army of Tennessee had received major troop reinforcements, namely General James Longstreet’s corps, newly arrived from the Army of Northern Virginia.

    Many of the Army of the Cumberland’s soldiers believed that the Confederates would turn to give battle, but...

  15. NINE “Cruel War” OCTOBER 1, 1863–OCTOBER 25, 1863
    (pp. 105-120)

    After suffering the humiliating defeat in Chickamauga, Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland remained in Chattanooga and fortified its positions. Bragg’s forces drove to within sight of the town and occupied the strategic heights on Lookout Mountain to the south and Missionary Ridge to the east. Bragg realized that Chattanooga was too heavily fortified to be taken by a direct assault and decided to lay siege to the town and starve the Union soldiers out of their positions.

    In Washington, D.C., the debacle in Chickamauga signaled the need for a major reorganization of the Army of the Cumberland. In October 1863,...

  16. TEN “I Sacrificed My Personal Ambition” OCTOBER 28, 1863–NOVEMBER 28, 1863
    (pp. 121-137)

    In late October 1863, Union forces made their first attempt to break the Confederate stranglehold on Chattanooga by capturing Brown’s Ferry, thus ensuring a steady, albeit sparse, flow of supplies into the town. Additionally, the arrival of Hooker’s and Sherman’s reinforcements permitted Grant to put his plans into motion for attacking and dislodging Bragg’s forces situated on the surrounding heights.

    In late November, Grant attacked with Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee, Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland, and Hooker’s Eleventh and Twelfth Corps. The first major prize fell to Hooker and his men as they stormed Lookout Mountain in the Battle...

  17. ELEVEN “I Am Sick of Being under Potomac Generals” NOVEMBER 29, 1863–JANUARY 25, 1864
    (pp. 138-158)

    Bragg’s defeat in chattanooga cost him command of the Army of Tennessee. In early December 1863, the crusty commander’s resignation was accepted by his friend and confidant President Jefferson Davis. Davis, rather than humiliate his old friend, appointed Bragg his chief of staff. With few generals possessing army-level experience, Davis chose to replace Bragg with General Joseph E. Johnston, the former commander of the Army of Northern Virginia and a man with whom Davis had a caustic relationship.

    A major contributing factor in the earlier defeat in Chattanooga was the absence of General James Longstreet’s Corps, which Bragg had detached...

  18. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  19. TWELVE “We Are in God’s Hands” MARCH 31, 1864–MAY 3, 1864
    (pp. 159-168)

    As union and confederate forces in the western theater retired to their respective winter encampments, Emerson Opdycke took advantage of February and March 1864 to return to Warren and see Lucy and Leonard. This visit was his first since the 125th OVI had departed the Buckeye State over a year earlier. Emerson spent approximately two months in northeastern Ohio visiting family and friends. While in Warren, the town’s citizens recognized their local hero with a reception and the presentation of a gold watch and chain in recognition of his service to Ohio and the Union.

    In March 1864, Grant was...

  20. THIRTEEN “Under Fire”
    (pp. 169-182)

    General joseph e. johnston recognized that his Confederates were outnumbered almost three to one by Sherman’s troops. Johnston realized that it would be disastrous to engage the Union armies in open combat and decided to employ a defensive strategy to protect Atlanta. Sherman’s scheme to counter Johnston’s plans was to test the Confederate defenses and determine whether an attack on the fortifications would succeed. If the positions appeared too strong, then Sherman would sidestep his armies around the Confederate flanks and destroy Johnston’s forces with his superior numbers. Grand strategy meant little to Opdycke and the 125th OVI, however, as...

  21. FOURTEEN “How Long Oh Lord How Long” JUNE 12, 1864–JULY 1, 1864
    (pp. 183-191)

    Joseph e. johnston’s defensive tactics continued to frustrate Sherman’s advance. In mid-June 1864, after being maneuvered out of his positions along Brush, Lost, and Pine Mountains, Johnston ordered the Army of Tennessee to fortify Kennesaw Mountain. Sherman believed that it was time to test the Confederate’s strength and ordered a frontal assault on its works. Heading the main effort in the center was Opdycke’s demibrigade with the 125th OVI in the vanguard. The ensuing assault counted as the bloodiest repulse endured by Sherman’s armies during the campaign.

    Somewhere in Georgia.

    [In Pencil—Lucy Opdycke] Under a leaky Fly, in a...

  22. FIFTEEN “In Sight of Atlanta” JULY 4, 1864–AUGUST 3, 1864
    (pp. 192-208)

    Following the bloody repulse in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Sherman resumed his earlier practice of maneuver and envelopment to avoid Joseph E. Johnston’s strong defensive works. On July 2, 1864, Johnston was forced to fall back from his strong Kennesaw positions to a line along the Chattahoochee River. Sherman’s numerical superiority in troops enabled him to apply consistent pressure on the Confederate flanks and drive the Confederates into prepared positions around Atlanta. By mid-July Opdycke and his men were within sight of their goal.

    Johnston’s inability to halt Sherman’s armies provided President Jefferson Davis with the justification for replacing...

  23. SIXTEEN “Such a Sea of Blood” AUGUST 6, 1864–SEPTEMBER 7, 1864
    (pp. 209-221)

    In August 1864, after successfully fending off Hood’s earlier attacks, Sherman decided to lay siege to Atlanta by severing the city’s rail lines. Later in the month, in an effort to control the last major rail line supplying his forces, Hood ordered Hardee’s corps to attack Sherman’s forces in Jonesborough. Hardee’s corps was severely repulsed and Hood’s troops were prematurely forced to abandon the city, destroying essential supplies and ammunition on the escape. On September 2, after four months of grueling combat, Union troops entered the shattered city and claimed their hard-fought prize.

    Head Quarters 1st Brig, 2d Division,

    4th...

  24. SEVENTEEN “An Important Captured City” SEPTEMBER 9, 1864–SEPTEMBER 24, 1864
    (pp. 222-228)

    Hood, forced to evacuate Atlanta, moved his army twenty-five miles south to Lovejoy and waited for an attack that never materialized. Sherman, for the moment, was content to remain in Atlanta and permit his armies a respite. The lull allowed Opdycke to rest and reorganize the regiments in his brigade and catch up on news of family and friends.

    [In Pencil—Lucy Opdycke] Atlanta Ga. Sept 9th 1864

    My last letter has not gone North yet, will therefore only add a breif postscript.

    We moved yesterday at 10 A.M. The 1st Brigade in the rear: we had fine roads and...

  25. EIGHTEEN “Hood Is Making Desperate Efforts” SEPTEMBER 26, 1864–NOVEMBER 1, 1864
    (pp. 229-240)

    With sherman’s armies occupying Atlanta and busily preparing themselves for their March to the Sea, Hood moved his Army of Tennessee north of the city. From September through early October 1864, Hood attempted to cut Sherman’s lengthy supply line stretching from Chattanooga to Atlanta and, if possible, force the Union armies to retreat. Additionally, when the opportunity permitted, Hood used his superior numbers to destroy or force the surrender of smaller Union garrisons in the area.

    In late September, the Fourth Corps, including Opdycke’s brigade, was ordered back to Chattanooga in response to Hood’s raids. On several occasions, analogous to...

  26. NINETEEN “Fight Whenever and Whereever You Think Best” NOVEMBER 3, 1864–DECEMBER 13, 1864
    (pp. 241-258)

    On november 15, 1864, Sherman and his armies departed Atlanta and embarked on their march toward Savannah. Hood, frustrated with his inability to draw Sherman northward and away from central Georgia, devised a hasty strategy aimed at threatening the North by advancing through Tennessee and Kentucky to the banks of the Ohio River. Hood believed that the offensive would cause alarm and force officials in Washington to redirect Sherman’s troops in an effort to counter the Confederate threat to the country’s heartland.

    Schofield’s combined command, including Opdycke’s brigade, were ordered to Pulaski, Tennessee, where fortifications were erected to intercept Hood’s...

  27. TWENTY “Brilliant Victories” DECEMBER 17, 1864–JANUARY 6, 1865
    (pp. 259-268)

    In early december 1864, with methodical organization, Thomas began preparations for attacking and destroying Hood’s decimated army entrenched south of Nashville. Miserable weather, however, punctuated by extremely low temperatures, forced Thomas to postpone his attack. Huddling together against the elements, many of Hood’s veterans questioned their leader’s offensive strategy. Their staggering losses in Franklin, combined with the knowledge that the Union forces in Nashville greatly outnumbered them, probably recalled memories of their ill-fated investiture of Chattanooga.

    On December 15, Thomas, urged on by a break in the weather and satisfied that his troops were properly prepared, launched his attack. Initially...

  28. TWENTY-ONE “I Cannot Remain Away from You and the Boy Any Longer” JANUARY 8, 1865–MARCH 28, 1865
    (pp. 269-281)

    Winter quarters in northern Alabama permitted many of the Army of the Cumberland’s officers and men an opportunity to relax from November’s and December’s hard-fought battles in Tennessee. These veterans of the western theater realized their role in the war was coming to an end. The once proud Army of Tennessee had been vanquished on the battlefield, and Union forces held strategic positions in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and northern Georgia. Now, attention focused on events in the East as Grant continued to try to dislodge Lee’s troops entrenched in Petersburg.

    In the interim, the routine of camp life allowed Emerson...

  29. TWENTY-TWO “Broken Limbs and Bleeding Hearts” MARCH 30, 1865–JUNE 14, 1865
    (pp. 282-296)

    In march 1865, the Fourth Corps was ordered to eastern Tennessee to block a possible avenue of retreat for Lee’s army. Within a few days of its arrival, however, Lee surrendered his forces and all thoughts in Opdycke’s command turned to mustering out, home, and family. The Fourth Corps went into camp at Nashville and the officers and men prepared to bid farewell to comrades-in-arms. Ceremonies, reviews, and speeches now occupied the soldiers’ daily existence. Not all the officers and men of the Fourth Corps were going home, however, as military requirements and international affairs necessitated a southern movement for...

  30. TWENTY-THREE “Homeward Bound” JUNE 17, 1865–AUGUST 29, 1865
    (pp. 297-306)

    The summer of 1865 saw the transfer of Opdycke and a reorganized Fourth Corps to New Orleans. From there, the corps proceeded to Texas and became part of Sheridan’s Army of Occupation, in part a measure to bring stability to the region, but mainly as a subtle warning to the French government to confine its meddling in Mexico’s affairs to south of the border with the United States.

    In late July and early August, Opdycke was granted a leave of absence and returned to Warren. Afterward, he traveled to New Orleans, only to discover two weeks later that his services...

  31. Appendixes
    (pp. 307-312)
  32. Bibliography
    (pp. 313-320)
  33. Index
    (pp. 321-332)
  34. Back Matter
    (pp. 333-334)