Soldiers published own paper

150 years ago this week the 125th Ohio Volunteer Infantry was situated in its first war zone deployment. It was settled in the community of Franklin, Tenn., 18 miles south of Nashville. Franklin had a pre-war population of 1,500 souls.

The 125th was well-populated with Trumbull County boys. Kinsman, for example, sent more men, 34, to the 125th than any other unit.

Franklin had been designated a union military post, and Emerson Opdycke, the 125th regimental commander, had been reassigned as the Franklin post commander.

His replacement, George Banning, had previously served with the 4th and 87th Ohio. He would only serve with the 125th for a few weeks before taking command of the 121st OVI in April.

The 125th was unique in that it published its own newspaper, which was called The Federal Knapsack. Its editor was one of the regiment’s most educated men, 2nd Lt. Ridgley C. Powers of Co. C and Mecca.

He frequently acted as the 125th’s field correspondent to the Western Reserve Chronicle under the name Ceylon – his middle name.

He was the descendent of a Mayflower pilgrim and attended Western Reserve Seminary. He graduated in June 1862 with honors from Union College, a liberal arts school in Schenectady, N.Y., which in that day rivaled Harvard in academic prestige.

The newspaper’s printing office was in the charge of Orderly Sgt. Henry Glenville, a “graduate” of the Cleveland Herald office. The duo’s first publication was dated March 4, 1863. A second was dated March 13, 1863. How many other editions that may have been published this writer doesn’t know.

Lt. Powers would go on to distinguish himself in combat and ultimately be promoted to the rank of full captain. Col. Opdycke considered Ceylon a gallant soldier and good friend. In August of 1864 Opdycke appointed Powers as his acting adjutant general.

Below are two stories from the The Federal Knapsack.

The first is as follows:

Our Cavalry pickets had a lively time Monday last skirmishing with the enemy. Over two hundred shots were fired, killing or wounding none of our men. Two of the rebels were wounded and two taken prisoners.

From one of the prisoners we learn that their attention was directed to some of our men on an eminence, north of the position they occupied, when some of our Cavalry came suddenly and unexpectedly upon them, and took them prisoners before they had time to retreat.

Private Wm. Strahl , of Co. ‘E,’ 125th Regiment, exposed himself to their view, to draw them from behind the trees, where they had shielded themselves, for the purpose of experimenting with the ‘Henry Repeating Rifle.’ of which he and some others in the Regiment are in possession, and which was the cause of their (Rebel) capture.

The Rebel Cavalry – Texas Rangers – after maneuvering in different directions , evidently for the purpose of ascertaining our position and strength, retired, pursued some distance by our cavalry.

It is interesting that this skirmish was provoked by four members of the 125th that owned personal Henry Repeating Rifles. The U.S. Army did not issue the Henry Rifle but did provide its unique ammunition to those who chose to buy and carry them.

The rifle would fire 16 rounds successively, reportedly faster than one could fire a revolver. A new one cost $45.

Although the rifle never enjoyed widespread use, two Union regiments at the Battle of Franklin in 1864 had notable success with it. Some scholars say that the 125th’s most notable engagement was the Battle of Franklin in 1864.

It is also interesting that the boys of the 125th, whether by accident or design, took on one of the the most acclaimed Confederate units, the 8th Cavalry, also known as Terry’s Texas Rangers. In four years of service, the unit fought in 275 engagements in seven different states.

A statue memorializing the Rangers prominently resides on the grounds of the Texas state capitol in Austin.

For every soldier killed by a bullet in the Civil War, two died of disease. And others were killed in service-related accidents, events which typically get little press.

The second:

Four men of Company E, 125th Regiment were struck by lightning at half past nine o’clock on Saturday evening last (Mar. 9). They were on picket duty, and stationed on the Columbia Road, in a grove of small ash trees, a half-mile from town. The lightning shivered the tree under which they sat, scattering the splinters in all directions for some distance round.

They are all from Ohio, and their names and residences are as follows: William Nickerson, Mount Vernon; J. F. Randolph, Morrow County; R. Beeman, Mount Vernon; E.H. Dillen, Gambier. The last named was killed, and the first seriously injured, though hopes are entertained of his recovery.

The other two have so far recovered that no serious consequences are apprehended concerning them. … Private D. was a young man of moral and exemplary character, a good soldier, and his sudden death cast a melancholy gloom over the entire company of which he was so worthy a member.

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Nickerson recovered and escaped further injury during his service. Randolph was wounded at Chickamauga, suffering a bullet wound in the hip. Due to his injury he was assigned to a reserve unit. Beeman was captured at the same battle and ultimately died of dysentery in Andersonville Prison in Georgia.

Compiled by members of the CW150 Committee of Warren’s Sutliff Museum.