This is part two of a two-part story. For part one, click here.
Hello everyone, and welcome back to the final edition of BrickBlog for the year. Last time, we discussed the famous College Green statue and the events leading up to its construction and some mysteries surrounding it since. But the statue is built to honor those from Athens County who fought in the Civil War. Athens own 18th Ohio Volunteer Infantry registered 2,610 men, the most from one county in the entire state, and consisting of nearly half the eligible number of men in the county. In this final BrickBlog, we’ll look at some of the exploits of the 18th OVI and what the war meant to Athens.
The 18th OVI: Fighting Under Rosecrans
The 18th Ohio Volunteer Infantry formed in September of 1861, mustering at Camp Wool where West Elementary now stands. Within a month, the regiment loaded onto trains and headed for Camp Dennison near Cincinnati. By 1862, the 18th found themselves under the command of General William Rosecrans in Tennessee. In December of 1862, the 18th found their first real fight: at the Battle of Stones River. It was the end of the Stones River campaign, and saw the Union take a victory, but with a heavy toll of casualties on both sides. Fighting against General Bragg of the south, Rosecrans and the 18th used heavy artillery to knock out the south and force a retreat. But it wouldn’t be the last time the 18th and Rosecrans fought against Bragg.
Their most famous call to action came a few months later, in September of 1863. Again fighting in Tennessee, the 18th found themselves in the Battle of Chickamauga, one of the bloodiest battles of the war. And they played a crucial part in the battle, too. “At Chickamauga the 18th held the line at Snodgrass Hill,” said Cyrus Moore, a master’s student at Kent State and an expert on the 18th. “It was crucial in helping to prevent a rebel break through.” The 18th fought on Snodgrass, fighting off an estimated 25 rebel attacks on the hill before using the 18th as the final line allowing for rebel retreat. A group of Athens historians wrote this of the battle and Athens involvement: “The climax of the presentation centers around the Battle of Chickamauga and the pivotal role that Athenian Lt. Col Charles H. Grosvenor and the ‘Boys from Athens’ played in preventing the total elimination of the Army of the Cumberland and ultimately earning their Corps Commander, Maj Gen George Henry Thomas, the nickname ‘The Rock of Chickamauga.’” It was said one Ohio regiment (unknown if it was the 18th or not) used 45,000 rounds firing on the hill. The battle ended up costing General Rosecrans his job and decimating the 18th. Casualties for the Athens regiment remain unknown, but, as Moore said, “it was substantial.”
The Retired OVI
After Chickamauga, the 18th was retired, unable to fight with the severe losses suffered. Moore says they moved on to Chattanooga as an engineer corps. “Thus, at Chattanooga the regiment switched to engineer duty. As engineers, the regiment likely built and repaired hospitals and other buildings.” But as the siege of Chattanooga continues, supply lines – called cracker lines – were needed to break through the rebel’s blockade. “To open up the “cracker line” and bring supplies into Chattanooga, a brigade attacked Brown’s Ferry early in the morning of October 27, 1863, landing from pontoon boats. The 18th built those boats, and the 92nd OVI, which had Athens men in the ranks, participated in the attack.” The lines opened up, and within the year Chattanooga was in the hands of the North.
A Historic Group
Tom O’Grady, curator of the Athens County Historical Society, shed light on some other interesting things about the 18th OVI and Athens involvement in the war. “General Charles Grosvenor, as he is called, was from Athens,” said O’Grady. “There’s a building named after him on campus. There is also a story about a black soldier who enlisted here in Athens and went on to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor. It was never presented to him in his lifetime. It was posthumously presented in recent years and a year or so ago a historic marker was installed on the Athens County Fairgrounds marking that fact.” That man was Milton M. Holland, a slave sent to Ohio University by his Texas owner. When the war broke out, he enlisted in a group of African-American troops from Athens and later earned the Medal of Honor (posthumously) after Holland “took command of Company C, after all the officers had been killed or wounded, and gallantly led it.”
So there is the fascinating, and true story, of the 18th OVI. But it doesn’t end there. Grosvenor became a U.S. Representative and Speaker of the House, bringing chances to the city and state as a whole. The 18th’s surgeon William Parker John became one of the first in charge of the Athens Asylum. Some veterans even formed a militia in Nelsonville. But most importantly, many of these men sacrificed their lives in order to bring freedom and unity back to our country. Without their sacrifice, none of the history we discussed would be possible. So the next time you walk past that familiar green faded statue, remember what it stands for, and why it’s there.
That’s it for this edition of BrickBlog. I hoped you’ve enjoyed the stories these past few weeks, but don’t let you quest for history end here. Many of Athens greatest bits of history are still out there, waiting to be told. Thanks for 200 years of history from our great city, and here’s to 2,000 more.
Check out a video of the exhibit on the 18th OVI displayed at the Athens County Historical Society and the College Green Memorial here.