Regiment release date becomes point of contention

Bridgeport, Ala., lies southwest of Chattanooga, Tenn., and has been the winter quarters for many regiments of the Union Army. After the Rebels were dislodged from that territory, the Union Army encamped, guarded their supply lines from the north, and participated in many expeditions along the Tennessee River to ensure the safe passage of additional troops and supplies.
By the spring of 1864, the largest army ever assembled in North America would surround the Chattanooga area. These troops were all under the control of Gen. US Grant and William T. Sherman. Plans were being developed for the Atlanta campaign. This campaign was designed to destroy the remaining Confederate Armies in the South but more importantly to destroy the ability of the South to make war. Manufacturing of army supplies, including weapons, clothing, food, etc., would be destroyed and control of Atlanta would be of great logistical value.
The Seventh Ohio Infantry, of which Company H is from Warren and Company I from Youngstown, have been firmly implanted in the outskirts of Bridgewater since December of 1863, having participated in the Battles of Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, and on Nov. 27 the Battle near Resaca, Ga. on Taylor’s Ridge. Taylor’s Ridge was especially tragic for the Seventh as 12 of 13 officers engaged were either killed or wounded. The only officer who survived untouched was Sam McClelland of Warren. He would later become the commanding officer of the regiment.
During their winter encampment, they performed a myriad of duties including expeditions up the Tennessee River where the rebel’s cavalry was always a menacing foe. But here they were able to recover physically and mentally from the long throes of war, which they endured during the previous 2 and a half years of service.
In numbers, they have been reduced from 1,010 men to just under 500, which includes about 150 recruits along the way. On June 20 of 1861, they were enrolled in three years’ service, however they were told by their adjutant general that their overall service would be retroactive to April 20, 1861. The regiment understood that their tour of service would expire on April 20, 1864. The majority of the recruits joined the regiment at Harper’s Ferry on Sept. 15, 1862 and were told by their recruiting officer that their term of service would also expire on April 20, 1864. So you can understand the difficulty in the men finding out that none of this was true. The following letter illustrates the emotions surrounding this event in camp when they found out.

From the Seventh Ohio
“There seems to be a difficulty in the Seventh of an important character, and one in which the friends of that regiment will feel a deep interest.
We append a statement of the case from a letter written by one of the Seventh. We should like to see the difficulty properly adjusted:
Bridgeport, Alabama
March 10, 1864
Great excitement pervades our camp, and that not without a cause.
On the evening of the eighth instant, an order from the War Department was read on dress parade, assuring the battle scarred that they would not be mustered out on 20 April, according to agreement, but held until 20 June. They were assured when they enlisted into the three-year service, out of the three months, that their term of service would date from their first enlistment. The order also refers to the recruits in the regiment, and, to the astonishment of all, declares that they will be held for the full term of three years. These recruits enlisted about one year and a half ago, with the understanding from the recruiting officer, Capt. Cross, and with the assurance from Adjutant General Hill, of the State of Ohio, that should re-enlist for an old regiment in the field, our term of service our enlistment would expire with that of the regiment. We do not begrudge this term of service to our country; no, heaven forbid! But when we enlisted for the field of strife, we were to be mustered out at the same time and place with the original organization.
But now, the War Department holds that there were no remarks on the muster rolls, stating that we were enlisted with the understanding that our term of service expired with that of the regiment. Now the question is, are we to remain in the field just because the officer in charge neglected to state on the muster rolls that we were enlisted, with the express understanding that when the regiment’s term expired ours did also? Has the War Department become so corrupt as to deal so unjustly with us, simply because the recruiting officer failed to do his duty in this respect? We trust not. Then there is the fault? Is it with Adjutant General Hill of the state? These questions are difficult to answer correctly. We hardly know whether Adjutant General Hill gave his word that our term of service would expire with that of the regiment on his own responsibility, or not; but this we do know that everyone entrusted with such an office as adjutant general of a state, should be very careful not to say one thing and at the same time mean something else or the opposite. Surely the War Department keeps posted in the workings of its agents, if not, it ought. If it is the intention of the War Department to hold men three years, and at the same time enlist them with the understanding to serve the unexpired term of an old regiment, then inform them that their term of service would not expire with the old regiment.
Where is the honesty? Surely our government can get men without enlisting them under false pretenses, and then tell them they are to serve nearly twice as long as the agreement calls for. It is only a polite way of conscripting us. Had we enlisted with the understanding to serve three years, we would serve that time willingly, but when assured that our term of service would expire with that of the regiment, what could we do? Nothing, but place confidence in those in authority over us, and now is that trust to be betrayed? We believe that our government is yet alright, but that some of its agents are not what they ought to be, or else they would never have falsely represented the intentions of the government. If the War Department gave instructions to enlist men as we were enlisted, surely the intention was to muster us out at the expiration of the term of the regiment.”
There were many significant events which transpired about this time, a few being:
(from “The Civil War Day by Day,” edited by John S. Bowman)
l March 15: the transferring of power from military to civilian in Louisiana by President Lincoln.
l March 17: generals Grant and Sherman meet in Nashville to discuss the upcoming movements into Georgia.
l March 18: a convention in Arkansas ratifies a pro-union constitution and abolishes slavery.
l March 19: the state of Georgia continues to back Jefferson Davis and that should a significant Confederate victory occur in the near future that the Confederacy should negotiate with Washington for a peace proposal which would be predicated on Southern independence.
l March 24: General Grant meets with President Lincoln at the White House.
The Red River Campaign continues down the Mississippi River.

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